Kelly Smith is dancing a jig about being named Irish Rose, but it’s hardly the first time she has high-stepped for the Emerald Isle.
The 28-year-old Onalaska lass became involved with the Greater La Crosse Area Shamrock Club when she was 12, clambering onto the bus for the annual St. Patrick’s Day tour and entertaining folks at the stops along the way with her Irish dancing.
The Irish Man, 65-year-old John Harrington, also wears his heritage on his sleeve, and lapel and — most of all — on his restaurant/bar in Fountain City. Harrington and his wife, Lori, rechristened the spot as The Monarch Public House when they bought The Monarch Tavern in 1995.
Smith and Harrington were honored as the Irish Rose and Irish Man during the Shamrock Club’s annual dinner/dance Saturday night at the Radisson Hotel Ballroom.
Smith is the first second-generation Irish Rose for the club, following in the footsteps of her mother, Pam, who was Rose in 2010, following the trail Kelly’s dad, Rod, blazed as Irish Man in 2008. The Logan High School grad’s dancing on the bus tour brought her parents under the shamrock’s shadow.
“I have always enjoyed the bus tour,” Kelly said. “The members were always so kind and took me under their wings when I was young.”
However, she confesses that she isn’t a purebred, because the family recently learned that Rod has a bit of Scandinavian and Greek blood comingled with the green in his veins, while Pam’s heritage is a mixture of German, Norwegian and English, with perhaps a bit of Irish.
“I can see why I like Scandinavian music now, but not the Greek,” Kelly mused.
“I like promoting the Irish culture,” said Kelly, who is assistant manager at Rogan’s Shoes in Onalaska.
Along those lines, Kelly revels in teaching Irish dance part time to the 8- to 10-year-old leprechauns at Amanda’s Academy of Dance in La Crosse.
“I like seeing the little kids advance — how much they learn and how much they enjoy it,” she said.
The Irish heritage is more multi-dimensional than people often acknowledge, she said.
“In the Irish culture, we like to have a good time, but it’s not all about the drinking. It’s getting together and having fun. Families are very involved — it’s just one big happy family,” Kelly said.
Harrington seconds that emotion, noting that he eschews green beer during the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at The Monarch, spanning the traditional dates of March 14-18.
“Green beer is for the kids,” he said. “If you think St. Patrick’s Day is just about getting drunk and rolling around and acting like that, you’re in the wrong place.”
The kick-off on the 14th is known as “The Gathering,” including a priest’s blessing, Harrington said, while the closing on the 18th features Gaelic dancers and another blessing. Sandwiched in between, of course, is Irish revelry and food.
“It’s mostly about recalling the blessings of the year — who was born, who died, what achievements have been made,” said Harrington, whose own achievements before The Monarch have included being a longtime entrepreneur in the communication and health/safety fields after a career in the financial market.
Harrington, a history aficionado who has visited Ireland several times, said, “I’m Irish-American or American-Irish. I wasn’t born in Ireland.
“My great-greats settled in Shullsburg (Wis.) in the 1850s and were miners. They were called Badgers, hence the name Badger State,” he said, slipping into the Irish brogue that often punctuates his pattern of speech.
The Monarch, which the Harringtons have expanded and remodeled and added more Irish flare with shamrocks and greenery and a huge dragon, features Irish fare from recipes handed down from his great-grandmother, Delores Casey.
“It was my blessing and her curse to grow up next to her,” he said, recalling her frequent admonition: “Get out of my potaters!”
Asked what his favorite dishes on the menu are, Harrington said, “For the American-Irish, corned beef and cabbage. For the true Irish, bangers and mash.”
Irish influences in U.S. history run deep, he said, noting that 17 presidents, including President Barack Obama, have Irish blood lines, he said.
“The Irish have contributed to every facet of the development of America,” Harrington said.
Is it any wonder that the number of Americans claiming Irish lineage around St. Patrick’s Day multiplies exponentially when St. Patrick’s Day dawns?