Meriden St. Patrick’s Day parade set for March 18

MERIDEN — Almost 50 years ago Mayor Abe Grossman rallied the city in a first-of-its kind celebration of central Connecticut’s deep-rooted Irish American heritage.

Grossman got in touch with the Meriden chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) — a Catholic organization formed in 1836 to protect Irish immigrants from hate crimes — and worked with the community to set up the first annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Meriden. This year the tradition will continue on Saturday, March 18 at 2 p.m. 

“He was a character,” former AOH president and parade grand marshal Jim Finley said. “He approached the Meriden AOH and said how come we don't have a St. Patrick’s Day parade? We should do one, and Abe was Jewish, so in that first parade, he wore a Kelly green yarmulke as he walked down the street with an Irish walking stick.”

Nearly half a century later, the St. Patrick’s Day parade remains a beloved citywide tradition, drawing hundreds of marchers and spectators not only from Meriden, but across the state. But, last year, both the parade and the AOH itself nearly collapsed. 

Due to financial difficulties wrought by COVID-19, Finley said, the AOH was forced to sell its Meriden clubhouse and found itself unable to foot the over $6,000 bill tied to its flagship event and worried the city would lose the festival altogether.

That was, Finley said, until the Latino community of Meriden, led by U.S. Secretary of Education and Meriden native Miguel Cardona stepped up and crowd funded the 2022 parade.

“The Puerto Rican community loves the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and it was a great thing for them to reach out and help another ethnic group put on a parade and so it was a wonderful story,” Finley said.

Ties between the Hispanic and Irish communities of Meriden date back generations to the arrival of the first Puerto Rican migrants to the city. When Puerto Ricans first landed in central Connecticut, Finely said, they faced similar discrimination as the Irish before them.

In response, Meriden’s Irish American community opened the doors of its sacred St. Rose of Lima Church, organizing the city’s first Spanish language mass, and a bond between the two demographics has persisted ever since.

Decades later, Cardona maintained his ties to that time-honored tradition of collaboration between Irish and Latino residents and utilized his platform to raise money for last year’s parade.

Doreen Roddy, a leading figure in the women’s branch of the AOH and parade co-chair, said Cardona was so successful in fundraising, the AOH was able to cover the cost of both the 2022 parade, and this year’s celebration. 

“He contacted people that he knew and just put the word out,” Roddy said. “He was a big help.”

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade will feature a wide range of participants, all eager to promote their causes and share their talents with the the city. Attractions will include locally based youth organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Meriden and live musical performances from statewide musical troupes, such as the Ancient Mariners Connecticut, a nautical themed fife and drum corps with over a decade of experience performing in Meriden’s parade.

As the Mariners make their way along the procession, corps Business Manager Richard Walter said they will be accompanied by a show cannon they will fire during the parade. Walter said members of the Mariners are accustomed to belting out Irish tunes through years of performing at St. Patrick’s Day events and playing Celtic music individually.

“Plenty of the music that we play comes from Irish traditional roots,” Walter said. “I'm among a handful of folks who have actually played Irish music professionally, so there is that connection to Ireland.”

A historical cornerstone of the Meriden St. Patrick’s Day parade, Finley and Roddy said, was the post-parade gathering at the AOH clubhouse, complete with live music, pints of beer and corned beef. Yet, after selling it’s home base to keep the organization afloat, the AOH found itself without a host location for it’s early-evening bash.

In response, the Meriden branch of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, a descendent of the Freemasons, offered up its lodge to house festivities, Exalted Ruler Wes Huxley said.

Huxley said his organization, like those which raised money for the parade maintains deep-rooted ties with the AOH and refused to let their parade fall “by the wayside.”

That cooperative spirit, born years ago as Meriden’s distinct ethnic groups first leaned on each other for survival, remains alive and well.

Though St. Patrick’s Day remains a Celtic-centered holiday, Finley said the AOH invites any and all residents to gather in a celebration of not only their heritage, but of a deep-seated tradition of collaboration between the city’s diverse tapestry of communities.

“It’s just a sign of Irish hospitality,” Finley said. “Everybody tends to smile around St. Patrick’s Day whether you’re Irish or not.”


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