SEASIDE HEIGHTS – Just a few weeks ago Borough Police Chief Thomas Boyd noted, during the annual NJ Polar Bear Plunge to the community’s boardwalk, that the area was safe and well patrolled.
The same went for the annual Ocean County St. Patrick’s Day Parade held in the borough which drew even more revelers to the green parade line on Grand Central Avenue.
While the plunge drew around 5,000 attendees, Boyd estimated around 25,000 people turned out for the parade celebrating Irish heritage and the coming of spring. Various law enforcement agencies wanted to make sure that the celebration remained safe.
“We are working with state police, Ocean County Prosecutor’s DWI officers and undercover officers, Ocean County Sheriff’s officers and we have our own undercover officers out there. We remain diligent to events that have large crowds and that is also why we have bomb sniffing dogs from the Ocean County Sheriff’s Dept. and cleared all vehicles off the road along the parade route,” Boyd said.
Boyd noted prior to the parade’s start that the crowd count would increase. “The crowd will pick up and they come to celebrate into the night.”
Police in 11 towns surrounding the event conducted extra drunk driving patrols on major roads leading to Seaside Heights. Two days prior to the parade, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office warned parade attendees that a traffic enforcement detail would run from 5 to 11 p.m. in communities along Route 37 and Route 35.
Along with officers of the 11 local police departments, the checkpoints included personnel from the State Police, state Department of Transportation and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
The day of green featured mild temperatures and plenty of sun which was a welcome relief from what has been a long gray and cold winter. Borough Mayor Anthony Vaz couldn’t have been happier.
“The weather is with us and the county and our police department are stepping up DWI stops which we fully support. This is the kick off to the summer and weather is key for all our events,” Vaz said.
Little 5-year-old Liam Mulligan, draped in green had a bit of a parade of his own going as he joined his 17-month-old brother Colin who was taking a pre-parade snooze, and his parents Keith and Stephanie Mulligan. Liam insisted on bringing along several toy cars that he positioned on the bench where his parents were camped out for the event.
“Green is my favorite color,” Liam said.
“We’ve been to the parade many times but this is the first time we all came out as a family,” Stephanie Mulligan said.
“We love the music and the atmosphere and we’re also glad to get out of the house,” her husband sporting short pants and a green jacket said. “I’m ready for spring.”
Richard Getts of Toms River wore a borrowed wide brimmed white hat adorned with green shamrocks as he sat beside his cousin Vince Robinson of Manchester. The two were among nine members of their family who always set up the parade spot in the same location.
Getts said his family could be traced back to the founders of Toms River. “My children and grandchildren will be here today.”
Getts said that his favorite part of the parade was seeing all the police, fire department and emergency service units that participate in the event. “They help us all and they put their life on the line.”
Robinson added that “I’m on CERT team in Manchester and it’s important that we remember what they do. We also like to see the soldiers and members of the ROTC that march in the parade.”
As usual, Ryan’s Boulevard Deli & Grill on Lincoln Avenue and the Boulevard was doing a brisk business selling hot dogs, corn beef and cabbage and other food before the main event even started.
Owner Jimmy Smith has owned the popular deli for 20 years and said “we plan for this, weeks in advance and bring in 2,000 pounds of corn beef. Corn beef is our big seller.”
“We have some extra staff on today all dressed in green and we get thousands of customers so we need to be ready to go. Everybody’s Irish today,” Smith said.
Among the staff were borough resident Mike Masi, Judy Bissey of Toms River and Devina Schopka of Bayville. The trio were busy outside the deli selling hot dogs and cooking up and serving corn beef meals to hungry parade goers. “It’s a very busy day for us today but fun,” Schopka said.
The parade featured floats, various Irish American organizations like the Michael Davitt Division #11, Jackson, of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, pipe bands such as the Shamrock & Thistle Pipes & Drums Band of Ocean County who are celebrating their 45th anniversary and high school bands from Toms River, Jackson and Central Regional.