First St. Pat's parade in Norwich is green scene

Kevin Morton, right, of Coventry, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, sits inside the Harp and Dragon in Norwich with fellow members after participating Sunday in the inaugural Norwich St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Kevin Morton, right, of Coventry, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, sits inside the Harp and Dragon in Norwich with fellow members after participating Sunday in the inaugural Norwich St. Patrick's Day Parade. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Norwich - Downtown was a cacophony of bagpipes, toy horns and police and firetruck sirens Sunday as the city's inaugural St. Patrick's Day Parade winded on and off Main Street to City Landing.

The parade drew thousands to its half-mile-long route. Norwich police estimated that more than 3,000 people came to greet the 712 marchers representing 52 groups who participated.

Turnout both surprised and pleased organizers, who announced the new event only recently, in January.

"We started from scratch, so it was getting people to believe in us," said Courtney Gray-Chase, a member of the parade committee.

Steph Perry of Norwich and her two young sons sat on the sunny side of the curb near Main and Franklin streets waiting for Perry's police officer husband to pass by in the color guard.

"This is big," Perry said.

She said there had been chatter about organizing the parade and ensuing street party for years. She described the event as "inevitable."

The parade marked the beginning of what participants called the "St. Patrick's Day season." Several area events, including parades in New London and Mystic, are scheduled for later in the month to honor the green-hued, Guinness-drenched holiday.

Committee treasurer Miria Toth credited fellow committee member Harp and Dragon Pub owner Scott Capano with making Sunday's festivities a reality. Capano in turn conferred the honor to Toth.

Both committee members said planning began when Capano brought the idea to Toth, who works in marketing at Norwich Community Development Corporation.

Capano said he began mulling the idea three or four years ago. The pub owner said he sees the parade as a long-term investment for businesses and the community. He said that in anticipation of future returns, he pledged for his business and other businesses owned by his family to pay up to $15,000 of parade costs.

"I truly believe that once you have a successful event, it's a lot easier to find sponsors," he said.

He said roughly $12,000 is anticipated in donations and he plans to cover the remaining costs.

Organizers plan to put the whole shebang together same time next year. The early timing relative to other local events made it easier to attract talent, according to Gray-Chase.

Norwich natives Garrette Testut, 10, and Matthew Honvo, 11, said they look forward to both watching and participating in the parade in the future. Both marched with the Police Athletic League.

"It's pretty cool and long," said Honvo.

As the last float - a carriage pulled by a pair of 2-ton Belgian horses slowed to a halt in a parking lot near City Landing, Hall Communications station manager Bob Reed said he was ready to head over to the street festival in front of the Harp and Dragon.

Hall Communications, which runs local stations including WICH 1310 and Roxy 100.9, had commissioned the horses and wagon from Ye Plain Ol' Farm.

Wearing leprechaun garb, Reed said, "We're ready for the pints."

t.townsend@theday.com

Calvin Dayton of Norwich, a member of the Mystic Highland Pipe Band, walks along Main Street on Sunday after participating in the inaugural Norwich St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Calvin Dayton of Norwich, a member of the Mystic Highland Pipe Band, walks along Main Street on Sunday after participating in the inaugural Norwich St. Patrick's Day Parade. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo
Members of the Norwich Free Academy marching band proceed down Main Street on Sunday in the inaugural St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Members of the Norwich Free Academy marching band proceed down Main Street on Sunday in the inaugural St. Patrick's Day Parade. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo
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