Celebrate St. Pat's Day with authentic Irish music
By Dickson Mercer - Frederick News-Post
The first St. Patrick's Day celebration at Fitzgerald's Shamrock
Restaurant was a small, family gathering in 1963.
Danny Regan, a piano player from West Virginia, Doris Fitzgerald
and four Fitzgerald brothers sat around a green piano, sang songs
and "tilted a few back."
"The next year we invited a few more friends and it grew from there,"
Manager Donna Fitzgerald Demmon said.
In 1975, the five Fitzgerald daughters entered The Shamrock in a
national contest, sponsored by Boyle's Corned Beef Company, for
"Best St. Patrick's Day Party in the Nation." After learning The
Shamrock had won, the daughters surprised their father Mike at
a family gathering with the grand prize -- a trip to Ireland.
The celebration "has gotten a lot longer," Donna said. This year's
11-day party -- boasting live Irish music each night -- started on
Thursday, March 10, and runs through Sunday, March 20.
Planning began in December.
A long time ago, "we started changing this from a drinking party,"
Donna said. "We dwell on the food side.
"In Ireland, it's more of a religious holiday. Most bars are closed.
Only recently have they started celebrating it, which has a lot to
do with Americans going over."
The "completely Irish menu" features Corned Beef and Cabbage,
Baked Irish Pork, Roasted Irish Hen and Ham, Irish Fish and
Chips, Irish Chicken and Crab, Irish Lamb Stew, and Irish
Bourbon Glazed Salmon.
The Leprechaun Dinner comes with a cup of Mulligatawny Soup,
salad, corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, green beans, carrots,
Irish Soda and Buttermilk Bread, and Irish Toffee Custard for
Other desserts include Bailey's Irish Creme Ice Cream, Irish
Grasshopper Pie and Irish Brownie Fudge Pie. And for those
who purchase Irish Coffee or a Nutty Irishman, the complimentary
camp mug is theirs to keep.
On tap is Guinness, Harp, Magner's Irish Cider, Smithwick's,
Murphy's, Bunratty Irish Mead, Kaliber (non-alcoholic beer by
Guinness) and Potcheen (the formerly non-legal potato
whiskey of Ireland).
"We always know we'll be playing (at The Shamrock) every
March 17," Ken Koons said, co-founder of the family band,
The traditional Irish outfit hasn't missed a St. Patrick's Day
gig at The Shamrock since 1988. In fact, Ken's son Ry remembers
helping out in the kitchen before he joined the band.
"When (Ry) was 10 he asked if he could take a look at the tin
whistle," Ken said. Ry, now 17, picked up the instrument
quickly, then mastered the fiddle, squeeze box and bodhran.
Like Ry, the other band members play a variety of instruments,
many of which were handcrafted by Ken.
Ken plays two styles of guitar, tin whistle, bones and bodhran
and the Scottish small pipes. His wife Stephanie plays the
hammered dulcimer, neo-Celtic harp, harmonium and bodhran,
while her brother Mark Yount plays mandolin, octave mandolin
When Ken and Stephanie met, they started playing old-time
American music. "We researched back to see where it came
from," Ken said, and discovered Celtic music. "It's a little
The music -- Irish jigs, Scottish reels, harp tunes, Celtic
ballads -- even the instruments are centuries old, he said.
Hammered dulcimers, for instance, were first brought to
America in the 18th century and "go back to biblical times."
The wooden boxes, shaped like a trapezoid, precede the
"The sounds are very unique. People will stop and stare
because they've never heard it," Ken said.
Growing up in the '60s and '70s, Ken became interested in
emerging rock bands. But as a camp counselor in the Catoctin
area, he discovered bluegrass and mountain music.
Suddenly, "the music on the radio seemed fake. Traditional
music came from the heart. There was no big money
machine behind it."
Wherligig plays a variety of venues in Western Maryland.
They will perform at the Shamrock on St. Patrick's Day from
noon to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m.
"We decided early on we would do it for the love," Ken said.
"We didn't want the music to be a burden. Sometimes we
play a lot, sometimes we don't play at all."
One of Wherligig's original members, John Winship, will
perform on Friday, March 18, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Winship,
an adjunct painting instructor at Gettysburg College, taught
himself the fiddle when he was 21.
He also plays the concertina, also known as the squeeze
box. The instrument, which looks like a small accordion,
has folding bellows with buttons on both ends.
"It was appealing that you could do all this music with one
instrument," Winship said. "The sound is cleaner than with
an accordion ... It has a harmonica kind of sound."
Playing at the Shamrock is "a nice job," he said. "People are
there to eat. It's relaxing. I have to challenge myself to keep
coming up with new tunes to play."
All in the Family
When Doris and Mike Fitzgerald opened the restaurant in 1963,
Donna, at 13, was the oldest of nine brothers and sisters.
Mike dropped his job as a machinist and worked "day and
night at the restaurant" -- hoping to put all of his children
Shortly after Donna became manager in 1971, she traveled to
Ireland to see what Irish pubs look like. The design of the rustic
Blarney Room Lounge, adorned with Irish memorabilia, was
inspired by the excursion.
Donna now travels to Ireland at least once per year. "I love to
teach people about the history," she said.
"When I graduated college, my daddy asked me if I would like
to come run the restaurant with him until I found a job.
"I still haven't found a job."
The Shamrock continues to be run by "a lot of family hands,"
Donna said, whose husband T.J. has bartended for 30 years.
Located on U.S. 15 in Thurmont, 7701 Fitzgerald Road, at the
base of the Catoctin Mountains, the Shamrock packages their
own Irish teas and prepares "real Irish soda bread," which is
available to go.
Wherligig will also perform Saturday, March 19, from 5 to 9 p.m.
On Sunday, March 20, Jerome Lucas, who has lived and worked in
Ireland, will play piano from 1 to 5 p.m.
For more information, go to www.shamrockrestaurant.com; or call
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