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St. Paddy’s Day at Shell Factory biggest yet

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Mar 24, 2021

Savanna Stone, left, does an Irish dance with Jennifer Blackburn at the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the Shell Factory on Wednesday. CHUCK BALLARO


One year after holding one of the most cautious St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as the COVID-19 pandemic started gearing up, the Shell Factory held what could be considered one of the most successful.

Thousands came throughout the day for a celebration full of music, good food, lots of beer and dancing.

Shell Factory owner Pam Cronin said the difference between the two was night and day, especially the feel of the event.

“Last year we weren’t sure whether to hold it. There was a solemn atmosphere. This year, everyone is feeling great about the COVID shot and are ready to get out,” Cronin said. “They’re still staying in their own groups, and we’re again supporting the Nature Park Foundation, raising funds for the animals.”

That was done by holding a reverse raffle (the last ticket drawn wins) and a Pot of Gold raffle, which were expected to raise more than $5,000 for the foundation. Those who purchased reverse raffle tickets were allowed into Tommy’s and the VIP section.

“It’s the biggest fundraiser for the nature park, feeding all the exotic animals and having the children and adults watch and look at them,” said Jackie Weir, a foundation supporter. “Me and my friends have always supported it and love what Pam has done for the Shell Factory and what Tommy did when he was alive.”

Among the entertainment were Irish dancers and bagpipers, Jennifer Blackburn, 20, and Savanna Stone, 18, came from the Irish Dance Academy of Sarasota for one of a half-dozen performances they would do throughout the area today.

“I started in ballet at age 3 and the place I danced at had an Irish dancer and I wanted to do that,” Blackburn said, who has gone worldwide to compete in Irish dance. “It’s the biggest holiday our dancers have.”

“I started in hip-hop when I was 10 and my mother said she wanted me to do this,” said Stone, who goes to North Port High School.

Mike Harris, with Lee County Pipe & Drum, came with two others to perform with a much smaller pipe corps, since there are in such demand on this day.

Harris said the bagpipes are among the most difficult instruments to play.

“You have to build up your lungs and then you have to memorize everything. If you don’t have the lung capacity, you can just stand around and drink,” Harris said.

Many people came from all over for the event. Ingrid Divincenco and her husband, Rich, only had to come from Cape Coral, but they make sure they make it to most of the Shell Factory’s main events, such as Gumbofest.

“I like celebrating the big events here. We had the corned beef and cabbage and it was really good,” Divincenco said. “We always try to find things to do.”

Some come from much further. Aviana Bishop and her friend, Evie Maltby, both 15, came with their families from Minnesota for spring break.

“I love the weather and the music. People are having fun so it’s a good time to be here. In Minnesota, it’s 30 degrees and snowing,” Bishop said. “All our families are together.”

“It’s great that everybody in the community come together and enjoy themselves and not care. It’s cool we can come together and celebrate,” Bishop said.