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Published: Sunday, 3/16/2008

Irish culture, a sense of family mark annual Hibernian festival

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Emily Kerr, left, and Gabby Trojanowski, center, perform with other dancers from the Heinzman School of Irish Dance. Joe Rawlins of Toledo finds it's not easy going green as he gets ready for the festival. Emily Kerr, left, and Gabby Trojanowski, center, perform with other dancers from the Heinzman School of Irish Dance. Joe Rawlins of Toledo finds it's not easy going green as he gets ready for the festival.
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It's called the St. Patrick's Day Festival, but there's a hitch: It's not on St. Patrick's Day.

Minor detail.

For pure Irish-blooded fun, the 18th annual Lucas County Hibernian St. Patrick's Day Festival at Central Catholic High School's Sullivan Center was hard to beat. The two-day event - always on the weekend before St. Patrick's Day - ended last night.

Joe Rawlins of Toledo find it's not easy going green as he gets ready for the festival. Joe Rawlins of Toledo find it's not easy going green as he gets ready for the festival.
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As in years past, there was Irish food, Irish beer, Irish music, Irish dancers, Irish blessings, Irish T-shirts, Irish jewelry and green, green, green everywhere. You get the idea.

Yet there wasn't the crass commercialization that some people associate with tomorrow's pub crawls, something that Tom McCabe described as "amateur night."

The goal of the Hibernian festival is "to share our culture and our sense of family," said Mr. McCabe, the event chairman and the recipient of this year's "Hibernian of the Year" award.

"We try to get away from the stereotype of the Irish," chimed in Maury Collins, an organizer and the 2005 recipient of that award.

Ohio has 15 Irish festivals. Many people who attend them are "searching for their roots,"

Ryan Koop, 2, joins his dad Martin Koop, both of Tiffin, on stage as he performs traditional Irish music during the 18th annual Lucas County Hibernian St. Patrick's Day Festival. Ryan Koop, 2, joins his dad Martin Koop, both of Tiffin, on stage as he performs traditional Irish music during the 18th annual Lucas County Hibernian St. Patrick's Day Festival.
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said John F. O'Brien, Jr., a Cleveland author and associate publisher of IAN Ohio, a monthly publication founded in 2007 that specializes in Irish-American news for Ohioans.

Riverdance, U2, Sinead O'Connor, Lord of the Dance, The Irish Tenors, and even Ronan Tynan, the round-headed 47-year-old who entered the national psyche with his moving renditions of "God Bless America" in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has been credited for rejuvenating interest in Irish culture. But the venerable Hibernians have been doing their part for decades.

Lucas County has 300 of them. Each is affiliated with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic service group dating to 1565, or The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, which came along later. American orders were formed in 1836 and 1894, respectively, largely to keep Irish immigrants from being exploited.

Established to protect 16th-century priests being persecuted by King Henry VIII of England, Hibernians have evolved into a broader educational and philanthropic religious group.

Proceeds from the Toledo festival benefit the soup kitchen and other programs offered by The Historic St. Patrick's Church in downtown. The local order also funds a Central Catholic scholarship and numerous other charitable work, including that at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

"Our job is to push the culture," Mr. McCabe said.

On Friday night, festival attendees gave young military veteran Doug Harris a standing ovation when he presented a U.S. flag that had been flown at the site in Iraq where he had been deployed. He did that in gratitude for 25 packages local Hibernians sent to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.

Mr. Collins said he unsuccessfully fought back tears while standing next to Mr. Harris, trying to read a proclamation.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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