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St. Patrick's Day: Dublin ready for a shamrockin' good time

No passport needed to enjoy Tri-Valley's annual Irish celebration

Come shamrock out this weekend to the sounds of bagpipes and traditional Irish pub tunes at Dublin's St. Patrick's Day celebration.

The annual two-day festival at the Dublin Civic Center continues to promise locals an authentic Irish stay-cation since it started 36 years ago, no passport required.

The Tri-Valley's lush emerald green hills make the ideal backdrop for enjoying highlights such as Celtic rock music, corned beef and cabbage and the second-largest St. Patrick's Day parade on the West Coast.

The Green and White Gala at the Shannon Community Center on Friday night will kick things off. During the reception, the Dublin Sister City Association will greet dignitaries from Dublin's sister city, Bray, Ireland. Attendees can look forward to cocktails, a buffet dinner, music, dancing, raffle prizes and silent auctions throughout the evening.

There's something for everyone at the St. Patrick's Day Festival, according to Tegan McLane, city of Dublin cultural arts and heritage manager. "You can come and spend the whole day and have lots of different experiences and keep things different all day," McLane said.

For one of the best (temporary) breakfast deals in town, head to the annual Green Pancake Breakfast at Fire Station No. 16, 7494 Donohue Drive. Dublin's festival is about dancing all day so people can fill up for $5 on homemade green-hued flapjacks, plus eggs, sausage, juice and coffee. Proceeds go to Alameda County Firefighters Association, Local 55 Charity Fund.

Jigging along to musicians playing the sounds of the Emerald Isle on three different stages and fleeting encounters with roaming bagpipers and lucky leprechauns are all part of the weekend fun. The fancy footwork of two Irish dance companies should also keep crowds on their toes through most of the day.

Same goes for the carnival rides and Irish marketplace with 250 vendors selling packaged foods, Celtic jewelry, kilts, and other unique arts and crafts.

After an afternoon of dancing and shopping, the "extensive food court" will be serving up a variety of Celtic cuisine such as Irish potato pancakes, bangers, and fish and chips. Because it's expected to be chilly this year, McLane said people can warm up with a traditional Irish fish stew that will be on sale. Corned beef sliders and cabbage egg rolls offer a fun twist on the usual corned beef and cabbage, which McLane noted is also an Americanized dish.

A pint of Irish beer to wash it down is all but expected, and the Dublin Rotary Club will have several on tap: Guinness, Harp and Smithwick's, plus local wines like Page Mill. Those looking for something non-alcoholic can sip on a cup of hot tea inside the popup Irish Tea Cottage inside the Dublin City Hall lobby, where a small band will play Irish folk songs.

The festivities reach peaks each day with the Dublin Lions Club St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday morning and the Shamrock 5K Fun Run and Walk on Sunday morning.

Bill Burnham, chair of this year's parade, began volunteering in 1984 for the one-mile parade, which he said originally had just a couple dozen entries and is now at maximum capacity.

"As far as the people in the parade, it's all the way up from politicians, novelty groups, horses, floats," Burnham said. "I believe there's probably two or three groups that have been with us all of 30 years. It evolved from 25 entries to 80, and in fact we can't take anymore because we're full."

"The people in the parade itself are close to 2,000 people between all the different groups, the schools, the businesses," he added. "It gets pretty crowded in that street."

The parade has actually maintained a lower profile on purpose for years, even though it draws upwards of 80,000 people at its peak. Burnham said the Lions Club has eschewed handing out competition trophies and ribbons that are a regular part of other parades like the famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

"We have kept our parades small because we want to consider it a good-time parade for the community," Burnham said. "We don't have judges. We don't have all the requirements for a sanctioned parade. We'd rather keep it small-town and have a good time in the parade."

Like the hundreds of other volunteers who make Dublin's biggest event happen every year, Burnham starts working on the parade at least six months in advance because he likes what it does for his community.

"What I really look forward to is the smile on the kids faces, seeing all the horses and the clowns ... the look on people's faces when these entries go by," Burnham said. "The second thing is when it's over, I can relax."

The Dublin St. Patrick's Day Festival runs this Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Dublin Civic Center, 100 Civic Plaza. Admission is free; no dogs allowed (Irish wolfhound rescue groups will be in the parade, for those who need their canine fix).

Attendees are encouraged to walk, bike or take public transit; LAVTA will offer free rides on the Rapid 30 bus to the festival that weekend. For more information, visit dublinstpats.com or call 556-4500.

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