The city couldn’t hold its St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Sunday, though, the Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day Parade filled the void.
A procession of 60 to 70 vehicles, including Jeeps, SUVs, motorcycles, buses, Subarus, large U.S. Navy vessels and 14 Corvettes (all were part of a Corvette club), among others, with anywhere between one and 15 people per vehicle, made their way through New London Sunday in celebration of Irish heritage.
The theme of this year’s St. Patrick’s car parade - the first of its kind in New London - was “Everyone is Irish for a day.” An eclectic mix of businesses and groups were represented at the parade, such as Jammin 107.7, Jeffrey’s Barbershop and Hanrahan Painting LLC, to name a few.
Executive Director of the Downtown New London Association Barbara Neff explained how the organization, which sponsored the event, came to decide on the design for this year’s parade.
“We were ready to go until the Sunday before the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, then we said, ‘Oh what are we going to do? Well, maybe we’ll do a halfway to St. Patrick’s Day,’” Neff said. “And then we said we have to see how things are, what’s going on with the pandemic, we have to do something that’s safe.
So we held Zoom meetings, and we all agreed, and then we called the mayor and asked if it was doable, and we all said, ‘Let’s try it.’”
Neff said the Downtown New London Association is glad to have a diverse collective of people and businesses in the parade.
“We’re very happy that groups like outCT are participating because our theme is Everyone’s Irish for the one day,” Neff said. “It’s nice to get the different groups to participate. We’re just one big community here, we just want to support everybody. We’re lucky it’s a nice day out today.”
Other attendees, such as Maureen Plumleigh, also noticed the pleasant weather (it was 63 degrees and sunny in New London Sunday afternoon). She said in the nine years she’s been participating in the parade, Sunday’s version was the most temperate affair.
Plumleigh sat in a float replete with Irish flags that was supposed to be a watercraft: She is part of the New London Currach Rowers, a group that rows traditional Irish fishing boats.
This year’s parade route was longer than the usual jaunt through Bank and State streets. Organizers believe this year’s 10-mile trip allowed people to view the event safely from their homes.
The route started at Shaw's Cove and touched Bank, South Water Street, Williams Street, Broad Street, Ocean Avenue and others before ending at Shaw's Cove. Spectators were serenaded with the sounds of sirens, honking horns and bagpipes.
The parade’s grand marshal was Catherine Mary Foley. Foley is the granddaughter of Irish immigrants from the counties Galway, Roscommon and Kilkenny, a New London business owner and has led several civic organizations and initiatives.
She is the former director of the Community Development Initiative of the New London Development Corporation and former executive director of Covenant Shelter of New London and the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut, for instance.
Linda and Tom English of New London were grateful for a chance at community involvement during the pandemic. They brought their dog Heidi along for the parade, who was resplendent in a green scarf.
“We’ve lived in New London for 25 years, and this is one of the best communities around,” Linda English said. “We’re all suffering in very different ways as far as the pandemic, so I think it’s wonderful to just have some fun and show some support for our fellow neighbors.”
“We all need some joy, and we all need some relief, and this is a great way to do this,” she added.
Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, wore a white suit jacket dotted with green shamrocks. De la Cruz is a self-proclaimed “big parade guy” and said he is “kind of known for my parade antics.” He said that with COVID
-19, events like these can no longer be taken for granted.
“People need to see that people are out and doing stuff,” de la Cruz said. “It’s good to give people something to smile about, something that’s non-COVID
-related. Today, we’re social distancing, but maybe we’re bringing a bit of normalcy to people sitting on their porches. I think it’s needed.”