The festival promotes Irish culture and heritage, an organizer said.
By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Three-year-old Sarah Dollman had fun spending part of Sunday afternoon eating cotton candy, tossing a football, receiving an Irish tattoo and having a rainbow painted on her right cheek.
Complementing her attire was a shiny green necklace that contained letters forming the words "Kiss me. I'm Irish."
"We're having a blast here; it's really nice," Sarah's mother, Ann Dollman, said of the ninth annual The Gathering of the Irish Clans.
Sarah and her mother came from their Toledo home to attend the festival set up behind the Maronite Center, 1555 S. Meridian Road on Youngstown's West Side. The two-day event featured food, games, apparel, activities and entertainment and was designed to promote Irish culture and heritage in the Mahoning Valley.
Overcast skies, occasional light rain and the threat of thunderstorms did little to keep between 2,000 and 3,000 people from the tents and pavilions filled with Irish merchandise, food and music.
Varying hues of green were evident as people gathered to listen, clap and raise their hands to the piano and voice of Cahal Dunne, also known as "Ireland's Happy Man." Others seemed content to sit back, eat and just talk.
Among the items for sale were numerous T-shirts and sweat shirts, framed photographs of Ireland, a bleak (Irish teapot), paperweights, drums, coins and glass shamrocks.
Also on display were an Irish cultural suitcase and a showcase containing artifacts that people take into schools to educate pupils about Irish culture.
Food and games
Many people took advantage of a menu that included a corned beef platter, Irish stew, limerick potatoes, a banger sandwich (sausage and peppers) and a variety of desserts.
The festival also was set up with youngsters in mind, many of whom could be found in the Land of the Leprechauns area. There, kids chose activities that included crafts, face painting, an obstacle course, tossing plastic horseshoes, and a competition in which children tossed a football through a tire or kicked it between plastic goal posts.
Many kids broke into teams of two to six to take part in a scavenger hunt. The winning team received a gift basket, and about 100 bags with various treats were given to the participants.
Joyce Kale-Pesta, vice president of the 22-member Clans committee, said the festival's main purpose is to promote Irish culture and to allow children to know and better understand their ancestry. The festival, which used to last one day, expanded to two because of increased attendance and popularity, she added.
Kale-Pesta said many Irish people with little or no money came to the United States through Canada during the Irish famine of 1840 and that many were indentured servants. Many Irish "built themselves up" during the Industrial Revolution beginning in the early 1850s.
"We've come a long way from our ancestors," she said. "When we first came over, we weren't welcome in the U.S."
Also at the festival were several members of the Mahoning County chapter of the Junior Hibernians, including Ashley Kale of Liberty. The group is made up of children age 6 to 18 who, among other things, perform fund-raisers and host parties to raise money for Holy Cross School in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The group also sends Christmas cards to Holy Cross, and the Junior Hibernians correspond with pen pals, explained Ashley, 11. The school is trying to promote peace between Ireland's Protestants and Catholics.
Ann Dollman, who's also state president of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, said her organization's functions include raising money for charities and supporting those who decide to become Catholic priests or nuns.
The Ladies AOH also hosts baby showers for single mothers and donates gifts every Christmas to the Sojourner House Domestic Violence Program.
"We want to give back to the community and have a little fun along the way," Dollman said.
Other committee members who helped organize The Gathering of the Irish Clans festival were Martin and Sally Pallante, Mary Jane Vennitti, Terry and Vickie Vickers, Robb Kale, Bessie Spangel, John Sheridan, Jim Dunn and Leo Jay.