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St. Patrick's Day Properly Celebrated

Annual Gaelic Mass

Monday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m., in St. Charles Borromeo Church, 3304 N. Washington Boulevard, Arlington, just off Clarendon Circle, across the street from George Mason University School of Law. All are invited. Free.

Each mid-March, St. Patrick is trampled by purveyors of green beer and boisterous singers of "Irish songs" actually written as show tunes by American composers like George M. Cohan.

Finding a way to celebrate St. Patrick with real Irish culture and history has become somewhat of a scavenger hunt. Luckily, the Ancient Order of Hibernians cuts to the chase in cooperation with St. Charles Borromeo Church at Clarendon Circle in Arlington. Irish or not, Catholic or not, all are invited and there is no admission charge.

"Our organization was born in Ireland long ago to protect the priests when practicing religion was a crime," said James F. Carmody, coordinator for the event and an Annandale resident. "We look on the Annual Gaelic Mass as a continuation of that close relationship with the clergy."

The events open with a Catholic Mass said in the Irish. Booklets provide phonetic assistance to those daring enough to attempt this little-heard language. Most are content to follow with the eyes as spoken sounds roll over the audience.

The Rev. Gerard Creedon, Irish-born and Irish-speaking, presides at the gathering. Asked why Gaelic should be heard at all in Northern Virginia, his typically Irish response is "Why Not?" He then launches into praise for the original National Motto, E Pluribus Unum (From many, one). "All the peoples arriving in the United States should preserve and share the best of their original culture. Stories, songs, dance and, above all, language are gifts to our society." St. Patrick's Day, he suggests, provides the Irish with opportunity to share their heritage. On a personal level, Creedon admits to great pleasure from the rare chance to use the old tongue learned as a boy in Co. Cork.

Sean O'Riada was a classically trained composer who celebrated his faith in a Mass, as did Mozart, Beethoven and others over time. He based the work on traditional themes from Irish folk music.

Harp and organ are featured in the Arlington celebration. Above all, a choir is formed for this single performance: Heroes all for willing to grapple with difficult foreign words, its members volunteer to bring their vocal skills to the task. Many sing with church choirs. Some are not Catholic, but how many is unknown because the question is never asked. Director John F. Thieman of Vienna has studied and taught music for decades. All the musicians are attracted by something each finds in the beauty of O'Riada's work. For Thieman, "It is the opportunity to express love of God in an uncommon living language."

The religious element concluded, all retire to the hall for a social. Costumed young people dance while adults remember when they could do what they are watching done. Alongside old friend or stranger, conversations spring up naturally. Fruit punch and cookies — and especially Irish soda bread — are consumed, and the dancers can only hope for leftovers.