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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Irish Eyes A' Smiling At St. Patrick's Ball

Belting out traditional Irish songs and downing everything from Irish whiskey to Bailey's Irish Creme, more than 400 bow-tied and evening-gowned expatriates -- mainly American, British and Irish -- turned out for the fourth annual Emerald Ball on Friday.


The $125 a plate dinner-dance at the Renaissance Hotel, the main annual fund-raising event for the Irish Orphanage Committee, raised more than $65,000 for Moscow's Orphanage No. 24.


"This is the highlight of the year," said Irish expatriate Danny McLaughlin, a member of the orphanage committee. As the evening's unofficial emcee, besides kissing cheeks and directing inebriated guests, the talkative McLaughlin spent the boisterous evening persuading guests to purchase raffle tickets.


"Last October we had the Halloween Ball, and during the year we have pub quizzes," said McLaughlin. "But this is our biggest fund-raising event of the year."


"It's one big party weekend," said Irish expatriate Charlie Donovan, manager of the Shamrock Bar. "I wasn't even directly involved [in organizing the Emerald Ball], and I got about 15 calls today," he said.


Donovan, who said he began partying and singing with his customers at his own bar the night before, said he looks forward to St. Patrick's Day each year, treating it as an opportunity to toot his Irish horn.


"Of course I want to show off that I'm Irish," he said. "I feel more Irish abroad. In Ireland I never had a celebration like this."


Besides drinking green-colored champagne and eating green-and-white desserts, guests were entertained by Skappa Flow, an Irish band flown in for the weekend that played traditional Irish folk songs, and a Russian rock band that played sing-along oldies.


Children from the orphanage, dressed in Russian folk costumes, also got in on the fun, singing Russian folk tunes for the crowd. Later in the evening, an auctioneer took bids on donated items, including an oversized stuffed teddy bear and a trip for four to the Caribbean.


But by far the main event of the evening, in the honored Irish tradition, was drinking. From red and white wines to Irish whiskey, guests clinked and toasted, guzzled and slurped, starting off a weekend of alcoholic and nonalcoholic St. Patrick's Day activities, including a 20-float parade and discounted drinks at many of the city's bars and pubs.


Even Ronan Murphy, the cheery Irish ambassador to Russia, let loose and boogied on the dance floor with some his compatriots after giving a short, dignified speech.


"This ball shows Moscow that the Irish can still throw a good party," said Murphy, who recalled his days as a consul-general in Chicago in the late '70s, where he had to "get in shape" for an entire week of St. Patrick's Day events.


According to the other member of the Irish Orphanage Committee, Mary Lyons, much of the money raised at the ball will go to help the orphanage implement a "life skills" program, which will teach the teenagers everything from job hunting to interviewing skills.


"We brought in hairdressers to teach them grooming skills and businessmen to talk about their jobs," said Lyons, who volunteers at the orphanage. She said the committee is seeking foreign companies willing to employ some of the older teenagers as interns.


Ironically, St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is typically a subdued and religious holiday, many of the Irish guests pointed out.


"St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is a pretty boring holiday -- it means more to the Irish abroad," said Irish native Carl Walsh, who hoped his holiday weekend in Moscow would be a lot wilder.


Brendon Maher, manager of the bar Sally O'Brien's, had no doubts that his would. "Last year was really wild," said Maher. "I got drunk and I worked, and I got drunk and I worked. It was great."