'Everyone wants to be Irish' at event

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The organizers and participants of the Baltimore Irish Festival believed they had their priorities in order for the final day.

Gather for God, then a good old time.

Right as the vendors were setting up shop for the conclusion of the three-day event yesterday morning at the 5th Regiment Armory, a few hundred people showed up for Roman Catholic Mass, with a stage serving as a makeshift altar.

"Mass is a driving force in an Irish Catholic family, and to have a festival and not have the Mass would be terrible," said Maureen Grant, 50, of Scaggsville, who attended with her husband, Gary, 51. "We love that part. That's why we come early on Sunday."

The crowd swelled to a couple of thousand by the early afternoon, drawn by a continuous array of music, crafts and clothing.

"I think everyone wants to be Irish," said Larry Malkus Jr., 36, who attended with his wife and son. Malkus' reasoning? The Irish know how to have fun, and they don't mind sharing, he said.

"I think we're Scottish, but don't tell anybody," Malkus said.

The Grants make the Irish Festival a ritual. Maureen Grant's parents were born in Belfast and immigrated to the Washington area in 1948. "It was tough to make a living as an Irish Catholic in Belfast. ... They wanted a better life," she said.

Her father and grandfather were plasterers. Among other projects, her grandfather worked on the Titanic when it was built at a Belfast shipyard nearly a century ago.

Their respect for the Irish tradition remains strong. While waiting to listen to the musical acts, they ate soda bread, a baked mixture of baking soda, unbleached flour, raisins and caraway seeds.

"It's a little dry," she said. "You may need an Irish coffee to go with it."

There were certainly plenty of things to buy.

Mike Wormack and his wife, Anne, flew in from England to sell their merchandise. A retired U.S. Air Force veteran of nearly 30 years, Mike Wormack, 65, sells clothing and jewelry authentic to Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

When Wormack retired in 1985, he and his wife began selling watercolor paintings at German bazaars. They eventually figured out that the money was in selling all things Celtic. Their company, the Celtic Knot, has three locations in Europe and one in Charlottesville, Va.

"Sundays are always the busiest," Wormack said of sales at Irish festivals. "The people have seen the merchandise all weekend, and the people finally make up their minds."

The Wormacks travel to half a dozen Irish festivals in the United States, including Baltimore, before they set up shop for the month of December at the Pentagon. His military clearance makes that still possible. They do the selling themselves when they travel in the United States, and Wormack won't have it any other way.

The hottest item? Celtic jewelry.

"You get homesick," he said. "It's great to rediscover America. I love it." He hopes to see his mother and sister in Baltimore before he departs.

Beverly Faulkner, a painter based in Penn Yan, N.Y., feels right at home at Irish festivals. Faulkner taught herself how to paint decades ago, but her lack of focus frustrated her to the point of disillusionment.

After Faulkner's father died of a heart attack in 1980, she took her mother on a tour of Ireland. While taking in the view of Glendalough, she became inspired to paint the ancient landscapes of Ireland.

That was 20 years ago, and Faulkner, 61, has been selling her paintings at Irish festivals nationwide since, happy to have found her pot of gold.

"It's a privilege to have found my niche," she said.

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