LAKEWOOD RANCH -- A lineup of "Lucky Dogs" will lead off the Irish Celtic Festival in Central Park at Lakewood Ranch 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Filled with entertainment from bands, dancing and children's activities, the day culminates with live action by the Manatee Irish Hurling & Gaelic Football Club at 3 p.m. in Summerfield Park.
"It's a game that's been played in some fashion for over 3,000 years in Ireland. It's the fastest game on grass," said John Hanlon, president of the Manatee Irish Hurling & Gaelic Football Club.
"Hurling is kind of a lacrosse-hockey combination game. The ball is always in play. We play modified rules," he said. "Gaelic football is a
combination of soccer and rugby. If you've played either one of those games you can play this without any problem,"
The team will compete against members of the Orlando club, but members of the public are welcome to join in. Its an all amateur organization.
"Even in Ireland, players don't get paid. They do it for the pride of the county where they're from or for who they are," Hanlon said. "It's always nice to show people when we're out practicing. We have to tell them it's Irish football or hurling, but it's nice to show a different sport that maybe people haven't seen before."
Other entertainment includes the Celtic Misfit Band, Andy Burr & Friends, the Highland Dancers and Bagpipers from Riverview High School in Sarasota, the Irish Dancers from the Drake School, and the New World Celtic Dance Team.
Children's activities range from spud-tater heads, a pot o' gold scavenger hunt, face painting and pony rides to balloon artists and the splash park.
Hungry guests can enjoy traditional Irish fare as well as cupcakes and desserts, with beer, wine and Irish coffee available for adults.
There will be booths featuring Celtic items for sale and information on Celtic Cultural heritage, plus crafts for sale.
"Enjoy being Irish for a day -- Who doesn't want to be? -- It's a lot of festivities and fun, good-natured spirit," said event chair Frank Shea of Lakewood Ranch, whose favorite event is the dog parade.
"We found it was a great kick-off," Shea said. "The dogs are good and well-behaved. We have awards for most Irish looking dog, cutest dog, and the one I like best is the one that looks most like the owner. You have to have as sense of humor to win that one."
Registration the day of the event costs $10. The Humane Society of Lakewood Ranch benefits from all of the proceeds of the parade.
Also in attendance will be the New World Celts, Manasota Chapter. "We help people find their heritage, We have a lot of books that show you the tartanage you can fall under," said president Todd MacClinchy.
"Its kind of tricky to find exactly the line you're in, We can give hints and everything. We help a lot of people. We're able to shoot them toward the right direction."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.