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3-HOUR TOUR : For a Wee Bit o' Everything Irish, Kelly's Must Be the Place

March 16, 1995|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to the Times Orange County Edition.

For more than a wee bit o' the blarney, check out Kelly's--and Kelly's, and Kelly's and Kelly's--in Tustin. Then mull it all over at nearby O'Hara's.

3 to 3:30 p.m.: Irish music plays in the parking lot, and the mugs, shirts and bumper stickers inside Kelly's Gifts proclaim such slogans as "If you're lucky enough to be Irish, you're lucky enough" and "Not only am I perfect, I'm Irish." Less-than-perfect Irish might opt for "Patrick was a saint, I ain't."

Tom and Mary Kelly own the gift store; three of their 12 children run adjacent shops, namely Kelly's Hobbies, Kelly's Tuxedos and Kelly's Hair Design.

Gifts include Irish flags and ties, and wooden puzzles from Tipperary; Guinness Stout sweat shirts and Original Irish Grandfather shirts (button-down shin-length nightshirts); Irish fudge and Irish oatmeal; Irish tattoos (only 15 cents) and Irish hats, authentic and not, and claddaugh rings, engagement and wedding rings depicting two hands holding a heart beneath a crown. "The Irish are big on little legends," Tom Kelly noted.

Which brings us to items such as shamrock-shaped suckers. Legend has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the Druids and Irish kings. The store also carries Celtic crosses and, no offense to the holy man, but if you think you'll be a-brawlin' on his name day, the shillelagh, made from a tree root, makes a fine weapon. Peaceable folk will admire the blackthorn walking sticks.

Irish fortune cookies contain such messages as "The health of a salmon to you--a long life, full heart and wet mouth" and "May your luck be like the capital of Ireland--always Dublin."

3:30 to 3:40: According to Greg Kelly, there are more castles in Ireland than anywhere in the world, more than 3,000. Kelly's Hobbies carries paper models of Bunratty Castle among others, as well as an early Irish monastery, traditional Irish pub and Irish lake dwelling, for $6.50 each. Handmade wooden models include Irish telephone booths, jaunting cars and miniature pubs including one called Paddo Daly's ($39.95)--"Leprechaun pubs," Greg Kelly calls them.

3:40 to 3:50: A painting hangs on the wall of Kelly's Tuxedos labeled "The Artist's Ancestral Home in County Fermanagh." The artist is proprietor John Kelly, the home is his grandfather's, and the pipe in the painting sits on the mantel nearby. John Kelly has a passion for Irish smoking pipes as well as Irish tenors, recordings of whom are often playing. If they're not, John Kelly will sing you an Irish song at the drop of an Irish hat, which he sells.

Out back is the "leprechaun garden," which according to signs is in Aughaweenagh in Bally Kelly--"in Fermanagh," John added. The garden's centerpiece is the "California Blarney Stone," dedicated, according to a plaque, "by leprechauns Billy and Maddy." Said John: "The stone is a bit of a mystery, but it's magical, just like the stone in Ireland. Once you kiss it, the gift of blarney is yours."

John's got the gift for sure. "You can always tell an Irishman," he admitted, "but you can't tell him very much."

3:50 to 4:30: The roof of Kelly's Hair Design has a thatched appearance like an Irish cottage. Inside is a mini-museum of Ireland. Mary Kelly owns the shop; though unrelated, the maiden name of the two sisters who work here is also Kelly. "It's a requirement," Mary said.

On display are metal-and-wooden clogs, a famine kettle and a cake iron dating to Ireland's famine, about 1850. Both objects can be seen in a vintage print nearby. Another print, which Tom said was found in every Irish cottage before the turn of the century, shows St. Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland. There's also a creel used to carry the peat from the fields, the lantern off an Irish coach, and of more recent vintage, sticks used for the Irish game of hurling. On the fireplace is a pot of (painted) gold.

The-- ahem-- throne room is done in orange. The inhabitants of the counties of Northern Ireland are traditionally called Orangemen; the region is part of the United Kingdom. "So here in the throne room we have Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on their thrones," Tom Kelly pointed out.

Men's haircuts are $20, women are $25, teen-agers 13 to 16, $15, and children, $10. No special Irish 'dos, but Irish coffee--that's with Irish whiskey, cream and sugar to taste--is complimentary. On St. Patrick's Day, they'll also serve Irish soda bread and green beer.

4:30 to 5:10: Nothing from the Emerald Isle is on the menu at Rutabegorz, but there are lots of greens (see story, page 3), not to mention hanging plants. Check out the vegetarian chef salad, the spinach salad and the avocado chef, all in the $5 range. For that extra bit o' fortification on St. Paddy's Day, consider the shrimp and spinach salad ($6.95).

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