Festival promotes Irish heritage

By Amanda C. Davis

A world-renowned youth choir from Ireland performs at 3:45 p.m. today.

YOUNGSTOWN — Pat and Sandy Chrystal can’t help but think of their son, Patrick, when they hear an Irish song called “Fields of Athenry.”

The Youngstown couple lost their son to a car accident in March 2007 and wondered Saturday if they would hear the song during the 12th annual Irish Festival and Cultural Celebration at St. Maron’s Pavilion and Recreation Area.

Sponsored by the Gathering of the Irish Clans, the family celebration continues today with gates opening at 10 a.m.

Sandy Chrystal said her son loved the song. He called it “Free Bird” because of the lyrics about a prisoner in trouble for stealing food for his family during the Great Irish Famine in the 1840s.

“He’s the free bird now,” she said of her son, who owned Patrick’s Chophouse in Lisbon, along with his parents.

With tears in her eyes, Sandy recalled how the song was playing when she arrived at last year’s festival, a sign that Patrick was with them in spirit.

The couple planned to meet up with family like they do every year at the festival, popular with people of all nationalities for the food, music, drinks and family atmosphere.

“I like the music, and he likes the beer,” Sandy joked.

A play area, supervised activities and face painting will be available today for children. The event also includes The Shamrock Pub, a marketplace called Finnegan’s Cottage and Molly’s Kitchen, where traditional Irish fare is served, including shepherd’s pie, Irish stew and Bailey’s brownies.

George Banks, a retired psychologist with Youngstown City Schools, owns Glass Gems stained-glass art and displayed some of his items including glass panels, night lights and lamps.

“Stained glass is something people want in their homes,” he said, adding that his items are popular each year among patrons looking for Irish-related items.

Taking the stage today will be step dancers, Irish music groups and the world-renowned Omagh Community Youth Choir, currently touring the U.S. The group formed 10 years ago after the bomb explosion in Omagh, Northern Ireland.

Rob Kale, president of the group responsible for this weekend’s festival, said the choir is a big deal for this area, and that he is proud of the lineup of live acts scheduled to perform.

The choir, which plays at 3:45 p.m., has recorded with Andrew Lloyd Webber and performed with U2, for the Queen of England and in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Generous donations from the community made it possible for the choir to play in the Mahoning Valley, Kale said, explaining that children in the choir are staying locally before heading off to Milwaukee for another Irish festival.

“They are ambassadors of true Irish good will and faith,” he said, noting that half are Catholic and half are of the Protestant faith.

Kale said that between 1,500 and 2,000 people are expected to attend the event this weekend, organized to promote Irish culture and heritage.

“Everyone is welcome,” he said. “You can be Irish, and not just on St. Patrick’s Day.”

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