Raining on the city’s parade

This St. Patrick’s Day, New Haven may leave as many as 300,000 people without their bagpipe parade.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, a 60-member group that oversees the fundraising efforts for the Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day parade, is $30,000 short of the necessary $110,000. To make up the difference, the committee has hosted a series of public fundraising events, the most recent of which was held Thursday night at The Knights of St. Patrick clubon State Street.

“We have to have the parade in New Haven,” said Michael Shanley, one of the police officers who helped organize the event. “It’s an Irish tradition. It’s a city tradition.”

In previous years, the city has paid the $30,000 worth of overtime for police officers working the parade. But the economic downturn has tightened the city’s budget, so that it cannot allocate the requisite funds. The economic downturn also means that many of the parade’s significant sponsors (such as Comcast, the Knights of Columbus, Quinnipiac College, AT&T, GEICO and Yale) have either reduced or eliminated their donations.

So, the committee has decided to take matters into its own hands.

“We have been forced to run about 10 more [fundraising] events than we have run in the past,” committee Chairman James McGovern said. “So we have to get a little more creative of how we raise money.”

McGovern said the committee approached local bars and restaurants for their help through donating money or hosting an event.

Other sponsors have stepped up, including Metro Taxi and Lansdowne Bar & Grille (which will host another parade fundraiser Friday night). New sponsor Keys to the City will also host a second event sometime in the future, and Anna Liffey’s and The Playwright New Haven are now regular contributors.

The paradedates back to the 19th century. The Associated Irish Societies have run it since the 1950s. In the 1957 parade, Clinton, Conn. Police Chief Joseph Faughnan said Yale students opened fire with snowballs. “It made Life magazine and everything,” he said.

Indeed, Faughnan said, the parade is “the biggest social event between the cities of Boston and New York every year.”

Faughnan was in charge of organizing the Knights’ fundraising event. The donation of food and beverages from local restaurants and bars nearly eliminated the event’s costs.

Faughnan also appealed to police officers and firefighters to attend (and donate to) the event, especially since both groups have historically had high Irish representations.

But while it may be a St. Patrick’s Day parade, it is by no means an Irish-only parade.

“My committee has Italians on it, Jewish people, Polish people,” Faughnan said. “It’s an eclectic group. We’re involving the whole community.”

“What we are doing is a grassroots effort,” Faughnan added.

At the event, Executive Committee Chairman Robert Shanley was manning the front desk. Over 150 supporters — clad in various shades of green — came to the event, donating, Shanley guessed, about $5,000 total. Most had beer in hand, and were chatting with their neighbors. The din was deafening.

Tim Schweitzer, 25, is half Irish and half German. He was on his seventh beer, and despite the cliché, admitted enjoying the food just as much, especially the potatoes and the kielbasa. He planned to stay “till they kick us out,” he said.

But, though this year’s fundraising efforts have gone far better than expected, worries have not been completely eliminated.

“We don’t think this problem will go away any time soon,” McGovern said. But he stood resolute. “There is a lot of tradition there. We’re not going to lose that on my watch.”

The parade, which will wind past the Green and march by City Hall on Sunday, March 15, will feature groups from Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

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