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Ireland remains in band's itinerary

The Second Time Arounders will go forth with a much-anticipated trip, despite cancellation of Dublin's St. Patrick's Day Parade, the country's largest, because of the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The march of foot-and-mouth disease across Great Britain into Ireland has halted another march. The St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 17 in Dublin has been canceled, and with it plans for the local Second Time Arounders Band to march in it. But even if that show won't go on, say the band's leaders, the trip is still on.

"We're still planning to go and will go unless the government closes its borders," said Sandy Alcott, president of the band's board of directors.

The group will leave March 13. Alcott said parade organizers in Ireland were scrambling to arrange stand-up concert performances in lieu of the parade.

The Rounders, as the band is called, is a loosely organized confederation of former high school and college band members. It was formed in 1983 by Bill Fendeison, a former high school band director. The group, which numbers about 500, gets together once a year to march in the local Festival of States parade. Because of its size (five times larger than a typical marching band) and its uniqueness (members range in age from 18 to 90), the band has gained a measure of celebrity and in recent years has traveled to other festivals in the United States.

The trip to Ireland was something special, though, two years in the planning, said Angie Brown, a baton twirler who has been with the Rounders for 18 years.

"It's a huge disappointment," she said. "We had the primo spot in the parade lineup, the very last spot, where people follow you and celebrate at the end of the parade. We were so excited."

Mary Caulfield, who performs with the band's dance line, has never been abroad.

"I'm very disappointed," she said. "But I think it's neat that a country would face this crisis and say it's not the time for a party."

Paul Meeker, president of O'Connell Travel, which made arrangements for 437 Rounders, family members and friends to travel to Ireland for the occasion, said, "It came as a shock to us. Our contacts in Ireland called us about an hour before the official announcement was made. We're trying to be positive. Out of the whole time there, the parade is only a two-hour event. The shops and pubs will still be open."

The St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin is the largest in Ireland and was expected to draw as many as 500,000 spectators this year. It was canceled in deference to pleas from officials of the Irish Republic, who feared that visitors could unintentionally spread foot-and-mouth disease. The disease does not affect humans, even though they can transmit it, but it decimates livestock with cloven hooves -- pigs, sheep and cattle.

Meeker said people are not being asked to stay away from Ireland.

"We're not sure yet what precautions they will take for us arriving or when we leave," he said.

Meeker said the group has been divided among three airline flights and will stay in two hotels in Dublin. Larger instruments will be shipped several days before the group leaves. Most, he said, have booked tours and side trips that will extend their stays. All the prepaid costs, minimally $1,299 for the basic transportation and accommodations package, are non-refundable.

"This is my first time overseas. I'm very disappointed," said Steve Harris, a firefighter who plays percussion with the Rounders. "Two years of planning. This is not an overnight road trip. We're not being sponsored by Tropicana or something. These are our hard-earned dollars we're using, and our own vacation time. But this is a terrible thing that's happening over there. A country has to do what it has to do."

He said he had no regrets about signing on, "other than (that) the main reason was to participate in their gala celebration. It's like Mardi Gras."

Like most band members, Joni Bartolotta was ambivalent.

"My friend the tambourine player was over last night," she said. "It's a bummer. We've been looking forward to this for so long. But I've been reading the Irish newspapers online. There are more cows in Ireland than people. You have to respect their situation. And there is a bright side. I've also been following the weather. It's cold and rainy. I'm a Florida girl. I wasn't looking forward to marching in sleet and snow.

"I was thinking," said Bartolotta, "how the heck am I going to play my saxophone in 26-degree weather?"

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