Woodbridge native proud to serve as grand marshal for Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade

#1 Clifford Wall Lynch, Jr
#1 Clifford Wall Lynch, Jr

NEW HAVEN >> The Lynch Family’s spot during the Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade stood at the corner of Orchard and Chapel streets, near Papa & Sons market.

It’s here Woodbridge native Clifford Wall Lynch Jr. remembers standing alongside his two sisters, Kara and Kristine, for a celebration of a personal heritage he was just barely discovering. Lynch said he was either 5 or 6 for the first parade he can recall, but he’s sure he attended as an infant.

“My family and even extended family were always on the same spot in the parade route,” Lynch said.

Owner and operator of Iovanne Funeral Home near Wooster Square, Lynch is an alumnus of Quinnipiac University and Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service, who has long been involved with the Irish-American community in New Haven.

In addition to the cultural spectacle, Lynch would get to see his father participate in the Connecticut State Police honor guard, as well as both of his grandfathers, who were members of the fire department.

“It was always kind of cool for us to see that growing up, see what their public service was kind of being recognized,” Lynch said. “It was important. For us, it was very prideful.”

When he attends the parade March 12, he won’t be standing on that corner. He won’t be standing still much at all, actually. He’ll be doing a lot more walking: Lynch will don a sash, a top hat and a tuxedo tail jacket to serve as the 2017 Parade grand marshal. Lynch said the parade this year will celebrate its 175th anniversary.

“Being a grand marshal is one of the proudest moments as an Irishman,” Lynch said. “You’re showing the pride in your heritage, your culture. You’re able to put that out for everybody to see.”

There are other reasons the march is important to Lynch that move beyond the spectacle. While it represents a celebration of Irish heritage, it’s also a symbol of Irish prosperity. And to Lynch, this translates to a celebration for all folks who have endured hardships when immigrating to New Haven, regardless of their home country.

Visiting Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac reminded Lynch of the struggle his heritage can often embody. Lynch points out his family were the have-nots when they arrived from Ireland. Like so many other immigrants, Lynch said they arrived in New Haven and lived in tenement housing and cold water flats in various neighborhoods.

The rise from impoverished laborers to established denizens is reflected in the regalia worn by parade grand marshals.

“The meaning behind it was, we’ve come from the Irish-need-not apply signs for jobs, to people who have some standing and able to put out a parade and show, ‘You know what, we’re here, we’ve arrived,’” Lynch said. “We’ve made it.”

Lynch was chosen grand marshal by the Associated Irish Societies, which is the primary sponsor of the parade. Their committee nominated Lynch after he served as chairman last year. He said he’s been mentored by Jim McGovern and John O’Connor, who Lynch said have given him guidance for the special occasion.

There are Irish roots on both sides of his family. Lynch said his maternal great-grandmother emigrated from Ireland in the early 1920s, from the town of Passage East in County Waterford. His father’s family came from County Cork around the mid-1800s. Lynch credits his grandmother, Joan Fortune, with instilling a sense of cultural pride in him and motivating him to participate in Irish-American organizations.

“She taught me how to make a mean Irish soda bread,” Lynch said of Fortune.

Lynch’s great-grandmother was the only one of nine children to come to United States, which means he still has several relatives in Ireland. He visited cousins there last year during a honeymoon in Europe following his marriage to his wife Shannon in August.

“We go to meet up with some cousins and show my wife exactly where we came from,” Lynch said. “The old house is still there. They’ve done a little work to it, but it was always that stereotypical thatched cottage.”

Lynch is relishing in his opportunity to represent a culture that his family long ago reminded him is important to recognize. He encourages people to bring their young ones, especially to the parade, which he said is a community-wide event.

“The fact that it’s a family-friendly event, that anybody can come to, whether you’re a baby in a carriage, or you’re 90 years old, you can go and you can see the smiles on the faces of the people you’re walking by,” Lynch said. “You’re seeing the pride that some of these old-timers that are out there, that have worked hard on our parade and worked with these organizations for years.”

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901