All over the United States, cities make St. Patrick’s Day a big deal. These Irish-American communities hold huge parties, parades, concerts, religious events, dances and all kinds of gatherings for eating and drinking. Small towns also celebrate with similar events, centered around “wearing of the green,” Irish music and events for children, as well as learning about and celebrating their Irish heritage.
In the early 1970s, the seeds of Irish community fellowship were sown in Naples by Tom Shea, of the O’Shea’s restaurant on Marco Island; Mike Ward, of Erin’s Isle Restaurant — still a community favorite with an Irish ambience; and Dr. John Bowers, from Boston, who acted as historian and energetically provided authentic enthusiasm and creativity to create the Irish American Club of Southwest Florida.
At one time, membership numbered more than 600, and many of the members were Islanders. As the years passed, aided by Islander Joel Gertwitz, Naples established an annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, with cultural events for the entire community, including Irish dancing and music, Irish food and drink, educational programs and concerts. These events are popular and well-attended even today.
On Marco Island, so tells Ellen Kretschmer, O’Shea’s was the hot spot. Shea, still a resident of Marco Island, “threw the best parties. Everyone knew that’s where you went after work to hang out, to meet friends and to drink,” explains Kretschmer.
A huge condo complex now stands where O’Shea’s ruled Marco’s social scene, which has been joined by Delaney’s restaurant, along with the more eclectic Jolly Roger and Snook Inn.
Today, Marco is home to Cathy O’Clarke’s, another Irish venue, replete with authentic beer and food, Jack’s Lookout, whose original Irish owner is Jack Creadon, and many other places where Irish spirit makes the atmosphere welcoming.
The lure of Marco Island wasn’t lost on those who migrated to Collier County, however; more and more people have chosen to live here. Karen Urbanik describes her reaction as “bridge fever.” “When we first came, we brought our semiconductor manufacturing business to Naples. But, we really loved Marco Island, and soon built a house and moved,” Urbanik explains.
She remembers driving up to Naples to go to Irish American Club events. On Marco Island, Urbanik says, she gave St. Patrick’s Day parties all the time and, “Everything was green.” “All of my relatives are Irish,” Urbanik explains, “except my mother was born in America, so technically, I am second-generation American. But, I have lots of relatives in Ireland.” Urbanik has taken her family to visit Ireland, and says her children appreciate and value their Irish heritage.
Kretschmer says that her children, too, feel the strength of their Irish heritage and enjoys family tales, as well as seeing and learning their family history.
Without exception, the Irish-American residents of Marco Island enjoy talking about their travel experiences to the country of their heritage.
Ward recounts his family’s travels from the counties Cork, Tipperary and Galway. He and Michael Joynt, another Irish American Club alumnus, reminisce about things they have done and seen in their pursuit of their Irish heritage, although Joynt cheerfully admits that he’s got hardly any Irish in him. He came to Naples, he says, from an Irish settlement in Northwest Iowa, where some of his family settled.
The Irish American Club of Naples, they recall, had a newspaper. While Ward maintained his business off-island, he lived on Marco and raised his children there. He too, says his children are interested in and appreciate their Irish heritage, as do his grandchildren.
Ward describes the educational programs hosted by the Naples club, but shakes his head when he says that the members who were so enthusiastic are now mostly gone, and those left are older. The younger people don’t seem to want to put in the effort to keep the old traditions and energy alive.
Enter Kathleen Reynolds, who came from County Kildare when she was 17 years old. From the time she first set foot on Marco Island, Reynolds had big dreams of establishing something here for the Irish. She had lots of friends with Irish roots, and knew the Naples club well. Reynolds sought help from as many of the old guard as she could, and about two-and-a-half years ago, established the Sons and Daughters of Erin on Marco Island. The organization now boasts more than 180 members.
“We have pot luck dinners and socials, we do fundraising for things like the Charter School, scholarships, the Y and children’s programs run by Kiwanis and Knights of Columbus,” Reynolds explains.
In February, the Sons and Daughters sponsored a huge dinner dance, complete with local Irish entertainment, young step dancers and naturally, good Irish food and drink. “The turnout was amazing,” says Reynolds.”
While many bemoan the fact that the young people just aren’t interested in things like the Irish-American or Italian-American clubs, the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which was held March 8 on Marco, was chock-full of youthful participants.
Clearly, Marco Island is full of Irish heritage and those who have it in their families — enough that the Sons and Daughters of Erin can look forward, Reynolds says, to a healthy, exciting future of bringing Irish culture, Irish energy and plenty of Irish spirit and fun to Marco Island for a long, long time; longer than it takes to take that long way to Tipperary.
Karen Urbanik’s Irish Party Cake Recipe
One yellow cake mix
Two packages Instant Pudding Pistachio mix
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set aside 1/3 box of pudding for topping. Combine all ingredients and beat well for five minutes or more. Bake in well-greased bundt pan for 45 minutes to one hour.
On the side, or as frosting:
One pint heavy whipping cream
1/3 box pistachio pudding mix
Several drops green food coloring
Combine and whip. Keep cold until serving