Irish Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at Museum Learning About Their Past

Times Staff Writer

A message in green on a white T-shirt Sunday at Bowers Museum read: “You can always tell an Irishman . . . but you can’t tell him much.”

Still, the Irish who attended the Erin on the Green festival in Santa Ana may have learned something new about their heritage from the artisans, musicians and entertainers there to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

One of the festival’s big attractions was presented by Clan McColin, an extended family of young men and women clad in the 16th-Century garb of farmers, craftsmen and housewives. Mirroring the roles assigned to lads and lassies of the pre-Renaissance period in Ireland, the men demonstrated woodcarving and honing while the women combed rough sheep’s wool and spun it into yarn. Others embroidered, wove baskets or played instruments.

Natural Carpet of Green


The brilliant green lawns outside the museum formed a natural carpet that welcomed the thousands arriving to see and hear the traditional music, folk dancing and poetry from Ireland and to eat corned beef sandwiches, smoked salmon and scones.

And of course there was beer, which Huntington Beach City Councilman Jack Kelly (who says his family came from County Cork) described as “that ubiquitous libation.”

It seemed that Kelly was not alone: O’Shaunesseys, O’Neils and Connollys all said they, too, hailed from Cork.

Lilting above the crowd, music supplied by Gan Ainm filled the museum courtyard. The band’s name, which literally means “without name,” comes from Ireland’s vast array of tunes without titles.


Gan Ainm’s instruments ranged from Uilleann pipes (different from Scottish highland bagpipes because no mouthpiece is used) to the bodhran , a traditional Celtic drum stretched with goatskin.

The Myra Brennan Troupe of costumed young women and girls performed folk, soft-shoe and tap dancing. Among the dancers were Maureen Dowling, 7, and her 8-year-old sister, Kathleen. The audience, spread out on the lawn and pathways, cheered at the sisters’ performance of a two-hand reel.

Instruments Displayed

Paul Culotta, a harp maker, brought his exhibit of Woldsong harps. And Stephen Klugston showed people the fidel , the rebec and the crwyth , stringed instruments once common in Ireland. The rebec was the earliest bowed instrument of the British Isles.

Erin on the Green was sponsored by the Bowers Museum Foundation’s Irish Council as part of a fund-raising effort to bring a collection of 4,000-year-old Celtic artifacts to Santa Ana. The exhibit, featuring hundreds of broaches, armor, swords and other metal pieces recovered from the bogs of Ireland, would come to Bowers in cooperation with the National Museum of Dublin and the Smithsonian Institution.

The cost of bringing the display to Orange County is estimated at $40,000 to $50,000, said Irish Council spokeswoman Laureen Connelly. The group is hoping the exhibit will be at Bowers by 1987, Connelly said.