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The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Celebrate Cincinnati’s Celtic Heritage

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By Rebecca Sontag

When the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Foundation decided to resurrect the on-again, off-again Cincinnati Celtic Festival, retired Army Colonel Dan Shea said to his fellow members, “There’s a couple things we have to do. We need to have a grand opening ceremony, and we have to have the Mass. We have to have an Irish Mass.”

On both counts, and much more, the Friendly Sons delivered.

This “Fabulous Celtic Weekend on the Banks” unofficially began Aug. 15, with the Reds hosting “Irish Community Night” at the Great American Ballpark. Thousands of fans cheered on their teams in this ultimate pep rally preceding the weekend’s festivities. While the crowds roared and bats cracked, world-class event manager, ColdIron, wrapped up final preparations for the Cincinnati Celtic Festival’s opening day.

The grand opening ceremony featured a parade, a proclamation from the mayor, Celtic dance and opening speeches. The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Glee Club sang the national anthems of the U.S., Ireland, Scotland and Wales. And the festival’s honorary chairman, Phillip Castellini, chief operating officer and president of the Cincinnati Reds, reassured crowds of his Celtic credentials, paying homage to his own Irish ancestry in his welcoming remarks.

The weekend of all things Celtic was filled with music, traditional dancing, food, drink and games. Jigs, slips and reels filled the air while stiff-armed dancers wearing crowns of frenetic curls dazzled the large crowds at this family-friendly event.

There were contests for the reddest hair and most freckles. Who can tell the tallest tale? Who gives the best toast? All of this and more was decided while the Guinness flowed on and on.

The haggis toss was for women only. And if you don’t know what haggis is, you might not want to ask. Winner beware! As if throwing a sheep’s stomach stuffed with sheep organs isn’t punishment enough, the victor was honored (or cursed, one might argue) with the responsibility of judging the all-male knobby knees contest.

The Celtic Festival’s title sponsor, Nicholson’s Pub, was one of several establishments that set up shop to feed the hungry festival-goers. Revelers consumed untold servings of shepherd’s pie, Scotch eggs and other Celtic favorites during the three-day festival. And don’t forget the Whiskey Tent! It wouldn’t be at all proper at all to host a steel-tipped dart tournament and not have whiskey available.

It wasn’t all raucous fun, though. There were quiet moments as well.

On the concluding Sunday morning of the festival, under a white canvas tent, Father J. Dennis Jaspers celebrated Mass for a crowd of approximately 100 worshipers. The sweltering August morning and wide-awake buzz of the city was kept at bay there in the shade. The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick proclaimed the readings, and all gathered recited the “Our Father” in unison.

The large Ferris wheel, now a staple of Cincinnati’s riverfront, slowly turned while Father Jaspers consecrated the bread and wine. The Kentucky hills, visible across the river, still seemed to sleep. And as the sun burned away the last of the morning mist from the water, the Friendly Sons Glee Club, another Cincinnati staple, sang out in rich and well-rehearsed harmonies:

“Oh Lord, my Redeemer, Thou has done so much for me! Oh Lord, my Redeemer, all my love I give to Thee!”



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