Arts & Culture
Connecticut’s cultural riches can be found in its buildings and institutions, but also in its people. This spring, come celebrate the Irish, who have made the state their own these past 150 years. Or visit the homes of some of our most celebrated, and creative, artistic geniuses.
A Taste of Ireland
It’s not clear exactly when the Irish took over the month of March, but now that ownership seems to be extending into the entirety of spring. And as it does, it makes sense to get out and celebrate what has become one of Connecticut’s dominant cultures. The centerpiece, of course, is St. Patrick’s Day, but that’s just for starters. A true Irish education includes a full slate of sights and sounds.
Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum. Before the celebrations begin, be sure to visit Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Hamden. The museum, a part of Quinnipiac University, is home to the world’s largest collection of visual art, artifacts and printed materials relating to the starvation and forced emigration that occurred in Ireland, mostly during the 1840s. Since most of those leaving Ireland at that time ended up in the United States, and brought their traditions with them, it is appropriate to learn the back story.
St. Patrick’s Day Parades. Here’s a tradition that remains vibrant in Connecticut, with many cities and towns observing the day with music and marching. Among the largest celebrations are held in Hartford, where 10 area towns will participate in the 43rd Annual Greater Hartford St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 15; the granddaddy of them all in New Haven, where the Irish have been stepping out for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade since 1842 and some 300,000 spectators are expected this March 16; the Greater Bridgeport St. Patrick’s Day Celebration will have the advantage of being held on St. Patrick’s Day itself, March 17; and a relative newcomer, the Mystic Irish Parade, will step off for the 11th time on March 23.
Irish Dance. A Feis is a traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival, but in recent years it has come to mean an event mostly centered around Irish dancing, and competitive dancing at that. Connecticut is home to many such festivals during the year, most being put on by dance academies. If you’re in the mood for Irish costumes and step dancing, this spring offers several opportunities. The Lenihan Spring Feis will be held April 6 at Stratford High School, the Horgan Academy Spring Feis will take place April 12, and the Lynn Academy Spring Feis will be May 5 at Stamford High School.
Irish Pubs. An Irish pub can be great all the year ‘round, of course, but you might really feel the urge in springtime. You may already have a favorite, but if you don’t, or if you’re just visiting, here are few where the food is notably good: Try the clams Shannon at The Black Sheep in Niantic, the Dingle fish pie at O’Toole’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in New Haven, the big Irish breakfast at Tigin in Stamford, and the warm scallop salad at The Half-Door in Hartford.
Houses of the Holy
The Beverly Hills house tour has always been a staple of a visit to Southern California, and we’ve got one in Connecticut, too. Except that with ours, you can go inside the houses and take a look around, and learn about the famous residents, and maybe even something about culture, the arts, architecture and America, too. Here are several of the better-known houses that are open to you.
The Mark Twain House & Museum. The 19-room Victorian gem known by all as the Mark Twain House offers a wonderful look into the life of what many consider to be America’s greatest writer. Twain lived here from 1874 to 1891 and was at his most productive, writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other timeless classics. Tour the house and visit the adjacent museum as well.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Right next door to the Twain House is the house of writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin took the nation by storm and was credited by no less than Abraham Lincoln as a factor in the fighting of the Civil War. You’ll learn much about a writer’s life at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and also the Victorian grounds and gardens.
Gillette Castle. William Gillette was a famous actor, best known for his portrayals on stage of Sherlock Holmes. Once he became successful he built a wildly eccentric castle for himself on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River. Gillette Castle State Park is today open for touring, picnicking or simply strolling the 184-acre park. A look through the castle is a must (Castle opens Memorial Day).
The Glass House. Architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House (opens May 1st) in New Canaan was completed in 1951 and has stood every since as an avatar of mid-century modern design. In addition to the main house, where Johnson actually lived, there are a number of “pavilions” on the 49-acre grounds, each an architectural gem in and of itself.
Monte Cristo Cottage. The great playwright Eugene O’Neill grew up in New London, and his family’s summer home, Monte Cristo Cottage, open in late May for public touring. The 1840s cottage is named in honor of O’Neill’s actor father, James, whose most famous role was in The Count of Monte Cristo. The cottage reflects the setting of O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day’s Journey into Night as described in his set directions and depicted in his sketch for the play.
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