By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Coleman William Walsh, Jr., a goodwill ambassador of the Irish-American community who has dedicated his lifework to carrying on the spirited traditions of Ireland, will receive West Haven’s Irishman of the Year award the day before St. Patrick’s Day at the city’s 27th annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration.
The West Haven St. Patrick’s Day Committee will fete Walsh, a second-generation Irish-American, by hanging a green street sign designating City Hall’s Campbell Avenue entrance “Coleman W. Walsh Jr. Square” for a year.
Last year’s recipient, Kelly Canning Ruickoldt, will take home her sign at the start of the ceremony.
The “Irish Person of the Year” honor is bestowed annually on an Irish resident, or couple, who personifies service in the city’s robust Irish-American community.
“I would like to thank the city of West Haven and the committee for this wonderful honor,” said Walsh, grand marshal of the 2005 Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade, who will toast his Irish lineage with scores of his closest friends and relatives, along with an array of shamrock-clad dignitaries and descendants of folks from the Emerald Isle.
“I look forward to the opportunity to make West Haven proud of their choice, and I am excited to be in the company of such fine Irish-Americans who have been given this honor before me,” he said.
Accompanied by Celtic music played by bagpipers and drummers, members of the West Haven Police Color Guard will escort Walsh to the Campbell Avenue side of City Hall at noon March 16 for his special recognition.
A corned beef and cabbage lunch will follow in the First Congregational Church of West Haven’s Fellowship Hall, at 1 Church St. opposite City Hall on the Green.
The St. Patrick’s Day Committee, led by Chairwoman Beth A. Sabo, the city’s commissioner of human resources, includes the lifeblood of West Haven’s Irish-American society, such as members of the Irish-American Club and former honorees, as well as former and current city, fire and police officials.
“It is my great pleasure to celebrate one of the many cultures that makes West Haven the diverse city I love,” Mayor Nancy R. Rossi said.
Walsh, 62, executive chairman of the Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, hails from an ancestry whose legacy is stitched into the tapestry of the American fabric.
From celestial green shores, millions of fearless Irish sons and daughters set out across the Atlantic Ocean seeking a brighter day in the United States. Alongside a melting pot of other immigrants, the Irish people helped build strong communities like West Haven and forge America’s future.
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 Irish-American grandmother, the former Mary Ann Coleman, was a homemaker who raised the couple’s three children.
Walsh’s interest in his heritage began in his youth, initially while playing football and shooting darts for the New Haven Gaelic Football & Hurling Club.
His love of Ireland blossomed into a lifelong passion for all things Irish, including a propensity for community service in Greater New Haven’s deep-rooted Irish-American community.
For the past three decades, Walsh 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.
Rossi praised the civic-minded Walsh, whom she called “a man of great character, integrity and wisdom,” for his devotion to the Irish-American community.
Rossi will present him with an Irish flag and a mayoral proclamation citing his commitment to “preserving and promoting the vibrant culture of Erin, exemplifying the very best of West Haven.”
Walsh, a native of Hamden who has lived in West Haven since 1990, will also receive a jacket embroidered with his new title: Irishman of the Year.
The rich customs of Ireland touch all aspects of American society, including in West Haven where they continue to prosper because of celebrations honoring St. Patrick.
The New Haven County Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes & Drums will lead the opening procession, followed by remarks from master of ceremonies David Coyle.
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, will offer an Irish blessing. 2013 Parade Queen Fiona Stewart, of Meriden, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Irish national anthem, “Soldier’s Song,” followed by a greeting from Rossi.
Joined by his wife of 27 years, the former Donna Hackett, Walsh will then pull off a shroud revealing the rectangular sign.
His father-in-law, William “Bill” Hackett, will also accompany him at the ceremony, along with siblings and other in-laws.
Hackett and his wife, the late Carol Little Hackett, were West Haven’s Irish Couple of the Year in 1996.
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, including 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. They have two children, Jane Walsh, 25, of Nashville, Tennessee, and Coleman W. Walsh III, 22, of West Haven.