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Qns church celebrates Irish culture for St. Patrick’s Day

Celtic pride took over the basement of St. Mel’s Church in Flushing Sunday evening as more than 200 people flocked to experience a festival of Irish music, dance and art in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

The 36th-annual Irish Cultural Day was a success despite the torrential rain, with dozens of families making the trek intent on keeping their heritage alive and passing it on to the younger generation.

Jointly hosted by St. Mel’s, at 154-24 26th Ave., and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 15 of Whitestone, it was also a way to ensure the Catholic faith remains an important part of Irish people’s lives here in Queens.

“I love Irish culture. It’s very important for the children, the young people, to keep the culture alive,” said Maureen McManus, a longtime member of LOH Division 15 and one of the event’s organizers. “And we try to keep our faith going as well. That’s equally important: faith.”

Simone Dempsey, who was born in Ireland and now lives in Fresh Meadows, said she attended the festival to watch her 8-year-old daughter Caitriona perform Irish dance with the Niall O’Leary School of Dance. Caitriona exhibited several high-kicking steps as part of the troupe of traditionally dressed dancers as Simone’s 2-year-old son watched from her arms.

“Everything is Irish-related: the sweaters, the music and the books,” she said. “I’m from Ireland, so it’s an opportunity to keep the Irish culture alive and make sure Caitriona is exposed to the Irish culture in New York.”

Elizabeth Amen of Whitestone brought her four grandchildren, one of whom also danced with Niall O’Leary’s group. She said the event is a great way to learn about the vibrant culture of Ireland and also for her to have a little slice of the Emerald Isle here in America.

“I’m from Ireland and here with my grandchildren and having a great time dancing and listening to the music,” she said. “It’s definitely important to maintain the culture because it’s my heritage and it’s like being at home when you’re at an event like this.”

Bridget Kearney, Queens County president of the LOH, agreed with Amen’s sentiment, saying its highlights, including the music of Patrick Cahillane, the dancing of Niall O’Leary’s school and the O’Malley Irish Dance Academy and the exhibit of paintings of pastoral Irish landscapes by Edmund Sullivan, remind attendees of the wide range of cultural contributions her home country has made.

“Irish history goes back several thousand years and we want to show the staying power of this culture through exhibits, music and dance,” she said. “It goes back century after century.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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