September 17, 2014
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Irish banquet a great prelude to St. Paddy's day parade
Laura Damon

It takes some good cooking to put on a St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

And the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick have just the menu, which includes much more than the traditional corned beef and cabbage. This Saturday, the Friendly Sons host their 118th banquet to raise funds for the parade on Sunday, March 17.

The banquet includes step dancers and the ceremonial induction of Sen. Michael McCaffrey as the parade’s grand marshal. Ms. Ireland, Jenna O’Connell, will also be crowned.

The cost of the banquet is $20 per person. It will be held at Club Jogues in Coventry with cocktails at 6:30 p.m., dinner at 7:30. Contact Friendly Sons member Jim O’Connell at 265-6925 to purchase tickets.

Funds raised by the banquet will be used to cover the costs of bands, police and buses used for transporting groups marching in the parade, totaling about $8,000. About 175 tickets have been sold for the banquet thus far. O’Connell hopes to sell 200-300 tickets.

The Pawtuxet Valley is represented in the parade each year, but “there’s so much Warwick in this year’s parade,” said O’Connell. His uncle started the parades in 1959.

The Warwick Vets and the Toll Gate High School bands will both be marching in the Warwick division. West Warwick, Coventry and Cranston will also be represented with divisions in the parade. The Friendly Sons and the queen will make up the first division while the fire trucks will make up the sixth and final division.

O’Connell said 2011 was the first year they had a Warwick high school band in the parade since 1989. Last year, Toll Gate marched in the parade.

“It took Jenna to go to Vets to get some contacts,” O’Connell said, speaking of his daughter, a Vets senior and this year’s Ms. Ireland. He calls it a running joke since family friend Mayor Scott Avedisian couldn’t book the high school bands.

The Friendly Sons were founded in 1895, making them the oldest Irish organization in the state. The parades began in 1959 and continue to be run by the Friendly Sons, which is comprised of about 10 active members.

Unlike the Providence, Pawtucket and Newport St. Patrick’s Day parades, “we’re responsible for the police, the buses, we pay for a lot of the bands to perform, we pay for the permits for the vendors,” said O’Connell, not the state. Even 54 years later, the Pawtuxet Valley St. Patrick’s Day parade has never been cancelled or postponed.

The parade runs the Sunday prior to St. Patrick’s Day unless St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday. This year, March 17 is indeed a Sunday.

Mayor Avedisian will march in this year’s parade, keeping up with his involvement since childhood. Parade chairman Michael O’Connell also believes Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will be present, along with Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Different dance groups in the area, including the KC Cats all-star cheerleaders from Coventry, Rita Beaulieu Dance and Gymnastics, also from Coventry, the Judi T. Dance Studio in West Warwick, and the Damhsa Irish Dance Studio from Warwick, will participate in the parade.

Police departments, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and the Rhode Island Highlanders Pipe Band will also march.

The parade usually boasts a turnout of 10,000 to 15,000.

People of all ethnic backgrounds play roles in the Irish celebration.

One of two antique farm trucks belonging to Vinny Confreda of Confreda Farms will appear in the parade. The truck is a red 1963 model and has been used in the parade for roughly the past 10 years. Confreda Farms has been in the family since 1922, with Confreda working full-time since 1976.

“We try to be very helpful,” he said. One of his hay wagons will carry the Ms. Ireland float.

Rigatoni’s of Warwick will cater the banquet for the second year in a row. Since Rigatoni’s started catering, in fact, “we’ve actually made a profit at the banquet, which we’ve never done before,” said O’Connell, “so that’s a huge help to us.”

James Bessette, owner of Rigatoni’s for 13 years said, “we do a lot of banquets, a lot of fundraisers, we just try to do our share like everyone else.”

He expects a shipment of 160 pounds of corn beef on Wednesday for the banquet.

Bessette said last year’s banquet was “fantastic,” and he has regularly attended the parades for the past five years.

The parade will begin at 1 p.m. at Iannotti Funeral Home, 415 Washington St., Coventry and end at the West Warwick Town Hall. An after-parade party will be held at the Elks Lodge on 60 Clyde St. in West Warwick. There will be corn beef sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries. Donations will be accepted at the door. The after-party will also include Irish step dancers, pipe bands and trophies for categories such as best marching band and best float.


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