MERIDEN — When the Irish flag unfurled over Meriden City Hall there was a slight discrepancy in reference to the other flags flying that morning.
“Judging by the size of the flag, Irish heritage is three times the size in our city,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati joked.
For one day, one can understand if Irish pride was a bit bigger than life.
Residents of Irish descent or aspiration celebrated St. Patrick’s Day Sunday. A small gathering clad in green, heavy wool sweaters, caps, and splashes of tartan assembled outside City Hall to launch the day’s festivities with the flag raising.
Later in the day they would go to the Ancient Order of Hibernians Hall on Melville Avenue for further repast and libation. Scott McNulty, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Meriden, offered the gathering a kind of benediction.
“May Saint Patrick, the glorious apostle of Ireland, smile on our celebration,” he said.
This year the AOH has a lot to smile about. City budget cuts almost forced the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade into hibernation. McNulty said the AOH and organizations across the city stepped up to raise the money needed to keep the tradition alive.
“The AOH has really stepped up, above and beyond this year … we hope you make the 2019 parade the biggest and best so far,” said Mayor Kevin Scarpati.
This is welcome news for Meriden resident Rachel Williams, this year’s grand marshal. She loves the parade, the good feeling of the crowd, and the whole vibe of the day. Being named grand marshal is a graduation of sorts for Williams. She was previously part of the parade as the ’Rachel Division,’ which entailed dressing up her truck and throwing candy at the end of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
For some residents St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just about the food and drink or about getting ready for the parade. It is a day set aside to remember the sacrifice of the people who came to the United States from Ireland.
“Today brings a lot of reminiscing. I think about my father who was Irish,” said Doreen Roddy, president of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, whose family hailed from the western coast of Ireland. “They made this country what it is. I appreciate what every single ancestor did for us. Those people left the country knowing they were never going to go back. How do you do that?”
Meanwhile across town at the AOH Hall on Melville Avenue, Walter Paluszewski quietly got ready for a 2 p.m. storm of hungry revelers. His St. Patrick’s Day morning started at 6 a.m. back at Czapiga’s, where he started slicing the day’s corned beef. He was preparing vegetables in front of two steaming cauldrons on the stove.
“It’s a long week,” he said.
He needs to prep 300 pounds of corned beef and 100 pounds each of cabbage, potatoes and carrots for over 100 people who will be dining.
“We serve heavy over here,” said Paluszewski, the owner of Czapiga’s.
Walter and his wife Patti are both half Irish – “the good half,” she quips – and cooking for the AOH celebration is just part of their good works as club members.
He isn’t done on Sunday. Next Friday, the day before the parade, the ladies of the AOH will put together corned beef sandwiches for that day’s hungry revelers. But he does get a bit of a break.
“I just have a beer and watch them,” he said.
Roddy said that behind the bar at the AOH Hall there is a shamrock that keeps track of the days until St. Patrick’s Day, counting down to zero. On Monday, the number goes back to 365.
“This is the high holy day, the day you wait for,” Roddy said.
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