SOMERVILLE, NJ – President Trump has declared March as Irish-American Heritage Month, continuing a White House tradition started by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.
That’s also the year Somerville hosted its first St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a central New Jersey tradition that will continue on Sunday, March 12, with a parade down Main Street that is considered one of the largest celebrations of Irish heritage in the Garden State.
In part, Trump’s proclamation reads: “I call upon all Americans to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Irish-Americans to our Nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.”
Somerville has got that covered, Mr. President.
Well in advance of the parade, Irish flags have been posted up and down Main Street, and there’s the traditional green stripe painted down the center of the parade route.
The 26th anniversary parade is expected to draw upwards of 15,000-20,000 people. Held on the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day each year, the parade begins at 1:30 p.m. on East Main Street adjacent to the Somerset County Courthouse and heads west down Main Street, concluding two hours later in the vicinity of the plaza where Borough Hall is located at West End Avenue.
There will be floats, pipe & drum marching bands, Irish step dancers, civic organizations, fire companies, youth groups, politicians and all the trimmings, according to Pat Mannion, proprietor of Mannion’ s Irish Pub, 150 W. Main St. and member of the Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.
The celebration at Mannion’s gets an early start Friday night, with live Irish music and step dancers, and continues through the weekend. It picks up again Thursday, March 16 on through St. Patrick’s Day March 17 and the weekend. Mannion said he has already ordered 1,200 pounds of corned beef and expects a follow-up order.
Stepping out on the parade route will be eight pipe and drum Irish bands and 75 marching units, including the Somerset Police Pipe & Drums; St. Ann’s of Hampton Pipe & Drums, the MacGregor Pipe Band, the Immaculata High School Color Guard and Marching Band, the Somerville High School Marching Band and the Mummers’ Aqua String Band, according to Mannion.
Leading the line of march will be Grand Marshal Jack McCullagh, the 2017 Hibernian of the Year.
McCullagh just completed a two-year term as president of the St. Patrick Division One, Somerset County of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He and his wife Gwen are natives of Dublin. A graduate of Synge Street CBS, he was active in Irish rail fan circles and also served for nine years in An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, the Irish Army Reserve Force, resigning his lieutenant’s commission when relocating to the United States.
He is a regular lector and occasional usher for his parish of St. Charles Borromeo in Skillman. The McCullagh's son Brendan, wife Kris and grandson Nick live in Utah where Brendan is Judge of the Justice Court in West Valley City.
Some of his other activities include being an active rail fan – he is a NORAC qualified trainman at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, PA and is also active in dog show circles.
McCullagh and his wife Gwen owned, co-owned and showed top winning Basset Hounds for over 30 years but now have Border Terriers. A vice president of both the Garden State All Terrier Club and the Berkshire Valley Basset Hound Club, he’s a member of Plainfield Kennel Club and also Blennerhassett Kennel Club for which club he is the AKC Delegate.
Lacking the proverbial Pot o’ Gold, parade organizers must pay for the marching bands, police overtime and other expenses. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is financed entirely by donations and does not receive any government subsidies.
To help raise money in support of the Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, Verve Restaurant, Bar & Bistro, 18 E. Main St., will host a Classic Irish Buffet with on March 12 with traditional Irish dishes, including corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, Irish soda bread, dessert plate and complimentary drink. There is a $15 cover charge. Verve’s bartenders will be mixing cocktails featuring Tellamore DEW Irish whiskeys.
“The Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee needs to generate the funds necessary to bring the parade to even greater heights,” said Verve owner Rick St. Pierre. “There’s a need for more donations and sponsorships; the parade brings over 10,000 people to town and it doesn’t get the support from the town government even though this is a significant event in Somerville.”
Donations can be made online at https://somervillesaintpatricksparade.com/
Following is the text of President Trump’s Irish-American Heritage Month proclamation:
“Irish Americans have made an indelible mark on the United States. From Dublin, California, to Limerick, Maine, from Emerald Isle, North Carolina, to Shamrock, Texas, we are reminded of the more than 35 million Americans of Irish descent who contribute every day to all facets of life in the United States.
“Over generations, millions of Irish have crossed the ocean in search of the American Dream, and their contributions continue to enrich our country today.
“From our four Irish-born Founding Fathers to Thomas Francis Meagher, the Irish revolutionary who became an American hero after leading the Irish Brigade during the Civil War, Irish immigrants have shaped our history in enduring ways.
“Throughout the centuries, hard-working Irish Americans have contributed to America's innovation and prosperity -- tilling the farms of Appalachia, working the looms of New England textile mills, and building transcontinental railroads -- often overcoming poverty and discrimination and inspiring Americans from all walks of life with their indomitable and entrepreneurial spirit in the process.
“From these early beginnings rose generations of Irish Americans who continue to lead our cities, drive our economy, and protect and defend the land they embrace as their own.
“American culture carries an unmistakably Irish-American imprint. Our literature, cinema, music, dance, sports, and visual arts are filled with the names and influence of great Irish Americans.
“Irish Americans should be proud of the deep cultural, historical, and familial ties that have contributed to the strength of our vibrant transatlantic relationship with Ireland. As we honor the past during Irish-American Heritage Month, we also celebrate a bright future of friendship and cooperation for generations to come.”