Hundreds will gather tonight for a taste of Irish culture at Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's biggest fundraiser of the year.
After a reading by award-winning Irish author Anne Enright, Irish musicians and step dancers will perform at the society's 28th "Evening of Irish Music and Poetry" in Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School.
"The mission of our organization is to enlarge the audience to the appreciation of contemporary literature," said Tara Hart, Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's (HoCoPoLitSo) managing director. "The [Irish evening] is a celebration of literature and Irish culture."
Nearly 300 tickets had been sold as of midweek, and a crowd of more than 400 is expected.
"Our ticket sales have been very good this year," Hart said.
HoCoPoLitSo's chairwoman, Catherine McLoughlin-Hayes, a native of Ireland, has picked the evening's writer for the past 20 years. She said she enjoys bringing the "best of the best" Irish authors to Columbia each year, and that Enright is no exception.
"I usually keep up to date with the new Irish writers, and Anne Enright came to mind as a very good writer, speaker and someone who had won notable literary prizes both in Ireland and the United Kingdom," McLoughlin-Hayes said. "She's hilariously funny. ... I expect that she'll give a very entertaining reading."
Born and raised in Dublin, Enright won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1991 for her collection of stories, The Portable Virgin. She also has won the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Irish Literature Prize for her 1995 novel, The Wig My Father Wore, and the Royal Society Authors Encore prize for her 2000 novel, What Are You Like? from which she will be reading excerpts tonight.
Enright writes about personal experiences and unnoticed patterns of living, McLoughlin-Hayes said. Enright also is a broadcast journalist for BBC Radio.
Past writers who have read at HoCoPoLitSo's annual fundraiser include Nuala O'Faolain, Eavan Boland, Paul Muldoon and Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.
"I just like the fact that we bring the best ... Irish writers to the local community," McLoughlin-Hayes said. "They're not just Irish writers, they're internationally known."
Terry Winch, a songwriter, author and musician, started performing at the event in 1980 with the Irish-music group Celtic Thunder. Winch and other former Celtic Thunder members, including his brother, Jesse Winch, Dominick Murray, Linda Hickman and Tony DeMarco, later formed Narrowbacks, the band that will be performing tonight.
Irish immigrants used the term "narrowbacks" to describe their children, who in America would grow up to be taller, leaner and wouldn't have to do backbreaking labor, Terry Winch said.
He said the combination of music and writing at the Irish evening is a "winning formula."
"People get a lot of variety in the course of the night," said Winch, a son of Irish immigrants. "Tony DeMarco is one of the most incredible fiddlers. There are Irish dancers every year, and they're quite good. They get some of the top writers in Ireland. It's a pretty good deal for an audience member."
Murray, also a son of Irish immigrants and Narrowbacks' singer, said music and story is an integral part of Irish culture.
"Ireland has an affinity for poetry and music, and the fact that we've been asked for more than a quarter of a century to be a part of that lineup is a delight and honor for us," Murray said.
McLoughlin-Hayes called the event a "seasonal rite of passage."
"People look forward to it," she said. "It's not just for Irish-Americans. ... There is something for everybody."
The "Evening of Irish Music and Poetry" will begin at 8 p.m. in Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and will be available at the door. Information: HoCoPoLitSo, 410- 772-4568, or www. hocopolitso. org.