WEST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — “I’m surrounded by strong Irish women, by loving friends,” says Joanne Conlan, motioning to the women around a decorated table at Duffy’s Tavern.

She is treating her tribe to tea and beautiful, handmade cookies.

They are her parade mentors and the two women she joins as “the queen mums,” a title that led her to her role today as grand marshal of the Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“We were the West Haven Trifecta. That’s what we always called it,” she explains.

That’s because in 2003, 2004, and 2005, the parade queens were all from West Haven, and the mothers all became good friends.

Conlan’s daughter, Moriah, wore the crown in 2004 when she was 19.

“This is her getting ready at home, a borrowed dress, didn’t even buy a new dress,” says Conlan, flipping through a scrapbook she made to honor the incredible experience which then propelled her to become part of the parade committee, serving in multiple roles over nineteen years.

“Yeah, it all started with Moriah,” Conlan said.

But a year and a half ago, tragedy struck the Conlans. Moriah died suddenly, leaving the family in shock and pain.

“It’s been difficult looking at gowns and jewelry. I come home and cry, but I also have sisters, blood sisters, and parade sisters,” she says with tears in her eyes.

They have been so important to Conlan during the healing process.

“Everyone’s been extremely respectful, extremely supportive, and loving, and that’s the only way I made it through,” she says.

Due to the pandemic, this Milford native, grandmother, and retired West Haven teacher has waited three years to make her parade walk as Grand Marshal.

“My husband, Glenn, has been there by my side every step of the way. I can’t imagine walking this journey called life without him,” she says.

More family members will be with Conlan on March 12. She will wave to the crowds with MoMoriah’sittle son, Declan, by her side—a loving symbol of the past, present, and future.

“Whenever he’s around, I can’t help but smile. So, I’ll be smiling a lot that day,” she said with emotion.