BELMAR, NJ — Belmar Public Library served up a full sampling of Irish culture during its St. Patrick's Day celebration. There were entertaining bits of music, dance and history, and tasty bites of Irish fare at last night’s two-hour event held at Taylor Pavilion.

Nearly 100 people attended the festivities, which featured an opening performance by Bob Phelan on the bagpipes. The Belmar resident got everyone in the spirit, playing several Irish tunes, complete with a story for each.

Joking that there is more to Irish culture than drinking beer, author Tom Fox shared some historical tidbits from his book, “The Hidden History of the Irish of New Jersey,” as well as current trends in the Irish-American population.

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For example, more than 32 million Americans today claim Irish ancestry — 10 percent of the population, representing a drop from 16 percent five years ago. An aging Irish-American population and virtually no immigration into the United States from the Emerald Isle in recent years have contributed to that decline, Fox said.

However, he added that there is good news in New Jersey, where programs in Irish culture, including learning the Irish language, are offered in 10 counties, including Monmouth County.

As a testament to that, students from the D’Arcy School of Irish Dance in Wall delighted the audience with a performance that featured the traditional Irish and slip jigs, as well as ceili and step dances. From beginners to its award-winning dancers, they kicked, twirled and stepped it up — dressed in a variety of costumes displaying their skill and competition levels.

And as everyone was being entertained in the oceanfront pavilion’s main room, judging of the event’s Irish soda bread contest was quietly under way by Kate Heath of Sweet Tease Café and Tea Room and Joe Rizzuto of Main Street Donuts. After sampling all 13 entries to determine the best “traditional” soda bread, their top choices were revealed, based on an overall balance of a dry crisp top, moist center and overall taste.

Taking first place was Carolyn “Casey” Amoresano of Belmar, who was encouraged by her family and friends to enter the contest. She won a $50 gift card. Also placing were James Whalen in second, Florence Tedesco in third and Kathy Oneil who received an honorable mention. All winners received a trophy to commemorate their baking achievement, and attendees got a chance to sample all the entries — a “Erin go bragh” moment for everyone.

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