A Summer of Irish Pride

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By Michelle Harty, Contributor
August / September 2006

Irish Festivals and Fleadhs Abound in the Summer Months. Michelle Harty reports.

It has been said that no one is as Irish as an Irishman overseas. Every year St. Patrick’s Day parades across the United States bring out the Irish in anyone who has even the measliest bit of Irish in them and draw the Irish out of Ireland. Even those with no Irish who just want to have a good time come out dressed in green, and celebrate in the frenzy of leprechauns, shamrocks, beer and dancing. By the time the days are their warmest and longest though, St. Patrick’ s Day becomes a distant memory and the summer days have the Irish itching for another good celebration. And nothing makes for a better celebration than the contagious Irish pride. Perhaps this is why American summer Irish festivals have become so popular.

The Buckeye State, Ohio, is teeming with Irish pride. The annual Dublin Irish Festival in Ohio is one of the largest celebrations of Irish culture in the country, drawing over 85,000 people each year. The abundance of Irish music and dance, the Irish Marketplace, exhibits, storytelling, food and games are more than enough to keep everyone entertained.

Music and dance are the heart of the Dublin Irish Festival; over the three days six stages are continually hopping with a variety of Irish music and performances. There is something for everyone. This year, the whistles and fiddles and bagpipes of bands such as Old Blind Dogs and Gaelic Storm have the crowd at the “tradi- tional stage” tapping their feet and imagin- ing the rolling hills of old Ireland. At the “Celtic rock” stage, bands like the Saw Doctors and the Prodigals bring a lively modern rock twist on Irish music. Dancers kick and twirl their way across the “Ceili” and “Irish Thunder” stages, and teens have their very own “teen zone” with a DJ to dance to. Both the Irish pub and the sports bar on the festival grounds also showcase local bands and dancers.

The assortment of Irish imports in the Irish Marketplace and the Emerald Arts Isle are as plentiful as the music selection. From kilts to coins to candy to Irish coats of arms, the marketplace seems to have everything that could be found in the shops of Ireland. In the Emerald Arts Isle, the enchanting stained glass sprinkled with Celtic designs, beautiful paintings and jewelry are hard to leave behind.

There is more to the Dublin Irish Festival than the leisurely shopping and listening to music. There is also plenty to learn. History and culture are incorporated in exhibits such as the 10th-century Irish village display, a music exhibit featuring tra- ditional Irish instruments, such as the harp, bagpipes, fiddles, and Uillean pipes, and workshops on a variety of Irish cultural activities including scone making and knit- ting. In the “Wee Folk Area” children can play games, listen to music and take step- dancing lessons.

The Dublin Irish Festival was born in 1987, the year that Dublin, Ohio attained city status. Resident Mary Margaret McLernon took a trip to Dublin, Ireland and discovered that it would celebrate its 1000th anniversary as a city at the same time that Dublin, Ohio celebrated its first. “I thought it would be great to establish a connection between the two Dublins,” she says. McLernon formed the 1/1000 committee, which planned a variety of events to celebrate Irish culture. Part of this plan involved moving the annual Columbus Feis from its horsefly-ridden location at the Franklin County Fairgrounds to Dublin.

After the feis ended on a Saturday night, most of the out-of-town dancers and their families stayed overnight in Dublin. The crowd wanted a continuation of the festiv- ities on Sunday, and with the combined efforts of the 1/1000 committee and the Feis organizers, who managed to secure Coffman Park and find last-minute food and entertainment, the first Dublin Irish Festival was spontaneously born.

The 2006 Dublin Irish Festival will take place Friday, August 4 – Sunday, August 6 in Dublin’s Coffman Park.

Ohio is not the only state where Irish pride ignites weekend-long celebrations. From coast to coast people can be found merry- making the Irish way at festivals all summer long. All festivals start with the basics: Irish food, drink, music and dance, but each has its unique quirks and draws, and reflects the personality of the city that hosts it.

In Wisconsin, for example, a summer school is held for a week before the Milwaukee Irish Festival. Students attend workshops in Irish dance, music, and crafts, Gaelic language instruction, and a historical overview of Irish heritage, and then are able to show off their new skills and participate in the festival at the weekend. The Milwaukee festival even has a personalized “Milwaukee Irish Fest Song” written and composed by Tom Sweeny, which everyone is encouraged to sing along to. This year’s Milwaukee Irish Fest will take place August 17-20 at the Henry W. Maier Festival [Summerfest] Grounds.

In Indiana this year’s annual Indy Irish Festival in Indianapolis will host an Irish toast contest in which competitors will create short Irish toasts and, judged on creativity and the crowd’s applause, have a chance to win round trip airfare for two to Ireland. The Indy Irish festival will take place September 15 -17.

Baltimore, Maryland, Kansas City, Missouri, and Utica, New York are a few more of the many nationwide locations that will celebrate all things Irish this summer. Amidst all the fun and merry-making at an American Irish summer festival one can feel a sense of camaraderie not only between the Irish, but between all those who appreciate an Irish good time.

In Ireland too, festivals, feisheam and fleadhs abound. This year will bring the premiere of the World Fleadh, which will take place in Ballybunion, County Kerry, August 14-16, and promises to be Ireland’ s biggest traditional and Celtic music fleadh. Fifty thousand people are expected to attend the three-day festivities. To accommodate such a high volume, a village, to be known as The World Fleadh Village, will be custom built with features such as a 1,500-seat dome and a 10,000-seat outdoor arena. The festival will coincide with the launch of the new Tinteán Theatre, which will host performances throughout the week. Entertainment includes an impressive collection of world-renowned traditional and contemporary Irish bands, including the Gypsy Kings, The Waterboys, The Sharon Shannon Big Band, Declan O’Rourke and Kíla, as well as Irish dance performances and competitions.

As with the American summer Irish festivals, the marvelous display of Irish culture and good times shared are sure to spark a great wave of Irish pride. The difference at The World Fleadh is the true Irish setting. Daylight will linger until 10 o’clock on the cliff edge of Ballybunion, which overlooks a magnificent stretch of beach with the sparkling Atlantic Ocean just beyond. With this beautiful Irish scenery as a background for performances of some of the greatest Irish music-makers and dancers, even the natives will be inspired to take a moment to truly appreci- ate the magic of the sights, sounds and people of the Emerald Isle. ♦

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