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'Tis the season - half-way to St Patrick's Day, All-Ireland final, and the Irish Festival at the Jersey Shore

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Enjoying the craic at the Irish Festival on the Jersey Shore
Enjoying the craic at the Irish Festival on the Jersey Shore (Photo: Jim Lowney)
So it begins again, sure as Christmas arrives each December. It’s Irish Season in New Jersey.

This time of year is not to be confused with St. Patrick’s Season which starts sometime in January during the NFL play-offs and last until April.

We mostly hadn’t seen each other over the summer; not since the end of last March, really. Much of the Jersey Irish folk seem to take the hot months off and retreat to the mountains of Pennsylvania or to the sands of the Jersey shore, or it is the year’s trip back to Ireland.

Sure, there was the big Irish festival in June at the race track, the odd golf outing here and there for one group or another, and some of our crowd would run into each other on the deck at Blackthorn on Sunday evenings. Then there is the late summer GAAcrowd, but they’re another story all together. But we weren’t running into full lot of us like we do this time of year.

Now we are back in for swing with a busy calendar ahead of us for the next few months.

If you didn’t notice, the 17th of September marked the fact that it is only six months to the day until we honor the patron saint of Ireland.

How could you not notice! Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day is almost billed as a holiday itself now. The promotion mostly comes from bars, and some of them even Irish. The local bands are enjoying the annual milestone as well, and fair play to them.
It's half way to St Patrick's Day!
It's half way to St Patrick's Day! (Photo: Jim Lowney)

Thanks to facelift, as my buddy Bobby Jeans dubbed the social media website, I soon found out that Ian Gallagher was playing the Vailsburg Irish American Association picnic in Union Saturday and Eamonn Ryan was playing the deck at Blackthorn in Kenilworth Sunday. Neither pushed the halfway angle and a good time would have been found anyway at either gig.

In Kenilworth, different as always, the halfway date is the 23rd with the day kicked off by the All-Ireland football final and finishing up with the New York Show Band.

There were texts and emails, too. Bloody Callán played halfway parties at the Blackthorn in Parsippany Friday and at Tim Kerwin's Tavern in Middlesex Saturday. The Snakes had a busy weekend around the Garden State as well. Both are brilliant bands and you if have a chance, catch a show.

There is no shortage of craic in New Jersey.

Not looking for a halfway excuse, I decided on the annual Irish Festival at the Jersey Shore in Sea Girt Saturday afternoon for a bit of weekend entertainment. Honey Badger and Fletcher the dog were already down the island so I was on my own.

Taking in the Irish trad that's in abundance this season
Taking in the Irish trad that's in abundance this season (Photo: Jim Lowney)
After coffee on the back deck with lovely Irish trad sounds from Fordham radio in the Bronx, I was once again on the blasted Garden State Parkway.

Not timely on the lazy last weekend of summer, I miss the Irish language Mass and Kevin Guerin and the lads from ‘Round the House were packing up when I arrived. They we headed for the day’s next gig—a halfway to Patrick’s Day party at a new place in Lakehurst called the Tipperary Pub.

Straight off I meet Ed Cunning of the famed Cunning clan of Hoboken. He was wearing a staff shirt as was my old friend Sean McDonough from Elizabeth. The local AOH did a brilliant job with the festival.

While looking for my father in the crowd of thousands, I discovered the cultural tent where you could learn a few words of Irish, hear the St. Patrick story and discover the Irish role in the America Civil War.

Besides the culture tent, there was the main stage, the pub stage, the shopping village, the children’s area and the Ceili pavilion. A little something for everyone was offered.

Amusing characters wandered about the grounds as well; like the seventy-something Belfast man with the tri-color Mohawk wig seeming to be enjoying himself very much.

The old man and I found each other and hung on the edge of the traditional music tent and savored the magic of the fiddle, flute and accordion, then cheered on the young step dancers already channeling River Dance.

Derek Warfield & the Young Wolf Tones had the people on their feet as I was heading out. The Snakes would wow the crowd a short time later capping off a sound day of Irish.

After a quick stop in Toms River to see the newly engaged brother down from Rhode Island and to say good-bye to the mother’s sister in from England, I found myself back on Long Beach Island reunited with Honey Badger over a tasty dinner of sea scallops.

The day was nearly run out but why not keep at it? In the dark, armed with rod and reel and bait and a powerful lantern, I made it to the surf to cast for brown sharks, blues or whatever else might be biting.

Not long into it, a trio of figures staggered up to me on the beach. The man of the lot, with an English accent I have never heard before, looked at my lamp and proclaimed “that wasn’t here last night.”

The three Londoners were from a wedding party up the street and quite happy tripping though the sand in the night. Then out of the darkness Honey Badger appeared. We all had a brilliant chat but it put an end to my fishing.

Up at dawn, I was on the road back home early for a work gig. Then it was the nerve-wrecking Giants win followed by dinner listing to Eamonn Ryan on the Blackthorn deck.

Monday came too soon.

Then while walking into the office, a colleague passing by yelled from his car.

“Hey Jim, happy halfway toSt. Patrick’s Day!”

So it begins again.

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