PETOSKEY -- While the Robert Emmet Society's annual hoolie brings Irish culture and fun to Northern Michigan, it also raises funds to send a North Central Michigan College student to Ireland, according to event organizer George Colburn.
The hoolie supports the Joseph W. McCarthy-William McCullough, M.D. Memorial Scholarship, which is open to North Central students. The scholarship is awarded on the basis of academic and personal achievement, and also requires the student to submit an essay on Robert Emmet, the namesake of Emmet County.
The event will be 5:30-10 p.m. Friday, March 16, at Stafford's Perry Hotel, 100 Lewis St. in Petoskey. Admission is $10 per person, with discounts for North Central Michigan College students, Emmet Society members and Irish citizens.
Colburn, who volunteers his time as the Emmet Society's Scholarship Fund Committee chair, said the hoolie's mission is to raise enough money to send the chosen student to study at Ireland's Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology for one semester.
"It's the only scholarship at North Central Michigan College that has a foreign experience attached to it," Colburn explained. "The students always report what a life-changing experience it is."
According to Colburn, the fundraising goal for this year's hoolie event is $5,000, which is estimated to cover nearly all of the student's travel, lodging and other expenses. While the event had been at City Park Grill in past years, this year it will be in the H.O. Rose Room at the Perry Hotel. Colburn indicated that the change of venue nearly doubles the event's capacity, opening it to as many as 225 attendees, which he hopes will help to ease the year-round struggle of raising the money needed for the scholarship.
"For us, it's a big moment," he said. "We're hoping to attract some new people this year."
Students interested in registering for the scholarship competition must do so by Monday, March 19, and Robert Emmet essays are due Monday, April 2. Colburn said the scholarship winner will be announced in early May, after interviews with the top three candidates. He noted that the student interviews are an important part of the selection process.
"(The winner) not only has to be a good student with a good (essay) idea, but also an ambassador for the society, for the college and for Emmet County," he explained, adding that successful candidates will need to have good people skills, critical thinking ability and the ability to express themselves. They will also need to have a solid understanding of Robert Emmet's historical significance and values.
Colburn said scholarship awardees participate in the Galway-Mayo Institute's Heritage Studies Program, and that past participants from Northern Michigan have scored high marks.
"Our students have done very well there," he said. "The students that have gone over there have all been praised by the faculty of the Heritage Program. You know, these are small-town kids from Northern Michigan. They're getting to experience Irish culture, but also a much broader experience, because they're part of an international student program there. Beyond the classroom -- which, as far as we know, is a good educational experience -- we also have this great international experience for them."
Students spending the semester in Ireland often have the opportunity to visit other countries in the region, including Spain, Scotland and Italy.
"They form friendships with people over there, so the experience is ongoing," Colburn added.
Upon their return home, students are expected to write about their experiences. Colburn said the Robert Emmet Society usually posts these accounts on its website, www.emmetsociety.org, and also hosts a reception during the holiday season for students to share their experiences in person.
According to Colburn, the hoolie is one of two major events organized by the Emmet Society. He said it began eight years ago with an informal gathering commemorating the 200th anniversary of Robert Emmet's death, and also celebrating the 101st birthday of renowned Circuit Court Judge Edward "Ned" Fenlon. Fenlon passed away in 2010, at age 106.
Colburn emphasized the important role Fenlon's family continues to play in both the society and the hoolie event. Fenlon was a member of the Michigan House of Representatives who was credited with laying the legislative groundwork for the Mackinac Bridge.
"We're going to set up a Ned Fenlon music award for local young musicians," Colburn reported. "We're organizing that now. The winner would go to a local music camp, and maybe get a new musical instrument -- hopefully an Irish one."
He added that Fenlon was proud of his Irish heritage, and that the new music award will help to keep his spirit connected with the Robert Emmet Society.
The society is also seeking funds to erect a statue in Robert Emmet's honor.
"We've tried to bring Emmet County into this," Colburn explained. "We made a presentation to the historical commission. We want to get back into the idea of raising money for a Robert Emmet statue."
Meanwhile, Colburn said he is pleased to see the hoolie event expand, because it means there will be more support for the student scholarship. He noted that past scholarship awards have gone beyond Emmet County to include students from Charlevoix and Otsego counties, and that the growth of the event also means a wider array of sponsors throughout the area. So far, the primary sponsor for this year's hoolie is Stafford's Perry Hotel.
"We approached the Perry Hotel, and they agreed to provide a much larger venue for us," Colburn explained. "They also agreed to be the major sponsor behind bringing in a tremendous musical group from Chicago. The musical factor this year will be much more intense, much bigger, thanks to the sponsorship of Perry for the actual musical event, as well as providing a venue which allows us to have a larger crowd there."
In addition to the Hooligans -- an Irish group that has become a mainstay of the hoolie -- this year's guests will be treated to the traditional Irish stylings of Chicago Reel. The Hooligans will play for the first hour, followed by two hours of Chicago Reel, and then everyone is invited downstairs to the Noggin Room Pub for an Irish jam session when the hoolie ends at 10 p.m.
For more information, visit www.emmetsociety.org.
The Joseph W. McCarthy-William McCullough, M.D. Memorial Scholarship is named for Petoskey businessman Joseph McCarthy and physician William McCullough. Both men were active members of the Emmet Society from its founding in the early 1990s, until their passing.
According to hoolie event organizer George Colburn, the revenue from annual memberships in the Robert Emmet Society currently covers about one quarter of the scholarship expenses. Annual dues range from $25 to $100 for individual memberships, or $250 for corporate membership. Those interested in joining the society are invited to contact Colburn at (231) 535-2440. More information is available at www.emmetsociety.org.