• **On this page: Co-founders interview and individual interviews of Marty and Chris! (Scroll Down to see all)

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  • Interview of the Co-founders Marty Hardiman and Chris McEnerney

    Interviewer: To start off, I’d like to ask, “How did it all begin guys?!”

    Chris: Hmmm, how did it all begin…?

    Marty: I was in a tent on Bridgeport Avenue pushing for the St Patrick’s Day parade. This was on Devon Day when they used to have Devon Day down here. Chris came up on Bridgeport Avenue and he was looking at the different displays. We just stopped and talked. And the last words out of his mouth were, “Do you think it’d be cool if we could start an Irish Club?” And I was game.

    Interviewer: Were you friends?

    Marty Hardiman: No.

    Chris McEnerney: I had never met Marty before at all. I had never met him although when I saw him I recognized him, because he bar tended at McKiff’s and I live around the corner, so I think I ran into him once or twice. (laughter). But I never connected anything together.

    Interviewer: Where were you on Bridgeport Avenue?

    Chris McEnerney: In front of Doolan’s.

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, in front of Doolan’s.

    Interviewer: Oh, okay. Not too far from the club.

    Chris McEnerney: Devon Day used to be held on route one which we thought was the most bizarre thing because cars would still speed down the street at sixty miles an hour and there’s people with young children crossing. Subsequently they took it and brought it down to Grove Circle and Intervale Parkway and they put them down there behind the Bridge House on that little green.

    Marty Hardiman: It was much safer down there.

    Interviewer: What year was it that you started this? 2006?

    Chris McEnerney: No it was 2004.

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, it was 2004 when we first met.

    Interviewer: Oh, so it took a while before things happened.

    Chris McEnerney: You see what happened was that in 2005 Marty had called me out of the blue — I think it was January — and said, “Hey, Chris. It’s Marty Hardiman. We’re going to start on the St Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Linda and I would like to invite you over to the house to be part of the committee.” So, I went over to his house and we had a committee meeting on how we can start raising funds and getting the parade going with the line-up, and you know there were quite a few people there. And that’s how it really got going. So, then we did the first year and we raised money. I believe the first year that I was involved (with the St. Patrick’s Day parade), the grand marshal was Tom Gallagher or Peter Phelan.

    Marty Hardiman: It was Peter Phelan, I believe.

    Chris McEnerney: And then the following year it was Thomas Gallagher, and then the next year was, I think, Mary Hegarty Neshke. So, I did 3 parades with him. But the day before the parade, I got a call at my office and it was a reporter. I didn’t recognize the number, and I was busy when I went back to retrieve my voicemail. In the meantime, Marty called me. He said, “Chris, there’s a guy trying to get in touch with you. I have class, so I can’t talk to him.” and I said, “Yeah, I just got the call.” So, he goes, “Can you talk to him and see what he wants?” So, it was about the parade and one of the things that this gentleman from the Connecticut Post asked, “How come you guys don’t have a club since you’re running a parade. I mean a club in Milford? I said, “It’s funny that you ask that because Marty and I have been talking about forming a club and we’d like to have an organizational meeting.” So, when I was talking to him, I asked if he could put it in his article that if anyone’s interested in helping us organize a club to contact me. (Marty chuckles). Well, we went about and the day before a parade is always crazy. Marty’s running around with last minute stuff. The Gilbert’s are putting the line of march together. We’re trying to make sure that everybody is in place, where they need to be. And I didn’t know what he was going to write. So, I got up early in the morning and met Marty at Wasson Field and we just fell into getting everybody organized and ready for the march. I get home and I opened my email and I have 56 emails from people I don’t know and I’m like, “What is going on!?” Now Marty’s still out there. Well, mind you, I have little guys that are a year and a half and two and a half so we go home before dark. And so, Marty’s still making the rounds with Saint Patrick and Miss Emerald Isle. I called him the next day and I’m like, “Marty, I have 56 emails of people wanting to get involved in the club.” He’s like, “What!?” So, I had already answered a lot of them saying ‘thank you for your interest; we’re going to be putting together an organizational meeting; we will be in touch with you; thank you for your interest and support in the club”. So, I didn’t know what was going to happen, but, you know, you always shake things out. We thought maybe six or seven people are going to show up.

    Marty Hardiman: So, we held it over at West River Health Care. It was so funny because there was nobody there, and we were just setting things up. So, I go in the back for a coffee, and I came back and went, “Oh, my God!”. There was a room full of people!

    Interviewer: What date was that?

    Marty Hardiman: It was April 5th, 2006.

    Chris McEnerney: Yes, April 5th, 2006 which was our first organizational meeting as Marty said — and some of you were there. Steve, I think you might have been a resident there at the time. I mean you came down in the chair. I was talking…yes, and Maureen was there and there were a lot of people…but I remember Steve coming down because I was talking to him at lunch…and I hope I’m not violating any HIPPA Laws with you (laughter)…Steven and his wife came down. And I remember Peter Phelan, and I said, “Peter, can I get you anything?” He was like, “Yeah, I’ll have a cup of coffee.” So, Marty and I go back and get a cup of coffee. And I come out and there’s a girl named Tracy who worked for me, and she goes, “Uh, you’re going to need more than a cup of coffee, and I walked around and like Marty just described it, and as you can probably attest, it was like the bus or a train just emptied out, and they’re coming down the hall and we were like shocked.

    Marty Hardiman: We were just looking at each other saying, “Wow.”

    Chris McEnerney: We had quite a few people. I remember that everybody had some ideas, but you know, we took the lead, and we just went about what our plan was for the club. Our plan was to have a social club based upon our Irish American heritage here in Milford. We didn’t know if we were going to have a clubhouse. That was the furthest thing from my mind. We honestly thought maybe six or a dozen people might show up. We didn’t know there was such interest, but I think the timing of it, right after the parade — and that was probably one of our better parades at that point — because it took a while to build-up the parade. We got more and more bands. It just started to peak, I believe.

    It was a (huge) turnout! I mean, we had so many people at the end of that first meeting. Someone had a logo already sketched out with the pipes and drums, Dave Conroy came up to us and said, “Hey, I can get you on the web; we can do a website here.” And the next time I spoke to him he had secured the domain names. So, we acted very quickly. And that key piece, just getting out on the Internet, I think, was really a crucial piece to getting this thing going, because if you look up Milford Irish, it’s like Boom! And you can still do it today. If you look up Milford Irish, we show up right away. He secured every domain name: MilfordIrish.net, MilfordIrish.com, MilfordIrish.org. Because if you’re a not-for-profit you are really supposed to be a ‘.org.’ That’s what they kind of reserve that for. I don’t think there’s anything really written in stone that you have to be an ‘org’ though.

    Marty Hardiman: Then we hooked up with a great Jewish attorney. That’s the funny part. His name was Cohen and we changed it to Cohan (laughter).

    Chris McEnerney: Seth Cohen was his name.

    Interviewer: Was he a wrestler?

    Chris McEnerney: He was a professional wrestler. His name was Robbie Parliament and he wrestled with Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan in a tag team. You know, he was filling in for someone, but he was quite a guy.

    Interviewer: What was his name again?

    Chris McEnerney: He was Robbie Parliament. Parliament, like parliamentary. We got to know him pretty well. I don’t think a week or two went by before we were already in contact with each other putting together by laws.

    Interviewer: You mean you and him?

    Chris McEnerney: It was myself and Marty, Priscilla, Danelle Sullivan, Ned Riley. There was like five or six of us that started working on By laws. It was like, you know, if this was going to work, we’re going to need to get some by laws in place.

    Marty Hardiman: So, Chris was reaching out to Irish clubs in one direction, and I was reaching out to Irish clubs in another direction, just to see what they had, and then we came back and tried to put a lot together.

    Chris McEnerney: Right, and what had happened was that Seth came up with our first Bylaws meeting – this was between our first organizational meeting and our second meeting – he came up and said, “Hey guys, let’s not reinvent the wheel here.” Bylaws are pretty much a boilerplate template that you follow. You may need to put a couple things in. So we all went through it. He had a law office here in town and he had paralegals and such and he incorporated us. We were incorporated within a month’s time. He really moved. Everything moved quickly. The stars were lined up perfectly for all this to happen.

    So, our first meeting was at West River Health Care Center, and our second meeting, we went to Stonebridge and we outgrew Stonebridge probably the first fifteen minutes of that meeting. Some of you were there. We were pressed against the glass and they put us behind the bar there and we outgrew ourselves. Then we went to…it was called Decades. the old Charlie’s Potbelly next to Patriot Bank on Boston Post Road and it worked out. I mean. it was working out, but we didn’t know that the gentleman who owned it was in the rears on everything, and that it was going to be very short lived over there.

    Marty Hardiman: He tried to get us to come and look at the place and try and buy it.

    Chris McEnerney: Yeah. We were just…everything was just too new. We were not getting into that right away.

    Interviewer: What did you call that place?

    Marty: It was called Decades.

    Chris McEnerney: It was Remy’s and then it was Decades.

    Interviewer: And then it was Angels?

    Marty Hardiman: Well, Angel had it.

    Chris McEnerney: Yeah. but it was JJ’s Pool Hall or something and Checkers. So, it had quite a reputation in town.

    Interviewer: Can I ask you what the name of the club was when you started?

    Chris McEnerney: We didn’t have a name…wait, no, we did have a name. we were sitting on it. Marty, going back to 2005, Marty had a St Patrick’s Day parade picnic at one of the member’s houses. Maryann Griffith’s house. We were sitting there, just hanging out, and we started talking about the name, and came up with Irish heritage, and I thought it would be Irish heritage culture club or Irish heritage cultural society or something like that. So, we decided to get rid of the ‘cultural’ and went with Irish Heritage Society of Milford.

    Interviewer: Is that how it’s incorporated too?

    Chris McEnerney: Yes, that’s how it’s incorporated. Irish Heritage Society of Milford. I know some people put Mish, but that’s not the right way. It’s IHSM.

    Interviewer: What amazes me is you guys put a festival together after 3 months of getting a club started.

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, we were crazy enough. We talked about that.

    Chris McEnerney: I remember very distinctly, Linda Hardman coming up to me and saying, “What are you doing?” and I’m like, “Linda, we have the momentum, let’s just go with it.” She said, “You guys are crazy, and if you fail, it’s on you! I don’t want anything to do with this!” But, sure enough, she was there, running the front gate. She was very supportive, and my wife with two young children was very supportive, and I think everybody who started the club, those first charter members sacrificed something, whether it’d be family time, or whatever, but it was so dynamic. It was so electric at the time. It was so new, and everybody was working together. There wasn’t anything you couldn’t ask anybody. and they were going to be able to do it.

    Marty Hardiman: The first festival was just under the gazebo.

    Chris McEnerney: Right. we didn’t have the parking lot; we didn’t have the basketball court.

    Marty Hardiman: We just had the gazebo and the grassy area.

    Chris McEnerney: And I’ll tell you what. I still go back to it, and I talk to Marty about it, and I talk to others about it; there was energy there because everybody was working together. The people from Fairfield were like, “You guys did a great job. This is wonderful!” You know, because it was really a community Irish festival. But what we found is that we were outgrowing the area, because we had vendors that came back every year after that. I mean, they would sign up and say, “We’re coming back!”

    Marty Hardiman: And they were signing up at the end of that day (for the next year).

    Interviewer: Did you have food vendors and cultural vendors?

    Chris McEnerney: Yes.

    Marty Hardiman: Not a lot. because we couldn’t fit a lot.

    Chris McEnerney: But we had them.

    Marty Hardiman: The night before it was raining. Chris and I were just sitting there and watching the rain and saying, “Oh, no!” And then it stopped.

    Chris McEnerney: We had a tent for the gate and a tent that someone put down at the end along the side where the tables were before you get to Merchandise which was kind of centrally located. It was this big tent with poles in the middle and all that. but we had a tent. So, what was going on that week was that we took time off; whoever could take time off. I took the week off, and used my vacation time to do it. So, I’m sitting up there, it’s kind of raining, and then I’m like walking around. It’s not raining but I’m like, “This earth is wet!” I’m like slopping around. And it took me a couple hours to figure out that when the tide came in, the ground got wet. Because it rained, it would just bring the water level back up, and that used to be the harbor, so then when the tide went down, I wouldn’t get my feet wet anymore. So, we were just sloshing around in there. So, for our first festival, everything was under the pavilion. All the vendors were surrounded around the Pavilion. You didn’t have to walk far; you didn’t get lost. Everyone was just right there.

    Marty Hardiman: The beer tent was right there.

    Chris McEnerney: Yes, the beer tent was back there as well.

    Interviewer: And you had entertainment?

    Marty Hardiman: Yes.

    Chris McEnerney: There were a couple of key people that we had. The first thing, even before we brought up the festival, was I had to find two people that would guarantee and anchor this thing. So, I spoke to Tracy Riley who owned Life of Riley out in Old Saybrook, and I said, “Tracy, this is going to sound crazy, but I want to do a one-day Irish festival in Milford. Will you come and do the crafts for us, the market, you know, bring the wares, and Irish goods, and all that stuff?” And she said, “What’s the date?” and then said, “Sure, I’ll do that for you, Chris.” So. I’m like, “OK, we got that.” Now I go to Billy Donaldson from Keltic Kick and I said, “Billy, I need a big favor.” And he says, “What is it?” I said, “I need you to do the Irish Festival for me.” He said, “What Irish Festival?” And I said, “I’m thinking of doing one in Milford. So, once I had those two people, I was like, you know what? We’re going to go with it. Then, we got Callie McGrane who at the time was like fourteen. We’ve seen her since she was seven, playing the fiddle, and we used to put her on from 3 to 5 before everybody went to mass and people leaving. The one year we didn’t put her on, people were like, “Where’s Callie?” They were looking for her from 3 to 5. They were like, “How come she’s not here?” So, we had to bring her back. She was such a talent and she still is. I know they kind of are going through some growing pains right now, but I’m sure we can get them to come back. They always form together if we ask them to come back for any kind of event. They’ll get themselves together. But once we had that, and we had the support of the charter members, it worked.

    Interviewer: In the early, early stage, where did the money come from? It takes money to do these things, so did charter members just cough it up?

    Chris McEnerney: We did it with the dues. We had some fundraisers, too. We sold our first T- Shirts, and my son used to wear them around all the time. I couldn’t catch that kid without a T- Shirt on. But it was a yard sign on the back; it just said Milford Irish Festival, the date, the time and where it was. That was the shirt. I remember we did a fundraiser right down the street at the V.F.W, and we all met for bacon egg and cheese. Dan Sullivan was into this big time. He said, “Aw, let’s do this. Don’t worry about it. I’m going to pay for the bacon egg and cheese!” and we charged X amount of dollars for breakfast, and we had T- Shirts.

    Marty Hardiman: That was a good deal.

    Chris McEnerney: That was the morning of the Fairfield festival. So, everyone came down and got a shirt and then we all went down in a brigade to the Fairfield fest. And I was like, “Marty, they may get mad at us that we’re out here trying to advertise.” So, everyone was putting sweatshirts on and then they’re taking them off. But the people were like, “When are you having that?” And there was such interest that, we felt like, “OK I’m taking this sweatshirt off,” and everybody went and that’s how we got the word out down Fairfield way.

    Interviewer: How many people did you have that first year? Do you know?

    Marty Hardiman: I don’t remember what the count was.

    Chris McEnerney: I think there had to be about twelve maybe twelve hundred or so, but under the pavilion, twelve hundred is a lot of people under there throughout the day. And it was just one day; it was just 11am to 6pm.

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, 11 to 6. That’s all we did.

    Chris McEnerney: We did that for a couple years. We did just a one-day festival. Then, I think we went to 8 pm — really stretching it! And then we had some committee meetings where everyone was saying we had to go to 10 pm. Then we got hit with a little backlash like, you know, that’s too late. Then someone came up with, “Let’s do Friday night, too.” And we were already set up. We got it down, so we were set up by four o’clock, and we’re like, “OK, let’s get Friday night. I mean, someone pushed very strongly to get it, so we tried it and it worked out. So, now they go 11am to 11pm on Saturday and 6 pm to 11 pm on Friday nights.

    Marty Hardiman: And so, we start setting up on Wednesday and Thursday.

    Chris McEnerney: And just recently, we started opening up the marketplace, because the marketplace wouldn’t start at night on Friday, but we would have the marketplace on Saturday. I think we did that for…what?…two years?

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, it’s been around 2 years.

    Chris McEnerney: And the night time thing hasn’t been around, I think, maybe for four or five years now. We went quite a number of years without doing Friday night, just Saturday.

    Getting to the flags that hang at the pavilion at the festival. I went to Tracy Riley, and I said, “Tracy, we are marching in parades, you know, and we march and we wave at people, but we need something to do.” I said, “I want to present something.” And all I remember is how after nine eleven there was the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York where they went out with 343 (or so) flags to represent all the fallen firefighters, and I was like, “Wow, that’s just a thing of beauty there!” So, I wanted to get all the counties out there. So, that’s what we did, and again, Linda Hardiman calls me and says, “You’re out of your mind!” but I said, “Linda, it’s $342.” She said, “You do whatever you want.” Well, she is tighter than two coats of paint when it comes to spending money.

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, she is! (laughter)

    Chris McEnerney: But, she always kept us on track, you know? She was kind of our person to keep us reasonable. So, I said, “Linda, it’s only $342. It’s not a lot of money.” And so she said, “Well, you do what you want.” And we have gotten invited to more parades because of those flags. We have been on almost every baseball field. We haven’t been on Yankee Stadium or Fenway, but we’ve been on almost every baseball field in Connecticut, and Shea Stadium their last Irish Night with those flags.

    Marty Hardiman: They’re beautiful when they’re flying.

    Chris McEnerney: Yes. When they’re all flying, and you have to have them all flying with one person on each one. And, just so you know, aside from Milford, Mystic is probably the most beautiful parade you can march in.

    Marty Hardiman: It is. Going through the town with thousands of people, and they all come out and are sitting in little chairs.

    Chris McEnerney: They’re up on the rooftops and when we come through with the flags, everybody’s looking for their county, and they’re all hooting and hollering.

    Marty Hardiman: And even the announcer when we went past his booth, he yelled, “Where’s my flag?! Where’s my flag?!”

    Chris McEnerney: Yes, it’s a nice thing. We’re on our second set of flags now, because we’ve taken them out so much that they’ve become windblown, but those flags that we march with now are a new set and the older set gets hung at the festival. You know, I remember the first year we hung them. Earl Dugan was hanging flags and, I think, Steve was the designer of our lay out. And, it took Earl all day to hang those flags. So, Marty and I came up with this thing to recognize people that aren’t on the board. I said, “Marty, how are we going to do this?” And we came up with the Irish Man and Irish Woman of the Year. The initial premise of that was that we wanted to recognize people that weren’t on the board who went above and beyond, and that were people that we wanted to promote and recognize for their sacrifice; not sacrifice like ‘who gave me their left arm or a kidney,’ but just things that they did that really were involved and who always were there when you looked for somebody to get something done. There were plenty of people; it was really a tough, tough call, but I remember the board met on a Sunday afternoon. We were at West River Health Care, and we were in the private dining room there, and Earl Dugan and Erin Patchel were the winners that year. I said, “Marty, I’m going to call Erin and you can call Earl. Earl thought it was a prank call! (Laughter). He was like, “What?”

    Interviewer: Is that Debbie Mead’s dad?

    Chris McEnerney: Yes, Debbie Mead’s dad and Eileen Dugan’s husband. He was thrilled. So, he was our first Irish Man of the Year. When we did the dinners, originally, I was going to make the dinner. We went to St Peter’s, and so I was talking to my neighbor Richie Smith who owns Seven Seas, and we were just kind of kicking some ideas. So, I said, “I got X amount of people coming to this thing.” I had gotten hurt while I was setting up. I did something to my knee or something like that, and I go, “Rich I hate to do this to you.” Here it was Saturday. So I said, “Rich I need some help. I did something to my knee.” And he’s like, “Well, how much do you have done?” I said, “I got quite a bit done, I just need somebody to help me.” And he came in and took over for me.

    Marty Hardiman: Yeah, he took over the kitchen.

    Chris McEnerney: I kind of hobbled around. So, that was the thing. We packed that place.

    Interviewers: Where was it again?

    Marty Hardiman: Saint Peter’s Hall.

    Chris McEnerney: We had over 100 people there. We had a two-piece band and they were stuck in the corner and had no room at all. So, again, there was energy in the room, and people came out and just helped serve. We didn’t ask them; they just came. At first, we were going to do a buffet, and then we saw how full the room was, we just started passing food. People started serving. That’s how we kind of got that going, and we did that for a number of years; we did it up until…well, when did we leave Saint Ann’s?

    Interviewer: Well, we were at the V.F.W in Orange.

    Chris McEnerney: And we went to the American 127 in Orange on Route 121. And then we did Saint Ann’s Church for a number of years. But, yeah, when we did Post 127, they told me the stove worked, but you know when we rented the place, the burners didn’t work and they were electric and I’m like, “Oh, my God.”

    Marty Hardiman: All of a sudden, he was cooking on the grill, and we had to run everything upstairs. And he was down on the grill.

    Chris McEnerney: We actually brought the grill which we purchased for hot dogs and hamburgers when we had events. We had a six-foot grill, and I’m cooking and everything, boiling stuff on the grill. And I had an outdoor Fryer — I had a couple of those — and I called some friends and said, “Can you bring this over,” and we were boiling everything. So, yeah, we had our challenges. (Laughter). That was the year that Maureen Richetelli donated all the beer. (Laughter). She said, “Chris, come over to my house. I got to get rid of this stuff. I got a couple of beers for you.” She had so much. I don’t know where she got it from; maybe confiscated it from her grand kids? I had no idea. It was enough to last the night, I think. (Laughter). But it all worked out, for some reason, everything worked out. I know Marty and I used to say, “Hey, you got to have fun. You got to show them a good time, and the people will come, and the money that you need will come.” As we got older, I remember Jack Cordwell always saying in the meetings, “Once you get a club, and you start dealing with money, things are going to change. You’re not going to have fun anymore.” And you know, I’d say, “All right, Jack.” But I think there’s some truth to that when we started getting a lot of politics. But, I mean we used to have board meetings at people’s houses.

    Marty Hardiman: I know we had them at my house.

    Chris McEnerney: I know we had them at Maureen’s house (Richitelli) quite a few times. We had them at Danelle’s house. I couldn’t have them at my house, because I had the two little guys there and we would have woken them up or they wouldn’t have left us. So, we never had one. No, wait, we did. We had one in the backyard in the summer. So, that was it. It was really a grass roots thing. There was no grandiose plan, you know, we just went year by year, trying to build it. There are a lot of good people in the club that sacrificed their garages, their houses, or backyards. We did floats in the backyard. Maureen would call us and say, “Hey when’s this guy coming to get his trailer?” (Laughter). It was Frank Spargo. She says, “It’s June. I want to plant the grass.” Or, “We got to cut the lawn.” He had this hay trailer out there that we used to ride on top of going through the parades. That was fun, but, I mean, that was the way that the club started where we had people who would say, “Hey. Here’s the backyard, you know?” Or, “I got some astro-turf I can donate to you to put on this thing (float), or here’s some ribbons to make whatever, or here’s some wood, you know, to build the hut or something.”

    Marty Hardiman: Yeah, it was nice.

    Maureen Richetelli: The best trailer we had was the first one. This is how crazy we were: I still have the plants from the city hall. We got the plants from the city hall because we made a replica of the city hall. There was a bridge and the church. And Erin was on it, and that kid Sean Mason.

    Chris McEnerney: They were very instrumental in that.

    Maureen Richetelli: It was really beautiful.

    Chris McEnerney: So going to the next year with the float. Tori Stillings was in charge of that float. And we go to Colleen’s house on Wepawaug. And it’s freezing cold and it’s like snowing, and they’re putting this thing together. So, everyone’s invited over to their house, because we were going to start putting it together. They’re inside the house, in the kitchen. It was so cold out. They’re spray painting stuff in the kitchen. And it was like, “What are you guys doing in here?” But we have to get this thing together because the parades tomorrow.

    Interviewer: Who built the Celtic Cross?

    Chris McEnerney: The Celtic Cross was built by Tom Nelson, and then fabricated. Prior to that we had a big harp with white, and green yarn as its strings. That was ours with the claddagh ring on top. It was a wooden harp.

    Marty Hardiman: It was the heaviest thing in the world.

    Chris McEnerney: Yeah. Where is that thing?

    Marty Hardiman: I don’t know where it is now.

    Chris McEnerney: I don’t know where it is now either, but it was interesting. But, you know, it couldn’t be done by just Marty and myself. It had to be done with the community and we were lucky. People were actually like, “What are these guys doing?”

    Marty Hardiman: And then we would come together.

    Chris McEnerney: Everybody (social organizations around town) was looking at us saying, “How are you guys growing, and our memberships are going down? There was some clout – and there still is — but back then we’d be like, “We’re with the Irish Heritage Society.” And they’d say, “You should come to our chamber meetings; you should do this, you should do that…"

    Marty Hardiman: Everybody was like trying to get us to do something and it was nice.

    Chris McEnerney: I mean, we had someone come down from Danbury to the festival, and she sought me out and said, “I have to talk to you, and I was like, “What about?” And she said, “I came down from Danbury. We haven’t had good luck with our festival in years. What are you doing?” So, I took her number, and I spoke to her, and now they run their festival the same day we do.

    Marty Hardiman: They’re not going to run one this year and neither is Fairfield. They both lost money last year.

    Chris McEnerney: Danbury had lost money for a number of years because they were run the weekend before ours, and for some reason — I don’t want to jinx us — we have not had rain. The week before, there’s been rain, the week after there’s been rain, and Danbury ran it the week before, and they finally said, “Well, Milford’s been having luck. We’re going to run it the same weekend they are. But it didn’t work out for them.”

    Interviewer: Well ours is different. Theirs is bigger. Fairfield’s is just spread out too much, and Danbury always has rain.

    Marty Hardiman: We have a really good atmosphere. It’s a family atmosphere. That’s what we were looking for. We’re the only ones that made money.

    Interviewer: They were talking about banding together and doing something together. I heard Fairfield is going to take one year off and start over. They lost money with the weather is what happened. It’s Father’s Day weekend, and they always have thunderstorms.

    Chris McEnerney: And if you take insurance out on that, you know, it has to be (measured) at Sikorsky airport. How much rain did they get on their runway? So, if you took out insurance for rain, and they say, “OK, if you get one inch of rain and it’s rained out, we’ll pay you whatever your policy is.” It’s a hefty premium, but if you get 7/8ths of an inch of rain that’s recorded, you get nothing. So, it’s a guess. We never took insurance out. Maureen Moore hangs her rosary beads out. And that’s true. She did that the first night. She goes, “Chris, I’m going home to hang my rosary beads out.” (Laughter). I’m like, “Oh, Jeez, Marty.” And we go to bed, and it’s thundering and lightning. We wake up that first day. And, you know, you barely sleep, and you get up, and you’re exhausted, and you look out the window, and it’s a bright day. Not a cloud in the sky. It was absolutely gorgeous. I’m like, “Holy cow. We pulled this off somehow.”

    Marty Hardiman: I know when it was raining, we were both just saying, “Awww….”

    Chris McEnerney: But you know I always remember the words of Bill McNamara when we were sitting there and people were a little concerned — and this still holds true to me – he said, “If we make one dollar more than we spent, then it was a successful day because we got the heritage and the traditions and cultures of Ireland out to the community, and that’s what we’re here to do.” If we make money more than that, then great, but if we make one dollar more than we spent, then we did our job and we were successful. So, that was always the goal…we can just make a dollar.

    Interviewer: So the Irish Man and Woman of Year: was that the year after?

    Chris McEnerney: That was started in 2007 after the first one.

    Interviewer: How about the scholarship?

    Chris McEnerney: The scholarship? That was brought on with the golf tournament. And that was after Lyle James died. But let me just get back to you about the festival. You asked where the money came from? Tori Spillings also got us involved in the Oyster Festival. So, here we are. We’re the Irish. We’re going to put green dye in the beer, right? So, every drunk guy running around with a green mustache, or green lips, or something like that, and the cops are going to come back to us. So, we stopped doing the green beer, because they all were coming back to us, you know, even if the guy came in and only had one early in the day, and then he was a mess the rest of the day, they come back to us, and asked us what are we doing over here.

    Marty Hardiman: And we sold corn beef sandwiches and it was 100 degrees.

    Chris Hardiman: Yes, our goal was to be out of food by two o’clock. Our secret to our success at the Oyster Festival, and I still remember hearing DeChello saying, “You don’t need ice. You don’t need ice.” I said, “We need ice. We’re going to fill the coolers with ice.” Well, not only did we do that, we also went to Taylor Rental and got the insulated beer coolers and filled those with ice. So, we absolutely had the coldest beer down there, and as you said, it was as hot as anything. It might even have thundered that night, because it was so hot and humid. I remember my brother, Eddie, and Dan Sullivan were going back and forth for the beer, and no sooner than they’d get back with a barrel of beer you’d hear, “We need another barrel of beer!” They were going back to the guys and they were saying, “What are you guys doing over there?” We got the ice, because he was adamant that we didn’t need the ice. We’re going to put it right here, on the tarmac. And we sold 16 or 17 barrels of beer.

    Marty Hardiman: And we were in competition with everybody else that was selling beer.

    Chris McEnerney: So, we had one single booth with two taps. That thing was just constantly flowing. That was the seed money for the festival. That was a good day. I remember I was in the middle and Earl Dugan was working behind me and I’m like, “Earl, you need to take some money from me.” And, he’s like, “Alright.” And he’d turn and give the money to Mike. So, Mike and his crew would count it. I still have that sheet of scrap paper from the first festival. That sheet of paper just described how much I gave to Earl and what time I gave it to him. And, so, at the end of the day, I’d go back to Mike and say, “Mike do you have this number here?” And he’d look at it, and he’d count it and he’d say, “Yeah, were alright.” It was in my shaving kit; I don’t know why. I must have had it in my pocket or something, and I threw it somewhere, but I saw it recently how much we were doing. So if I can find it, you’re more than welcome to it, but I have to locate it.

    Interviewer: What was the other question you were asked about? Apparently, you started another organization that then began the golf tournaments?

    Chris McEnerney: That other organization, Slainte, didn’t start until after late 2012 or 2013.

    Interviewer: So, you were doing a golf tournament before and giving away scholarships?

    Chris McEnerney: The golf tournaments started off as a nine hole at The Orchards. We would tee off at three o’clock or four o’clock in the afternoon. Then after, one year we went to the Yacht Club and then we went to another place. You’d have to ask Mike McCabe where we went after that.

    Interviewer: Did the golf tournaments start as a fundraiser to raise money for scholarships? Was that the primary purpose for it?

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, it was.

    Chris McEnerney: A portion of it was for the building committee, and then a portion of it went to the scholarships in Lionel James’ name, Priscilla’s late husband, who was a charter member of the club. So, you know, we made mistakes along the way, but there was a period there, no matter what we did, people were safe and they had fun. We made money. It was always profitable and was making money. You’d see new faces at each and every event. There was an enthusiasm, a buzz around. I remember after we got kicked out of Remy’s because it closed, we moved out to the Orange Ale House, and we got hit with quite a bit of controversy with that. People were like, “That’s not in Milford.” So, it’s about fifty yards over the Milford line, but ‘it wasn’t in Milford!’ So, anyway, we go there, and actually, they were very hospitable. Joe Hess and Frank were running it at the time, and we had very good success. The room was a little different back then; it was more of like this kind of table and you had chairs and you had a good line of sight no matter where you sat. Then two years later they put booths in there. People were like you couldn’t see anything.

    Marty Hardiman: I don’t know why they did that, but they did.

    Chris McEnerney: Yeah, so we did that. And then we raised money another way. In 2006, we had a Christmas Party at The Orange Ale House. You remember that one, Maureen? Keltic Kick was there and two weeks before, we saw our numbers were down, so, in the world of everybody emailing everybody, we got in touch with the board, and I said, “Marty, you take A to C, and I’ll take D to G, or something like that, and Mike McCabe and Seth will take some. So, we all split it up and we called everyone individually, and we ended up with about 100 people there. Everyone was like, “Oh, what a great fundraiser.” I don’t think we made any money that year.

    Marty Hardiman: It was more of just breaking even.

    Chris McEnerney: People were like, “Well, we didn’t know you really wanted us to go to the Christmas Party.” So, we had to call and talk to them, and I think that when you talk to people, people seem to be a little more open. I think that’s what we’ve lost in society that people don’t call each other on the phone. Everything is a text or an e-mail. So, it was comforting to see that we went back to old fashioned calling and said, “We’re having a Christmas Party. We’d like for you to come.” And it turned around. I think before we made the calls there was like 35 people coming, and we ended up getting people and everyone had a really nice time.

    Interviewer: We Irish are always like that. We’re slow starters.

    Chris McEnerney: Yes, us Irish are late and last. So, I want to go back to the first year of the festival. We really underestimated ourselves. I remember Tommy from G & G had to make 3 trips back up to Wallingford to pick up more beer. He’s like, “Chris, I didn’t know you were going to be this busy.” We went through…what? It looked like forty to fifty…

    Marty Hardiman: 50 barrels in one day.

    Chris McEnerney: Fifty barrels of beer the first year. And the tickets! Remember McCabe goes to Minuteman Press and gets 250 beer tickets? And then he was like, “OK, each ticket is worth like 50 cents.” Well, we didn’t sell anything for 50 cents. So they’d come up with this ticket, and you’d say, “OK, I need 8 tickets,” or whatever it was. I think we were selling some $4 beers. So we said I need 8 tickets and they’d tear 8 tickets off. Then all of a sudden, the ticket booth is coming over saying, “we’re all out of tickets!” We’re like, “What?” So we’d go in the box and bring them back up there.

    Marty Hardiman: What we did was save them in the box, and then bring them back up.

    Chris McEnerney: Yes, we’d just resell the tickets. So, then the next year, Bill McNamara said, “I’m going to do something.” And we talked and he got a poster board, and he started putting beer tickets on it and IHSM on it. So, we wouldn’t know the color of the ticket until the day of the festival so it could be white, red, green, whatever. So, that would be the ticket, but one ticket equaled one drink. one beer, one wine, whatever. It wasn’t, OK, what’ll you have here. That’s how we got to the one ticket system. It was good. There were a couple snafus, you know. Some of the people came down with higher expectations then we had for how much money they should have made for selling food. We went to a guy up here, remember? He wanted us to pay him. Remember we went to eat dinner up there on Lenox Avenue? He said, “How much are you going to pay me? I said, “You’re going to sell your own food. You’re going to take your own money. We don’t want to even touch your money.” He said, “No, I don’t want to do that.” That was probably the biggest mistake the guy ever made because he went out of business as well, so, he probably could have profited from the festival. I mean, we sold out of corned beef one year. We were all out! I’m like, “Are you kidding me? We have no more.” And, so, it was a challenge; you have learning curves where you think, “What do we do? Are you going to make sure you have 200 pounds of corned beef or 400 pounds or 500 pounds? But, I think, when we got to the food truck era, that these guys go out and they know what a profitable day is for them. If you say, “Hey, five hundred people, or four hundred people around,” then they kind of know what there doing. A not-for-profit like us, going out there and putting up $600 for hot dog rolls, and we don’t sell them…what are we going to do with them? I mean, this guy at least can use them for a truck the next day, or whatever.

    Marty Hardiman: We found those hot dog rolls…still in storage.

    Chris McEnerney: We had a storage center, what was that? Eastern Steel Road?

    Marty Hardiman: Yeah.

    Chris McEnerney: …and we had a freezer where we put stuff in, and one of the guys we were subletting an area of it to or one of his employees unplugged it. So, we go out there the next week to open it up, and we were going to have one of our first picnics and it smelled like something died in there. But let me tell you, I mean, we had fun, and, you know, a lot of people used to go our way. If we had something to do, no matter what or who or how young or old you were, people all went out (to help). We have to load the truck for the festival, you have more people than you could shake a stick at down there. Sons, daughters.

    Marty Hardiman: Even at the warehouse they would just come out (to help).

    Chris McEnerney: There was a community to it. I’m really pleased with how the clubhouse turned out, and I know that a lot of the newer members feel that the clubhouse is the club, but I personally, remember those early days when we were forming the club. That was what was truly the club, because we didn’t have brick and mortar to rely on. We had our belief in one another and our trust in one another and our heritage to talk about. Whether it was music, or theater, or Book Club, or whatever, or people just wanted to get together and socialize.

    Marty Hardiman: That’s what it was meant to do.

    Steve Kraftmiller: It truly made a difference in my life, to meet all these people.

    Marty Hardiman: It’s a nice organization, and there’s a lot of nice people involved in it. It’s good.

    (Discussion about young people and the Young People’s Social).

    Interviewer: So, with the time, from the very beginning up until now, I mean we’re looking back over a decade, did you ever imagine that your thoughts, your ideas would grow to what it is today?

    Marty Hardiman: I know the thoughts were there, but I wasn’t really expecting it. All of a sudden, we’re seeing numbers, people, and we’re growing. And I’m looking at the clubhouse, and I’m saying, “Well, we’ve outgrown that!”

    Maureen Richetelli: I knew it when we got it, but when that went through Planning and Zoning, I was there, and I cried. I couldn’t believe it, because I thought I’d be dead and buried before we’d get a clubhouse (Laughter).

    Chris: Well, you know, when the dedication took place I remember distinctly looking out at the room. And I would say seventy percent of that room were charter members. People that were with us the first day at West River Health Care. And I said, “You know what? The clubhouse is great.” It’s a great symbol, but the real club was made up from all of us bonding together. It’s all our blood, sweat, and tears, and this is just like the cherry on top of a sundae, you know?

    Marty: Right.

    Chris: We want the guy that will come out to a parade: “Can you come out and wave a flag for us?” or, “Can you come and help decorate a float?” or the picnic is coming up, “Can you come out and make clam chowder? Or serve clam chowder, or whatever it is?” Put something together for us. We used to get great numbers. We used to get volunteers to do stuff. I mean, a dance, because they just wanted to be part of us. They’d come out and play for nothing.
    Marty: That was something at Walnut Beach Day, remember?

    Chris: They didn’t have a band. Well, two guys, Kevin McCarran and Kevin Bono came out, and they saved the day. They started playing. So I thought, “Thank God you’re here.” It was just that they had stuff in the car, and we just thought, you know, it will not be the end of the dinner.

    Marty: At the end of the dance, they came to us, and said, “Thank you.” And we were like, “Call us any time.”

    Chris: And, here’s something that I’m kind of proud of, and I think these guys are too: I was talking to Kevin McKerran and he was saying, “I play a little bit and Kevin Bono does too, and we have a guy playing with us who plays the drums.” And I said to them, “Do you want to play on the float?” And one year they were like, “Yeah, we’d love to play on the float!” So they came to the game — and they had gotten rid of one of the Kevins and they went under Kevin and Cavon — and they played on the float. So, they go to New Haven, and I set them up with a thing at the Lansdowne which is now….do you know the the place across from Gateway College? Well, we’ll get back to the name. So, anyway, they play at the Lansdowne, and the place is packed, and the kids really don’t want anything to do with Irish music. They wanted a D.J. So, they played for a couple hours, and we got them the heck out of there. And, about two weeks later, they call me, and they say, “You won’t believe what we just got!” And I’m like, “What?” “Some guy saw us at the Lansdowne, and wants us to play Toad’s Place, and we’re opening up for Black for 7. They were way up here. That was their career! They were like, “We’re playing on the same stage as Mick Jagger, and Bruce Springsteen, and Todd Rundgren, you know, all these guys. They were just ecstatic.

    Marty: There’s a lot of rewards.

    Chris: There’s a lot of little rewards. We never took a dime from it. It wasn’t about being financially rewarded, or anything. It was just about going down the street knowing that we were helping people out. There were people that came to me that said their families weren’t legally here, and they asked me to go to the consulate to see if I could help them out. And they exercised everything they could, but unfortunately they couldn’t help the person out. But, you know, we established a relationship with the consulate general of New York and also up in Boston. We went up to the first Irish Summit, which if you guys know anything about Massachusetts, Boston…Marty does.

    Marty: Yeah, that’s where my brother lives.

    Chris: We went up there to the Irish American Cultural Center up in Canton. It was my brother, Eddie, and I and Dan and Danelle Sullivan took the ride up there and we were the only group from Connecticut up there. Massachusetts and the Boston area have all these aids to the Irish immigrant, through the churches and through the colleges and all this stuff, and the Holyoke parade, which is a huge, very prestigious parade in Massachusetts. They get a better share on T.V. than the Super Bowl in the Holyoke-Springfield area watching that parade. It’s just a wonderful thing. But we went and we were invited back to the Consulate’s office and then the Consulate brought us back to dinner and we had a great time talking to these guys and learning about their (organization). But it was very nice to be recognized and they were very interested, because at the time, I think we were like 3 years old, and we’d already had - believe it or not- we’d already had four festivals. It was nice that they were recognizing us. They asked, ”You have a festival, and you have how many members?” Because there’s some organizations in Boston who have two members, and they go as high as three thousand members, but there are a lot of organizations up there which was nice to be a part of. You’re not alone out there.

    Steve Kraftmiller: I’d like to say Thank you to Marty and Chris for coming tonight.

    Chris McEnerney: I know that I’ve been removed from the club for a while…not spiritually, I haven’t been, but I think, more physically. I’ve taken a step back. As people who were on the earlier board involved know, it wasn’t ever like a fight to get going, but it was always constant. The first Boards were always in communication.

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, right.

    Chris McEnerney: I would call Maureen at work, and she’d call me back when she got a moment, you know. We were always talking. I was talking to Marty, too. There was such communication going back and forth that almost everybody on the board was on the same page, and knew what everyone else was thinking, you know, and we were all driving for this common…

    Marty Hardiman: …for the common goal, just to promote the Irish.

    Chris McEnerney: It was really my honor to be with Marty to start this and, you know, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were just going to run it as a finding committee, and Peter Phalen made a motion – even before we were a club; I don’t even know if it’s legal — he made a motion: “I make a motion that Marty and Chris are co-presidents the first year,” and that was how it was to be for three years or something that, and then the secretary at the time, Priscilla James, called for a vote, but there was no action until the following year. And that’s how Marty was vice president, and I was president, and the board became the board. But you know our webmaster was part of that. Remember? The first few years we had the webmaster. He was always kind of like our ‘Scribe’ even though we had a Secretary. He was always taking stuff and putting it on the the web to get things going.

    Maureen Richetelli: It was like a little family.

    Marty Hardiman: Yes, that’s what it was; it was meant to be.

    Chris McEnerney: You know, there were a lot of people in town that helped us out. Richie Smith from Seven Seas helped us out. He used to give us his room upstairs above Canvas Patch to have meetings. And we used to have debates. I mean, we really used to have debates, which I miss! It showed the enthusiasm people had, and the belief. I mean, we argued over drums for two months. And we had this guy Fettagan out there, answering every question and trying to do it, and believe it or not, when it’s all said and done, we sold the drums to an outfit in North Haven, but we got the money back, because every time those drums went out, we got a check from the hosts (of the parade) as we do here in Milford, you know, you pay the bands, so they actually made money. It was a little bit of a headache and challenge, because we wanted them to do certain things for us, and they were always busy, or we couldn’t get a full set together. But the decision was we had nowhere to store them; if someone drops out, they’re in individual houses. So right now we probably could house them, because we have a place to house stuff. But it was just (not the right time). You remember that? I mean, that was just going back and forth (debating). And another thing: Linda Hardiman was always like, “I’m not for these drums.” (Laughter). She’s tough!

    What I would like to touch on, and you guys were talking about it earlier as Mark touched upon it and Maureen as well, is that we have to get the younger generation involved, and I know that early on our focuses were elsewhere, but we had the GAA come up from New Haven and Sonny and the McCabes and, you know, all those guys like Shawn Cox and the football players, to try to get some interest in there. I still think that might be a nice interest to get the kids involved, because they’ll always have that bond with one another. It’s like, “Hey, we played together.” It wasn’t for money — because you don’t get paid to play — there’s no professional gaelic football league or anything like that, so it’s just a recreational thing. We’re doing it for fun. And I talked to Bernard, and I had a wonderful lunch with Bernard, and we had a nice conversation about how he has a dozen kids that come back and play whistles with them every Monday night down in Fairfield.

    Bernard Keilty: Yes, Monday and Wednesday nights. I had so many, I had to add a night.

    Chris McEnerney: Bernard was kind enough to call me yesterday, just to give me a reminder, And he said, “Hey, Chris, I just wanted to remind you about tomorrow.” And we had a nice conversation and one of the things that he and I talked about — you know, Bernard is very easy to talk to — was that it’s kind of like a wheel and you have a spoke of traditional Irish, which you know Bernard’s very interested in, and you have a spoke of books and Irish literature which a lot of you are interested in and I’m interested in, and I’ve always been interested in the Irish music, because I think that there’s a story to be told behind these rebel songs like ‘Come Out You Black and Tans.’ It tells a story about what these guys went through. And then there’s some comedic songs, you know, you’re talking about the Wild Rover and he’s always out spending his money foolishly and a lot of us may do it from time to time, but then you have the spoke where it’s more of this mainstream American stuff, which I think fits in there, but I don’t think it should be two spokes of the wheel; I think it should be one spoke of the wheel, and maybe we should have two spokes of traditional, and two spokes Irish music, and literature, and theater and songs. But my goal and I talked to Bernard about this, is I would like to start a youth choral group for them to sing these songs where we utilize these kids, not utilize but teach them the songs, and they can perform at the festival, which would take up one hour’s worth of time, which everyone knows what an hour’s worth of time on the stage at the festival costs, so you know, but also teach them the meanings behind the songs, because you know they’re very, I think, they’re very instrumental to keeping kids together. My kids are listening all the time. I could just start whistling a song and Keenan will chime right in.

    So, that’s just something that I would like to do, and I also got an OK, you know, Billy Donaldson said he would enjoy teaching kids the Irish rebel songs — I think you call them pub songs. Right? An hours a long time for singing, but we could also introduce the whistles or something like that, and then we could have people coming in and out. My concern is how do we get this to the next generation? We’re becoming more and more technologically dependent and there’s even so little of people even coming out of the house, or out of their rooms; they’re playing games on the computer and so, how do we get them back into society? And that’s what’s nice about the Irish Heritage Society. I think there’s a place for everyone whether you like to dance, or you like to sing, or you like to play the bagpipes, or Bodhran, or like to play the fiddle. I mean, I think it should be more traditional, like someone should be able to come in here with a guitar, and then another guy walk in with a Bodhran and just start playing.

    Steve Kraftmiller: That happens now, about once a month. I’d love to see this choral group get together.

    Chris McEnerney: Well, Maureen Richetelli was our trustee. The trustee is a very important position. They always kept us straight. They would be our checks and balances. And there were some that were better than others, and Maureen was one of them that wouldn’t bite her tongue. She wouldn’t hold back. We’ve gotten in many heated debates in her dining room. (Laughter). It was nice to see that you could have that and still call her the next day and still be friends. But it was just, you know, it was all good and for the betterment of the club. It wasn’t anything personal like, “She yelled at me; I’m not talking to her anymore.” Did we ever do that? (Laughter).

    But we used to do other things, too. I mean, for two years in October after the festival — I think it was Columbus Day weekend — we used to do a weekend up in the Irish Village, and so everybody was secure, you know. They had a dining room, the Mess Hall was there. There was a pub and there was music every night, and everyone would just walk back to their room, but Maureen and Maureen used to have a Happy Hour up there before we went out, and they would have their elf shoes and ears on, and they’d be dancing around. It was fun. And people felt comfortable enough to be goofy, and to have laughter, and it was just really, really nice up there. Everyone was like, “Oh you’re with the Irish Club?” We actually got to go to the Aaron’s Club up there. I called them in advance. That was a new club that started in Cape Cod. And they said, “C’mon, you can come on down. We went down, and a few of us had dinner, and it was nice.

    My father told me, that his grandfather donated all the stained glass to St. Mary’s on Elizabeth Street in Derby. So you would come to America and you would donate something. So that’s how the Irish did it. They didn’t have anything. They were stuck. They weren’t treated very well. If you go back to some of these songs where someone was sent over at 14 and you get on a ship, and you’re told “to write to us as soon as you can, and try to make a life for us over there.” How do you feel about sending a 14 year old on a ship that takes weeks to get over there? They’re in the bowels of that ship, and how brave that girl or son must have been. I wonder what the parents must have felt like sending them over there. You may never hear from them…there’s no phones, and no computers. It really was an act of bravery and sacrifice to do that and then to come over here and hopefully meet up with a guy, who you never saw before, you know, there’s no photographs or anything. You know, I’ll meet you at the dock. You really think about that and it’s got to be scary. And the church was being built and it provided jobs….maybe not paying jobs, but people exchanged their skills…the stone worker…the baker gave bread for it…everyone contributed something.

    You know, maybe it’s something like we’re doing with the club. Everyone gave us something to do and we felt good about ourselves, because we had a purpose to build something into what we have today. There’s a lot of good things that have come out of this club. I think there’s more good things then bad things that have come out of this club. I really can’t even think of a bad thing that has come out of this club, for sure. And, I really appreciate you guys putting this together. I know I can be long winded. I was telling Keenan, “I really don’t know what they are going to ask me or what I’m going to say.” (Laughter).

    Steve Kraftmiller: If we don’t have you telling us what happened, it will be lost. We want to have this written down. Someday, we’ll have a book about the Irish in Milford through the years! Thanks a lot, Marty and Chris.

  • _______________________________________

  • Interview of Marty Hardiman

    Interviewer: Good evening, Marty. How and why did you become involved in this wonderful venture?

    Marty: Back before we really got this started, I was always along the streets here, hawking for Devon Day, promoting all the local businesses. And one time I was out there with a tent, and I said I might as well promote the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which I had been a long, long time chairman. And while I was out there, this guy comes and approached me and we talked maybe an hour or so. His name was Chris McEnearney. And his words were, he said, “Did you ever think maybe we could start an Irish Club?” And I said, “I always had that in the back of my mind.” And we went from there.

    Interviewer: What was the first step?

    Marty: The first step was to sit down and find us an attorney to talk to.

    Interviewer: And why exactly would you need an attorney?

    Marty: Just to see if we’re going to go in the right direction. We didn’t want to step on any other Irish clubs’ toes.

    Interviewer: And the next step?

    Marty: He went out researching other Irish clubs from the West Coast over. And I did the Midwest to the East Coast. And on my side I ran into another member, Bill McNamara, who was president of the West Haven Irish American Club. And I just picked his brain. I was a member of the West Haven Irish American Club. And I just sat and picked his brain and he loved it. We spent days on end. And so we put all our information back together, sat down with our attorney, and started writing the rules.

    Interviewer: So that in itself must be quite a big undertaking, to come up with the rules. And apparently being revised all the time.

    Marty: Well, that’s good. And then Chris wanted to hold a meeting to see if we could find anybody else that might be interested in joining an Irish Club in Milford.

    Interviewer: So rules (bylaws) that are still very much in place. What would you say was the biggest challenge?

    Marty: It really wasn’t the bylaws because we were picking through that. I think the biggest challenge was where we were going to meet.

    Interviewer: And where did you initially start meeting?

    Marty: What was the name of that…on Orange Avenue? (West River Rehabilitation Center)

    Interviewer: And from there on?

    Marty: We bounced from a couple of different bars. I’ll say why we were bouncing from a couple different bars. The club that Chris was looking at on the West Coast was a traveling club. They never had a club and they’ve been in existence for – I believe Chris said like 50 or 60 years. And they did nothing but travel.

    Interviewer: Wow that’s interesting. So that was toyed with as a possibility? Kind of used as a model?

    Marty: Yes. At the same time Chris and I were still looking at different buildings to see if it could house what we had.

    Interviewer: What has been your personal experience and involvement in it – the whole organization?

    Marty: Well, from the start being the co-founder. We were like co-presidents for a couple of years, Chris and I, before we had our first set of elections. Chris was elected president and I was elected vice-president then.

    Interviewer: And how many people were involved in that election process?

    Marty: At that time? Maybe 100.

    Interviewer: What else did you do to stay involved?

    Marty: We just kept our fingers in there, involved, especially with the board. We were president and vice-president, and then I became president. Then Ed Mead was president. I became past-president. And we were always involved with the board. So you kept your fingers in the game.

    Interviewer: Do you have a title now other than past-president?

    Marty: Well, now it’s just co-founder along with past-president.

    Interviewer: The whole catalyst behind our project to write the history of the club was that this is the 10th anniversary year. Talk about our growth over these first ten years.

    Marty: It was growing slowly, especially when we were hanging down at Costa Azzurra. We were just seeing the same people show all the time for monthly meetings. We were always discussing looking for a permanent place of our own over the years. And then once we got this place, after going from building to building, finally having people come out to take a look at this before we even thought about buying it. Once we said we had a building, it just exploded. The membership exploded. And it’s still going.

    Interviewer: So what was your involvement in the purchasing of this? Were you directly involved in that?

    Marty: I was involved with – there was, I forget how many members – but we all came to take a look at it. It was always a discussion. The idea was we weren’t to make the decision, but it was a Club decision – all the membership – to go after this.

    Interviewer: But you guys brought it back to the full membership?

    Marty: Right. My own feeling and my own thoughts are “Never do anything unless the full membership knows.”

    Interviewer: That’s a very key thing. Once you lose that transparency then there’s always room for uncertainty and questioning. This question is a little redundant, but what are your earliest memories of the Club?

    Marty: I guess just the craziness of having something like this and still reaching out to other Irish clubs for more information.

    Interviewer: Yes. And I think to a great extent that is still going on; the networking with other people.

    Marty: We still do. I really believe that’s the best thing to happen. Like I have West Haven, who wants to sit down with me, and go over everything we have done, because they would like to see themselves in their own clubhouse.

    Interviewer: They don’t have their own club house?

    Marty: Oh no. They’re another group.

    Interviewer: Kind of nomadic?

    Marty: Yes. But what happens with them is, their membership and the monies that they raise go to New Haven. They’re part of New Haven’s club. And I have discussed with them to come this way. It’s still in discussion. And the other part of the madness was starting the Irish Festival.

    Interviewer: That must have been an incredible undertaking.

    Marty: Well, we were just 5 months into being a club, and Chris and I sat down and said maybe we should do an Irish Festival. And then we threw that out at the membership, and they thought we were both crazy. And that was a very, very successful event for the first time. And it was all done under the gazebo not the field. We had food vendors, some jewelry vendors, a band, and tables all under the gazebo.

    Interviewer: So it was just a scaled down version of it?

    Marty: A scaled down version.

    Interviewer: Nothing like what it is now.

    Marty: Nope. And then we had a beer tent. Where we had the beer before was, here’s the gazebo, and here’s the wall to that house. Right there.

    Interviewer: Wow. It’s amazing – the growth.

  • _______________________________________

  • Interview of Chris McInerney

    Bernard: When did you first come up with the idea of an Irish heritage group for Milford?

    Chris: I’d have to say probably like 2002 I kind of started formulating an idea. That’s when I met Marty Hardiman. He was actually selling Pickles on a Stick in front of Dulin Automotive on Bridgeport Avenue during Devon Day. We got engaged in a conversation, I gave him my number. We just went about our business separately. But I was always coming up with plans, writing things down of how to formulate a club. I believe it was in January of 2005 that Marty gave me a call and said, “Hey, I need some help with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.” So that’s how I got involved with Marty. And I helped him out with the parade for that year, 2005. We did some fundraising and parties and things like that. We started getting some bands together for the parade and building the parade up.
    The following year in 2006, we got a good jump on fundraising that year and we really built up the bands. And the day before the festival – I mean not the festival, the parade – I got a call from a gentleman, whose name escapes me but he was a reporter with the Connecticut Post, and he had interviewed me about the parade and who puts on the parade… and I said, “I would really think that if we had a club here in Milford, an Irish Club, that the parade would go off a lot smoother.” And I believe that’s what he wrote. Now when you talk to a reporter like I’m talking to you, you don’t know what they’re going to write down. So the more that you tell them they pick and choose the highlights. So he put down that we were interested in starting a parade – err, a club – which I was. By the time I got home, now that was in the obituary page on Friday. By the time I got home from the parade on Saturday afternoon at 5:00, I had fifty-six emails to my personal email asking for information about the club and that they’re interested in help forming the club. I went to Marty with this and I said, “Marty, you wouldn’t believe this that we have so many people interested, just from the parade.”
    One that really sticks out with me is this gentleman, his name is Seth Cohen. He’s about a 6’7" Jewish man from Brooklyn. He told me when he wrote the email, he goes, "Even though my name doesn’t resonate Irish, my wife’s family, the Delaneys, own a bed and breakfast in County Laois. So therefore I believe I’m eligible to become a member of the club.” So a couple weeks later, on April 6th, 2006, we had our initial meeting at the West River Health Care Center and he showed up. And Seth Cohen actually became the first parliamentarian who helped us formulate bylaws and get us incorporated.
    So, I would say, I’ve been kind of kicking this around since 2002. Then Marty came around, and I got involved with the parade the summer of 2005. We were kicking it around at a party at Maryann Griffin’s house, on the beach at Fort Trumbull. So we were kicking it around and it came to fruition.

    Bernard: How did you decide on the name The Irish Heritage Society of Milford?

    Chris: That’s a good question. Marty and I were kicking around names. And the names that we were – there is an Irish Heritage Club in Seattle, Washington, which I did a lot of research on how they did their club. Over 20 years, never owned a lock, no brick-and-mortar, they’re just a club in Seattle that goes from restaurant to restaurant without owning any property at all and they sustain themselves with activities and events and just bringing people into different restaurants around the city. While I was talking to a gentleman there, I had actually asked him, I said, “we’re getting ready to do a club and I love the name The Irish Heritage Club… would it offend anyone if we did that, Irish Heritage Club of Milford?” And he said, “absolutely not, we’d be honored if you used it.” When I was talking to Marty, when we were starting to formulate plans of how we were going to do this, it came to both of us at the time that we’d be more of a society because of the things that we’ve talked about earlier, that there’s a place for everybody in a society and we wanted to have a place for the people who celebrate their heritage to have a place to go and celebrate that and explore the opportunities that others might be able to share with us. A lot of us were born in America but there’s a lot of people in Milford that I’m sure were born in Ireland that could shed light on a lot of things that happened over there and how maybe our counties, or maybe we’re from the same towns, or maybe they know our cousins… so we were just thinking that ‘society’ fit the bill a little bit better than ‘club.’

    Bernard: How were the bylaws developed… what steps or procedures were necessary to become recognized as an Irish Heritage organization? Who thought up the bylaws? How do you organize that?

    Chris: Well the bylaws were… with the help of Seth Cohen our honorary Irishman, he was a tax accountant and an attorney. So he was a tax attorney very knowledgeable with IRS codes and all of that. So a lot of the stuff that we do when we do a corporation had to be done in accordance with a 501c… we were 501c7 at the time with the IRS codes. When we sat down to do the bylaws a lot of us offered help when we came upon picking a bylaw committee, which I don’t have them here but I can furnish you with the names of the people that were on the committee. The ones that ring a bell are Priscilla James, Danelle Sullivan, I believe Ned Riley, Dave Conroy, Chris McEnerney (myself), Marty Hardiman and Seth Cohen. I believe there may have been a few more.
    One thing that we did, we all did some research when we said we’re going to be on the bylaws committee, we said, “Go look through some other clubs and get some bylaws and see what we can do.” So when we got it, people came to the meeting everybody had a different point, but there was really a common thread. And one thing that Seth Cohen had brought up, he says, “hey guys, let’s not reinvent the wheel. These bylaws are pretty straightforward. You can’t have a president that’s the treasurer, you can’t do this, that, and the other thing. You can’t have any employees. It’s got to be a non-stock health. No one can individually benefit from the club.” So there was some bylaws groundwork that was laid out. We worked on that bylaw committee for… I think we met like twice a week for about four or five weeks. And Seth would do a lot of work typing them out after we were done. So that’s how the bylaws came. I know they’ve been revised several times since we started, but I think we came up with pretty good groundwork at the beginning.

    Bernard: Now, in the beginning, how were the first officers selected? Were they volunteers? They couldn’t have been elected – you were just starting out.

    Chris: Well, when we first started, at the first meeting, Peter Phalen was a past Grand Marshall of the parade, made a suggestion that – because that was a question that was asked at the first meeting, who’s going to run the club and all that – so Peter Phelan wrote up that Chris McEnerney and Marty Hardiman be co-presidents at the time to get the ball rolling and to get the club going. At that point, we asked at the next meeting, that meeting was at the West River Health Care Center.

    Bernard: That was the first meeting?

    Chris: That was the first meeting. Then the second meeting was at Stonebridge in the room behind the bar, it’s a glass atrium room; it goes out to the deck. That night we had Billy Donaldson come and play some Irish music for us. Within the first fifteen minutes of that meeting, we outgrew that room. There was no room for anybody else more to come in. We were packed in there. People had volunteered and then at that point we asked if anyone was – I believe we asked if anybody had any opposition to these people being volunteers and there were none. So Danelle Sullivan was at the time, Membership Chair, Priscilla James was Secretary, we didn’t have a Vice-president. Mike McCabe, that was his first meeting there and he volunteered to be Treasurer. Dan Sullivan volunteered to be Sergeant-at-Arms. And I’m not sure about the trustees at that point. I think the trustees were put on later. That was the original board to start off. There were some people that came around… we wanted a web presence so Dave Conroy was at the meetings because we wanted him to record things and bring things forward. So he was also a part of that as well. He’s the one who created the websites, which really got us going with MilfordIrish.org and MilfordIrish.com. If you were looking for stuff in Milford and you were Irish, he nailed it with that domain name. So that was good.

    Bernard: Do you remember what the first real club activity was?

    Chris: Yes. We would have meetings, now after we left the Stonebridge because we outgrew that, we went to a place called Remy’s which is next to Patriot Bank in Jim Connolly’s office there on Boston Post Road. Used to be called Charlie’s Potbelly Pub or something like that, on the corner of Route 121 and Route 1. We were there. So we had an activity every month so to speak with a meeting but outside of the meeting the first activity we had, I brought up the fact of having a festival. I think it would be great to have a festival. Everyone looked at me like, “you must be out of your mind.” We were just getting started but I thought the time was right. We had the momentum and we had the people who were motivated to do it so I thought it was a good thing to bring up. And then we went ahead with it and started planning. We had that festival planned in like six weeks. So here’s the thing, the first activity that we had was we had a breakfast at the VFW on Naugatuck Avenue, the morning of the Fairfield Irish Festival. And at that breakfast, we had egg sandwiches and things. And for your fee, you got a t-shirt that you were to wear to the festival – the Irish Festival – that on the back, it was a white T-shirt and on the back it had our festival sign on it… Milford Irish Festival with the date and time. And that was our first activity and everybody went down there, a lot of us were a little nervous about wearing it like, “hey, you know, we’re going down into Fairfield to advertise our Festival,” but it was good. People embraced it, people asked us about it, so it actually worked out. That was our first activity.

    Bernard: Now, with the festival, were there any problems? You hadn’t done festivals yet – you had never done a festival. What were some of the problems with bringing that to fruition?

    Chris: In my mind, there weren’t many problems at all. The one problem that we had was that it rained the night before the festival. So we were – and it rained three days before while we were setting it up – so if you know about the Pavilion down there at Fowler Field, is that that’s all fill. That used to be the harbor. So I’m sitting there and I’m walking around – not sitting, I’m walking around doing work, straightening, getting things set up and I’m like, “wow, the ground’s awfully wet.” It hadn’t rained in a while, but I looked over at the harbor and the tide is up and when the tide would go down it would dry out. So, we were there we had it all set up, we had some people stay over the night for security, and that night it poured. And we woke up to a beautiful blue sky. Whoever hung rosary beads out the window that night it worked. I think Maureen Moore said she was hanging them out. But it worked. And I’m sure there were a lot of well wishes to get that festival going.
    The city was very helpful. Very, very helpful. The Chamber of Commerce came down. We were checked on several times by several city agencies: the mayor, his office and Public Works to come down and see if there’s anything that we needed. We were very well supported I don’t really think there were problems. I think maybe the only problems might have been that we were taking a chance and maybe our own thoughts got to us. I think overall it went very well for – well, that was the first year, it didn’t stop anybody from doing – now we’re up to eleven, we’re planning number twelve, right?

    Bernard: The Irish Heritage Society has met many places before we had a clubhouse. How were these decisions made? I mean, you mentioned previously about meeting here and meeting there. How was the meeting place determined? What were some of the good and bad points about having to shift around, month to month, or however you had them?

    Chris: That’s a good question. What we did was the first meeting, like I said earlier, was at West River Health Care Center. I was Director there. I knew the room was big enough. I expected maybe six, maybe a half dozen or dozen people to show up. Over seventy people showed up that first night. I was amazed. Peter Phelan had come in first. I welcomed him, I asked him, “hey Peter, how you doing? Anything I can get for you?” He said, “yeah, I’ll have a cup of coffee.” I went to get a cup of coffee for him. An employee of mine, this young lady comes walking back in, she says, “you’re going to need more than a cup of coffee.” I said, “what are you talking about?” She goes, “you better get out here.” I looked out – it was like the bus station just opened up. There were people who had set up chairs, tables… it was quite a collection of people and to this day I still see those people at the club. Those people have been there since day one. So those people are charter members.
    So from there we went to Stonebridge, just based on availability, thinking maybe we’d get more people in place where they can maybe enjoy an adult beverage or something like that. So we did that and as I said earlier we outgrew that room within fifteen minutes. From that point we went to Remy’s, which was on the corner of Route 1 and 121. We were there for several – I’m not going to say several – we were there probably about three or four months and then he’d informed us that he was selling the place, or it was sold, so we had to move on. So we’re kind of scrambling like where are we going to go. So from that point someone went up – I’m not 100% sure – went up to the Orange Ale House. Now that got hit with a little confrontation, too, even though it’s about two hundred yards over the Milford line – that we weren’t in Milford. But they were very accommodating and we were there for, I believe we were there for over a year. Then he went and changed his back room where he had booths set up where we couldn’t – before it was more of an open format where – the board would be at a table and then there would be tables out there. Now they put booths and nobody can see the board and the board couldn’t see them. So we decided it was time to move and we went – Chris Busker, who at that time for Sergeant-at-Arms, had gone down and spoke to Richie Conine, who offered us Daniel Street which is now Eli’s, 21 Daniel Street. We were there for a couple of years and that was good. That was a big room, the acoustics were good, we always had a sound system because it was built into the room so we were always set up that way.
    Parking was an issue. It was a big issue for a lot of people. Although we still got very good numbers at the meetings.
    Then from there, because Richie was selling Daniel Street, we moved to Costa Azzurra and we were there for many years and Benny and his crew took care of us. That was nice. We had the stage up top where the board would sit and there was plenty of room for the membership.

    Bernard: The entire membership – how big was it by then?

    Chris: At that time, we built that membership, we had about five hundred members – pushing five hundred members.

    Bernard: And how many would you get to the monthly meetings?

    Chris: I would say we’d average about one hundred, maybe a hundred and three. There might be some nights where we were like at eighty. I would say we were averaging about a hundred.

    Bernard: Many sites were considered before purchasing the current clubhouse. What were your thoughts on the process and do you think the best deal was made for the club for the current clubhouse?

    Chris: Well, I know that we looked at – we’ve always been like, “hey, look at this place is open, this place is available.” Ideally, to promote Irish sports – ideally a place would be like Glastonbury to have your own festival grounds and all that stuff, but we’re here on the shoreline in Connecticut and at that point we didn’t have the money to do something like that. We did explore renting a few places and leasing some places that I think we would have outgrown day one. This club, from a financial point of view, two pieces of property with a rental in the back lot with on-street parking, and there’s some municipal lots down on Bridgeport Avenue. And there is some room to – there is a parking lot out there so, on the holidays, St. Patrick’s Day Parade and stuff, that you can set up a tent and do some things outside just to make space.
    But I think overall, for the money that we paid, I don’t think it’s that bad of a deal for two income- generating properties for what they actually, for what they paid for it. I know there was a lot of money going into renovations. But, it’s funny, I was there one night and the owner, the former owner of the Star, her daughter came in and looked at the place – she just broke into tears. Because she couldn’t believe that this was the Star. And if you remember what the Star looked like to what it looks like now, it’s…

    Bernard: Night and day.

    Chris: It’s night and day. It’s like Home and Garden TV came in and did something to it. Property Brothers flipped it over, I don’t know. It is quite night and day.

    Bernard: Did you ever think that the club would have over a thousand members?

    Chris: I never really expected it to be as large as it is. I wasn’t ever really looking for numbers. I was really looking for people that were interested and wanted to do work and carry out the work of exploring our heritage and celebrating our lives as Irish-Americans here in Milford. So I’m elated that there’s over a thousand members. I know that Membership does a good job in making sure that they’re all who they say they are. It’s nice. And I know that there’s a lot of people that talk about it in the communities. Like I was telling you earlier, through going to parades and other events throughout the state of Connecticut, and even in New York, there was a time that I was recognized, or the club was recognized. We went to the first New England Irish Summit up in Canton, Mass. with all the Boston clubs and all the clubs from New England were there. They were very interested in hearing about our Milford club just because of the numbers that we had and how quickly we developed into having a festival, and at that point we had several annual festivals, that there was a parade in Milford. There were a lot of things that they were impressed with. I don’t know if you know this, but up in Boston there’s over two hundred Irish societies, some with as many as three thousand people and some with as few as six people in their societies. But they’re all recognized societies. So it was nice when we got invited up to that – we were invited by the Consulate General of Ireland for the Boston division. And we also have developed a relationship and several of our members maintain that relationship with the consulate’s office down in New York, which was really quite an honor at the first to be invited down there. But those folks, when you meet people from that office, you’re going down as far as Philadelphia through New York and Pennsylvania, so you do get to meet some people through New Jersey.
    But if I have to say so myself, I talk to a lot of people that are involved with managing and presiding over these Irish clubs… there’s something special here in Milford that I don’t see in the other clubs. I think we’re fresh and we’re new. A lot of these clubs are older, and when I say older I mean like they’ve been around since the 1950s, and a different way of life and different – I think we look at things a little differently. I’d like to say we’re more progressive at this point.

    Bernard: Where would you like to see the club – the Irish Heritage Society of Milford – where would you like to see the club go over the next ten or twenty years?

    Chris: I would like to see it continue to be a mainstay in the city of Milford. I’d like to see it continue to grow through music and art and sports. I’d like to see more young families involved through the Gaelic Athletic Association. Also, I think through music, I think there’s a great opportunity for us to teach the young people the music of Ireland. Whether it’s traditional music or through the rebel songs that we all have heard and learned. So I do think that there’s a lot of growth potential for these kids. The thing that resonates with me a lot is that if we don’t continue on with our heritage and teaching our heritage to our young people in our families, where’s it going to go?
    So I’m just so grateful and thankful that we came up with this, Marty and I came up with this idea to do this and that it’s become a very popular club and a popular cultural thing here in Milford.

    Bernard: Any last thoughts that you’d like to mention?

    Chris: Well, there are so many people that have helped. It’s not just, I know it sounds like co-founders Marty and Chris, but it could still just be Marty and Chris sitting there with a plan and our bonnet here on our head. But we actually acted on it. We actually took a chance and threw it out there and the response was overwhelming. There’s been times when it’s brought you to tears when you look out and see what you’ve accomplished, and that people took faith and took your word that everything was going to work out alright. I do have to say this, and I used to talk to McCabe about this – Mike McCabe was the Treasurer – there was never a time that I remember that I have knowledge of that what we said we were going to do we lost money in. So my thing was always “let’s show everyone a good time and have fun and with fun, the money will come.” And I hope that that just never changes and doesn’t tilt the other way where it’s all about the money and less about the fun. I think if people are having fun and having a good time enjoying themselves, feel welcomed, feel safe, and secure in their environment I think only good things will come.

    Bernard: This is the Irish Heritage Society of Milford’s History Project, which is focused on the club in Milford.

    Chris: Thank you Bernard. Thank you very much.