LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Mike Daly was born in Dublin, Ireland, and came to the United States when he was 21 years old.
Now a Boston resident who spends the winter in Bradenton with his wife, Eileen, of 53 years, he said he couldn't wait to participate in the fourth annual Irish Celtic Festival Saturday, Lakewood Ranch's version of St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
"As children, we were taught there's a time to pray, a time to work, a time to sleep and a time to party and forget about everything, and that's what we Irish do -- everything in that order," Daly said, while taking in the music of the Blue-Eyed Bettys, a harmony-driven string band from New York City with Sarasota roots.
While the March sun blazed down on the crowd of festival-goers, many of whom had brought their dogs out to enjoy the day, young Irish and Scottish dancers, bagpipers and the Celtic Misfits rock band performed on a stage set up on the grounds of Adventure Park in Greenbrook Village, a new location for the festival. The celebration is hosted each year by Lakewood Ranch Communities Activities and chief organizer Frank Shea of Lakewood Ranch.
The festival got under way in the morning with a Lucky Dog Parade around the dog park, followed by a doggie contest where 35 canines competed for the Cutest, Most Irish-Decorated and Favorite Dog/Owner Look-Alike. Proceeds from the dog parade and contest were donated to the Humane Society of Lakewood Ranch, which brought some puppies and older dogs to the festival, hoping to find families that would adopt them. "The festival has been fantastic so far," said Shea, who
was asked about the change of venue from Central Park, where it had been held in prior years. "This year, we've had some beautiful families come out with four or five dogs of the same breed, which is nice to see," he added.
Another "first" for the Lakewood Ranch Irish Celtic festival was a Celtic sports tradition called hurling, believed to be the world's oldest field game, which combines the skills of baseball, hockey and lacrosse using a stick called a "hurley."
The Tampa Bay and Orlando Hurling Clubs participated in a match that included 21-year-old Daniel Magee, of Ireland, who is studying hospitality at the University of Ulster, and is in Florida for hands-on learning at a country club on the Atlantic Coast.
Magee said he was impressed by Lakewood Ranch's love of all things Irish.
"This is definitely more than what I expected. It's great to see the culture being promoted and such a big passion for Ireland," he said.
Festival-goers also were treated this year to craft beers from Ireland and Scotland as well as booths featuring Irish handicrafts and history by the Manasota chapter of the New World Celts, a local nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of Irish culture.
Peggy Sporer of River Club, who said her grandparents came from Ireland, brought her Gaelic pride to the festival along with her sister, Kathleen, who was visiting from Delaware. "I think it's great that they do this and I especially love all the Irish dancing," she said.
Mike Russell, who moved with his wife, Maryann, to Lakewood Ranch last year from Boston, agreed that the Irish Celtic Festival is special. "It's just fun to see all the families, the kids and the dogs and listen to all the good music. It's definitely a good time."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.