Saturday, May 16, 2009

By Randy Imwalle

Originally published in the Columbus Dispatch on March 14, 2009.

No Irish blood runs through my veins, but I have long considered St. Patrick's Day special. Luck seems to find me. When I was younger, I looked forward to the holiday as a continuation of my birthday (on March 16). Later, I learned about the real St. Patrick and developed a passion for Irish music.

Patrick was born in Scotland to Roman parents about A.D. 387. As a boy, he was kidnapped and taken to
Ireland, where he was enslaved to tend sheep. He escaped and returned home when he was 20. He became a priest, returning to Ireland after dreaming that the people of Ireland begged him to do so. Patrick spent the last 40 years of his life preaching and converting thousands to Christianity.

Did he have the luck of the Irish?

Patrick later wrote that, as a shepherd living outdoors, he was sustained by prayer against the weather. And he learned the language -- another tool that served him well. His luck, in fact, was the result of faith and perseverance -- requiring one to keep one's spirits up and one's eyes and ears open.

A few years ago, I was disappointed when my St. Patrick's Day plans were spoiled by the need to attend a daylong business-related meeting in New York. My plane landed late that March 17, and the cab ride to Manhattan was nerve-racking. When I finally arrived at the meeting, I was surprised by the pleasantness of the small talk of those already there. And I was astonished when, three hours later, we concluded the meeting. Unexpectedly, I had a few hours of free time. I knew that New York had a parade, but I didn't know where. No problem: Outside the building, the unmistakable sound of bagpipes filled the air. I was only two blocks from the parade route. There were scores of bands, with hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of pipers. I watched and listened for hours.

Although the St. Patrick's Day parade in Columbus isn't as large as that of New York, central Ohio is blessed with one of the world's premier Irish cultural events: the Dublin Irish Festival. From the traditional sounds of Cherish the Ladies and the General Guinness Band to the rock of the Prodigals and Young Dubliners, the annual summer festival (scheduled for July 31 to Aug. 2 this year) has it all. With seven stages and myriad cultural and historical exhibits, the event requires a visitor to plan precisely if he wants to enjoy everything.

In 2007, the event required perseverance, too. Three of my children and I planned to attend Mass (in Irish Gaelic) at 10:30 a.m.; eat lunch on the way to the 1 p.m. pairing of Seven Nations and the Columbus Symphony; then dash back to see Gaelic Storm, my all-time favorite band, at 2:30. The problem: We'd probably have to stand outside the tent for the Gaelic Storm performance because the group is so popular. Mass went well, and we had good seats for the Seven Nations show. Even before the music began, a problem blew in: the weather. The Dublin police announced that the festival grounds would be evacuated. Patrons could wait out the storm in the Dublin Community Recreation Center or go home. We moseyed over to the rec center -- the last ones in. The storm blew over, and we were the first ones out. Where to go, though?

The delay forced adjustments in the performance schedule, but the changes weren't announced. Not wanting to risk missing Gaelic Storm, we decided not to return for the Seven Nations show. Instead, we headed to the Gaelic Storm stage, where we secured front-row seats for what turned out to be a fantastic show -- as unpredictable as that day's weather. Because of the delay, the band threw out its set list and took requests from the audience.
Luck of the Irish? You bet!

Should he miss you Tuesday, on St. Patrick's Day, Randy Imwalle, 46, offers you a hearty "Slainte!"

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