The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland, but in the United States.
On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the Irish soldiers to reconnect with their roots, as well as fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.
Two hundred and fifty-two years later, the Shamrock Club of New Dublin hosts arguably the largest St. Patrick’s parade in the state. It started out small, 30 years ago, with 30 entries. Melissa (Trauger) Mulroy and Judy (Barrington) McDaniel have seen it all. As parade announcers, they work as a team to entertain the crowd.
“We have so much fun each year,” states Mulroy.
“We really do,” agrees partner McDaniel.
Part of the reason they fill this volunteer position is that both of these women are proud of their Irish heritage and want to keep it. Even as small children, both recall their families celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Their mothers dressed the children in green outfits and sent them off to school. A dinner of corned beef and cabbage was expected. In the evening, an Irish program was attended in the Town of Lebanon.
“I recall one of the early years, we experimented and walked the route near the front of the parade,” said Mulroy with excited eyes. “We shook hands and talked to the crowd, gathering stories to tell at the announcers stand.” She then explained that the walk was a long one, and the idea was struck down the following year. “I admitted that I was a wimp and didn’t want to do it again.”
The announcers stand and its location has changed quite a bit over the years. Mulroy said in the very early parades, she and Dick Murphy sat on chairs at the curb and then in the back of a pickup truck. Their locations included the corner of Pearl and Water Streets and across from the library/museum in Denny’s parking lot. Wayne Tolzman helped one year on the steps of the library. In recent years, the stand has been located across from the County Post East newspaper. When the building was occupied as the Red Owl, the stand was found there.
Unforeseen incidents can happen at any live event. Playing off each other, the partners fill voids by telling an Irish joke, chiding each other, or giving an informational bit of Irish history. Comments on the situation at hand garner chuckles from the crowd.
There was a time that a car innocently turned a corner and joined the parade.
Sometimes entry numbers were thrown out of order. The announcers fell over their words as they realized their cue card did match the entry in front of them. “We had a couple laughs over that,” said McDaniel’s with a grin.
Over the years, Parade Director Jill Hart has fine-tuned this Grand Parade and as many as 125 units have followed the familiar route.
City of New London Cable Director Dick Johnson is dedicated to the parade. When he could not be there, he made sure his job was covered. One very cold year he sat in the bucket of a utilities truck and froze. He went back to his office and edited the tape so that people at home could view it the next day.
Mulroy and McDaniel both stepped off the announcers stand at different times to enjoy the honor of being Irish Rose. They were seated on the reviewing stand, and were treated like royalty. Dick and Pat Murphy filled in.
This year the parade theme is ‘Reuniting the Clans.’ Those invited to be in the parade will invent their own clan easily enough. An “O” in front of a name can help the Irish intent. For years, the Crain clan has dominated the clan floats with a huge number of family members participating. At times, it seemed they could not fit one additional person on the float.
Then there is the O’Neil clan. Although small in numbers, they march the street together, faithfully following the theme of each parade. This year’s theme will do doubt be special for them.
Clan floats are encouraged by the Shamrock Club of New Dublin, caretakers of this entire event, as well as the weeklong Irish heritage events.
Mulroy and McDaniel have devoted more hours of their time to ensure a smooth Irish entertainment night at the high school. This year the event takes place on Wednesday, March 19.
A night of Irish caroling takes place on Thursday, March 20, traveling from St. Joseph’s facilities to Franklin Park Apartments. This year the route includes the Washington Center.