MYSTIC — Despite some overcast skies and temperatures dropping into the 30-degree range, people shrugged off the cold on Sunday to urge on a warmer spring at the 11th annual Mystic Irish Parade.
Based on the number of people who attend the relatively short, one-mile parade, it has become a popular event in Mystic and certainly the highlight of the spring — the start of a new season.
And people come by the thousands. According to its organizers, the Mystic Irish Parade Foundation, an estimated 30,000 people attend the parade. More than an hour before its start, traffic on Greenmanville Avenue was backed up to Interstate 95. On Allyn Street cars were parked at the side of the road more than a mile north of New London Road, Route 1.
It is so popular, in fact, that the parade marchers far outdistance its route. Those at the front of the parade reach its end, at the Mystic Arts Center, well before the last participants have even entered the street at the entrance to Mystic Seaport. This year more than 2,000 people took part in the parade and groups from as far away as New Haven joined the celebration. More than 120 different organizations took part.
As always, the route was lined with families, couples happy to be outside and children wrapped in comforters and stretching out their hands for free candy.
“I like it because it’s very festive,” said Westerly High School junior Hannah Heidtman, a member of the flag line. “It’s also nice to represent the school.” Both Heidtman and junior Kip Smith participated last year. Smith plays in the band.
“I like it because there are so many bands here; Westerly, Chariho, Stonington,” Smith said. “Even the Westerly Town Band and those types of bands. It is good that we all come and play.”
Well before the 1 p.m. start, the New England Science & Sailing program manager, Pam Gibbs, examined the three trailers that made up the organization’s float; an opt, a kayak and an O’pen Bic.
“These are the types of boats we use in our programs,” she said. The Stonington nonprofit teaches sailing, marine science and adventure water sports for 4-year-olds to adults. “We just love to get our NESS families together,” she said. “This is our third year here. It’s a great parade but we’re ready for summer.”
Another group participating for the third time was the Shoreline Roller Derby of Groton. Dressed in full uniform, with skates, members of the Belladonnas and the Salty Broads coasted effortlessly on the streets.
“It’s a perfect day for us to get out and show people what we’re about,” said Courtney “Twin Gat” Fitzgerald. “Our first match is coming up April 19, so we’ve been skating a lot. This will be fun just to skate around the streets.”
The recent addition of both NESS and the skaters is further proof of the rapidly growing popularity of the parade.
“It really has become a great event for all of Mystic,” said Neil Ryan, vice president of the parade foundation. “We thank all of the people who have helped us put it on, especially the volunteers.”
The foundation is a registered nonprofit organization and all donations are tax deductible and directly help fund local charities, as well as the annual parade.
The parade’s award ceremony will take place on Sunday, March 30, at 4 p.m., at the Harp & Hound Pub on Pearl Street, Mystic. Trophies will be awarded to the winning participants of the parade. Volunteers will also be honored. A raffle for a trip for two to Ireland will also be held and tickets can be purchased at the Harp & Hound, Taber Inne and the Wireless Zone in Groton for $5 per ticket. Last year more than $2,000 was generated and donated to local nonprofit organizations.
This year’s grand marshal was Tony Sheridan, president of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, which represents 1,600 companies.