16 February 2008

Seeing green in Ottawa

Today was a good day. Unlike most Saturdays, when hubby and I typically slave over housecleaning, we went out and enjoyed ourselves by digging a little into our ancestral roots.

As part of my volunteer work as Chair of Communications for the Irish Society of the National Capital Region, I had to attend a fundraiser event for the Ottawa St. Patrick’s Day Parade. One of the largest undertakings of the ISNCR is the organization of the parade (March 15th) as well as Irish Week - a prelude of various events celebrating Irish heritage and leading up to March 17th.

Today’s fundraiser was held at the new Heart and Crown pub located at 353 Preston Street, right in the heart of Little Italy oddly enough. Despite the strange location, the pub itself is beautiful - very much reminiscent of the classic Victorian style pubs in Dublin. Pat Kelly, the owner, seems to spare no expense when it comes to building his pubs and creating that all-important cozy and welcoming atmosphere; with three other successful Ottawa pubs under his belt, he certainly knows how to capitalize on that Irish charm. I could easily see myself hanging out at the new H & C on a cold winter’s night, far from the typical hustle and bustle on the city’s trendy Byward Market. It strikes me as a pub without pretense and I like that.

Ceol agus agus craic (music and fun) seemed to be the order of the day and, thankfully, we seemed to have a packed house for the fundraiser. Guests were treated to the zany wit and humour of local singer/entertainer, Michael O’Reilly. Even if you’re not one for folk music, Michael will be sure to have you singing and laughing at his razor sharp comments - don’t you dare stand up to leave; he’ll call you on it! Definitely a funny man to watch, especially aided by a few good pints.

Perhaps the biggest draw of the day was a presentation from the Sue Fay Healy Irish Dancers – a group of the sweetest-looking little girls you’ll ever find. Don’t be fooled however, many of these young little sweeties are already seasoned Canadian and International Dance Champions. These girls train very hard and they also play a pivotal role in promoting Irish culture with their many community performances and dance-outs. If you have never had a chance to see Irish dancing, I highly recommend catching a performance. The girls are beautiful in their traditional dresses and it’s always a joy to watch them. It makes me wish that I had the opportunity to start Irish dancing when I was younger, as opposed to starting in my adult years. Sadly, Irish dance wasn’t popular in Ottawa during my youth; in many ways we have “Riverdance” to thank for its sudden proliferation.

Today’s event was just the first of many “Irish Week” activities to come. The more involved I become in my community, the more surprised I am to discover just how strong the Irish roots are in Ottawa. Even more promising is the fact that many second and third generation Irish-Canadians are joining societies like the ISNCR to help preserve their heritage, many never even having set foot in Ireland.

It’s difficult to explain the Irish Diaspora. There are an estimated 80 million people throughout the globe who claim to be of Irish decent, however this figure is over fourteen times the actual population of Ireland itself. Needless to say, there’s something about Irish culture that seems to appeal to the masses, whether it’s the cheesy North American fabricated image of “the merry drunken Paddy and his leagues of leprechauns” or a deeper appreciation for Ireland’s true cultural assets – “playwrights, poets, story telling, music and language, etc.” No matter how you slice it, being “green” seems to be a source of pride for many.

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