"Could I tempt you to a pint of Guinness?" grinned David Beechinor, busy pouring the thick, dark beer for the line of hot and thirsty music lovers. Beechinor was helping out at yesterday's Irish folk festival at Washington's new Western Plaza Park, at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Seven groups, gathered from Washington's Irish pub circuit, provided Irish songs and dances for the afternoon crowd, and the beer and blarney flowed under the green and white canopy tent.
There were plenty of red heads nodding to the music and plenty of green skirts rippling in the breeze, but Beechinor is the real Irish item. The 20-year-old from Bandon in Ireland's County Cork was enjoying the American version of his culture. "At the moment I'm staying with relatives," Beechinor said in a soft-spoken brogue. "I'm in my third year at the National Institute for Higher Education in Limerick, and I'm on holiday now. Usually I work in the pubs in Ireland -- this is a bit different for me, working out-of-doors. It's fantastic here -- so friendly and free and open."
Beechinor's American cousin Sean Coakley is president of the Irish Cultural and Folklore Society, which organized the festival. "We're strictly into promoting Irish culture," Coakley said of the Society. "We arrange concerts, dances, festivals, that sort of thing. We don't want to become too political -- we get too bogged down if we get involved in the politics."
The afternoon's entertainment remained relatively free of politics, apart from the men and women handing out flyers for an Irish awareness march, and the lyrics of the traditional Irish ballads, most of which concern Ireland's political situation.
A trio called Shamrock Aces broke from politics entirely and drew loud laughter as they rendered a ribald ballad revealing what Scotsmen really wear beneath their kilts.
Clapping and singing lustily along, the crowd clustered under the canopy, grateful for any shade in the treeless space. Lines formed in the sun for traditional Irish-American food -- hot dogs and sausage sandwiches, washed down with Guinness dark or Bud. "We were thinking of having stew," laughed Coakley, "but on a day like today! This was the closest we could come." The music was the main attraction, though, and it was light and lively fare.
"I can't sit still when they're playing an Irish tune," said Elizabeth Chilton, catching her breath after an impromptu solo jig before a semicircle of applauding admirers. "I taught myself how to jig. It must be in my blood -- I'm Irish on my mother's side and English on my father's."
Heads turned away from Steve Hickman and Friends onstage when Michael Waters arrived in full Highland regalia: kilt, stockings and bagpipe. Waters, who just graduated with a music degree from Catholic University, played an air on his pipes that vaguely resembled "MacNamara's Band."
How does a single bagpiper make a living? "I'll teach music, I suppose, but I'll also have to play at wakes, weddings and pubs, and festivals like this," Waters laughed.