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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Sandwich South Heritage Centre celebrates St. Patrick’s Day

by Kyle Reid

The recently opened Sandwich South Heritage Centre hosted a St. Patrick’s Day celebration to acknowledge Oldcastle’s and Maidstone’s Irish roots on Saturday.

There was a fine turnout for the event as around 15 individuals listened to presentations from local amateur historians Tim Maguire and Rosemary Halford. The two speakers have roots dating back to the first Irish settlers in Oldcastle and Maidstone.

Both families were farmers who settled in the area and grew crops of oats, rye, and potatoes. They also raised lamb as livestock. In Maguire’s case, his family settled in the area in the 1820s, taking advantage of land Colonel Thomas Talbot distributed. After the land was provided, they could clear the area for farming within a year of settling.

In fact, Oldcastle was named after Talbot’s hometown of Oldcastle, Ireland. It’s the simple reason for Saturday’s celebration of Irish heritage, Wendy Pulleyblank-Cunningham said, who is the Chairperson of the Olde Sandwich South and Area Historical Society.

“The community is an Irish settlement, so we thought we’d celebrate our Irish roots,” she said. “We’re twinned with Oldcastle, and we just celebrated twenty years of twinning.”

In fact, the Historical Society has regularly organized exchange programs with residents from their twin town in Ireland.

“Twenty years ago, we went over there and visited Oldcastle,” Pulleyblank-Cunningham said. “We’ve been going back and forth ever since.”

While the St. Patrick’s Day celebration may have been a weekend late, Pulleyblank-Cunningham said the group was hoping they would get a better turnout this weekend after people had returned from March break trips. Those who attended the event were treated to stories, decorations, and artifact displays celebrating the area’s Irish heritage.

Maguire demonstrated the difference between a walking stick and a shillelagh, the latter of which was used to herd cattle. Some mementos and donations from the twinning of the two Oldcastle areas were also on display. This included a bronze statue of a man and woman in Ireland stoking a fire with peat to cook their supper.

This is the first time that the Historical Society has hosted the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The Sandwich South Heritage Centre just opened last fall, providing a place for the Historical Society to display historical artifacts which hadn’t seen the light of day in decades.

Of course, given the success of the event, Pulleyblank-Cunningham said it is hoped the event will be an annual tradition. She’s hoping that it will become one of many events at the new centre this year.

“It took us a long time just to get everything in and organized into the new centre,” Pulleyblank-Cunningham said. “Now we’re kind of taking a breather and trying to organize some more events to get people involved.”

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