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New London — An enthusiastic crowd greeted politicians, emergency personnel, bands, dogs, female rollerskaters and men in kilts with equal gusto this afternoon as they braved 38-degree temperatures and a blustery wind during the annual downtown St. Patrick's Day Parade.
The 50-minute parade down Bank and State streets, which featured an appearance by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, had more participants than some of the early Irish celebrations, despite a last-minute switch in organizational structures related to a dispute over funding.
"It was a wonderful parade," said Libby Flanagan of Waterford.
"You see the best of New London," added Katie Bradford of Mystic. "It makes a difference that it happened on a weekend."
The 6th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade was put together over the past few months by music promoter Sean Patrick Murray and event organizer Barbara Neff, executive director of the Downtown New London Merchants Association, after the committee that previously arranged the celebration of Irish heritage bowed out. The dispute over costs associated with the parade came to light after Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced in an executive order that permits for city events would be approved only if organizers paid for required extra services.
But all of the behind-the-scenes political machinations were in little evidence Sunday. Even state Rep. Ernest Hewett, the New London Democrat who recently had his deputy speaker post stripped away over a dispute over a comment that some saw as sexually charged, made it to the event, smiling with the rest of the local General Assembly contingent.
Frank McLaughlin, project manager of the Renaissance City Development Association, hosted the event from a reviewing stand on the New London Parade, commenting on some of the parade-goers, including Lt. Gov. Wyman "in her legendary high heels" and city attorney Linda Mariani wearing a pink pocketbook that "doesn't go in this parade."
The event for the first time featured a parade queen, Darcy Van Ness of Waterford, a student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point.
"We think that's a great addition," McLaughlin said.
Marchers included community organizations such as Centro de la Comunidad, New London Main Street, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, the New London Kiwanis Club, the Drop-In Learning Center, New London County Rugby, Riverside Park Conservancy, the Animal Welfare League of New London, Bike New London and Habitat for Humanity of Southeastern Connecticut.
Adding a bit of St. Patrick's legitimacy to the parade were the New London Currach Rowers and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, while both the New London Firefighters Fife & Drums and the New London High School Band were dressed in their Irish finest.
"There were lots of participants this year," said city resident Sherburne Stidfole. "It's a big thing now."
The New London Motorcycle Club put on a display of coordinated riding as they wove in and out of one another to the rumble of their powerful machines.
A few light moments occurred when the wind gusted, sending members of the all-female Shoreline Roller Derby tumbling into one another and knocking one kilt-clad gentleman backwards.
But the biggest cheer was given to a woman with the Irish Wolfhound Association of New England who stooped to pick up a dropping that otherwise would have stopped the parade in its tracks.