Land of leprechaun crosses the pond |

Land of leprechaun crosses the pond

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily TribuneStoryteller Mary McGrath tells an Irish tale of a leprechaun who tricks a farmer at a St. Patrick's Day program of Irish songs and stories presented by the Tahoe Tallac Association at Valhalla Sunday.

It could have been the way she told a story, or the way he played a piano, or the 50-cent popcorn. Whatever it was, the 60 or so gathered at Valhalla all shared delight in Irish music and storytelling a day before St. Patrick’s Day.

The first winter event at the now-heated Valhalla centered on Mary McGrath and Robin Aurelius. The Sacramento storytelling duo dazzled listeners with Irish tales including a priest with a beard full of bees, a cursed king with horse’s ears and an Irishman deceived by a leprechaun in a pot of gold hunt.

Wee ones munched on popcorn while adults sang along. McGrath, a storytelling teacher at Sacramento City College, contorted her face to match the story’s tone.

“I think we’ve gotten away from St. Patrick’s Day being a family affair,” said Alice Kain, director of cultural events for Tahoe Tallac Association, sponsor of the event. Kain was contacted by McGrath and Aurelius three weeks ago about doing a show.

Aided by Aurelius’ background music, McGrath dove into a story of King Labraidh Loinseach having a widow’s curse upon him after kicking a horse. The king sprouted horse’s ears as a result and only his barber knew the secret.

The widow’s son, who later became the king’s barber, told the secret to a willow tree. A harp was soon made from the tree and when played, the instrument began telling the secret and word spread.

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Even though people were shocked, they kept their king.

Like most stories, this one had a lesson.

“Nobody is perfect,” McGrath said, shoulders covered by a green shawl. “Not even the king, who kept his ears comber and clean.”

As McGrath spun her tales, 8-year-old Harley Wells watched intently from the front row. Harley nodded in affirmation when McGrath said leprechauns are tricky and danced a jig at the end.

A five-time visitor to Ireland, Emmet Freeman, 10, said he enjoys St. Patrick’s Day because he fields questions from friends about the land. He left before the dancing commenced so his mother could begin cooking corned beef and cabbage.

Art McAlice arrived late with Nora Fiamengo. McAlice was tickled at seeing children on the edge of their seats during storytelling. One child stood in the center aisle to hear better.

“On St. Patrick’s Day everyone seems to be Irish and have a good time,” he said before leaving for St. Theresa Catholic Church for some traditional Irish grub.

At the American Legion Post 795, Joanne Shope helped serve 25 pounds of red potatoes and baby carrots along with 57 pounds of corned beef for about 40 dinners.

Carol Olivas said a trick for having the cabbage go down successfully is a spoonful of sugar. Her husband, Clarence, who served in World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, sat across the table talking about his family from England. Talk of past wars ensued.

“It’s like Thanksgiving dinner,” Carol Olivas said. “You only have (corned beef and cabbage) once a year.”

— E-mail William Ferchland at