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A bit of the Emerald Isle in the Statler

The Buffalo Irish Festival continued Saturday in the historic Statler Towers, offering an eclectic mix of old country culture, classical architecture and some zany tunes.

Upon entering the lobby of the iconic downtown Buffalo hotel, visitors were greeted with the sounds and smells of a classic Irish pub. Guinness and Smithwicks were being served and bagpipers from the Erie County Sheriff's Office filled the air with their music.

In one of the Statler's ballrooms, local youngsters tried their best at Riverdance-type folk dances while onlookers chowed down on corned beef and cabbage, shepherd's pie and Irish lamb stew. It had the feel of a St. Patrick's Day party, with the number of green shirts and Notre Dame logos.

Up on the second floor, Markquis Owens and Margaret McGrath were teaching classes in the Irish language. It's an archaic language, but has been preserved in parts of Ireland, and McGrath still teaches conversational Irish locally at the Buffalo Irish Center on Abbott Road in South Buffalo.

"Really, it's still there in the west of Ireland, because when the English invaded, they never went up into the mountains because that's where the greatest resistance was," Owens said.

The Gaelic language has some Anglicized words -- whisky, for example, is "uisce beatha" in Irish, or literally, "water of life."

It wasn't whisky for Craig Nichols of Clarence, but rather a simple Guinness, as he waited with his daughter in the Statler lobby while his wife and mother-in-law went shopping in the South Ballroom -- which was, incidently, the only air-conditioned room in the otherwise steamy 110-year-old building.

"We used to go years ago, every year really, but hadn't been here to the Irish festival recently," Nichols said. "This year, though, we really had to get out and see what the Statler was like."

Indeed, the venue was the main attraction for many of the visitors. The enormous glass chandeliers were in full glory as were the intricate moldings. Some visitors took their beers and wandered around to obscure corners of the building still undergoing renovation.

Kevin Townsell, a festival organizer, said it was always his intention to get the festival away from the county fairgrounds in Hamburg and back to downtown Buffalo. He had nearly locked up Canalside as the venue but a scheduling conflict kept that from happening.

"We may do it at Canalside next year; we're talking about it already," Townsell said. "Everybody really likes this venue, but we're missing something having it inside instead of outside, given that it's such a beautiful day in late August."

The festival began Friday, and continues today with a 10 a.m. Sunday Mass at the Statler. The festival ends at 9 p.m. tonight. Adult admission is $10.

email: kbargnes@buffnews.com