Parade marshals don their sashes

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade celebration officially kicked off at Mayfair Farms on Feb. 17 with the investiture ceremony for the grand marshal and three deputy grand marshals, introducing them to the community and adding them to the ranks of those who have led the parade before them since 1976. Carol Sharkey Corcoran will be the grand marshal of the 2019 parade, with Carolyn Diver Torchia, Joe Fagan and Terry McHugh serving as deputy grand marshals.

Corcoran, a West Orange native who now lives in Roseland, has been involved with the parade since she was 16 years old. She began by volunteering to hang posters and advertisements around town and asking for donations before eventually becoming a member of the Parade Committee. In 1979, her mother, Helena Sharkey, was the first female grand marshal of the West Orange St. Patrick’s Day parade, and the first female grand marshal in any New Jersey parade. Twenty years later Corcoran’s father, Alfie, served as grand marshal.

Both of Corcoran’s parents moved to the United States from County Roscommon, Ireland; Alfie hailed from Teevnacreeva and Helena from Cloonfad.

“I don’t think I realized the impact at the time, I was only about 9 years old,” Corcoran said, in reference to her mother serving as grand marshal, in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “But it made me realize what I could do in a leadership position like that.”

Each of the four parade leaders will have a celebration in their honor in the weeks leading up to the March 10 parade down Main Street, and they will also attend the Newark St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 15. At the investiture ceremony they received the sashes they will wear at parade events and at the investiture ceremonies in years to come, when they will march in with previous honorees.

“We’ve really evolved and come so far in the community,” Corcoran said. “Everyone is Irish in West Orange on the parade day. It’s generations of families that have been involved, and now we’re the children and grandchildren of the original organizers. We’ve come full circle to make sure that people enjoy this parade for the future.”

Torchia is also a Roseland resident, and was nominated to be one of the three deputy grand marshals by the Woman of Irish Heritage, with which she has been involved for the last five years. The nonprofit organization is made up of women who can trace their ancestry back to the Emerald Isle; it raises scholarship money for graduating high school students and works with homeless shelters in the area.

Though she has been a frequent marcher in the parade with the organization, this is the first year she has been involved with the Parade Committee.

“It’s been unbelievable, because everyone is so involved here,” Torchia said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “I’m a newcomer, so it’s been a wonderful experience to get involved. They’ve made it so easy. I’m excited; I’ve made friends that I’ll stay in touch with way beyond March 10.”

Torchia’s grandparents both moved to the United States from County Donegal, her grandmother from Greencastle and her grandfather from Moville.

Terry McHugh grew up in West Caldwell, lives in Verona and said in an interview with the Chronicle that his family has been attending the West Orange parade since he was a child. As a member of the Shillelagh Club and the Knights of Columbus, McHugh also serves on the Newark St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, and I’ve marched in it with the Shillelagh Club,” he said. “It’s been fun; it’s a little different than just marching normally. My kids have been going since they were little also, so it’s been a thrill.”

McHugh also traces his roots to County Roscommon in Ireland, to the towns of Killeevan and Slatta-Rooskey. His grandfather immigrated to the United States, and kept McHugh’s family active in Irish organizations.

Joe Fagan, West Orange’s township historian, is the third deputy grand marshal. A fifth-generation township resident, Fagan can trace his Irish roots back to his great-grandparents — times three! — who came to the United States during the potato famine.

“I think they ran out of people,” Fagan joked about being chosen as a deputy grand marshal in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “It’s a great honor to be chosen and recognized by the community. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that most people don’t know about, it’s a year-round job.”

Fagan will be marching down Main Street with the walking stick of his great-great-grandmother Mary Perry, who he said used the stick to take walks on the street when she was alive.

“She used this to walk down Main Street, so I’m grateful for a chance to bring it back,” Fagan said.

Photos by Amanda Valentovic