Not Irish, you say? That could change March 17

Tapping, swirling and prancing their way through Irish step-dancing classes, youn gstudents at Bracken School of Irish Dance gear up for St. Patrick’s Day. (Wrangler News photo by Alex J. Walker)

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It’s that time of the year once again when everyone, it seems, is Irish. Amid the green T-shirts and shamrock-shaped cookies, eateries in Tempe and West Chandler are gearing up for a wee bit of celebration.

Steve’s Espresso, for example, is offering halfoff pricing of his signature Irish coffee on Friday, March 17, known the world over as St. Patrick’s Day.

At Tempe’s Great Harvest Bakery, the day brings loaves of traditional Irish soda bread and another Emerald-Isle-inspired delicacy: Guinness and smoked Gouda bread. George Walston, son of Great Harvest owners Leslie and Ward Walston, said the latter features Guinness Beer instead of water, plus the savory, nutty and buttery sweetness of Gouda.

“It’s kind of a throw-back to that good old-fashioned, made-from-scratch bread from the Irish households, particularly with the Irish soda bread being buttermilk-leavened,” Walston said. Great Harvest grinds its own wheat daily, and most breads take a full five hours to prepare from start to finish.

Barista Lauren Catron offers up an Irish coffee at Steve’s Espresso. (Wrangler News photo by Joyce Coronel)

“We don’t take shortcuts,” Walston said. “So it’s like a leprechaun pops out of a book and is making it himself like in ‘ye
old days.’ Except he’s not short— he’s an ornery old man called my father.”

Walston pondered a bit: “Actually, there might be some Irish in there, ornery as he is.”

Beyond the plentiful gastronomic delights that surround the holiday, however, there’s much more to the day that celebrates the patron saint of Ireland. Every few years, St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday, making the celebration all the more festive.

As this year’s observance affects the monthly Chandler Art Walk, a bit-o’-the-Irish luck came into play: March 17 is the regularly scheduled third Friday in 2017, and the “Shamrockin’ Art Walk” in downtown Chandler will feature more than 30 local artisans.

Music for the festival will be provided by Kilted Spirit beginning at 6:30 p.m. Artisan offerings will include paintings, woodwork, illustrations, jewelry and more.

And while most of the merrymakers on St. Paddy’s Day in Tempe and Chandler are American-born, the area is also home to a few natives of Ireland. The Rev. Joe Hennessy, founding pastor of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in West Chandler, remembers celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in his homeland.

“One of the great benefits was, whatever you gave up for Lent, you could have on St. Patrick’s Day. That was the big thing. If you gave up candy, you were saving all your candy for St. Patrick’s Day and you really scarfed it down,” Rev. Hennessy said.

“When I was growing up, the big thing about it was that it was a holy day of obligation and also there was a football game and a hurling game on radio,” he said. Dances were not allowed during Lent either, but there was always a festive jig or two to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Additionally, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix has published a dispensation for area Catholics that permits them to indulge in meat—not allowed on Fridays during Lent—as long as they perform some other act of penance. In other words, along with that corned beef and cabbage he’s hoping they’ll visit the sick or imprisoned or spend extra time in prayer.

One place to indulge in the savory Irish cuisine referenced above is Mac’s Broiler & Tap in Tempe, where revelers can consume their fill of the traditional dish alongside Shepherd’s Pie and Irish stew. Open 11 to 11 on this day only.

Paul McGowan, a Chandler resident and native of Tullamore, Ireland—Chandler’s Sister City—also remembers St. Patrick’s Day as a mostly religious occasion.

“The thing I like about St. Patrick’s Day here is it is widely celebrated,” McGowan said, something that others also mentioned. Both McGowan and others were surprised at the extent to which Americans take to the wearin’ of the green.

McGowan and his wife Kara, owners of Chandler Mixed Martial Arts located at Ray and Kyrene, are the only two business owners from Tullamore who reside in Chandler. Paul serves on the advisory board of Chandler Sister Cities and has been in the U.S. since 1994. He frequently returns to Ireland, he said.

On St. Patrick’s Day, the McGowans attend the parade in downtown Phoenix and spend time at the Irish Cultural Center.

Ellen Harrington, who has been involved with Chandler-Tullamore Sister Cities since its inception in 2009, said the organization will host a Wine-and-Design Evening at Burst of Butterflies in downtown Chandler Monday, March 13 to kick off St. Paddy’s Day festivities. The group will also participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and Faire in Phoenix.

The St. Patrick’s observance honors the fourthcentury bishop of Ireland who is said to have died on March 17. The shamrock so emblematic of the day was sacred to the pagan Irish of his time, and he used the three-leafed shrub to convey the doctrine of the trinity.

The wearing of the green evokes memories of a time in Irish history in which some were persecuted for wearing the color.

Joyce Coronel
Joyce Coronel has been interviewing and writing stories since she was 12, and she’s got the scrapbooks to prove it. The mother of five grown sons and native of Arizona is passionate about local news and has been involved in media since 2002, coming aboard at Wrangler News in 2015. Joyce believes strongly that newspapers are a lifeline to an informed public and a means by which neighbors can build a sense of community—vitally important in today’s complex world.

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