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Gaggles in Green

An evening of Irish stories kicks off a month of Hibernian happenings in Tucson

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A woman, name of Barbara Moody, lives in Tombstone, drives all the way to Tucson to tell a story about her uncle--no, wait, to tell a story about her neighbor's uncle.

Wait, that's not a story; that's the truth, Steven Dunn says, at least the part about Barbara Moody coming to Tucson to tell a tale. Who knows about the uncle?

"That's the Irish for you," says Dunn, organizer of this Saturday's inaugural Irish Storytelling, the event that kicks off a month of Hibernian happenings in Tucson. "It's humor. Irish stories have a little bit of truth."

Take Tim Prendiville's tale about how he sang "Danny Boy" with JFK.

"I was a priest in Newport, Rhode Island," the Irishman begins, speaking by phone. This was long before the Kerryman moved to Tucson. It seems Father Prendiville had helped open a new youth center, and Jacqueline Kennedy, a famous Newport resident, and her husband were invited to the gala.

"This was in 1960, and Jack Kennedy was running for president," Prendiville continues. "He sat next to me at dinner, and he told me about his grandparents from Wexford. He stood up to speak, and said, 'I was talking with Tim Prendiville. My grandparents' favorite song was "Oh Danny Boy."' He dared me to come up and sing the third verse. Nobody knows the third verse. But I got up, and we sang all three verses together."

Prendiville and Moody will be among the storytellers spinning yarns Saturday at Old Town Artisans, a historic location not far, Dunn says, from where Irishman Hugo O'Conor (born Hugh O'Connor) founded Tucson and its presidio in 1775. Stories and poetry recitations will be interspersed with live music courtesy of Jamie O'Brien. The event will run from 5 to 7 p.m., early enough to give audience members time to get to the 8 p.m. concert by the Irish band Beoga.

Dunn, who's got McDougals and Mollahans in his genealogy, says he was pondering new ways to raise money for the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival. He was inspired by the Odyssey Storytelling sessions at Hotel Congress, where he manages the Cup Café.

"We'll put an Irish twist on it," he says.

That should be easy enough to do. Storytelling and recitation, Prendiville says, are "part of Irish culture. I grew up with that stuff." He'll recite lines from memory of the schoolboy poem "The Croppy Boy," about a rebel Irish lad who stops to go to confession on his way to battle, and instead of a priest finds an English soldier.

But Prendiville also wants to tell me the tale of his grandfather, Michael Bill Prendiville, who ran with the rebel Moonlighters by night, fighting the claims of the English to Irish land. For the full version, check out Irish Storytelling, 5 to 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28, Old Town Artisans, 201 N. Court Ave. Admission is $5, benefiting the Tucson St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee. La Cocina Restaurant will be open for dinner; 622-0351.

Beoga, a five-piece band hailing from County Antrim, opens its first-ever Tucson gig an hour after the storytellers go quiet. According to Don Gest, indefatigable promoter of Irish music in Tucson, Beoga is the Irish word for "lively." (For more, see Rhythm & Views, in this issue.) The dancers of Tucson's Tir Conaill Academy of Irish Dance will leap onstage to provide seasonal step-dancing and soft-shoe; 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28, Berger Performing Arts Center, Arizona Schools for the Deaf and Blind, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Advance tickets are $20 with discounts, available at inconcerttucson.com, Antigone Books and the Folk Shop; $3 more at the door. Info 981-1475; sales (800) 595-4849.

On Tuesday, March 3, "We're bringing Hugo O'Conor back to Tucson," says painter Cliff Brown. In downtown's Rocket Gallery, Brown will install his portrait of the soldier, based on Brian Donahue's bronze sculpture, erected in front of Tucson's Manning House a half-dozen years ago. Throughout the month, Brown and fellow painter Chris Wyatt will also do art demos, creating a "full-size mural on the wall. People can come in and learn about Celtic history, learn about Hugo." A native of New Jersey, Brown is a Tucsonan, but for five years, he lived in Northern Ireland. Bringing Hugo O'Conor Home, Tuesday, March 3, through Saturday, March 28, Rocket Gallery, 270 E. Congress St. Live mural-painting all month, seven days a week; call (517) 980-0481 for hours; free.

Tucson chefs face off against home cooks in the first Irish Stew Cook-Off, another event dreamed up by Dunn. Chefs from Acacia, the Cup Café, Pastiche and Feast, along with their amateur opponents, simmer up corned beef, Irish stew and soda bread, and whip up assorted desserts. The public gets to sample and vote. The cook-off runs from 2 to 5 p.m., Sunday, March 8, at Maynards Market Patio, 400 N. Toole Ave., in the Historic Train Depot. The $10 admission benefits the Tucson St. Patrick's Parade Committee.

The saint himself will take to the streets downtown on Sunday, March 15, in the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival. The 11 a.m. parade, with the eminently suitable theme of "Wearin' o' the Green," starts and ends at Armory Park, Sixth Avenue and 12th Street. Todd Hanley is this year's grand marshal; the festival goes from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Armory Park. The festival costs $2, but the parade is free.

A post-parade hooley--survivors' party--begins at 5 p.m. at Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., 622-8848. Over at The Auld Dubliner, 800 E. University Blvd., the celebration also unfurls on Sunday, March 15, with live bands playing from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. That's right: from six o'clock in the morning Sunday until two in the morning Monday; 206-0323.

St. Patrick's Day Mass provides an antidote to the month's unholy revelry, on the feast day itself, Tuesday, March 17, at Our Mother of Sorrows Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road. The busy dancers of Tir Conaill do their stepping in front of the altar at 8 a.m., and Monsignor Thomas Cahalane, a Cork man known for the day as Tomas o Cathalain, celebrates Mass at 8:30. Teri Kennedy sings; 747-1321.

Five days later, the Irish band Gráda glides into town for one final Celtic fiesta. At 7 p.m., Sunday, March 22, at the Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theater, 330 S. Scott Ave., the multinational quintet delivers a concert of Irish traditional music, along with original compositions. Only 90 tickets are available: $20 in advance, with discounts, at Antigone Books, the Folk Shop and online at inconcerttucson.com; $25 at the door, if any are left.

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