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PHOTO — Joined by Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, Irishman of the Year Coleman William Walsh Jr. pulls off the shroud revealing the Kelly green street sign designating the Campbell Avenue side of City Hall “Coleman W. Walsh Jr. Square” for the next year at West Haven’s 27th annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration Friday, March 16. Looking on are, from left, master of ceremonies David Coyle and state Rep. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
WEST HAVEN, March 16, 2018 — Joined by Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, Irishman of the Year Coleman William Walsh Jr. unveiled a Kelly green street sign designating the Campbell Avenue side of City Hall “Coleman W. Walsh Jr. Square” for the next year at West Haven’s 27th annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration Friday, March 16.
Walsh, a second-generation Irish-American who has devoted most of his life to carrying on the spirited traditions of Ireland, was showered with gifts of appreciation, including an embroidered “Irishman of the Year” jacket, and words of praise from Rossi for “preserving and promoting the vibrant culture of Erin.”
In addition to Rossi reading aloud a mayoral proclamation citing Walsh’s “great character, integrity and wisdom” and “inspiring contributions to our local identity,” the ceremony featured the hanging of the street sign outside City Hall’s Campbell Avenue entrance naming the public square for the honoree until next year’s celebration, when he will pass his distinction to a fellow person of Irish ancestry.
At the start of the 45-minute program, last year’s recipient, Kelly Canning Ruickoldt, received her rectangular sign to take home.
The West Haven St. Patrick’s Day Committee recognizes an Irish resident, or couple, each year who personifies service in the city’s robust Irish-American community.
“Thank you to Chairwoman Beth A. Sabo and the entire St. Patrick’s Day Committee for this special recognition bestowed on me this day,” said Walsh, grand marshal of the 2005 Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade, who also received a certificate of special recognition from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and a General Assembly citation from state Rep. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven, on behalf of the city’s delegation.
As the sound of Celtic music played by bagpipers and drummers filled the cold air during the cultural event in honor of Ireland’s patron saint, Walsh toasted his lineage with dozens of his closest friends and relatives, including his wife, sister and in-laws, along with a sea of shamrock-clad dignitaries and descendants of folks from the Emerald Isle.
“I am and have always been an extremely proud Irish-American, or as they say in Ireland, ‘American-Irish,’” he told the crowd, many of whom donned Aran sweaters and other Irish garb. “I’ve also found the time to give back to the community, which I feel is very important, by volunteering.”
In 1890, Walsh’s grandfather, William Joseph Walsh, left his home in Lisdowney, County Kilkenny, Ireland, for the promise of America, landing in Derby and settling in his wife’s birthplace of Ansonia.
His grandfather was an iron molder who later served as an Ansonia police officer, while his grandmother, the former Mary Coleman, was a homemaker who raised the couple’s three children.
At the midday ceremony, held the day before St. Patrick’s Day, Rossi also presented an Irish flag to Walsh, who was accompanied onstage by his wife of 27 years, the former Donna Hackett. A short distance away, his father-in-law, William “Bill” Hackett, and his sister, Norah Walsh, of Clinton, looked on with pride as their son-in-law and brother was feted.
Hackett and his wife, the late Carol Little Hackett, were West Haven’s Irish Couple of the Year in 1996.
Walsh was also joined by sisters-in-law Kathleen Reiss, Marjorie Hackett, Ellen Collins and Mary Hackett and niece Brianna Hackett, all of West Haven.
The opening procession was led by members of the West Haven Police Color Guard and the New Haven County Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes & Drums. It was followed by remarks from master of ceremonies David Coyle, who greeted the gathering before presenting Walsh with a certificate of accomplishment on behalf of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and reading aloud a congratulatory letter to Walsh written by West Haven Irish-American Club President Cathleen Steinau Buckheit.
After teasing Walsh about his Hamden “Green Dragon” roots, Coyle then read aloud a touching letter to Walsh written by his children, Jane Walsh, 25, of Nashville, Tennessee, and Coleman W. Walsh III, 22, of West Haven, who were unable to attend.
The letter of homage to their father was both heartwarming and amusing, saying: “You have taken every opportunity to make sure that Cole and I know how Irish we are. Countless corned beef dinners have taught me that after 25 years, I still don’t like corned beef, or potatos, but a pint of Guinness never hurt.
“And thank you for teaching us to truly be Walshes. Because without the Irish heritage behind it, Walsh is just an easy name for your teacher to pronounce during role call.”
Read the full Letter.
Before an Irish blessing from the Rev. Mark R. Jette, pastor emeritus of St. Lawrence and St. Paul churches in West Haven who now serves Sacred Heart Church in Suffield, 2013 Parade Queen Fiona Stewart, of Meriden, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Irish national anthem, “Soldier’s Song.” Rossi then delivered welcoming remarks.
“As mayor of the great city of West Haven, it is my honor and privilege to join you in celebrating our deep-rooted Irish ancestry and our 2018 Irishman of the Year, Coleman W. Walsh Jr.,” Rossi said. “I appreciate the efforts of our St. Patrick’s Day Committee, led by Chairwoman Beth Sabo, in making this cultural event such a success year after year. Thank you all!”
Walsh, 62, has lived in West Haven since 1990.
His interest in his heritage began when he played football and shot darts for the New Haven Gaelic Football & Hurling Club in his youth.
Walsh’s love of Ireland blossomed into a lifelong passion for all things Irish, including a propensity for community service in Greater New Haven’s Irish-American community.
For the past three decades, Walsh, executive chairman of the Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, has been a member of the parade committee and the Knights of St. Patrick in New Haven, serving as president in 1997.
He has also been a tireless member of the West Haven Irish-American Club since 1991.
Walsh was born in New Haven in 1956 to Coleman W. Walsh Sr., a Merchant Marine veteran of World War II and an Army veteran of the Korean War who was superintendent of the powerhouse at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, and the former Jane Berry, a homemaker.
Walsh and his three brothers and sister grew up in a single-family home on Hamden’s Bliss Avenue in the predominantly Irish neighborhood of Spring Glen.
The Irish Catholic siblings lived by the same mantra that was instilled in them by their father, just as his father had instilled in him: “Live each day to the fullest, and take nothing for granted. Always work hard and be proud of your work, no matter what the task is, because someday that hard work will pay off.”
The time-honored Walsh mantra transcends what generations of Irish endured in their journey to America, overcoming hardship and strife through the lasting values of strength and sacrifice, faith and family.
After graduating from Hamden High School in 1974, Walsh earned a degree in building construction from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.
During a prolific career that has spanned 38 years working for prominent engineering firms, Walsh, a chief inspector for HAKS Engineers of New York City, has inspected the construction of many high-profile Connecticut Department of Transportation contracts involving roads, bridges and structures.
Those projects have included the Mianus River Bridge in Greenwich, the Stamford train station and platforms, and UConn’s Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
Walsh and his wife live on Bellevue Avenue in West Shore.
View the photo gallery at Scenes from the 2018 St. Patrick’s Day Celebration.
Watch the video on the official West Haven YouTube channel at 27th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration.
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— MICHAEL P. WALSH, Public Relations Information Coordinator