The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade festivities began last weekend and will conclude on Sunday with the annual parade.
Michael O’Connell and his family, along with the rest of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, have been orchestrating this annual parade since the early 1960s.
“My father and uncle started the parade in 1960,” said O’Connell. “President Kennedy was running for president and it was a way for them to display their Irish pride.”
O’Connell has fond memories of organizing the parade while he was growing up, but admits organizing the annual march from the Coventry-West Warwick line to the West Warwick Town Hall is not as easy as it once was.
“It gets tougher every year,” said O’Connell, adding that planning this event is second nature. “I’m doing it because I’ve been doing it since I was born.”
In addition to being a tradition for the towns, the annual parade is a bit of a family reunion for the O’Connells. O’Connell explained he comes from a family of 18, and the St. Patrick’s Day celebration is one of the few times a year they are all able to be together.
When asked how much longer he thought the tradition could continue, O’Connell wasn’t sure. He said they were “good for this year,” but only time will tell what happens next year.
But this year’s celebration is well underway. The annual banquet occurred at Club Jogues in Coventry this past Saturday, where O’Connell’s daughter Erin was crowned Ms. Ireland. Erin is currently a senior at Coventry High School.
Ms. Ireland 2013 Jenna O’Connell, a 2013 graduate of Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, had the honor of passing her crown down to her cousin, Erin. Jenna’s father, Jim O’Connell, also assists his family with planning the parade each year.
Erin will be featured in Sunday’s parade (March 16), which starts at 1 p.m. at the West Warwick-Coventry line. The route goes down Washington Street to Main Street, where the viewing stands are located at West Warwick Town Hall.
This year’s parade will feature fife and drum groups, the marching bands from West Warwick, Coventry and Warwick Veterans Memorial High Schools, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians of Newport, who will be marching in the celebration for the first time.
This year’s Grand Marshal will be honored posthumously – Michael Jordan, a longtime organizer of the annual parade, passed away last summer after battling cancer. O’Connell explained that Jordan was not well enough to march in last year’s parade, so they have decided to honor his memory in this way.
Following the parade, there will be a celebration at the Elks Lodge at 60 Clyde Street; the post-parade party will feature food, an Irish step dance performance and two pipe bands.