Irish American culture, entertainment and food will fill the Bavarian Gardens at the German American Social Club on March 5 and 6 as the Cape Coral Irish American Club hosts its 7th annual Irish Festival.
Bud Martin, Cape Coral Irish American Club president and festival chairman, said when he took over the festival three years ago, he changed the location to the Bavarian Gardens, which has worked out really well.
"It has been very successful the last couple of years," he said. "It has really taken off because of the location."
Nine-year-old Shelby Morgan Ernst received a $500 scholarship through the Richard D. Mahigan Scholarship Fund that the Cape Coral Irish American Club provides. She will also be performing with the Kellyn Celtic Arts Irish Dance Academy on March 5 at the German American Social Club during the Irish Festival.
The club was founded in 2003 to provide information about the Irish culture to the community through education of Irish history, art, dance, music, poetry, folklore and more. Martin said the festival began seven years ago to help promote the Irish culture to Cape Coral during the two-day event.
Martin said Saturday and Sunday will be full of Irish entertainment, dancers and individuals playing the pipes.
"We have a little bit of everything for people ... if they are young, old and in between," Martin said. "They should have a good time."
Entertainers will include The Screaming Orphans, the Lee County Pipes and Drums, Tommy Barr, Kellyn Celtic Arts Irish Dance Academy, Celtic fiddler Emily Ann Thompson, Kathy and Andreas Durkin, Harry Boyle, West of Galway, Irish Cream and Brian Bonner.
The menu includes such items as corned beef and cabbage, shepherds pie, potato pancakes, sausage and peppers, along with hot dogs for the children.
In addition to food, there will be face painting, games and pony rides for the "young ones," Martin said, adding that they will also educate the children about the Irish culture.
A Sunday morning Catholic mass will begin in the Bavarian Gardens at 11 a.m., with the festival beginning directly after the service is over.
Martin said the club is looking for a nice turnout during the two-day festival. Last year the affair attracted approximately 8,000 people.
"I set a goal of 10,000 people this year," he said. "I hope we do reach that."
He also shared that he is hoping the festival will continue to grow to help educate people about the Irish culture.
Although it is an Irish festival, he said it is open to everyone.
Martin said for the last five years the club has donated money to local charities, along with placing money in the Richard D. Mahigan Scholarship Fund. He said they began the scholarship fund to help children continue their Irish dancing.
"It has been very successful," Martin said.
One of the three scholarship winners this year was awarded to 9-year-old Shelby Morgan Ernst. She said she had to write an essay about the Irish culture, along with what the Irish do to be considered for the scholarship.
Her great aunt, Beverly Wells said Shelby wanted to enter herself for the scholarship because she has never done anything like that before.
"She wanted to see if they would pay attention to a 9-year-old," Wells said. "She did very well."
The $500 scholarship that she received will be used for dancing lessons. Shelby said she also donated some of the money back to the Kellyn Celtic Arts Irish Dance Academy, which is located in Fort Myers and Naples.
"My husband and I are both very proud of her," Nicole said.
She said her daughter wanted to give a small donation back to the school, so children who cannot buy dance shoes can do so with the money.
Nicole explained that her daughter's interest in Irish dancing sparked after she saw river dancing on television. Nicole said after she watched her daughter dance around the house, she decided to look up Irish dance schools in the area.
Shelby began dancing four years ago at the academy and has been involved in many performances over the years.
Wells said Shelby has only missed one performance in the past four years.
"She does just about every performance that the school does," she said.
Nicole said Shelby participated in 15 shows on St. Patrick's Day alone last year on Sanibel, North Fort Myers and Marco Island. She said the day started early and did not end until 11 p.m.
Shelby said she enjoys her teachers at the academy and learning about Irish dancing.
"My dance teachers are the best teachers in the whole wide world," she said. Her instructors are TCRE certified (registered and internationally certified instructors).
Shelby will be dancing in three performances on Saturday - at 12:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Wells said she decided to join the academy with Shelby's mom Nicole less than a year ago because they were just sitting in the lobby when they dropped her off for practice. Now they are both members of the adult troop at the academy.
"We get to perform in some of the shows with her," Wells said, adding that they will also perform on Saturday.