Mystic Irish Parade ‘a massive day’ for the community
Mystic ― When Leo Roche moved to town some 20 years ago, he said there was not a lot going on during March.
He arrived in the country from Ireland in 1986, before moving to town and opening his pub, The Harp and Hound, in the early 2000s.
Then, he decided he would try to start a parade.
Roche said the parade seems to get bigger and stronger each year, with people traveling from all over the state to participate or watch. Two years were missed due to the pandemic.
“It’s a massive day for the community,” said Roche, the Mystic Irish Parade Foundation’s president. “It’s all about our Irish heritage.”
Groton and Stonington Police were anticipating a crowd of up to 30,000 people.
Roche said the parade seems to get bigger and stronger each year, with people traveling from all over the state to participate or watch. He said this year’s parade had 2,000 people marching in more than 100 groups, along with 15 bag pipe groups and “Shaded Souls,” a nine-piece band from Hartford.
“Every year, when parade time comes around, they want to come in and participate or watch and enjoy,” Roche said.
Each year, the parade organizers choose a grand marshal. This year, resident and philanthropist Phil Pavone was given the distinction.
Pavone, a Vietnam veteran, owns the AZ Pawn shop in Norwich. He created AZ Pawn’s Gift of Mobility program in 2009, which has given away 940 power chairs and 500 wheelchairs, canes, and walkers to residents with disabilities.
While Pavone was honored to be named grand marshal, he was mostly happy that his program, and the need for motorized chairs, was earning more attention as a result.
“They say it takes a village to do things,” Pavone said of the parade. “This is the village, and I’m proud to be part of it.”
The parade also crowned its “Grand Colleen” for a second time in a scholarship contest that honors a female of Irish descent who is academically successful and involved in her community.
Elizabeth Henderson, a Fitch High School student enrolling at Endicott College in the fall, was named this year’s grand colleen. Henderson said she’s volunteered with the parade since she was little, served as a coach at her local gym and participated in her high school’s Key Club, a student-led volunteer club. She said she always looks forward to the parade and to seeing smiling faces along the route, which starts at the Mystic Seaport Museum and ends at the Mystic Museum of Art after a trip downtown.
Roche said the non-profit parade foundation, which has to raise more than $70,000 for the parade, also raises the funds for the scholarship.
“It’s really cool to see that so many people enjoy it and that so many people from other places also come here,” Henderson said.
There was a new addition to this year’s parade: a green Mystic River. Roche said the fire department had the idea after dyeing the river red and blue when the Morgan Whaling Ship first returned to the water and asked to do it for the parade. From its boat, the fire department sprayed four 55-gallon drums of environmentally-friendly dye into the air and into the water.
Roche called the event a big economic driver for the area, as hotels are often booked for the weekend and restaurants are at capacity for reservations.
Olde Mistick Village, Mystic Aquarium and Valenti Family of Dealerships, all celebrating their 50th year of business in 2023, decided to collaborate on a float for this year’s parade.
“It’s just incredible, because we’ve got a great community,” said Bob Valenti, whose dealership is also a major parade sponsor. He said the family business has had so much community support over the past 50 years that, “we always try and give back whenever we can.”
Valenti said his father moved the family to Mystic in 1973 to open the dealership. In September of that year, Joyce Olson-Resnikoff and her brother Jerry opened Olde Mistick Village on property their father purchased a decade prior. A month later, the aquarium, which now greets more than 800,000 people a year, came to town.
Olson-Resnikoff said the village prioritizes giving back and supports local theater, musical and visual arts programs, like The Garde Arts Center, along with youth sports, charitable and nonprofit ventures.
“Just a big thank you to the community from Mystic Aquarium,” said the aquarium’s Senior Vice President of Development Tina Couch. “Fifty years is a huge milestone for us, and the only reason we’re here is because of our community.”
Couch is in her second year with the aquarium and experienced her first Mystic Irish Parade this year. The New York native said it was fun to see places outside of the city celebrate at such a large scale.
Valenti couldn’t agree more.
“Everyone bands together and puts the whole community all in one place,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
The trio’s float included aspects of all three entities in a large trailer, with a disc jockey in the bed of the truck towing it all. There was a replica of the water wheel from Olde Mystic Village, shark and penguin statues from the aquarium and a few model cars from Valenti.
“Here’s to another 50,” Chris Regan, Olde Mistick Village property manager, said.
Also marking its 50th year was Duncklee Cooling & Heating, which paired with Waterford Country School for its parade festivities.
Some of the other parade participants included Charter Oak Federal Credit Union, Full Power Radio, Sphinx Shriners Motor Patrol, Free Men of the Sea and Spirited Soles Irish Dance Academy.