The blessing of a beer keg is such serious business at the very Irish celebration of St. Patrick's Day that the only way to do it properly is to pull out some German beer steins — or as the Rev. Larry Hehman calls them, his "keg blessing kit."
Hehman, a retired Roman Catholic priest who is three-quarters German and one-quarter Irish, wore a festive green suit and green fedora. He translated the quotation on one of the elaborately decorated mugs: "He who drinks a lot of beer sleeps well. He who sleeps well does not sin. He or she who does not sin goes straight to heaven."
Then he spoke some words of thanks about St. Patrick and Lexington's Irish community, sprinkled holy water on a brand new cask of Alltech Bourbon Ale and gave a hearty Gaelic "Slainte!" Virtuous beer drinking could begin.
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Hehman said it was a great honor to perform the ceremony, which Alltech has organized for four years in a row. He compares it to blessing a rosary, which in turn blesses all the people who use the rosary, "only this is more fun."
Lexington's St. Patrick's Day-related festivities downtown Saturday started in the morning with the Shamrock Shuffle 3K foot race to benefit Lexington Habitat for Humanity. A St. Patrick's Day parade started around 1 p.m. Hehman's keg blessing kicked off the Irish Festival, which lasted from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the CentrePointe lawn. Festivalgoers enjoyed Irish music, dancing, food and (of course) drink.
Alltech's green beer ran out before 1 p.m. But Alltech, a supplement company that has branched out into beer and bourbon, had plenty else flowing, including their IPA (now sold in cans!).
Brad Hooks and Taylor Lyle snared two mugs of green beer and drank them while wearing colorful kilts, which they proclaimed extremely comfortable.
"I have no idea why these ever went out of style," Lyle joked.
The CentrePointe lot was packed with people, even those under drinking age, as was Main Street, where folks gathered for the parade. Past parades have often been marred by March's cold rain, so Saturday's blustery warm weather was greatly appreciated.
"This is our first time because of the weather — it was never the right weather to bring them," said Megan Harney, who along with her husband, Brandon, brought McKenzie, 5, and two-year-old twins, Blake and Bryce. "We are really enjoying this."
The parade had the usual bagpipe bands and loud motorcycles that make St. Patrick's Day parade so highly audible, but also featured the somewhat different fare of packs of greyhounds, Great Danes, and slightly panicked looking alpacas.
The parade marshal was Chris McCarron, the Hall of Fame jockey who now operates North American Racing Academy in Lexington. Also honored was Shannon Ison, a Lexington firefighter and National Guardsman who earned the Silver Star Medal for rescuing four wounded soldiers from a burning vehicle under fire in Afghanistan in 2008.
Bobby Wilkerson brought his grandchildren, Jadyn, 8 and Braxton, 3 down to the parade. He comes every year, but he said Saturday's weather had made the parade "bigger and better."