St. Patrick's Day Festival Thrives on Ethnic Mix

Their backs to a scuba training pool at the Ventura Harbor Village, the Clan MacLeod Dancers kicked off Sunday's "Ireland by the Sea" St. Patrick's Day festival with a spry display of dancing.

Not Irish dancing. Scottish.

Nearby, the Iron Mountain Boys serenaded picnickers with Kentucky bluegrass music. Perhaps a dozen yards away, past a cafe blasting the blues, a bagpipe brigade--again, Scottish--prepared to fire up their bags.

So Sunday's festival wasn't ethnically pure. In Ventura, you take your Celtic heritage any way you can get it, and if Sunday's festival played mix-and-match with nationalities, the thousands of people packing the harbor did not seem to mind.

The Clan MacLeod, for example, had no trouble luring onlookers to dance with men in kilts.

"The music's universal," said MacLeod dancer Evelyn Swindle of Camarillo. "Once that music goes on and people start clapping hands, I don't think it matters."

As for the bluegrass music, banjo player Patrick Musone of Ventura said the songs were perfectly appropriate for the occasion. Bluegrass, he noted, sprang from the Scottish and Irish fiddle music played by immigrants.

"So most of the tunes we're playing today have their roots in Ireland," Musone said. "It's an interesting venue for bluegrass, because bluegrass is Irish originally anyway."

Other events and attractions at the festival stuck closely to the nationality in question. The Claddagh Irish Dancing School was scheduled to perform in the afternoon, about an hour after the leprechaun look-alike contest. The Celtic Cousins--two men and a drum machine--sang songs of Ireland and pubs without beer.

Many of the festival-goers were there to celebrate their own roots. Nancy Kaufer, born McGonigle, can claim 100% Irish ancestry. Both her parents were born in Ireland, in county Donegal, before immigrating to California.

Kaufer said she has visited her parents' homeland and finds it beautiful.

"The thing with Ireland is everything's green--40 shades of green, isn't that what they say?" she said. "But you can't beat the weather in Ventura."

Paul Devine of Ventura grew up Irish in Boston. Even if the Scottish dancers weren't quite the right nationality, Devine danced with them just the same. The festival, he said, seemed to be trying to cover all ethnic bases.

"You don't want to upset the leprechauns, you've got to include them, but you have to cover everyone else too," he said.

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