LEWISTON – It may be called the Franco-American Heritage Center, and its roots may be French, but everyone who turned out for the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration was Irish Tuesday evening.

The patron saint of Ireland would have been proud of the more than 120 people who donned green shirts, pants, hats, beads – the works – for the second annual dinner and concert at the Lewiston arts center that was formerly St. Mary’s Church.

“My favorite part is the food,” said George Gionet, 74, of Hanover. “The food. The music. It’s traditional.”

Raised in Lewiston, Gionet said the event reminded him of his boyhood days when the Catholic school he attended would hold an annual St. Patrick’s Day event. Also, having a grandmother who came straight from Ireland and even spoke Gaelic, the Irish language, Gionet said the holiday was always something special.

Patrons were treated to a traditional Irish feast of corned beef, cabbage, turnips, carrots and potatoes prepared by Rolly’s Dinner in New Auburn. Following the meal, the audience was treated to traditional Irish dancing by Gwendolyn Cremers, 21, a sophomore at Bates College who hails from County Cork, Ireland, and her dancing partner, Neil James, 30, of Auburn.

The couple was just a warm-up as participants moved from the basement hall to the performance center upstairs where Grammy award-winning artist Paul Sullivan took the stage to play his grand piano. Originally from Blue Hill, Sullivan has played all over the world and released 14 CDs as both a soloist and a member of the Paul Winter Consort. He was joined on stage Tuesday by 13-year-old Rosie Upton, a singer from Orland.

“The importance of events like this is beautifully illustrated by what’s going on downstairs,” Sullivan said as he prepared to take the stage. “It’s a perfect example of one of the things I value, which is community.”

That sense of community and culture is exactly what staff and volunteers at the Franco-American Heritage Center wanted the audience to discover in the theme event – one of several signature events held throughout the year at the arts center.

Richard Martin, program director for the center, considers events such as Tuesday’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration and next week’s Medieval Feast a special niche the center hopes to fill.

“This is a great way to get to know our heritage and to get to know our wonderful building and all we have to offer,” said Lou Jordan, volunteer coordinator for the center.

Volunteer Connie Chicoine said, “It’s very rewarding. (Volunteering at the center) helps broaden my horizons to different cultural activities.”

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