This year's Irish Cultural Week is bracketed by two popular masses at St. Patrick's Church on 282 Suffolk St. -- with lots of events in between.

This Sunday's Mass, which will have readings in Gaelic, will kick off the week for the city's oldest parish and its thousands of members (non-members and non-Catholics are also welcome), while the March 17 multicultural mass will feature readings in several languages.

St. Patrick's Church serves as more than a meeting place. It's the epicenter of a vast Catholic community -- the pebble in the pool whose ripples lap the shore of a dozen surrounding towns.

The historic building is itself a monument to immigrants, and the weeklong celebration has that as its central theme.

"Lowell has always been a welcoming home to the newest group of immigrants from anywhere," said Kerrie Peaslee, chair of Lowell's Irish Cultural Committee. "And Irish Catholics were always taught to give back to the community."

And the community, in turn, gives back to the parish.

Scores of local businesses will participate in the 36th annual event, including Lenzi's in Dracut, which will host Friday night's dinner dance, and Lowell's Mount Pleasant Golf Club, where an Irish Movie night will be offered free Tuesday, starting at 6 p.m.

Saturday morning features one of the more popular and unique events. Local historian David McKean will lead a guided walking tour of "God's Holy Acre," where the church is located and which gave way to the lasting nickname for the area -- the Acre.


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Wear comfortable shoes for the hourlong trek through the neighborhoods and alleyways of the historic enclave.

Nearly 200 years since the first group of Irish immigrants arrived in 1822, their influence has spread throughout the Merrimack Valley, with "the Acre" remaining as the launching pad for the Gaelic footprints now seen throughout the region.

St. Patrick's has since become a beacon for Christians from around the globe, and the multicultural closing Mass on March 17 will have readings in Khmer, Spanish, Burmese and Vietnamese to accommodate the diverse population in its penumbra.

Throughout the week, raffle tickets are available for those feeling the luck o' the Irish for a chance to win $5,000. The Owl Diner is the only physical place to purchase the $25 tickets, but Ray Leavitt or any member of the Irish Cultural Committee can also provide them; call 617-893-9565.

The opening Mass this Sunday will be followed for a parade to City Hall, where the Irish flag will be raised and a wreath laid at the Irish Monument. Bagpipes and the singing of the Irish national anthem will deepen the sensory experience.

Many events during Irish Cultural Week are free to the public, but donations are accepted. All revenue is returned back to the parish "to preserve and pass on our Irish heritage and to raise funds for our historic church while also embracing all cultures and ethnicities," Leavitt said.

This year's Irish Person of the Year recipient will be, Acre native Elinor Rafferty, will be feted at Friday's dinner dance.

For a full list of events, including times and venues, visit www.lowellirish.com.