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OPINION: Smile for St. Patrick’s Day

Everyone gets to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Or, at least, to smile.

On the day before the holiday this year, March 16, the Meriden Turner Society, founded in 1866 to promote German culture and traditions, according to a recent news release, through “Gemütlichkeit, Traditional Song, Schuhplattler Dance and good food,” will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a corned beef and cabbage dinner.

And in a recent story, the Record-Journal’s Ben Baker offered an inspiring account of local history, delving into the details of Meriden’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade. Mayor Abe Grossman, nearly a half century ago, contacted the Ancient Order of Hibernians to set it up.

According to Jim Finley, a former AOH president and parade grand marshal, Grossman “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.”

See what I mean? Everybody gets to wear green.

The recent past has not been an easy time for the Meriden AOH. As the R-J reported in January, the organization, in operation for more than 70 years, had to sell its Melville Avenue clubhouse. Factors contributing to tough times include lessened interest among young people and rules that members be male, of Irish descent and Catholic. As the R-J story put it, “the Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in 1836 in New York City as a way to protect Catholic properties and convents from anti-Catholic forces and to assist Irish Catholic immigrants, especially those who faced discrimination and harsh working conditions.”

The Meriden chapter has about 70 members, and while the club offered memberships bypassing the Catholic requirement and let women join the auxiliary it hasn’t been enough. “We’re not immune to what’s occurred with other ethnic clubs in cities where members moved to the suburbs,” Finley told the R-J. “Today’s generation doesn’t have the same ties to their ethnicity that their parents, grandparents and great grandparents had.”

No doubt the world is changing, but there’s evidence the generosity of spirit displayed by Grossman all those years ago is still around.

The coronavirus pandemic, which had an insistent way of knocking plans off their slates, canceled the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade for two years. Parade costs are about $6,000.

The parade returned last year, thanks to fundraising efforts led by Meriden’s Miguel Cardona, U.S. education secretary, and his wife Marissa Cardona.

“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,” said Finley, in Baker’s recent story.

The effort was so successful expenses for this year’s parade are also covered.

This year, of course, there will be no clubhouse to return to at parade’s end. Yet, in another example of — what should we call it? — community excellence, the city’s branch of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks is offering its lodge.

As you can tell, it’s adding up to a pretty special celebration. Take it from Finley: “Everybody tends to smile around St. Patrick’s Day whether you’re Irish or not.”

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.



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