Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - March 14, 2014

Here come the Irish

Tri-Valley gears up for annual St. Patrick's Day celebration

by Jeremy Walsh

The name pretty much tells the story.

It should come as little surprise that the Tri-Valley city that shares its name with the capital of Ireland hosts one of the Bay Area's most popular St. Patrick's Day events, drawing tens of thousands of attendees annually.

"It's a connection to the city's Irish heritage, first and foremost," Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti said. "It's the one thing that brings the entire city together."

This year marks Dublin's 31st St. Patrick's Day weekend celebration, which starts tonight and runs through Sunday -- the eve of St. Patrick's Day.

The event -- featuring fixtures such as an opening night gala, Irish dancing, Celtic music, parade, green pancakes, multicultural marketplace and Shamrock fun run/walk -- is part of the fabric of the Tri-Valley.

"The history of Dublin, since it incorporated in '82, is synonymous with the St. Patrick's fest," Sbranti said. "Once we became a city, the St. Patrick's Day parade and festival were one of the first things that were done to help bolster civic pride."

A Dublin native, the mayor said he's attended almost all of the annual March celebrations, estimating that he's missed only a handful.

"I look at it as kind of a calling home, in many respects," Sbranti added. "People with any type of connection to Dublin -- family or friends -- it's something they come back for."

The 2014 St. Patrick's celebration gets underway tonight with the Green and White Gala, an evening of dinner and dancing hosted by the Dublin Sister City Association.

"The gala is kind of the kickoff event for the entire weekend," said association president Carol Satterthwaite, who called opening soiree, "an event where everyone gets to be a little Irish and have a good time."

Representatives from the association's sister city of Bray, Ireland are set to be on hand to greet gala guests.

The event, which required tickets to be purchased in advance, begins tonight at 6 p.m. inside the Shannon Community Center, 11600 Shannon Ave. in Dublin.

Another St. Patrick's staple follows Saturday morning: green pancakes.

The annual firefighters' pancake breakfast, presented by Alameda County Firefighters Local 55, will take place Saturday from 7-10 a.m. at Fire Station No. 16, located at the corner of Donohue Drive and Amador Valley Boulevard. Entry is $5 at the door.

The Dublin Lions Club St. Patrick's Day Parade comes next, at the tail end of the pancake breakfast.

"We have tried to maintain a small-town feeling in our parade. No judges, no awards, no politics; just for the kids," said Bill Burnham, president of the Dublin Lions Club.

The parade has grown into one of the most well-attended aspects of the annual weekend celebration.

"We started out with 25 entries and 250 people and 500 watching," Burnham said, referring to the first Lions parade in the 1980s. "We are now at 80 entries with 2,300 people and 10,000 to 13,000 watching."

Regular participants in past parades, many of which will return this weekend, include children's groups, car clubs, bands, bagpipers, clowns, schools, horseback riders, beauty queens and tractors.

"If you're a child and you grow up in Dublin, I mean inevitably at some point you've been in the St. Patrick's Day parade, whether it's through Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League or through one of the schools," the mayor said. "It's just kind of a rite of passage."

This year, visiting representatives from Bray, Ireland will serve as parade grand marshals, Burnham said. Other special guests will include the Barstow High School band and a Victorian-style bicycle club from Santa Cruz.

"Each year we try to add a little something different for the kids," he added.

The parade loop starts at Amador Plaza Road, moves east on Dublin Boulevard, then goes north on Village Parkway and ends after moving west on Amador Valley Boulevard. Seating and standing room are at a premium during the parade, which steps off at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

The parade helps usher in the opening of the two-day St. Patrick's festival. Hosted by the city government, the festival begins at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Dublin Civic Center.

The festival features an array of entertainment, including Irish dancers, a variety of Celtic music, international food court, carnival rides, Irish Tea Cottage, and more than 200 merchant booths with some selling apt items such as Celtic capes and shawls, hand-knit wool sweaters, Irish books, and Celtic jewelry and art.

"The dancers are proud of their craft, and look forward to participating in the festival as it allows them a non-competitive platform to perform and have their family and friends come out and support them," said Eileen McBride-Parker, co-director of the McBride School of Irish Dance, one of the dance schools showcasing students' talents during the weekend.

McBride-Parker is among the many adults with fond childhood memories of the St. Patrick's celebration.

"I remember being a young girl walking in the Dublin Parade and dancing over by Shamrock Village where Big Lots is now and World of Shoes," she said.

In addition to Irish dancing, festival stages will be filled with an assortment of musicians. Scheduled performers specialize in genres such as Celtic rock, Irish folk, bagpipes, Celtic harp, and traditional Irish and Celtic music infused with bluegrass, pop, country or modern influences.

The festival is set to run into the evening both days.

Another marquee event during the final day of the celebration is the Shamrock 5K Fun Run and Walk, which offers a 3.1-mile certified course in central Dublin for participants of all skill levels. Past events have seen more than 2,000 people take part.

The run/walk is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. Sunday near 6815 Dublin Blvd. Race-day registration costs $35.

The city is set to close the book on another year of St. Patrick's festivities around 5 p.m. Sunday.

"For me personally, as someone who's grown up in this city and who remembers the first parade and the first festival, it's a matter of pride to see how it's grown so much and how it really is an attraction for the whole Bay Area," Sbranti said.

For more details on the Dublin celebration, visit www.ci.dublin.ca.us.

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