St. Patrick's Parade leaders get their sashes

The two top dignitaries of this year’s Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade — the grand marshal and Miss Emerald Isle — are officially in place. Emily Mager, Miss Emerald Isle, and the grand marshal, Michael McCabe, received their parade sashes Sunday evening at a dinner in their honor.

Milford’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, one of the city’s key events, is scheduled for Saturday, March 10, and Emily and McCabe will be leading the event.

Emily, 16, said she has dreamed about being Miss Emerald Isle since she was a young girl watching the parade. A junior at Foran High School, she said her Irish heritage comes from her paternal grandmother’s side of the family. Her great grandparents, Maggie and Ira Tooker, came from County Cork before settling in Stratford in the early 1900s.

It was her grandparents, Betty and Joseph Mager, who really sparked her love for her culture.

“When I was younger we would all go to my grandmother’s house and listen to Irish folk tales and dance around the living room,” she said.

And every St. Patrick’s Day included corned beef and cabbage, and Emily’s mother’s homemade Irish soda bread.

The annual parade is sponsored by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, and the committee has close ties to Milford’s Irish Heritage Society. Emily started volunteering with the Irish Heritage Society when she was in middle school. She said her father always helped with the annual Irish Festival, and he invited her along one year. From then on she was a regular at the event, volunteering in the children’s activity area.

Emily is the daughter of Diana and John Mager, and she has two brothers, John and Craig.

She plans to attend Fairfield University after high school graduation and study either elementary education or prepare for studies in forensic science.

Emily is an honors student taking several Advanced Placement classes at Foran. She takes part in the chorus and Advanced Vocal Ensemble, as well as drama club and several other clubs. She also played on the Powder Puff Football team.

Michael McCabe, this year’s grand marshal, has been involved with Irish events since a young age, and got involved with the Irish Heritage Society as it was forming. He is the president now, and in 2016 was named the club’s Irish man of the year.

McCabe said his grandfather was from County Sligo and his grandmother from County Mayo. His grandfather was very involved in the Order of the Hibernians, an Irish Catholic fraternal organization, and McCabe, growing up in Norwalk, often attended events with him. Irish music and dance were constants in his youth.

After law school, McCabe joined the Hibernians himself, and when he moved to Milford, he found the Irish Heritage Society just getting started and jumped in to help.

It was the Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and his first march in it with the Irish Heritage Society, that made him feel like a real part of Milford.

“As many of you know,” he told the crowd at Stanziale’s Restaurant in Stratford Sunday evening at the honorary dinner, “I met Tracy in 1999 and moved to Milford to be with her in 2000. For many years, this was always Tracy’s town. Milford was her friends, her family, her get-togethers, her hangouts.

“Then I joined the Irish Heritage Society of Milford in 2006, and I marched with the IHS in this St. Patrick’s Parade for the first time in 2007. As we turned the corner from West Main Street onto West River Street, I finally felt that Milford was my town.”

He said he’s honored to lead the parade that solidified his connection to Milford.

“We may not have the oldest parade,” he said. “We may not have the longest parade. We may not have the most famous parade. But we have the finest St. Patrick’s Parade in this state.”

McCabe and his wife, Tracy, who is the Irish Heritage Society’s Irish Woman of the year this year, have four children — Eileen, Jennifer, Catherine and Owen. Michael is the son of Catherine and the late Harold McCabe. He has three grandchildren, Declan, Quinn and Phoenix.

Emily and McCabe will be leading the St. Patrick’s Day Parade when it steps off from the Parsons Government Center at 1 p.m. in downtown Milford on Saturday, March 10.