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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    ‘Today we’re all Irish’: Good weather brings crowds for Norwich St. Pat’s parade

    Sisters Tessa, left, 13, and Allie Ruffo, 10, of Lebanon, use umbrellas as they watch the Norwich St. Patrick’s Parade & Festival on Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    The Crow & Cauldron Witch Dancers participate in the Norwich St. Patrick’s Parade & Festival on Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Anakin Mills, 6, of Norwich sits on his mom Lola Mills’ shoulders as they watch the Norwich St. Patrick’s Parade & Festival on Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mystic Highlands Pipe Band marches in the Norwich St. Patrick’s Parade & Festival on Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    A participant screams from the Norwich Events Organization float in the Norwich St. Patrick’s Parade & Festival on Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich ― About an hour after the city’s 10th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade began, Karen Kenerley and Gina Donovan, two members of a massive green-clad crowd that had gathered outside Billy Wilson’s Ageing Still, watched the final two floats shuffle down Broadway.

    “Today, we’re all Irish,” the two Norwich residents, both of Italian ancestry, said. “You look around ― look at all the people that have their green on.”

    But the two had ― as if to be safe ― married Irish men, thereby ensuring their participation in the annual event, which they’ve been coming to every year.

    The two said they couldn’t remember a better crowd.

    At 1 p.m., that crowd, which had well over a thousand people, watched as city police led the parade from Chelsea Groton Bank on Main Street. They were followed by multiple area fire departments, military members, state and local legislators, bagpipers, musicians and local businesses.

    There were about 60 different groups. They marched through the first roundabout exit and up Franklin Street before crossing over in front of Jeffrey’s Barbershop to Chestnut Street and down Broadway before finishing up at the other side of the Main Street roundabout.

    Along those streets, families lined up in chairs or standing to wave and cheer the passing cars, firetrucks ― even the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, fresh off a stop in New London last week.

    “So much energy,” Donovan said. “People have got their Irish going even if they aren’t Irish.”

    “It was a nice parade,” added Waterford resident Karen Houggy, a first-time spectator. “A lot bigger than what we expected.”

    Judging by the crowd’s cheering, and the number of people recording videos on their phones, the three bagpipes groups and the Norwich-based Crow and Cauldron Witch Dancers, who performed a German witch dance, were among the highlights.

    “It’s really empowering to get out there and have fun,” said Jonni Illinger, the only witch out of over 20 to be wearing a prosthetic nose.

    This is the group’s first parade out of several in the St. Patrick’s Day season, she said. Others were also gearing up for future parades, including one in New London on March 17 and in Mystic on the 24th.

    “It’s kicking off the whole St. Patrick’s Day season,” said Roger Tompkins, of the New London Firefighters Pipes and Drum Band.

    Meanwhile, as the Mystic Highland Pipe Band and the Mystic Pipe and Drums tuned their instruments in the parking lot of the Norwich train station, the latter’s second-in-command was nursing an injury that sidelined her for the parade.

    “I broke my finger, so I can’t play today,” said Madeline Koffer, pipe sergeant of Mystic Pipe and Drums.

    She said she was sad she wouldn’t get to play traditional Irish songs such as “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” or “Rakes of Mallow” with her fellow blue-kilted bandmates, but she had the important task of hoisting the group’s banner.

    Joseph Fontaine, of Norwich, watched the Mystic Group from in front of Main Street’s Eastern Savings Bank with his family. He, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who was one of the first to march, attributed the parade’s large crowd to the warm weather and sunshine.

    Parade ends, pub crawl begins

    Tompkins and eight other members of the New London Firefighters Pipes and Drums lined up on Franklin Street outside These Guys Brewing Co., a brewpub that opened its doors in 2015.

    “Often when we go into bars, we just kind of wing it,” the retired battalion chief joked.

    His band, which had just marched in the parade, had to this point been playing its typical numbers.

    “It’s Irish. It’s St. Patrick’s Day. So it’s all our usual stuff,” Tompkins said.

    Suddenly, the group of former and current firefighters were motioned inside. Their bagpipes, which prior to this point had been nestled at ease by their ribs, now stood at full attention, with the firefighters blowing through the mouthpieces as they entered in a procession.

    The brewpub inside was packed to the gills. As the band entered, people, many of whom drank dark beers or wore shining green beads around their necks, applauded and whooped loudly.

    Fittingly, a television behind the bar was playing a Notre Dame women’s basketball game. The band played a few songs in the brewpub’s main room before retiring to a side one, then in about half an hour came back to play a few more.

    “I loved the band,” said Uncasville’s Dawn Samuel after the room-filling chorus of bag pipes and snare drum-taps had ended.

    Samuel, whose daughter is the head brewer at the brewpub, was sharing beers with her family at a table there. She said the bagpipers are always her favorite part of the parade, which she’s been coming to for years.

    Meanwhile, Tompkins said the group, which formed in 2021, loves playing for crowds like this.

    “The main purpose of our band is to play,” he said. “That’s why we do this, and that’s the fun part.”

    Afterwards, they would travel to the other nearby bars: Billy Wilson’s, Epicure Brewing and the Harp and Dragon Pub, to entertain more.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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