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Irish Celebrate St. Patrick's Day Early in Los Angeles - 2004-03-16

March 17 is St. Patrick's Day, when Irish Americans celebrate their heritage, and others join in to help them. The festivities got underway early in Los Angeles. An annual Irish fair brings together the Irish-born, Irish Americans and those who become Irish for St. Patrick's Day.

There is Irish stew and Irish beer, and everywhere you walk, toe-tapping Irish music.

The annual Irish festival, held at the Los Angeles County fairgrounds just before St. Patrick's Day, is one of many ethnic celebrations staged in the city during the year. Promoter Bill Lomas produces this fair and other events, including three Chinese festivals, a Japanese parade, Korean celebrations and Mexican fiestas. He says each has a different flavor.

"The flavor of the Irish fair is music, toe tapping, having fun, and maybe even having a libation here or there, and get you in the mood," he said. "The Irish fair is based on all-around music, where others are based around maybe having arts and crafts and other ones are based around have a sporting event, this is based around music."

There are also some Celtic sports, like the hammer throw, and a dog show, which of course includes some Irish Setters.

And an Irish festival wouldn't be complete without some Irish dancing.

Mary Beth McCartan operates the McCartan School of Irish Dance, where students learn jigs, reels and other types of traditional step dancing. She says the style appeals to Irish Americans, and non-Irish as well.

"Everyone is interested in Irish dancing," she said. "We have students from age three-and-a-half to adult classes. It's part of their culture, but it's also something where the kids really bond and the children make new friends. And it's just attractive for the social end of things as well."

Those of Scottish background come out to celebrate with their Irish cousins, and nearly everyone here, it seems, has an Irish connection. A visitor named Avedissian-Genise is Armenian and Italian, but her stepson, whose name is McCabe, is full-blooded Irish. She stopped by a booth that sells Irish family crests to buy one as a gift.

"The family crest on it, indeed. Yes, his parents were born there (in Ireland). They're very Irish. He's got a lot of family out there. Great heritage," she said.

Some East Coast U.S. cities, like Boston, have high concentrations of Irish Americans. But the Irish are everywhere, including California. Mary Flynn of the Irish Center of Southern California meets many people of mixed ancestry who are at least a little Irish.

"[I meet] a lot of them, a lot. There must be millions of Irish Americans in this country...everybody's interested [in Irish culture] and everyone wants to be Irish at this time of the year. Even if they're not Irish, they want to be Irish. And that's wonderful. And we enjoy entertaining them," he said.

Festival organizers say people of all backgrounds stop by for an Irish biscuit and a sip of Irish tea, or maybe something a little stronger, because on St. Patrick's Day, we're all a little Irish.