Douglas – The steel frame barn on Preston and Terry Cull’s second farm on the Rice Line is bright red, but last Friday the interior was turned into a sea of green as some 200 invited guests celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with music, laughter and good old-fashioned fun.
Since the closing of the Douglas Tavern in 2021, the Culls have worked hard to keep the strong Irish heritage of Douglas and the wider community alive by holding a celebration at the farm they purchased from the late Basil Wren two years ago.
The building is very well suited for celebrations and the Culls have also hosted card tournaments for local charities and causes as well as other events.
The surprise of the day was a visit by the Irish Ambassador to Canada and his wife, Dr. Eamon and Mary -McKee. The couple drove up from Ottawa and while they had planned a short visit they ended up staying several hours as they too got caught up in the celebrations.
It was their second visit to Douglas in three years, the first one being in 2021 when they made a special visit to the Tavern to honour Terry and Evelyn McHale and family for all they had done over their 50 years of ownership of the popular venue to keep the Irish heritage alive.
The couple enjoyed mingling with the guests and many took advantage of the occasion to pose with them.
Friday’s party also saw the return of another St. Patrick’s Day custom – the selling by auction of Terry McHale’s green Irish hat which was auctioned off every year during celebrations at the Douglas Tavern, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hospice Renfrew and Renfrew Victoria Hospital (RVH).
Mr. McHale, who is currently a patient in RVH, was treated to a personal concert on the 17th by the well-known Valley musician and fiddler, Kyle Felhaver, who visited his room and played several Irish tunes. Of course, Mr. McHale wore a felt Irish hat for the occasion and the hat made it to the Culls party where his family offered to sell it by auction, the same that had been done at the tavern for almost 50 years.
The bidding was intense and when the final bid was called, it sold for $2,500 to Ray and Barb Pilon, o owners of Canadian Tire Pembroke and residents of Bonnechere Valley and Manotick. Something new this year was selling by auction the fiddle bow used by Mr. Felhaver and it sold for $300 to Jim McHale of Douglas. It wasn’t until after he made the purchase he realized it was a fiddle bow and not a bow tie so now his family is planning to buy him a fiddle and one year of lessons at the Irish Traditional Fiddle School in Dublin.
Chris Olmstead of Olmstead’s Home Hardware in Cobden donated a cooler for the impromptu auction which sold for $750.
“And then there was an anonymous donation of $500,” he said. “We chose Hospice Renfrew as the beneficiary.”
“It was an overwhelming party,” Mr. Cull said. “It was a surprise to have the ambassador and his wife join us. They got an invite but didn’t respond because they never know their schedule.”
Due to the limited space, attendance was by invitation. The Culls would love nothing more than open it to the public, but it isn’t possible and so they try their best to include their friends and people who have supported the St. Patrick’s parade which the Culls were an integral part of the planning committee for nine years.
When Douglas hosted the yearly parade for nine consecutive years, it was a custom to choose a parade marshall and an individual to play the role of St. Patrick for the duration of the celebrations. Jim McHale donned the garb this year and was kept busy bestowing Irish blessings to all and hearing the odd confession … which became more interesting as the day wore on.
“A lot of things we did were just off the cuff,” Mr. Cull said.