St. Patrick's Day Tinged by Troubles in N. Ireland

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bagpipes blared, green beer flowed and Celtic bands inspired young and old to dance the jig as families from all over Orange County flocked to the Brothers of Saint Patrick religious center Sunday to celebrate "Irish pride."

But, for many in the crowd of about 6,000 who attended the daylong event, that pride this St. Patrick's Day was traced with melancholy.

Those present could not help talking about the state of peace negotiations between Irish nationalists and the British government over the future of Northern Ireland. Those talks were dealt a possibly fatal blow last month when the Irish Republican Army ended an 18-month cease-fire.

As those celebrating watched their children hop in rhythm to the several Celtic bands featured at the center, worried conversations could be heard about how recent IRA bombings in London might trigger a rash of violence on the streets of Belfast and Dublin.

"Of course, this year is significant," said Pat Flannigan, who drove from Lancaster to attend the 13-year-old festival.

"We had so much hope last year for a lasting peace. Now, that is gone," Flannigan said.

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For others, hope did live on at the Brothers' festival, one of several in Orange County that paid tribute to the patron saint of Ireland, a missionary who worked to convert the island to Christianity in the 5th century.

The annual event has been held to "reinstill the true meaning of the holiday," organizers in Midway City said.

Those who attended the mid-morning Gaelic Mass and watched traditional folk singers and dancers regale the crowd said, though the situation in Ireland is again uncertain, this year's event reaffirmed their faith in Ireland.

"The world will come together yet," Flannigan said. "So much suffering and dying will not have gone on for nothing."

The purpose of the event, said coordinator Tom Heneghan, is to take the meaning of the green holiday beyond that of being an opportunity to sip suds with friends.

"It's a time to rejoice in our Irish heritage," he said.

Joe Condon, who has attended this festival several times, said the fact that many throughout the country who celebrate St. Paddy's Day "run and play" instead of focus on their heritage leaves them out of touch with the Irish experience.

During hard times, those Irish Americans become too cynical, he said.

"A lot of the old values are lost," he said. "[Others] don't even realize it is a holy day."

With new questions on their minds about Ireland's future, some went to the event this year in search of that history.

"I used to go out drinking with my buddies, but this time I wanted to get back to tradition," said 25-year-old Dave Connor of Garden Grove.

Connor took his 4-year-old son, Jason, to the event to "teach him his roots."

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