West Hartford Parade Fundraiser
February 6, 2010
I have been attending this yearly fundraiser for literally as long as I can remember, so I am assuming that a lot of you here already know who I am. For those of you who do not, my name is Bridget Burns. And while I have stood before you many times in the past, it was usually in preparation to dance a two-hand reel. Tonight, I stand before you in recognition of my parents, this year’s town marshals, Greg and Norine Burns.
While most people learn their heritage from their parents, my older sister Morrigan and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly claim full credit for our family getting reconnected to our Irish roots. You see, it all started one day when my sister came home from nursery school and announced that she had told her teacher that she was Chinese, and I, was Japanese. Mom and Dad took this as a sign that they weren’t doing enough to educate us on our family history, and the next thing we knew we were both enrolled in Step Dancing classes with Sheila Stevens and the Shamrock School of Irish Dance.
Step dancing opened doors for us that we never expected. My sister and I have performed Irish dance everywhere, from the floor of the State Senate, to a parking lot in New Jersey where we joined hundreds of other dancers in an effort to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. Step dancing has connected us with everyone from cast members of Riverdance, to President Reagan, to Jim Moriarty, host of the hit (though now defunct) cable access TV show, and radio program, the Irish Hour.
It was also through our involvement in dance that our parents became familiar with the Irish American Home in Glastonbury, which of course lead to their participation in the Central Connecticut Celtic Cultural Committee and it’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.
While Morrigan and I joined our dance school’s contingent, our parents – the new young couple on the West Hartford Parade Committee – marched with the Hoseys, Morans, Stauntons, Murnanes, and Bernie Reilly-Duffy. And of course, Liam.
It may be hard to imagine looking at him now, but my “little” brother Liam was so young when my parents marched in their first parade, that he couldn’t actually march. Instead, he was in a snuggly. Later, able to sit up on his own, he rode the parade in a wagon. A few years after that, Liam appointed himself head of the West Hartford Parade Float committee, and from that point forward managed to be a pivotal character on many an Irish-themed design, built mostly in our own driveway. In fact, now that I think about it, in all of Liam’s years “marching” in the parade with Mom and Dad, I’m not sure he’s ever actually marched!
While I do not remember everything from my parents’ early years on the West Hartford Parade Committee, I do remember getting really excited to go over to Pat and Bridie Moran’s house. Partially because I thought it was so cool that someone actually went by the nickname, Bridie, but mostly because I knew she would send us home with a bag of her delicious scones.
I also remember helping out at the annual Colleen Pageant. Morrigan and I loved to get dressed up in our matching Laura Ashley jumpsuits, to go onstage and hold the Waterford Crystal Question bowl for Colleen contestants like our own Mary McGloin. Of course by the time we were old enough to enter the pageant, it had switched to the more gender-neutral scholarship competition - much to Morrigan’s relief and my own tiara-loving dismay.
And of course I can’t forget all of the hours spent peeling vegetables in preparation for the Club’s corned beef and cabbage dinner. I supplement my current career as a writer, by helping out in a small kitchen down the road from my house. So… thank you. Without you all teaching me how to efficiently peel potatoes at such a young age, I might not be quite as gainfully employed as I now am!
In fact, Liam also has you all to thank for his current employment. When applying to be a carpenter’s apprentice, Liam was asked if he had any experience framing.
“Oh yeah,” he said, recalling a past float. “I framed a pub on a trailer bed once.”
“How about roofing?” the carpenter asked.
“Yeah, we thatched the roof,” Liam replied.
Since moving away from West Hartford, eight years ago, I have gradually pared down my Connecticut visits to around six annual trips. The first three are obvious: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The second three? The Festival, the Fundraiser, and the Parade. I think the fact that these three events now reserve the same recognition as national holidays is a clear reminder of how huge a role this community has served in our upbringing.
A lot of you here are probably aware of the fact that my parents plan to eventually retire to their vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine. What you may not realize, is that this parade is one of the biggest factors still holding them to Connecticut.
Sure, they will miss their careers in the West Hartford public school system. And of course they’ll miss their historic home that they have spent so much energy restoring and keeping up. And it goes without saying that they will miss their extended families and all of their other friends. But… I have a strong suspicion that the Irish Club, and the community that comes with it, is what they will miss the most. Frankly, their Maine-based social life is looking pretty bleak without it!
An old acquaintance recently asked me where everyone in my family is currently living. I explained that Morrigan and I both live in Maine, with Liam scheduled to move there this coming summer, and my parents headed up sometime after retirement.
“Wow, that’s so funny,” the acquaintance said. “That you all ended up in the same state.”
“It’s not that funny,” I responded. “We’re ridiculously close. If we didn’t all end up in Maine, we probably would have all ended up somewhere else.”
And I guess this is where we come full circle. Because the fact is, while we originally got involved in all of these Irish activities – dance, the club, the parade – in an effort to reconnect with our roots, in the end we really just grew closer to each other. Our heritage bonds us, and even though my sister, brother, and I have all moved away from home, and even though our careers have taken turns we never expected, the one constant that remains in our lives regardless, is our family.
I guess that’s just the blessing of being raised in an Irish household.
We love you, Mom and Dad! Congratulations!