BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Irish eyes were smilin’ and more than a few were wellin’ with tears of happiness as beloved Irish musician Willie Lynch was honored as the Grand Marshal of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Somerville.

More than 180 friends, followers and well wishers attended Saturday night’s fund raising dinner hosted by the Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee at the Somerville Elks building on Route 28 in Bridgewater.

“I bought his records when I was a young guy,” said dinner co-chairman Larry Doyle. “That’s how long he’s been playing,” he added.

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Baritone David Long performed both the Irish National Anthem and the Star Spangled Banner.

Guests were entertained by Irish Step Dancers from the Lynn O’Grady Quinlan Connick Academy of Irish Dance, located in Hillsborough, followed by a stirring bagpipe performance by the St. Ann’s of Hampton Pipes & Drums .The Ian Gallagher Band provided dance music

The LOQC Academy Irish Step Dancers who performed at the dinner included Paige Boyce, Allie Campbell, Jenna Dolan, Bridget Esposito, Caroline Onderko, Jack Puluka, Julia Puluka and Maura Schaab..

Lynch and his wife Beverly were finally introduced and draped with their honorary Grand Marshal sashes.

Lynch told the crowd he was standing in the parking lot of a local Home Depot at 9 in the morning when he received a phone call to inform him that he had been selected as the grand marshal.

Though he immigrated to the United States from Ireland years ago, Lynch still has his distinctive Irish brogue.

“You don’t really know what to do, what to say,” he told the guests. “We’ve got people here from everywhere,” he added acknowledging friends in the crowd.

“We’ve met some wonderful people,” he continued, reflecting on his career as a musician in New Jersey and thanking his wife, children and grandchildren, who gathered for a family portrait afterwards.

One of eight children, Willie left St. Finbar's School at the age of 14 to work for the Irish Raleigh Bike Factory on the Dublin Quays. He spent his free time with his neighborhood friends who played accordions. One night, the group decided to give up the accordions and start a band. Why? Because accordions wouldn't get the girls' attention, but guitars and playing rock 'n roll would! This began Willie's life as a musician.

When Willie was first introduced to a guitar, he remarked that it just "spoke to him in notes". Willie spent a number of years playing with different bands in Ireland such as the Chimes, Creoles and the Caroline Crew. His most popular band was The Deep Set, which had the number #2 song on the Irish charts, "Hello Amy". Willie could often be found on Irish TV and radio playing with his band.

After arriving in the United States from Dublin, he settled in with his brother Louie, owner of Lynch's Emerald Pub, in Elizabeth, NJ. He planned to stay a few months and then leave to play music at the GI bases in West Germany. Though Louie found Willie some construction work, after three months Willie had a guitar back in his hands.

He got his first gigs in the Lyon's Den in Hillside and in Doyle's in Kearney, which lasted 18 months. From there, he played at Morley & McGovern's in Roselle Park, and for 18 years played on Thursday nights at Jack O'Connor's in Bridgewater, NJ.

One Thursday night, 25 years ago at Jack O'Connors, is when the first committee for the Somerset County Ancient Order of Hibernians began. Willie is one of the founding members of the Somerset AOH.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians presented the parade committee with a check for $2,000 Saturday night.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade has grown to be one of the largest in New Jersey, with crowds of 15,000-20,000 lining Main Street Somerville in past years.

Hosting a rousing St. Patrick’s Day Parade, complete with floats, pipe & drum marching bands, Irish step dancers, politicians and all the trimmings is an expensive proposition.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that it costs a lot of money,” said Pat Mannion, a past grand marshal and proprietor of Mannion’s Pub & Restaurant.

The borough’s popular St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016, and as in previous years, the March 13 event on the Sunday prior to St. Patrick’s Day should cost $20,000., according to Mannion.     

Lacking the proverbial Pot o’ Gold, parade organizers still must pay for the marching bands, police overtime and other expenses, Mannion explained.