Below was to be our 2020 Midwest Irish Fests Preview in the May edition written for Irish American News by Katie Fitzpatrick - but then things changed.
If you are able to support any of these with a contribution, or pre-sale purchase of tickets etc, go to their websites and lend a hand!
Like Arnold, "They'll be Back!"
Summer is right around the corner which means it’s almost Irish fest season. While these festivals are guaranteed to provide great music, dance, food and drink, their value goes beyond Irish entertainment. “They maintain community and they enhance community and they increase community,” said Consul General Brian O’Brien, who oversees the Midwest U.S. and has attended Irish fests in Illinois, Iowa Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. “It’s not just about music and drinking anymore. Many of them have evolved into much more.” Festivals now include lectures on Irish history and current events like Brexit, and the larger festivals are attended by delegations of Irish government officials.
“There has been great recognition in Irish tourism and government in the last few years of the very important role that the Irish festivals play in keeping the story, the music and the culture alive which is a significant factor in encouraging record numbers of tourists to visit Ireland,” said John Devitt, Gaelic Park director and festival chairman. Indeed, the Irish Consulate acknowledges the tangible economic benefits of festivals, as well as their role in bringing people to the festival area and bringing people back to Ireland. “Commerce follows culture, and you cannot underestimate the value of cultural exchange,” said CG O’Brien.
The Irish Consulate uses festivals as opportunities to provide “pop-up” consulates and engage the community, answer questions about living or working in Ireland, and help with passport and citizenship matters. “I’ve found the festivals to be incredibly useful to meet a lot of people in one place… to connect with my own community and take in the area as well,” said CG O’Brien.
The Midwest is home to nearly 20 festivals that take place throughout the summer months. Among them is the Milwaukee Irish Fest, the “world’s largest celebration of Irish music and culture,” now in its 40th year. “It’s a big undertaking and if we didn’t work as a team, we couldn’t get it done,” said Colleen Kennedy, longtime board member of Celtic MKE, which runs the fest. “Everyone has a story about why they are passionate. It’s a part of who they are. We love all things Irish.”
Fest organizers are invited to participate in the Association of Irish and Celtic Festivals and regularly exchange tips, ideas and lessons. “We all learn from each other,” said Colleen. “There are different focuses but we’re willing to help, as are other festivals… we respect each other however big a festival is. Some of your challenges remain the same.”
The obvious challenge this year will be organizing and executing a fest in the wake of COVID-19. But assuming the pandemic is under control by summer, the following festivals will be up and running. Sláinte!
Chicago Gaelic Park Irish Fest
Dates: May 22-23 (*A decision regarding Gaelic Park Irish Fest 2020 will be made in early April 2020 and will depend on Government guidelines and Gaelic Park’s assessment of the situation at that time.)
Location: Gaelic Park, Chicago, IL
About: “Our Memorial Weekend Fest has been the first major Midwest festival of the summer season for the past 34 years and we bring the Irish community together to celebrate our music, dance, theatre, conversation and our love of a great party,” said John Devitt, Gaelic Park director and festival chairman. The fest features a wide variety of local musicians and bands, including Paddy Homan, Liz Carroll, Jimmy Keane, Larry Nugent, John Williams, Pauline Connelly, Rory Makem, Joe McShane, Sean Cleland, Gerry Haughey and more; in addition to Billow Wood, Emmet Cahill and Gaelic Brew from Ireland, Steel City Rovers from Canada, and The Drowsy Lads and Eimear Arkins. Gaelic Park Irish Fest also hosts a widely attended Irish dance feis during the two days of the fest.
More information: https://www.chicagogaelicparkirishfest.org/
Motor City Irish Fest
Dates: June 12-14
Location: Greenmead Historical Park, Livonia, MI
About: Featuring 3 days of Irish music, dance, culture, shopping, activities, food and drink, the Motor City Irish Fest will be celebrating Irish heritage and culture for its 11th year. https://motorcityirishfest.com/
Kalamazoo Irish Fest
Dates: June 19-20
Location: Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo, MI
About: Acts include Irish music and dance as well as an array of raffle baskets.
More information: https://www.kalamazooirish.org/irish-fest/
Irish American Heritage Festival
Dates: July 10-12
Location: Irish American Heritage Center, Chicago, IL
About: Irish Fest showcases the finest in local and international Irish and American music, dance and family activities and is the IAHC’s biggest fundraiser. In addition to a great music lineup, the weekend is packed with festival favorites: Irish and American food and drink from vendors, step dancing, cultural exhibits, children’s activities and dozens of vendors and artisans selling Irish clothing, music and jewelry. Activities include contests for adults and children, a bags tournament and cultural exhibits and programs in the Art Gallery, Library and Museum.
More information: https://irish-american.org/at-the-center/2020-iahc-irish-fest/
Saline Celtic Festival
Dates: July 10-11
Location: Mill Pond Park, Saline, MI
About: The city of Saline created the Saline Celtic Festival to celebrate its relationship as a Sister City of Brecon, Wales. Now in its 25th year, the festival features Celtic music and workshops in traditional folk dance, sword play and acrobatics, athletics, traditional musical instruments and historic living. More than 3,500 attendees attend each year, including competitors from as far as Australia who compete in the International Jousting Match and Highland Athletics.
More information: https://www.salineceltic.org/
Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival
Dates: July 24-26
Location: Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds, Cleveland, OH
About: In its 38th year, Cleveland’s Irish Cultural Festival seeks to preserve, memorialize and document Irish history and traditions. Cleveland is home to some of the most highly acclaimed Irish American artists, including The New Barleycorn, Brigid’s Cross, Tap The Bow, The Northcoast Pipe Band and Turn the Corner. Attractions include 24 performers on nine stages, a multitude of exhibits, and myriad kiosks representing some of the finest vendors in the U.S. Since its inception, Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival has donated more than $770,000 to local and national charities.
More information: https://clevelandirish.org/
Dayton Celtic Festival
Dates: July 24-26
Location: Riverscape MetroPark, Dayton, OH
About: Attendees are invited to saturate their senses in the sights, sounds, and tastes of Dayton’s Celtic heritage and experience the rich Celtic traditions, including storytelling, cloggers, knitting and more.
More information: http://www.daytoncelticfestival.com/
Dublin Irish Festival
Dates: July 31-Aug. 2
Location: Dublin, OH
About: The mission of the Dublin Irish Festival is to produce an internationally recognized event that promotes Irish music, dance, culture and tradition. Over its 33 years, the festival has grown from a small gathering to one of the largest Irish cultural gatherings in the world and today features seven stages, 65 acts and more than 535 performers. Attendance averages more than 100,000 guests per year; generally, 20 percent are from Dublin, OH; 60 percent from other cities in Ohio; and 20 percent from all over the world.
More information: https://dublinirishfestival.org
Iowa Irish Fest
Dates: July 31-Aug. 2
Location: Downtown Waterloo, Iowa City, IA
About: Entering its 14th year, the Iowa Irish Fest is an open-air event that provides nearly 50,000 annual attendees the opportunity to participate in a premier cultural event that broadens their global perspective and introduces them to experiences and lifestyles far beyond the Midwest, while acknowledging and celebrating the history of the Irish community. “The Irish in Iowa have done such a fine job of melding into their communities that we felt it was time to draw them back out a bit and show them off to their neighbors and as many visitors as we could,” said Jim Walsh, President of the Cedar Valley Irish Cultural Association, which founded the fest.
More information: https://iowairishfest.com/
The Irish Fair of Minnesota
Dates: Aug. 7-9
Location: Harriet Island Regional Park, Saint Paul, MN
About: The Irish Fair of Minnesota seeks to promote and cultivate Irish culture and preserve a rich heritage of traditions for future generations. Founded in 2001, the festival is recognized as one of the most family-friendly events in the Twin Cities, one of the most authentic Irish festivals nationwide and an amazingly great time by the 80,000 people who attended last year’s festival on the banks of the Mississippi River. All proceeds are invested in supporting the Irish Fair’s mission or in supporting the Minnesota Irish cultural community.
More information: https://www.irishfair.com/
Sparta Celtic Festival
Dates: Aug. 7-8
Location: Rogers Park, Sparta, MI
About: The Sparta Celtic Festival is a free, family friendly event focused on the expression of Celtic heritage. Three stages offer music and dancing, in addition to Highland Games, historical encampments, food and merchants with a Celtic focus.
More information: https://www.spartacelticfest.org/
Milwaukee Irish Fest
Dates: Aug. 13-16
Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park on the shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee, WI
About: The Milwaukee Irish Fest is recognized worldwide as the premier, family friendly, Celtic music festival. More than 100,000 patrons are expected at the 75-acre music venue, which will feature over 100 acts across 17 stages. Created in 1981, the festival provides the opportunity for guests to immerse themselves in all things Irish - from music to food, sports to theater, family activities and more. “We all know that music is the bedrock of Irish culture, and Irish music festivals provide an opportunity for guests, whether or not they’re Irish, to discover the wide-ranging variety of the types of Irish music that is out there,” said Melissa Ward, Director of Marketing for Celtic MKE. “Milwaukee Irish Fest strives to offer an Irish experience that encompasses all facets of Irish culture - to give guests a sense of all things Irish. Many of the guests develop an interest in visiting Ireland, and the festival has an entire area dedicated to Irish destinations and travel to help them start planning their trip. The festival is a great way to get a taste of Ireland and to ignite an interest towards everything that Ireland has to offer.”
More information: https://irishfest.com/
Irish Hooley Music Festival
Date: Aug. 22
Location: Dubuque Star Brewery, Dubuque, IA
About: For generations, the highlight of Irish social life was the Hooley. The mission of the Irish Hooley is to promote Irish/Celtic music and culture in Dubuque. The High Kings are headlining the 2020 Hooley, which will also feature the Fire Pipe and Drums and other bands as well as Irish food and dance.
More information: https://www.irishhooley.org/
Peoria Irish Fest | Erin Feis
Dates: Aug. 28-30
Location: Riverfront Park, Peoria, IL
About: Erin Feis celebrates Irish culture through music, sports, arts, crafts, religious services, food, and beverages. The Barley’s, Baal Tinne, and the Brogue from Kilkenny have returned on multiple occasions to entertain at the festival. The Trinity Academy of Irish Dance of Peoria and the Celtic Cross Drum and Bagpipers have also made appearances. Booths containing historic Irish memorabilia and art have also been a great success.
More information: http://peoriairishfest.com/
Kansas City Irish Fest
Dates: Sept. 4-6
Location: Crown Center, Kansas City, MS
About: With over 30 bands on seven stages, heritage workshops and displays, comedy, genealogy, a massive children's area and more, there is no better way to celebrate Celtic Pride in Cowtown. Kansas City Irish Fest is committed to presenting family-friendly entertainment, activities and products; providing opportunities for Irish organizations to promote positive and peaceful causes; perpetuating the study and appreciation of Irish history and genealogy; developing and cultivating opportunities for leadership and volunteerism; deepening a sense of community among Irish Americans and all ethnic groups that contribute to the unique flavor and vitality of the Midwest; and bringing the heart of Ireland to the heart of Kansas City.
More information: https://kcirishfest.com/
Emerald Isle Irish Feile
Dates: Sept. 11-13
Location: Beaver Island, MI
About: The only Island in the U.S. where immigrants left an island in Ireland and came to an island in Lake Michigan, Beaver Island has long been known as “America’s Emerald Isle.” Many of its original people from Arranmore Island, County Donegal have descendants who still live on Beaver Island. The Irish Feile honors its rich Irish history with Irish music, activities, and history as it relates to the settlement of Beaver Island. The event is a collaboration with the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce, Beaver Island Community School and the Beaver Island Historical Society.
More information: https://irishfeile.com/
Michigan Irish Fest
Dates: Sept. 17-20
Location: Festival Grounds, Heritage Landing, Muskegon, MI
About: The Michigan Irish Music Festival promotes Irish culture and heritage, enhancing the community as a destination through entertainment, tourism, education, and philanthropy. The Fest features seven stages filled with music, dance, and cultural presentations in addition to 15 food vendors and 24 market vendors selling the finest Irish/Celtic goods. Family friendly activities include Highland Games, Celtic Canines, Wee Ones’ activities and loads of fun for the entire family. “Providing an opportunity for people to learn about the Irish culture through music, food and cultural presentations are the keystone pillars for our event,” said Chris Zahrt with the Fest.
More information: https://michiganirish.org/
Indy Irish Fest
Dates: Sept. 18-20
Location: Indianapolis, IN
About: In its 25th year, the mission of the Indy Irish Fest is to preserve, promote and nurture Irish culture, arts, music, sports and history. The Irish are the second largest ethnic group to settle in the Indianapolis area, and the festival was the vision of a small group of people who wanted to showcase the heritage, music and culture of the Irish people and the contributions of that culture to their city and state. The festival has grown significantly over the years and with it, so has the festival’s support of charities and community organizations. Since its inception, Indy Irish Fest has made donations to or helped community organizations raise more than $250,000.
More information: http://www.indyirishfest.com/