'Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!' (Happy St. Patrick's Day!)
Irish flags and Celtic sayings festooned Avalon Manor as Northwest Indiana's Friendly Sons of Erin gathered to celebrate the patron saint of the Ol' Sod on Friday evening at the 50th annual St. Patrick's Day Observance.
Some 350 Irish-American men, wearing shades of green, filled the banquet center, and name tags with such monikers as Fitzgerald, Murphy, Doyle, O'Neill, Scanlon and McShane were proudly worn by members of one of the area's oldest Irish associations. The Friendly Sons of Erin, which promotes Irish culture, draws members from Northwest Indiana and Illinois.
"For 364 days out of the year, we're American. One day a year we're Irish," said Ted Fitzgerald, who was named the 2009 Joseph P. Radigan Award recipient. A graduate of Notre Dame, Fitzgerald has practiced law for more than 47 years and is Hebron's town attorney.
Fitzgerald was honored for "his compassionate love, Irish wit and legalistic humor as well as his true dedication to God, country, family, and do not ever forget, Our Lady, Notre Dame," according to the program.
A 50-year member of the Friendly Sons of Erin, Terrence Burns was posthumously given the 2009 Shillelagh Award for his dedication to the community as a longtime funeral director with Burns Funeral Home & Crematory in Crown Point.
Burns, 69, died Feb. 22. The patriarch of the funeral home, he was given the Radigan Award in 2005.
Each year, the group also presents a charitable memorial award. Catholic Charities received the 2009 Sons of Erin Award.
Established in 1937 the nonprofit Catholic Charities serves the Diocese of Gary's four counties as a social service agency to help people living in Lake, Porter, LaPorte and Starke counties.
Although St. Patrick's Day usually occurs during the Lenten season, Fitzgerald said Bishop Dale Melczek provides a dispensation so the group can enjoy a meal of corned beef, cabbage and boiled potatoes and carrots on a Friday night.
"We're asked to do a meaningful penance to compensate," Fitzgerald said.
In addition to the awards, the evening included Irish-themed entertainment. Garbed in traditional Irish dresses, a dance troupe performed during the celebration. Irish dancing descended directly from sean-nós ("old style") step-dancing. Pipers and a traditional Irish band also provided music for the event.
The Friendly Sons of Erin originated in 1959 after a political rally in Gary, said Bob Doyle of Schererville, the last member of the founding committee.
"George Charcharis was a candidate for mayor in the primary that year. We sent out 100 invitations and 99 men showed up. Typical Irish. It was free," Doyle said with a chuckle.
"We said 'If we can get 99 guys to come out for Charcharis, what can we do for St. Patrick?'" he said. "And the Friendly Sons of Erin was born."