Showcasing Irish heritage at fund-raising festival Annual social event is expected to raise $20,000 for local charities


Baltimore's cavernous 5th Regiment Armory has taken on the trappings of Ireland for the weekend to transport people -- at least in spirit -- to the Emerald Isle, and raise money for charities.

"It's the land of my [ancestors'] birth," said Stan Foster, 66, of Towson, explaining his attraction to the event yesterday. "It's heritage, where all my family came from."

With a backdrop of clog-dancing to recorded pipe music, Leo Welsh, owner of a Baltimore printing business and chairman of the board of Irish Charities of Maryland, said the annual Showcase of Nations' Irish Festival raises about $20,000 for selected local causes and attracts anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people.

"This is a big social occasion," Welsh said. "It also turns on the Irish roots for a lot of people. A lot of people come here to develop their roots. Other people come because they know so many of the people."

One enticement is the music, which never stops during the festival. Just when you are prepared for silence after a healthy dose of what the festival program calls Maryland's only Irish pipe band, Na Fianna, a group of young Irish step-dancers glides out and more music begins.

Foster, a New York native who has lived in the Baltimore area for 33 years, said he would like to visit Ireland sometime, but "these days I think twice before going to Ocean City." The festival was an opportunity "to further educate myself and get some [Irish] things for my grandchildren."

The festival, first held in 1974, attracted vendors in many things Irish -- but mostly food and clothing. One of the vendors was Avoca Handweavers, an Ireland-based clothing company whose only U.S. store is in Annapolis.

Kathleen Smith, 48, who has been selling Avoca's handmade sweaters, caps and scarves at the festival for several years, said she appreciates the knowledge and loyalty of the customers she encounters there.

"These people want Irish things -- Irish hats, Irish sweaters and Irish fisherman's jackets. They aren't worried about whether we have this year's color."

But as you might guess, most items had a bit of the green.

The festival continues today at the Armory, Howard and Preston streets, from noon to 8 p.m. Information: 410-837-0685.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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