Published March 23. 2014 6:00PM Updated March 24. 2014 12:30AM
Mystic — On a brisk Sunday afternoon in March, a young girl in a bright pink coat strolled down Greenmanville Avenue. As she trotted behind her parents, she tore apart a leaf and dropped the pieces behind her like Gretel marking her path through the woods.
Hers was one of the many families making the long trek down Greenmanville Avenue to watch the 11th annual Mystic Irish Parade. The route provided plenty of distractions for children — a girl squealed when she saw a plane advertising a sea towing service fly overhead, while a toddling boy looked out over the Mystic River and asked his mother whether hippopotamuses lived there.
When observers reached Mystic Seaport, they were greeted with all the usual St. Patrick's Day parade standbys: talented children playing "Yankee Doodle" on fifes and drums, jubilant 20-somethings dancing on floats for radio stations and serious-looking men in kilts marching behind banners for various police departments.
But, as might be expected at a parade that included more than 120 marching (or rolling) groups — among them, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — and drew what organizers estimated would be as many as 30,000 spectators, some unexpected displays were interspersed among the more traditional sights.
People held their cellphones and iPads over the crowd to take photographs as a man covered in green tinsel rode by on a triple-decker unicycle. Men dressed as pirates shouted out in grizzly voices and startled everyone by firing guns and cannons. Representatives from the Mystic & Noank Library pushed book carts adorned with green paraphernalia.
In addition to the tankers from local fire companies that honked at children as they drove by, members of the Sphinx Shriners crammed themselves into miniature firetrucks and waved at onlookers.
And few things got as much attention as the Guinness truck that rumbled by; thirsty adults called out asking for free samples.
Parents lifted the younger children onto their shoulders while the older ones sat down on the outer edges of the crowd. Young adults with red cups weaved through masses of people, calling out to friends. Green plaid socks peeped out from under the pants of toddlers and striped green ones were visible over the tops of teenage girls' boots.
Kasey Crandall of Griswold said she doesn't usually go to parades but decided to attend the Mystic Irish Parade with her boyfriend, her mother and her nephews.
She said the event was "pretty sweet" and that her nephews, ages 1 and 6, enjoyed it.
"The liked the trucks," said Crandall.