Everybody is Irish
“Everybody is Irish,” such a fitting theme for this year’s Visalia St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The fact is that such celebrations, while focusing on one culture’s strengths of spirit, connects us all through the same cultural connections we each carry within ourselves. Ultimately, it’s a day of spirit for all.
The Wednesday before St. Patrick’s, our downtown Fox Theatre showed Disney’s “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” (1959) for Way Back Wednesday. Several people went to see the show, many for nostalgic reasons, and others for the first time. Moviegoer Jorge Monzon took his son Ethan, a Redwood High junior, to the experience. Of the downtown event, Jorge said, “I’m thankful for the chance to share my childhood experiences with my son. It was a magical throwback that enriched the community with a glimpse into a simpler time.” When Ethan was asked about the event, he replied, “It was a wonderful movie that allowed me to get an insight on my father’s childhood.” The quotes display the value of the opportunity that the iconic Fox Theatre gives us.
St Patrick’s fell on Saturday this year, just adding a little more magic to the day. There was a morning parade and a migration for many to the Rawhide Ballpark for the Irish Fest, celebrating another aspect of spirit. The day, which is put on by Visalia’s Breakfast Lions, began at The Depot restaurant, where Irish coffees were served with fruit and pastry. In attendance was a gathering of the former and current parade grand marshals, along with event organizers, and a select group of sponsors, friends and family. An Irish band played music from the Old Country, while three young lasses stepped and jigged in authentic Gaelic attire.
The parade started at 10 a.m. and was described by event planners as “the biggest yet,” when speaking of the procession’s ever-growing annual downtown event. It featured local junior high and high school bands, along with various clubs and waving politicians. Smiling children sat on curbs in front of the adult-lined sidewalks. There were lots of smiles, lots of cheer, lots of people simply having a good time. Our community shone.
After the parade, many migrated toward the ballpark, the epicenter of the Irish Fest. Along the way, several stopped by event sponsor the Vintage Press for a charming lunchtime special of corned beef and cabbage, and continued coffees of the day. When asked about the day’s parade, restaurant owner David Vartanian said, “My father started the St. Patrick’s Day Parade over 25 years ago. He had a vision. He was always looking for reasons to bring the community together through activities.” He then added, “The Irish Fest came to be and enchanted the day even more.” The generosity from the Vartanians is just another example of community support in the way of benefiting charity and local experiences.
For those over 21, the rainbow ended at Rawhide Ballpark. The seventh annual Irish Fest contained enough craft beer sampling, music and food to make Oscar Wilde stutter. Daydream clouds crowded a blue sky that strobed the green grass of the park with sunshine, giving us a meadow effect.
There were more than 20 breweries represented. Some were local names such as Brewbakers and Kaweah, all the way to the libation of the Irish Harp of Guinness, a stout from the Old World. Guests of the event were given a beer sampling glass, green beads and let loose for discovery. This year, the event added wine by the glass, specialty cocktails and whiskey sampling for a side charge. Three sponsoring beverage companies were needed to bring in such a large variety to the event. Bueno Beverage, Donaghy Sales and Valley Wide brought the goods, and the faithful were not disappointed. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity both for the community to come out and have a good time together and to raise funds for several community charitable causes. When asked about their contribution to the event, Danny Bueno, family member and vice president of Bueno Beverage, said, “Each year, we strive to create new ways to continue to support our local nonprofits. Our goal is to keep everything local to support the communities where we do business.”
The Irish Fest also expanded on the food opportunities this year. Just as the opportunity gave discoveries of craft beer, culinary excitement was also available. Mediterranean foods from local eatery Pita Kabob expanded the cultural palate, while pizza and more restaurant Planing Mill highlighted what we have in our own backyard, featuring food from the downtown eatery. Sequoia Brewery wasn’t just beer today; it offered corned beef tacos for a fitting food fusion of cultural proportions.
Music was provided by local popular classic rock band Borrowed Time. The Visalia Fire Department sampled chili and Arts Visalia provided face painting. These activities added to the festive environment. This year, with the expansion of the “Kids Corral” section of the ballpark, organizers were able to offer 1,500 tickets. And they did – selling every one of them. The capacity crowd took nothing from the event because with so many booths, the wait time in most circumstances was minimal.
In a wrap-up conversation, Terry Culotta, relationship banking officer at Valley Business Bank in Visalia, who served as chairman of the event, couldn’t be happier about the end result. “In speaking with a number of people in attendance, everyone had a blast,” he said. When asked about the future of the event, “we will continue to change things up and make it fun.”
The day boils down to one thing: the good that comes from the funds raised by the community gathering. If you go to the Visalia Breakfast Lions Club website and click on the charities link, you will see a list of charities, mostly local, supported in part by the club, groups such as CASA, which benefits local foster children; supporting the spirit of competition in Cal Ripkin, or the efforts of the Visalia Rescue Mission, which offers hope to the downtrodden within our community. Along with everything, the club presents every high school in town with a $1,000 student scholarship. In the end, when it comes down to earning the money to support community causes, it’s fun to wish for the luck of the Irish. But it’s better to rely on the efforts that take place by those within the community for those of the community.