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Funds pour in for memorial, library at annual Shamrocks and Shenanigans event
The length and breadth of an ocean disappeared Saturday night as Ireland arrived in south central Pennsylvania.
All things Irish could be found in American Legion Post 439 during the third annual “Shamrocks and Shenanigans” event, a fundraiser for the Ephrata Public Library and the Winters Leadership Memorial.
The memorial is a project of Downtown Ephrata Inc. that honors veterans and the memory of World War II hero Major Richard D. Winters.
Not quite St. Patrick’s Day? All the better.
“It’s the perfect time of the year; it’s cold and people want to get out,” said Joy Ashley, director of development for the library. “Because it’s held before St. Patrick’s Day, we don’t have to compete with other places.”
People are in the mood to celebrate even before March 17, a fact proved by Saturday night’s large crowd.
Last year’s “Shamrocks” raised $11,000 and attendance keeps growing, Ashley said, so organizers were hoping that total would grow, too.
“It’s fun; people like to get dressed up and they come for the music,” Ashley said. “We’ve had the same bands for three years and the bands have a following.”
Saturday evening was filled with traditional Irish food, Irish beer, and Irish kilts, but it was the spirited Irish music that enticed folks away from their warm homes. The rousing Celtic beat filled every nook and cranny of the building, as well as every Irishman’s heart.
“This is one of our major fundraisers and it’s becoming a tradition,” said Penny Talbert, director of the Ephrata Public Library. “We’re in our third year and it’s become something that people look forward to. Last year, we had way more people than we expected and it gets bigger every year. People tell others about it, that they had such a good time.”
Making their annual appearance to “Shamrocks” was the traditional Irish band “Down By The Glenside,” a group that has garnered quite a following and who will be releasing their first CD this year.
Headliners “The Kilmaine Saints” blew everybody out of the water with their ‘no holds barred’ raucous, yet still melodic tunes.
Setting the tone for the evening were members of the “Ceol Neamh Pipe Band,” who entered the ballroom playing a rousing “Scotland the Brave” and “Bluebells.”
“I love the pipes,” said Kenneth MacKenzie Thompson, 86, who wore a jaunty black tam, a sporran, and a kilt of the MacKenzie tartan colors.
Sitting with fiancé Dorothy Lykens, Thompson said he owns a large collection of British and Scottish regimental music.
As a member of the U.S. Navy, Thompson, of Scottish descent, was able to visit Dublin, calling it a highlight of his service years.
“The Irish and the Scots are of the same blood,” Thompson said. “They may not like to admit it sometimes, but that’s the way it is.”
In honor of the evening, the Black Forest Brewery of Ephrata created a special beer, an Irish red named “Shamrocks and Shenanigans.” Proceeds from the sale of the brew went to the fund raiser.
Sipping the Irish red, Ron Buckwalter, of Ephrata, pronounced it “very good,” a triumph of the craft.
Buckwalter and wife, Lelana, said they came to “Shamrocks” for the music and are big fans of the Celtic genre.
Along with “The Kilmaine Saints,” the couple enjoy “Albannach” and “Barleyjuice,” Buckwalter said.
Mark Warfel, Marietta, and Kathy Fisher, Willow Street, are also partial to Celtic music.
“I love the Kilmaine Saints,” Warfel said, adding that he is of Scots/Irish ancestry.
Fisher, originally of Long Island, brought fond memories of Irish culture with her.
“We used to go to this Irish pub on Long Island all the time,” Fisher said. “We’d have Irish coffee and listen to the music and I miss it.”
While Warfel was planning to sample the Black Forest brew, he was starting out the night with his favorite: “I’m a Guinness guy; I like my Guinness,” he said.
Dressed in a red and black kilt and cream-colored Renaissance shirt, Warfel was a contestant for the “Men in Kilts” contest, a show of kilt-bedecked dancing prowess.
It was Warfel’s earring that the night’s emcee, Ephrata’s Police Chief Bill Harvey, noticed, calling Warfel “the pirate contestant.”
Harvey was also kilted, in a camouflage number.
“It really isn’t so much about skill,” said Warfel, who joined in last year’s contest, too. “You show off the kilt, you do some dancing, and the winner is who they think is having the most fun. I didn’t win last year, but I had fun.”
While Warfel was one of the three finalists, he didn’t win this year, either; that honor went to Fred Whitley, who had an advantage over the other guys in that he’s a former member of the “Red Rose Scottish Dancers.”
For his spirited, yet dignified performance, Whitley won a fur-lined hat.
“You never know; last year, I won a hoagie!” Whitley said, laughing.
The audience’s applause was gauged to choose a winner from the three finalists and Whitley, a retired music teacher, credited his former students’ applause for putting him over the top.
It was the first time for Jim Kearns, of York, as a “Kilts” contestant.
“I’m Irish, so I like to get in the spirit and support the cause,” Kearns said of his foray into the world of dance. “I also love Irish folk music.”
With Kearns was Tammy Charles, of Denver, who is also of Irish heritage.
“I was told that this is a lot of fun,” Charles said. “Just the music, and the celebration of everything Irish — in Ephrata — is a great way to keep traditions alive.”
Outfits emphasizing green were an integral part of the evening, and some creative get-ups achieved the “shenanigans” level, like the face-covering green beard worn by Mike Wolfe of Ephrata.
If awards for best dressed were given, retired dentist Jack Forney might have won. Forney took to the dance floor attired in a green suit, resembling a plus-sized leprechaun.
Forney’s grandfather was an O’Reardon, which is where he gets his love for Irish music, he said.
Friends Marcia Cobb and Kay Dinger, both of Wernersville, were also covered in green, from their bobbing shamrock headpieces to their feather boas and light-up necklaces. The girls were there for a good time.
“It’s the third year I’ve attended and it is just so much fun,” Cobb said. “I love the music.”
“It also has that hometown feel,” Dinger said of the event.
Brendon Leslie, 23, formerly of Long Island, has been living in the south central Pennsylvania area for only the past six months and thought the event would be a good way to meet his neighbors.
“I’m also Irish and I like beer,” said Leslie, who had a full-sized Irish flag draped over his shoulders and wore a shirt stating “Irish and Awesome.”
With 75 percent of his ancestry being Irish, Leslie was in Celtic heaven at the Shamrocks event.
Two years ago, Leslie visited Ireland and took in much of the music by visiting local pubs. He also spent time looking for “lost” relatives, he said.
“I still have family there, in Northern Ireland,” Leslie said. “So I’m going back again.”
Plenty of sponsors helped to make the night a success. They included Blue Ridge Communications, Weis Markets, Good’s Disposal Service, WaWa Inc., The Scott Schrum Farmers Insurance Agency, Hampton Inn, Ephrata, South Coast Improvement of Reading, O’Roarkes Pub in Gettysburg, Compleat Restoration, and Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen.