New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee honors Milford’s Martin Hardiman

Martin Hardiman at last year's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Milford.

Martin Hardiman at last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Milford.

Martin Hardiman has done a lot for the Irish culture in Milford, from organizing its annual parade to helping to form the Milford Irish Heritage Society.

All that activity did not escape the notice of the New Haven-based Irish community: The New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee is honoring Hardiman with one of its highest awards, the Cornelius Driscol Award.

According to Mary Malenda, parade committee member and former grand marshal, Cornelius Driscol was born in Quirk in 1845, at the onset of the potato famine.

His family left Ireland for America and settled in New Haven. Driscol then went on to graduate from Yale College in 1869.

“The enormity of that achievement was incredible,” Malenda said. “This was the son of famine immigrants, and there was a lot of discrimination against the Irish then.”

Driscol later helped form the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, and in 1899 was elected mayor of New Haven, the first Irish Catholic and the first immigrant elected as mayor.

In 2003, the New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee decided to honor him by naming an award for him, selecting a recipient who has performed outstanding community service.

Past recipients include U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Senator Richard Blumenthal and the New Haven Police Department.

“[Marty] seemed like the normal, natural pick this year,” Malenda said. “He is someone who has gone out of their way to promote the Irish community.”

The award, she said, “is very significant.”

Hardiman, a 2010 grand marshal of the Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade and longtime chairman of the parade that draws a record crowd to Milford, has been a promoter of the Irish heritage in Milford for many years.

His grandparents and father were born in Ireland, and he’s very proud of his Irish roots.

The Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade started 24 years ago, launched by Milford residents Maureen Birge and Carol Schneider. They ran it for five years, and then the late Harry Hyatt took it over. He quickly got Hardiman to co-chair the event with him. When Hyatt died, Hardiman swore he would keep the parade going.

Hardiman also founded the Irish Heritage Society in Milford with fellow resident Chris McEnerney and has served on several local boards, including the Board of Education and Zoning Board of Appeals. He currently is a city alderman, and served as an alderman for eight years previously. He’s also been a constable.

Busy promoting the Irish, yes, but he wasn’t expecting the New Haven award.

“I was really surprised,” Hardiman said. “I wasn’t expecting anything like that. I was stunned.”

Hardiman will be honored at the New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee’s annual ball at Yale Commons March 8. Tickets are still available at $100 at stpatricksdayparade.org.

And of course, he will march in the New Haven parade Sunday, March 16.

He may, however, have to march in three spots. If there is one location for the Driscol award recipient to march, he’ll be there, then he’ll have to find his way to the West Haven Irish American Club nearby and march with them because he’s a member of that group, and then he’ll make his way to the back of the parade to march with the Milford Irish Heritage Society.

The Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be Saturday, March 15, stepping off at 1 p.m. Residents will be able to see Hardiman marching there, too.

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