Marty Hardiman stood at the head of the Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade route Saturday as 1 p.m. drew close, holding a clipboard and checking off units as they marched by.
Milford’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday, March 9, marked its 29th year, and Hardiman, parade chairman, has been at the front of the line for the past 21 years.
Parade day is a busy one for Hardiman and the rest of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, which runs the annual parade.
As more than 50 units lined up in and around the Wasson parking lot behind the Parson’s Government Center, many of the marchers stopped and asked Hardiman to point the way to their group. Megan Flaherty, a local teacher, asked for directions to her group of students from Harborside Middle School. Warren Pawlowski, a Milford Board of Education member, stopped to say hello, and to call out, “We all love you Marty.”
And then the local high school bands, civic groups, business members and community leaders — plus Governor Ned Lamont, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Richard Blumenthal — started to roll out of the parking lot, toward River and Broad streets. This year’s Miss Emerald Isle Caitlyn Zawadski and Grand Marshal TJ Casey also helped lead the way.
Hardiman signaled them forward, keeping the line going.
There were 52 marching units this year, plus a couple of groups that showed up and asked to join the march.
“We have more than usual,” Hardiman said, maintaining his calm.
“I’m the one who keeps everyone calm,” he said with a smile as the parade, one of Milford’s biggest annual events, got underway.
Hardiman wasn’t even frazzled that the governor showed up, the first time he said he can remember that a governor has marched in the Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Skies were sunny Saturday for the 1.5 hour-long parade, and temperatures were comfortable at about 50 degrees, according to the Milford Bank thermometer. There was snow on the green, but city workers had converged with shovels and other equipment in the days prior to make sure there was plenty of clear ground to stand on.
A crowd that some parade organizers estimated at 10,000 to 15,000 found plenty of standing room as the floats, school groups, dancers, bagpipers and more marched by, tossing candy and beads to those watching.
Peter Ortoleva, who has marched in the parade as St. Patrick for 22 years, said the crowd looked quite big to him. “Lots of people,” he said at the end of the march.
Hardiman agreed, saying he thought it was the biggest crowd ever.
But it wasn’t the end of the event for him. Hardiman and some of the bagpipers then met up to visit the downtown businesses who contributed to the event to play some Irish tunes and say thanks for the funds. It costs about $20,000 to run the parade, and that comes from donations, Hardiman said.
And when it’s all over, Hardiman said he doesn’t get sad. “I’m happy to get to the end of the parade,” he said. “I take a look at the crowd, and everyone is happy.”
Then he starts planning for next year’s parade.
A few stragglers still making their way from the downtown area after the last unit had passed by at about 2:30 p.m. raved about the event. Cole Reher, 5, liked catching the candy, and Jackson Magun, 6, liked the motorcycle unit. Adelaine Primavera, 5, really liked the Irish dancers, and they all liked seeing St. Patrick dressed in green and carrying his staff.
The adults still walking by said they loved it too.
“It was great,” said Terri Boone, who lives in Stratford. “I’ve never seen a Milford parade this good. It was a great community atmosphere.”
Meg O’Donnell, also of Stratford, agreed, and said it was wonderful to see people outside celebrating.
Milford Alderman Bryan Anderson said it’s a day that shines a spotlight on the city.
“I love the feeling that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade marks the beginning of spring, and it’s so festive and well organized, and with such a great turnout we have, you can’t help but have pride in Milford.”
(Photos are below were taken by Jill Dion and Matthew Bugaj)