Here’s to O’Napolis

Photo: Betsy Kehne.

By Kathy Knotts

One of the first stories I ever wrote for Bay Weekly was about the Annapolis Irish Festival. I had the distinct honor of interviewing local legend (and Dublin 5 rocker) Eddie McGowan before he passed away. I had only been in Maryland a few months and knew nothing about the local music scene nor the vibrant Irish culture that had been awakened in the region in the last decade.

McGowan’s festival premiered in 2011 and the Annapolis St. Patrick’s Day Parade began just a few years later. I punnily called the movement “The Greening of O’Napolis” back in 2015. But I had no idea how right I was.

Chesapeake Country takes honoring Irish culture very seriously. In Calvert County you can find the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival, in late April, where music, food, and dancing take center stage, along with crafters and athletic events. The Celtic Society of Southern Maryland has been putting the festival together since 1979, the oldest such celebration in the state. The Irish Charities of Maryland also host an annual festival at the state fairgrounds in November. The state is home to the Hibernian Society of Baltimore and the Ancient Order of Hibernians at St. Mary’s in Annapolis, charitable Irish Catholic organizations.

In Anne Arundel County we are lucky enough to not only have an outstanding parade that celebrates all things Irish, but a whole company of Irish restaurants, complete with elaborate whiskey selections and Guinness on tap. We are home to bagpipers and Irish retailers. There’s even a rowing club that goes out in traditional curraghs. It’s not just about the one March celebration. It’s an appreciation for a culture that goes back centuries.

Our feature story this week comes from a writer with such a unique name that I knew right away she would be a perfect fit for this story. MacDuff Perkins dives into all the ways we celebrate the Emerald Isle in Annapolis. Her story was slightly delayed so she could land an interview with Irish Restaurant Company co-owner Anthony Clarke who was just returning from a visit to his home country. If that’s not a solid connection to Ireland, I don’t know what is.

(By the way, the Annapolis Irish Festival is on the schedule for this July at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, now under the direction of ABC Events.)

For Christmas, I got a DNA test kit. It was no surprise when the ancestry reports revealed to me that my primary ancestry hails from London and County Cork, Ireland. About 32 million Americans (9.7 percent) identified as being Irish in the 2019 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Baltimore was a leading destination for Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s during the Great Famine, with around 70,000 Irish people settling in the city during the 1850s and ‘60s.

I’m proud of my Irish heritage, mostly because it explains my humor, strength in the midst of adversity and a love for stories and folktales. But I still don’t like cabbage or corned beef.

Enjoy the festivities this weekend. Stay safe and raise a pint to toast to good health for all in the year to come.

Kathy Knotts is managing editor of CBM Bay Weekly. Reach her at [email protected]