Irish eyes smilin' downtown at Shamrock on Block


By GRAIG GRAZIOSI

ggraziosi@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The holy and the half-in-the-bag celebrated side by side on Federal Street during Friday night’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration in downtown Youngstown.

A pair of parties kicked off early Friday and stretched into the evening, each catering to a very particular brand of reveler.

At Overture Restaurant, Jeff Chrystal, the head chef, was mingling through a crowd of diners, many dressed in green sweaters, jackets or dresses. In anticipation of his 37th time creating a St. Patrick’s Day menu, Chrystal prepared a number of the holiday’s classic dishes – corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew, fresh-baked rye bread – for the parade of diners moving through the restaurant Friday.

Traditional Irish music – heavy on violins and flutes playing over a floor of steady drumming – filled the restaurant while diners talked over glasses of pitch-black Guinness.

Farther down the road, near the corner of Federal and Phelps streets, a white tent was pitched just outside V2. The bass of contemporary pop music coming from the tent was audible across downtown, much to the delight of the lines of partygoers participating in the Sham-Rock on the Block St. Patrick’s Day party downtown.

Sham-Rock on the Block – which started as a collaboration between The Federal and V2 – not only served as a means to attract revelers downtown to patronize the bars along Federal Street, but also acted as a fundraiser for the Downtown Youngstown Partnership. The net proceeds from sales made inside the heated tent – $5 admission plus beers, food and raffle tickets – were donated to the partnership, a Youngstown CityScape-run group that works with business entities in downtown Youngstown. The money will go toward future events and other downtown projects the organization is pursuing.

Several bars on Federal Street – including The Federal – opened early for beer and breakfast specials. Live bands played inside the tent as well as at several of the bars throughout the day.

The crowd was overall younger and louder than the diners at Overture, adorned in green T-shirts and top hats, kilts and golf caps and a few especially festive folks with hair dyed green or to look like the Irish flag.

Sophia Martini, a manager at The Federal, was encouraged by the turnout, and said the restaurant likely quadrupled its numbers during the “pints and pancakes” breakfast earlier in the day. She hoped to see at least 2,000 people through the bar during the event.

Back at Overture, Danny O’Connell, the national vice president for the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, an Irish heritage and activism organization, wore a bright green sport coat, chatting with old friends over a beer. O’Connell’s real St. Patrick’s Day celebration – a 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick Church – was long over, but his passion for his heritage and faith kept him celebrating long into the evening.

Preparing for his 21st trip to Ireland – this time on behalf of the Hibernians and with the intention of meeting with the Dublin parliament alongside the order’s national president – O’Connell is well-versed in the history and significance of St. Patrick’s Day to both the native Irish and those of Irish descent. Though he had no interest in green beer and didn’t care for the negative Irish stereotypes some St. Patrick’s Day merchandise promoted, he was happy to spend the day celebrating with equal parts reverence and joy.

The Hibernians were founded in 1836 as a religious organization dedicated to protecting the clergy. Now, they champion a buffet of rights scattered across the political spectrum, from pro-life legislation to Brexit opposition and the reunification of a singular Irish state. Catholic Irish, Irish descendents and any members of the clergy are eligible to join the order.

Outside the heated tent near V2, Phil Kidd, associate director of Youngstown CityScape, watched police separate a small scuffle between bar patrons. It wasn’t the first fight of the evening, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it also was not representative of the majority of the downtown partygoers. Though they weren’t dedicated servants to the heritage and faith like the Hibernians, most of the Sham-Rock on the Block attendees were just looking for a fun time on a chilly March night.

Not unlike O’Connell with Ireland, Kidd is quick to sing the praises of Youngstown and recent revitalization efforts in the city. Through the green costumes and the drinking and the occasional scuffle, Kidd sees vibrance and life where little more than a decade ago there was nothing in the way of celebration.

“It’s just great seeing people come out and celebrate down here,” Kidd said. “Fifteen years ago, at least to my knowledge, there wasn’t anything like this at all downtown.”

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