On this St. Patrick’s Day, we continue our Community Helper series in keeping with the theme of the upcoming Irish Fest held on Saturday in New Dublin, by recognizing Jerome “Jerry” O’Neil.
He’s serving as New London’s Irish Man of the the Year and will lead the parade Saturday, which begins at 1:00 p.m. O’Neil has been assisting the team of leprechauns around New Dublin for over 25 years, which is something he takes great pride in
“We’ve been involved in the parade since about every one,” Leahy said. “I’ve been a leprechaun for over 25 years and it’s just good to get the family together. It’s a good week to eat corn beef, cabbage, have fun with the family and see friends you don’t see. It’s a good time to get out in the spring and I hope the weather is nice and sunny for the parade.”
For those who may be unfamiliar with what the leprechauns do around the city, O’Neil explains they have a pretty busy week spreading cheer around the community and getting people in the mood for Irish Fest.
“[We] change the sign from New London to New Dublin and here we are at Most Precious Blood visiting the kids,” O’Neil explained of the leprechaun’s role this week. “We’ve seen some elderly at old folk’s homes. St. Joe’s, we’ll go up to there. We just go around the community and thank everybody for supporting New Dublin and the parade and hope everybody comes out.”
O’Neil is a part of the fifth generation of his family who emigrated from Ireland, however, he’s not the only one in his family to hold the Irish Man of the Year title.
“My dad was Irish man of the year in 1988, so it’s been a good tradition where the family gets involved,” O’Neil explained.
For him, holding the title of Irish Man of the Year is an honor and with it, he hopes to honor his father.
“It’s a surprise,” O’Neil said of the honor. “I was surprised and honored to do it and I hope my dad is proud upstairs there.”
Part of the reason he has so much pride in being apart of Irish Fest is the fact his family has such strong ties within the community. Jerry is the youngest of six siblings, who were all born and raised within the community.
Another tradition for the O’Neil family is awarding cash to this year’s Irish Lad and Lassie, who will be the boy and girl that win the annual poetry contest.
From O’Neil’s perspective, there is a significant change in mood around the city this time of year, with spring on the way, and people gathering to celebrate their heritage with friends and family, as well as help from the leprechauns.
Many in the current group of leprechauns have been participating for well over ten years. While it’s nice to be doing this annually, Jerry hopes soon it will draw the interest of a new generation.
“I hope the younger generation takes over pretty soon, but I love doing it and my fellow leprechauns love doing it too.”
Already this year, the leprechauns welcomed in their first second-generation leprechaun when Colin Loughrin joined his father Pup Loughrin. As the city prepares for Saturday’s Irish Fest, the Irish Man of the Year had a special message for those who will also be celebrating.
“I just wan to thank everybody from the Shamrock Club for voting for me,” O’Neil said. “I hope everybody comes to the parade, hope it’s a nice sunny day, and I hope to see all my friends and family there. Everybody have fun.”
Jerome “Jerry” O’Neil, this year’s Irish Man of the Year, and this week’s Community Helper.