The West Warwick St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been part of Michael O’Connell’s life since before he can remember.
“I was born in 1965, so since 1965,” he said with a laugh when asked how long been involved with the parade, which is put on by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of the Pawtuxet Valley and will celebrate its 60th year on March 17.
His father, Richard, was among the parade’s founders and served as its coordinator from 1964 until his passing in 1988. Now, Michael serves as the coordinator for the annual event, which is expected to draw between 15,000 and 20,000 people this year.
“We’ve been doing it for so long…I’m proud to be a part of that,” he said. “I’m proud to be Irish.”
The parade begins at 1 p.m. on March 17 from the Iannotti Funeral Home at 415 Washington St. in Coventry, which sits the intersection of Washington Street and West Warwick Avenue on the Coventry/West Warwick line. It will then proceed to Main Street and conclude near West Warwick Town Hall.
Road closures begin between 11 a.m. and noon, so parade viewers are advised to arrive early.
Approximately 10 bands will take part in the parade, including the 88th Army Band.
“This is the only St. Patrick’s Day parade they do,” O’Connell said.
A number of prominent civic leaders will also participate in the procession, including U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, Attorney General Peter Neronha, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Warwick Mayor Joe Solomon.
Faith Battaini will serve as “Miss Ireland” for the parade, while state Rep. James B. Jackson (D-Dist. 26, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) has been named this year’s grand marshal. The honor was announced during a recent banquet at Club Jogues in Coventry.
“It is a tremendous honor for me to be considered for this,” Jackson said. “The Rhode Island Irish community has always been very exuberant in its pride, and I’m excited to join in on this time-honored celebration of our heritage. Seeing the parade-goers marching through the streets of Arctic has also been a longtime herald of spring – the first event every year that gets everyone outside, so it’s a great joy to be part of that.”
O’Connell said the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick will host a post-parade party at the Elks Lodge at 60 Clyde St. in West Warwick. The menu will include corned beef sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers. Trophies will be given out in various categories for parade participants.
O’Connell said the party will also feature performances by the Rhode Island Highlanders Pipe Band and Goulding School of Irish Dance.
The group of approximately a half-dozen that organizes the parade meets from September to March each year, O’Connell said. He noted that the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of the Pawtuxet Valley – a local chapter of a national organization –dates back to 1895.
“We’re the oldest Irish group in the state,” he said.
O’Connell said the group welcomes new members and donations. Additional information can be found on its Facebook page.
“If anyone wants to become a member of is looking to get involved, we’re always looking for people,” he said.
O’Connell thanked Centreville Bank for its sponsorship of the parade and Rigatoni’s Family Restaurant in Warwick for its support of the after-party.
O’Connell is one of 18 siblings, and he said most of them will be in attendance for this year’s parade. He hopes favorable weather conditions and the fact that this year’s parade falls on St. Patrick’s Day helps drive turnout.
“Come out, get out there early and reserve a spot,” he said.