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Las Vegas gets its green on for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day 2011

Leila Navidi

Trisha Edgerly of Richland Center, Wisconsin takes a photo of dancers at the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas during St. Patrick’s Day Thursday, March 17, 2011.

St. Patrick's Day 2011

Ainsley Shannon of Denver takes the first sip of her green yard long beer during St. Patrick's Day on the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas Thursday, March 17, 2011. Launch slideshow »

KSNV: St. Patrick's Day Grand Opening

KSNV coverage of new Irish pub opening at Mandalay Place.

Inside Ri Ra’s Irish Pub at Mandalay Place, Ciaran Sheehan has erected a tribute to his homeland. Salvaged memorabilia, even whole bars, were imported from all over Ireland, and its exterior façade could have been plucked from a Dublin sidewalk.

The heavy oak doors opened into a musty, but jovial, scene on Thursday: Friends toasted each other, dressed in holiday garb, and a fiddle player cut a traditional Irish tune somewhere in the back.

“We’re hoping it’s as if people were walking in from the street,” Sheehan said.

The pub held its grand opening appropriately on St. Patrick’s Day, marked by a green-speckled parade through the mall Thursday morning as the rest of the valley donned a favorite shade of emerald, grabbed a green beer and celebrated the holiday.

From the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign on the south end of the Strip, where showgirls posed in green-tinged outfits with visitors, to Fitzgeralds casino on Fremont Street, revelers descended on Las Vegas for the traditional Irish celebration. Festivities kicked off early in the morning at places like O'Sheas on the Strip, where Holly Madison squared off with Brian Thomas, also known as Lucky the Leprechaun, in a beer pong match. The revelry along Las Vegas Boulevard was expected to spill into the night.

It was the perfect opportunity to open Ri Ra’s, said Sheehan, 43, born in Timoleague, Ireland, as some of his waitresses tapped their toes in a traditional Irish dance outside the pub’s entrance. Along with his business partner, a high school classmate, Sheehan has opened 12 Ri Ra’s throughout the country.

At each pub, they try to conjure an Irish ambience, Sheehan said. More than 30 of his whiskeys are exclusive Irish brews, but it goes deeper than that, he said.

Click to enlarge photo

Ri Ra Irish Pub employees have fun while parading through Mandalay Beach toward the new pub in the Shoppes at Mandalay in Las Vegas during St. Patrick's Day Thursday, March 17, 2011.

For example: One of the many bars inside was once housed in a pub owned by his great-aunt in Timoleague. He used to work behind it when he was 15 years old, Sheehan said. Artwork imported from the Olympic Theatre in Dublin hangs from the walls. That kind of attention to detail is what makes Ri Ra’s unique, Sheehan said.

The pub organized a St. Patrick’s Day parade through the hallways at Mandalay Place on Thursday, a smaller version of the celebrations Sheehan remembers when he was young.

“Everyone is Irish for a day, and we encourage that,” he said. “On a day like today, when you’re celebrating your own heritage, it makes you very proud.”

Elsewhere on the Strip, it was green, green, green.

Tammie Pasquale and Eric Reiemiller were two of the honorary Irish citizens letting loose at O’Shea’s early Thursday afternoon. A U2 cover band launched into a ballad in the alleyway while the boisterous crowd filled most of the sidewalk. Beer pong games were under way inside.

The property practically glowed green.

Pasquale and Reiemiller, both natives of Pittsburgh, had come out for different reasons, but met up for the party between the Flamingo and Harrah's Las Vegas.

“I’m not Irish, but I love partying with the Irish. They throw the best parties in the world,” said Pasquale, adding that she had her first drink at about 7 a.m. “This allows everyone to come together. It doesn’t matter who you are. We need a lot more of that in our world.”

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A fan cheers for Holly Madison as she is announced for her beer pong rematch against Brian Thomas, a.k.a. Lucky the Leprechaun outside O'Sheas in Las Vegas during St. Patrick's Day Thursday, March 17, 2011.

Reiemiller, sipping from one of the Strip’s signature oversized cups that had gone green for the day, nodded in approval.

“It’s about celebrating who you are and where you’re from and enjoying life,” he said.

In downtown Las Vegas, the festive mood was palpable.

Daniel Brown, who lives in Las Vegas, and Dan Doherty, a Henderson resident, were strolling Fremont Street, green beers in hand, impossible to miss with their massive top hats and Brown’s clover leaf sunglasses.

They’ve made it a tradition to spend the holiday wandering the corridor, stopping for pictures with strangers and feasting at Fitzgerald’s, which was offering a meal of corned beef sandwiches, kettle chips and green beer.

Doherty’s grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the late 1800s, Doherty said. While growing up in Chicago, he always looked forward to the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the other ethnic holidays.

“Everybody got together. It was an opportunity to go out and see someone’s culture,” said Doherty, 53. “Now, we just want to come out, celebrate and enjoy the festivities.”

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