Irish influence extends to festival, inns, pubs

If I had the time to take a class just for the fun of it this summer, I’d learn how to play the tin whistle and pretend I was Mary Bergin.

That’s what happens when you Google yourself. There’s another one of me who is an accomplished tin whistle musician in Ireland, and the country has been on my mind lately because The Guy and I intend to visit it soon.

It’s been easy to get into an “Erin go braugh” mood, especially during this time of year in Wisconsin. Milwaukee’s Irish Fest, the world’s largest showcase of Irish music and culture, is less than a month away.

One prelude to the Aug. 19-22 event, held on the city’s lakefront festival grounds, is the Irish Fest Summer School at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That’s four days of classes on everything from Aran knitting and step dancing to genealogy and, yes, the tin whistle.

There are sessions for children as well as adults. There are talks about Irish history and traditions, harp to hooley. Teachers will include a high-level Ireland government official.

Five days of classes, which will keep you occupied from as long as 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., cost $400 per adult. There are discounts for children and when families participate. Lodging and meals are extra.

For more about the Aug. 15-20 summer school, which begins with a Sunday night reception, go to www.irishfest.com or call (414) 476-7712. Registration deadline is Aug. 2.

Alan Pape loves Ireland, even though he is 100 percent German. Although he’s been to the country of shamrocks seven times, “I think I’ve only seen about 20 percent of what’s there.”

Alan has helped arrange more than 5,000 trips to Ireland since 1999, when Rip and Christine O’Dwanny began to offer weeklong stays at their Castledaly Manor, an estate that is more than 220 years old. It is on 37 acres between Dublin and Galway in Ireland.

The O’Dwannys and their son Sean also operate a handful of highly regarded Irish inns in Wisconsin. Rip is the third generation of his family to live in this state; Alan notes that although the Irish “settled all over Wisconsin, there are no large (geographical) clusters of them that I can point to.”

It is typical for the O’Dwanny inns to replicate the atmosphere and traditions of their ancestry. Irish comfort foods are a part of their restaurant menus, Irish beers are on tap in their pubs, and live Irish music sometimes is performed. The décor tends to be big on stained glass windows and imported, handcrafted woodwork.

Their newest property is St. Brendan’s Inn, a 28-room facility that opened in spring in downtown Green Bay. Live Irish music is scheduled several times a month. There are contemporary amenities, such as Internet access. For more, call (920) 884-8484.

The family’s best known inn is the County Clare, in downtown Milwaukee, where Irish Root Soup is a specialty. Irish music, several times a week, will resume in fall. For more, call (888) 942-5273.

Two other inns, in more rural areas, are 52 Stafford in Plymouth, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the state’s longest continuously operating hotel, and the Rochester Inn in Sheboygan Falls, a two-story Greek revival building from 1848.

The 52 Stafford has an Irish session – a jam session of Irish music – from 7:30-10:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Most of its 19 guest rooms – which are tributes to Irish poets, saints and patriots – have whirlpools. For more, call (800) 421-4667.

The Rochester Inn is known for its roomy and upscale accommodations; there are only six choices but they are suites that are as large as 600 square feet. An in-room breakfast is served, but there is no pub or restaurant on the premises. For more, call (866) 467-3122.

For more about the O’Dwanny properties, go to www.classicinnsofwisconsin.com. The website even has a few Irish recipes, such as Irish Pork with Potato Stuffing and – as both a nightcap and for the sweet tooth – Strawberry and Bailey’s Fool.

To find out more about year-round tours to Ireland and the Castleday Manor, call Harp & Eagle Ltd. at (414) 290-6101. Airfare, lodging for seven nights and Irish breakfasts total $975 per person in September and October, based on double occupancy.

Want to venture a bit farther away but keep the Celtic spirit alive? One option is The Irish Cottage and Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub, Galena, Ill., which opened about a year ago.

Craftsmen in Ireland did the woodwork for the pub, lobby, library and breakfast room. Then it all was shipped across the ocean and reassembled in Galena.

It’s a 77-room inn, with extensive amenities that include a day spa, fitness center and gift shop. Irish dancers perform at least a couple of times per week.

For more about this Irish lodge, which was built by Irish cousins, go to www.theirishcottage.com or call (866) 284-7474.