LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It doesn't matter whether you're of Irish Celtic descent or you just enjoy being Irish for the day. Everyone is invited to the third annual Irish Celtic Festival in the Central Park community of Lakewood Ranch on Saturday in anticipation of the St. Patrick's Day celebration Monday.
A crowd of about 5,000, the largest in festival history, is expected to put on their greens, wear leprechaun smiles and get in the mood of being Irish. Festivalgoers will arrive from all over east Manatee County, Sarasota and as far south
The festival, which offers free admission and parking, features an expanded lineup of family activities beginning with early morning races and runs followed by the Lucky Dog Parade and contest to benefit two local charities. Also, traditional Irish music, dancing, food and sports; and vendors selling jewelry, crafts and clothes.
"There's a lot of tradition involved, and every year the festival builds around the Irish Celtic theme," said Lori Basilone, director of the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Corp., the nonprofit organization that plans all events for the Lakewood Ranch community.
"We have new activities, new food and new Irish artisans, which really make it exciting, and as the Central Park community grows, so does the festival," Basilone said.
The festival will begin at the "top of the morning" with the inaugural Lakewood Ranch Irish Celtic 5K and Family Fun Run-Dash to benefit the Wobbly Feet Foundation, a Lakewood Ranch nonprofit created by a family whose son was diagnosed with a rare disorder called ataxia telangiectasia, which affects the nervous and immune systems.
Following the awards for the 5K Run is the Lucky Dog Parade to benefit the Humane Society of Lakewood Ranch. Dressed-up dogs competing for the titles of Most Irish, Cutest and Dog-Owner Look Alike will strut their stuff.
In addition, children can take part in a "Pot of Gold" scavenger hunt, face painting, and decorating balloons and spud-head potatoes.
For the gentlemen, those who dare to dress in kilts can enter the Best Legs in a Kilt Contest and participate in traditional Gaelic sports such as football and hurling.
"This is a labor of love," said festival Chairman Frank Shea, a Lakewood Ranch resident. "I'm originally from Boston, and when I moved here, we really didn't have any good Irish festivals. So, I try to make it as much Irish and Celtic as possible."
Shea has worked so hard preparing for the festival that after three years of hosting it, all his children are joining him for the Saturday celebration, traveling from as far away as Hawaii and New York,
Shea says his goal is to eventually have the Irish festival host a celebrity golf tournament at one of the several Lakewood Ranch golf and country clubs. He has Irish-American actor and comedian Bill Murray, of "Groundhog Day" fame, in mind, because Murray is a semi-professional golfer who also owns an Irish pub with his brother in St. Augustine.
Festivalgoers can park free at Gullett Elementary School on 44th Avenue East in Lakewood Ranch and take a free trolley to the festival site.
More information about the festival and registration for the 5K Race and Family Fun Run is available at lwrcac.com.