When Frank Shea moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2005, he wanted to experience the same kind of cultural celebrations of his Irish heritage he had enjoyed in his previous home of Boston.
But they didn’t exist.
So in 2011, he organized a small St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall parking lot.
And the next year, he began the Irish Celtic Festival in Lakewood Ranch while volunteering with Lakewood Ranch Community Activities. The event has been a staple of East County’s entertainment scene ever since.
Shea, who was 59, died of cancer Jan. 17, but the Irish Celtic Festival that bears his stamp will go forward March 7 at the Greenbrook Adventure Park.
“He never owned a kilt until he moved to Florida,” said his daughter, Casey, who lives in New York. “When he died, he had eight in his closet. He really cared about Irish culture. It was a big deal to him to authentically incorporate what it means to be an Irish American.”
Casey Shea said she and her family are honored the Irish Celtic Festival will continue this year, and organizers are taking special care to honor Frank Shea’s legacy.
“He built this event,” she said. “It was his happy place. It was incredibly important to him, and he was really, really proud of it.”
The festival will have all the flavor of year’s past with Celtic food, beers and hard cider, a Best Legs in a Kilt contest, a Lucky Dog Parade benefiting the Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch and other festivities.
Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Director Keith Pandeloglou said when Shea became ill last year, he and festival volunteers began preparing for the worst-case scenario while hoping for the best outcome. The week Shea died, the group was supposed to have its first festival planning meeting.
“The responsibility everyone involved this year has is making sure it’s something Frank would be proud of,” Pandeloglou said. “This event has always been a little different [from our other events]. It only ever happened because Frank had the support of the organization to start something new.”
A special beer will be offered in Shea’s honor, and guests also will be able to purchase commemorative beer mugs and patches. Proceeds from those sales will support the Lakewood Ranch Celtic Heritage Society, which Shea started and ran.
“What he created was such a great thing, not just for those of Irish heritage in Lakewood Ranch but for everyone,” longtime friend Maribeth Phillips said. “He created a beautiful event where everybody could be Irish that day. He incorporated so much of the community into this festival.”
Pandeloglou and Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Board Member Carlene Smith said Shea excelled in identifying vendors and entertainment. For example, he would meet with food trucks and help them tailor their menus to include some Irish-themed entrees, such as fish and chips.
Shea already had lined up entertainment for the current event, which he always did immediately after the current year’s festival was over.