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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish or not, Greater Nashua celebrates St. Patrick’s Day

Eric Carlson isn’t Irish. But this weekend, he cooked – and ate – like the world’s proudest Irishman.

For nearly eight hours Saturday, Carlson, a volunteer chef at St. James United Methodist Church in Merrimack, seasoned, stirred and prepared more than 80 pounds of corned beef to feed the hungry masses set to fill the church on St. Patrick’s Day eve. ...

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Eric Carlson isn’t Irish. But this weekend, he cooked – and ate – like the world’s proudest Irishman.

For nearly eight hours Saturday, Carlson, a volunteer chef at St. James United Methodist Church in Merrimack, seasoned, stirred and prepared more than 80 pounds of corned beef to feed the hungry masses set to fill the church on St. Patrick’s Day eve.

The church’s annual corned beef and cabbage dinner, one of dozens of holiday-themed gatherings held across the region, drew more than 100 Irishmen and women, both native and adopted, to the church Saturday night. And none of them left hungry.

“It’s a great holiday. It’s nothing but good people and good food,” Carlson, who is of Swedish decent, said Saturday before the dinner.

“I love corned beef, but to be honest, after this, I’m usually done with it for a while,” he said, stirring one of the six 15-pound briskets simmering on the stove. “(After all the cooking), the smell sticks with you.”

Across the town line, managers of the Peddler’s Daughter made similar preparations for their St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

In advance of the holiday, by far the busiest day of the year at the Irish pub on Main Street in Nashua, workers ordered hundreds of pounds of corned beef, along with 20 kegs of Guinness beer.

“We’ll go through six kegs in a typical weekend,” manager Tom Duggan said as the bar started to fill with green-clad patrons. “But this weekend, we’ll go through 20 easy. ... It’s all hands on deck this weekend.”

Duggan expects the heaviest crowds Sunday. The restaurant and bar will open for the holiday at 7 a.m., offering a full Irish breakfast consisting of Irish sausage, mashers and black pudding, among other items, and it will remain open until 1 a.m. Monday.

But with the sun shining Saturday, some of the crowds came early.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, the restaurant was filled with hundreds of patrons enjoying corned beef and cabbage.

“Look at this. Everybody’s eating, drinking and being merry,” said Kris Santos, of Nashua, who sported a lime-green T-shirt. “What could be better?”

Still, others traded their shamrock green for fire engine red.

Members and supporters of the Nashua Fire Department filled out the restaurant Saturday as part of a Guinness-sponsored fundraiser for the Nashua Firemen’s Rescue Association.

Throughout the afternoon, city firefighters circled the bar with a firemen’s boot, collecting donations to benefit the association, which provides assistance to firefighters injured on the job, as well as the survivors of deceased firefighters.

“It’s been great. People have been really generous,” Tom Young, a Nashua firefighter, said as he held out the boot.

“Having this (fundraiser) on St. Patrick’s Day certainly doesn’t hurt,” added Mike Duclos, a firefighter and the association secretary. “Everybody’s so happy on a day like this. They’re glad to help.”

Back in Merrimack, the church volunteers benefited from the community’s generosity as well.

More than 15 volunteers offered their time, their efforts and their pies to the dinner, which doubled as a fundraiser for the church. And the corned beef, the meal’s main course, came as a donation from the Homestead Restaurant, located directly across the street.

“Every time the phone rings, it’s somebody else offering to bring something. It’s a true community event,” said Carlson, the lead chef.

“That’s what’s great about St. Patrick’s Day. It brings everybody together,” added Justin Aufiero, a firefighter from Brookline who took part in the Peddler’s Daughter fundraiser. “Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (@Telegraph_JakeB).