Everything is ready to go for St. Patrick’s Day parade in Hartford Saturday and this year’s event is made even more special by two extraordinary people who were chosen as the 2011 Grand Marshalls.

Don and Bridget McSweegan of Wethersfield were the overwhelming choices of the committee that bestows the great honor. Liz Saunders, general chair of the Central Connecticut Celtic Cultural Commission, says she only casts a vote in the Grand Marshall selection process if there is a tie. “There was no danger of that this year. The choice was overwhelming,” she said. “Both [McSweegans] are true examples of what we look for. And that is those who make great contributions to the Irish-American community and those who best honor and promote Irish culture. Don and Bridget are two of the most genuine people I have ever met.”

Ms. Saunders was not telling me something I didn’t already know. The McSweegans also happen to be my next-door neighbors. There are certain people who cross one’s path in life at certain times who leave an indelible mark on one’s soul. For me, they are the McSweegans. Loving, selfless, caring, brilliant and fun—other words apply but the couple is beyond words so I won’t bother.

Being a Grand Marshall is quite an honor. Past folks filling the role in the past include archbishops, governors and highly accomplished members of the community. Marching this year with Don and Bridget will be Gov. Dannel Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Comptroller Kevin Lembo and many, many others. There will also be the traditional elements including marching bands and of course, bagpipes.

A little more about my neighbors and friends:

Don McSweegan derives his Irish heritage from his maternal grandparents, Michael and Bridget Halloran of Middleton, County Cork and his paternal great grandfather John McSweegan, who emigrated from County Tyrone, Ireland. He is a U.S. Army Veteran, having served from 1958-1961 including a deployment to Korea. Professionally, he was employed with the U.S. Postal Service for thirty years until his retirement as Postmaster of Rocky Hill in 1992. He’s been a member of the Windsor Elks Lodge since 1968, having served as its Exalted Ruler in 1978-79.

Bridget (Lucitt) McSweegan was born in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland and immigrated to the United States in 1954. In June of 1968, she earned her U.S. Citizenship. From 1955 to 1982, she was employed with the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company. While there, she was an active member of the Cigna Women’s Club.

The McSweegans met at the Irish American Home Society and were married three years later. Bridget has held multiple offices and chaired a variety of events there. Today, they remain Life Members of the club and continue to serve as significant volunteers for both the Hartford Feis and the Greater Hartford Irish Music Festival.

Their early retirement years were devoted to the operation of Bridget’s craft business, with Bridget playing the role of Executive Artist and Don serving as Chief Financial Officer. After retirement from life in that business world, they contribute to the community at large through a variety of volunteer activities: delivering Meals on Wheels for the Rocky Hill Human Services Dept., working at the annual Travelers Golf Tournament, assisting with the Special Olympics, preparing “Toys for Tots” with the U.S. Marine Corps, and serving as election workers for the town of Wethersfield. The Rocky Hill Town Council recognized them for their volunteer contributions to the community in 1998.

Together, the McSweegans have contributed more than half a century to Greater Hartford’s Irish American Community. Their kind works have earned them the respect and appreciation of the citizens of Rocky Hill, Wethersfield, and beyond.

Bridget and Don will be appearing on the Fox-CT TV (Channel 61) Morning News tomorrow morning in the 8 o’clock hour. I’ve done the show on political topics dozens of times. Their appearance dwarfs anything I’ve done. The station is also covering the parade live.  The parade route is here.