The Irish are known for a bit o' blarney, but those in New London take the tradition to a new level.
Every year, a team of leprechauns invades New London and officially turns the town into New Dublin. The city council is petitioned, proclamations are issued, town signs are changed. For one week, this town of just over 7,000 goes completely green.
While the town began donning a new temporary name in the '90s, New London's Irish festivities go back to the early 80s, with a storefront dummy and a casket.
In 1983, New London resident Michael Coyle gathered a group to perform an Irish wake, carrying a department store dummy in a wicker casket from Coyle's Tire to Midtown Restaurant. The impromptu parade at noon on St. Patrick's Day was dubbed Finnegan's Wake.
Although a nice tribute to poor Finnegan, the town's police chief informed the mourners they would need a permit if they planned to honor Finnegan again the following year.
Melissa Mulroy's husband, Dave, was one of Finnegan's pallbearers. Melissa, one-quarter Irish, wanted to honor her heritage on a larger scale, and Finnegan's Wake "was the beginning of something bigger than we could ever have imagined."
"I felt, and I still feel, that the Irish get the bad reputation of being called the Irish drunk, and I wanted to emphasize that the Irish have wonder, and dance and fun in their lives, and it's not just drinking," she said.
Mulroy teamed up with Coyle, who also had a dream of turning the wake into something bigger, Dick Murphy, Fluff and Mooch Barrington, and Pup Loughrin.
But the community — which is about one-quarter Irish, according to Mulroy — wasn't as interested in joining the merriment. Mulroy went through the phone book and called up anyone with an Irish name, but people were hesitant to join.
So when Murphy called Jim Mullarkey and he asked if there were going to be a lot of people in the parade, Murphy tapped her Irish side for a response.
"I decided to use my Irish heritage for a bit of blarney and I said yes, there would be a lot of people in it," she said.
Mullarkey took the bait and signed up, followed by more than 30 others.
Each member of the parade committee chipped in $5 to throw the parade for a total of $30. Their permit (properly acquired) only granted them half the street, so cars moved alongside the parade on the other side of the road that first year.
Thirty years later, the parade is the largest in Wisconsin.
"Our parade has a minimum of 120 entries," said Carrie Katerzynske, who is in charge of public relations for the Shamrock Club of New Dublin. "We turn people back."
The budget of $30 has grown, too, and is now in the tens of thousands of dollars, Katerzynske said. And if the weather is warm, the parade can draw as many as 30,000 people.
"This event really has put New London on the map," Mulroy said. "It's wonderful for our city, and now it's an event that really lasts for an entire week."
Festivities begin Monday with the official changing of the town's 14 signs to New Dublin. Tuesday is "houligan day," Mulroy said, when the town's restaurants serve up corned beef and cabbage. Wednesday brings Irish caroling, when Mulroy leads a group that travels door-to-door singing traditional Irish songs.
"I feel music is a key element in an Irish person's life," Mulroy said. "I don't think we can live happily without it. And I love sharing music, and teaching music, especially for passing on the songs to the next generation."
Thursday also brings an evening of Irish entertainment — music, dance and comedy. On Friday visitors can learn Irish dances at a céili, an Irish word for dance. Saturday presents the main events: Finnegan's Wake, the parade and Irish Fest, featuring a heated tent with bands, vendors and food.
This year's theme is "Hang Your Hat in New Dublin." "It's become a great homecoming event for citizens of New London," Mulroy said. "Many, many people return home and see people that they haven't seen in months or perhaps years."
While you're there: Take a stroll along the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail, a paved, half-mile route that follows the Wolf River on the western edge of town. Sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May, when the water temperature reaches 53 degrees, 6-feet-long sturgeon begin their annual spawning. The spectacle is only visible for a short period every spring.
For more trail time, head east of New London to explore three miles of trails at the Mosquito Hill Nature Center. The one-mile Overland Trail loop provides nice views of the surrounding countryside from the top of Mosquito Hill.
Getting there: New London is about two hours north of Milwaukee via Highways 41 and 45.
More information: For more on the town's Irish festivities, see newdublin.com.
This article was published on March 14, 2014 and updated for accuracy on March 14, 2016.
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