MANCHESTER, NH — There are no real surprises when it comes to the annual Blarney Breakfast, held Thursday at the Doubletree Hilton.
There is blarney. There is breakfast. And there there is Bob Baines, educator, former mayor and founder of the Irish-themed fund-raising feast that has raised $1.5 million over the years for local organizations that provide so much to so many.
Baines is bullish when it comes to this particular event. He is tireless when it comes to promoting and fundraising and talking it up. It’s his gift of gab and, no doubt, his Irish eyes that bring some of the most prominent citizens to the table year after year. Hundreds of them.
And for 20 years Baines has provided the musical appetizer that precedes the blarney. In his lilting tenor he belts out the tale of the tootling flutes and clanging cymbals that are part of the storied “MacNamara’s Band.”
It is the musical clockwork that includes the NH Police Association Pipes and Drums, which somehow work together to release the breakfast platters from the kitchen, and the clinking of forks on plates becomes a rhythm section for what’s next.
Baines has a plaque to deliver and sets it up with a story about his sister, Shirley Brulotte, who passed in 2006. Baines is a fast talker, but in this moment he pauses and swallows hard. He smiles faintly, surprising himself that the moment feels raw. He places his hand over his chest and pats softly as if to siphon the tears leaking from his eyes back to where they came from — his heart, “Shirl the Pearl’s” true resting place.
From his sister’s last wishes came the Shirley Brulotte Fund, which supports the work of the International Institute of New England, a place “that welcomes people from all over the world to Manchester in search of the American Dream, just like our ancestors did before us,” Baines said.
Before you know it Baines is working on the origin story of Manchester Proud, and how a gaggle of like-minded gents, men of business and industry who owed much to the Queen City, created a foundation which has grown into something that aims to help steer the school district into a brighter future. Instrumental to that process was Barry Brensinger who, according to Baines, embodies the spirit of Shirley Brulotte and earned Brensinger this year’s Shirley Brulotte Community Service Award.
Then it was a bit of blarney from Mayor Joyce Craig and Gov. Chris Sununu, and then an inspirational talk by Stephanie Schaffer, a young woman from Vermont who, two years ago, lost her legs in a freak-accident while vacationing with her family in the Bahamas. She talked about how the experience tried to kill her and then it tried to steal her joy. But now, she’s winning, because she knows she’s lucky to be alive, and continues to learn to live life to the fullest. She thanked all those who saw her through, with a special thanks to the American Red Cross, one of three charitable benefactors of the breakfast, and all the blood donors who made her series of life-saving blood transfusions possible.
From there, Stephen Singer stepped up and convinced folks like Mike Lopez that he had $500 to spend on a New England Patriots keepsake featuring photos of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and a row of glimmering faux Super Bowl Rings in the compelling live auction action of the day.
Then, as always, the event ended with a real bang, as Baines always brings in the Irish entertainment A-game. This year was no exception, with Dublin-born Ciarán Sheehan, perhaps best known for portraying the “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.
Slowly the crowd thins. Baines makes the rounds, thanking folks for coming, and putting another big green metaphorical bow on the Blarney Breakfast. His investment in his community this year will benefit not only the Red Cross and the International Institute but also the Manchester PAL Center.
There is nothing so predictable and powerful as Bob Baines and his Blarney Breakfast, and for that, the city should feel blessed.
You can learn more about the International Institute of New England here.