An Irish celebration

There will be plenty of toe tapping, hand clapping, food and lively conversation as the annual Irish Gathering gets under way this weekend.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians event, now in its 32nd year, will be held Sunday starting at 11:30 a.m. at the Lafayette Hotel and advanced reservations are suggested.

“The Irish Gathering is a fun way to celebrate the season, whether you are Irish or not,” said Sean O’Malley, a member of the Athens band Boys of the Hock, which will be performing at the event. “The food is great, the Hibernians are fabulous hosts and the entertainment will be high energy.”

The band regularly perform for contras, ceilidhs (group dances) and festivals throughout the region. Members include O’Malley on flute; Lynn Shaw, fiddle; Rusty Smith, guitar; Ed Newman, dulcimer; and Tim Hogan on bodhran.

Another group from Athens will join the Boys of the Hock in an annual tradition that usually gets the crowd on its feet.

The Athens Irish Dancers are a group of students ranging in age from 2 to college age, according to Sue Farley, a board member and sometimes instructor.

“We offer classes for performance purposes only,” she explained. “This time of year, it’s what they live for. Last year we had about 11 performances in a two week period of time.”

The group of about 40 students has traveled to the Dublin Irish Festival near Columbus and other events around the Athens and Mid-Ohio Valley areas. Farley explained that they have even had students drive from Marietta and other surrounding areas to learn the dance steps that are traditional and unique to the Irish culture.

“We are looking to keep the tradition of Irish dance alive,” Farley said.

Irish fare, such as corned beef and cabbage, potatoes and bread pudding will be served and there will be a raffle of Irish-themed prizes, including Jameson whiskey and Waterford crystal.

“The money we make from the tickets and the raffle helps to cover the cost of the event but also goes to help some Catholic charities and other community projects,” said Chip Rogers, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Monsignor Donal O’Carroll division. “We always try to give back to the community that has given so much to us.”

The AOH is a Catholic Irish-American fraternal organization, which was founded in 1836 as a way to help newly-arrived Irish immigrants preserve their heritage and culture. The local chapter was started by the late Walter J. McCarthy and this year they will honor some founding members that passed away in the past year.

However, Rogers is quick to stress that this Irish gathering is not just for those of Catholic or even Irish heritage.

“All are welcome; this is a way for us to share our culture,” he said.