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Enjoy St. Patrick's fun festivities

SUBMITTED PHOTO:  - This photo appeared in the March 15, 1954 edition of the Oregon Journal, where journalist Dick Fagan, right, worked. Repairing the fence at Fagans Mill Ends Park is Milton Berenson, director of irrigation and mulch for civic beauty spots.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland and the United States, as well as throughout the world. In 2012, there were 34.1 million people in the U.S. who claimed Irish ancestry — or, seven times the number of the 4.6 million who live in Ireland, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Portland has an abundance of St. Patrick’s Day events and I’ll share information about two of my favorites, plus an interesting story about how Portland came to have the smallest park in the world. I also am offering up a few fun facts about the annual holiday.

n One of my favorite St. Patrick’s events is the Shamrock Run. This year’s run was held on Sunday in Portland’s Waterfront Park. The run has been a tradition since 1972 and is the largest running and walking event in Oregon and the third-largest running event in the western United States.

You have your choice of races: Choose a 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), 8 kilometers (4.97 miles), 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) and a half-marathon (13.1 miles). In addition, the Shamrock Run offers a 5K fitness walk — the Shamrock Stride — and the Blazers Leprechaun Lap, a 1K (0.6-mile) run/walk for children ages 10 and younger. The Shamrock Run is a benefit, primarily for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation, which has been affiliated with the event for the past 19 years.

n All-Ireland Cultural Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes Irish culture, will host its 75th annual Saint Patrick’s Day Festival on March 17.

This year’s event will be held at the Ambridge Event Center, 1333 N.E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Portland.

The family-friendly event features children’s crafts and games as well as Irish music and dancing, traditional Irish foods and beverages.

Admission is $10 for ages 21 and older, $5 for ages 12 to 20 and $2 for those 11 and younger with a paying adult. The doors open at 4 p.m. and the fun continues until 9 p.m. For more information, visit oregonirishclub.org or call 503-286-4812.

n Mill Ends Park was dedicated on St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, 1948, as “the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland.”

It was the creation of Dick Fagan, who was of Irish ancestry. He was a journalist with the Oregon Journal, and he wrote a column called “Mill Ends.” The name refers to leftover irregular pieces of wood at lumber mills. His office window overlooked a small, vacant spot in the median of what is now Naito Parkway.

According to Wikipedia, Fagan looked out his window and saw a leprechaun digging in a hole in the median.

He ran down and grabbed the leprechaun, which means that he had earned a wish. Fagan said he wished for a park of his own; but since he had not specified the size of the park in his wish, the leprechaun gave him the hole. Over the next two decades, Fagan often featured the park and its head leprechaun, Patrick O’Toole, in his whimsical column. Fagan claimed to be the only person who could see O’Toole.

Fagan published a threat from the head leprechaun himself about the 11 p.m. curfew set on all city parks.

O’Toole dared the mayor to try to evict him and his followers from Mill Ends, and threatened a leprechaun curse on him should he attempt to do so. Subsequently, no legal action was taken and the leprechauns were allowed to stay in the park after hours.

Fagan died of cancer in 1969, but the park lives on, cared for by others. It was named an official city park in 1976 and, according to Guinness World Records, is the smallest park in the world. The park continues to be the site of St. Patrick’s Day festivities and has become something of a must-see oddity in Portland.

Kathryn Kendall is a member of Jottings at Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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