By Stephen McKinley
Lake Michigan’s shores will resound to the sound of Irish music and dancing this weekend, with the return of the annual Milwaukee Irish Festival, the largest Irish and Irish-American entertainment event in the U.S.
This, the 22nd festival, could be bigger than ever before, with organizers hoping to break last year’s record of 130,000 visitors in the four days from Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 15-18.
Organizer Jane Anderson noted that this year’s theme was “the sound of tradition,” because “it truly represents family and friends connecting through music, culture and community.”
“Irish Fest is known as a family-friendly festival, and our guests will experience Ireland’s spirit, folklore and charm in what is considered to be the world’s largest Irish festival,” she said.
With the recent growth of interest in Irish dance, Irish Fest entertainment coordinator Chuck Ward said that the festival will boast more dance troupes than ever before.
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Milwaukee-based companies Cashel Dennehy, Glencastle and Trinity are headlining the program.
“In addition,” Ward said, “the 2002 lineup of contemporary, traditional, folk and rock music will showcase diverse Irish and Irish-American artists that will please the tastes of virtually every festivalgoer.”
This year’s musical lineup is impressive as well: festival goers will have a chance to see and hear such greats as Cherish the Ladies, Kila, the Commitments, the Highwaymen and North Cregg. Paddy Reilly, Patrick Street, Kilfenora Ceili Band, Providence, The Makem Brothers, Carmel Quinn, the Tracy Sands Band, and Barachois.
A new attraction will be the Irish Cultural Village, Ballyfest.
This year, the Village allows guests to “travel” though Ireland’s Gaeltacht regions and uncover the richness of the Gaelic language. They can also satisfy their appetite with Irish snack food while enjoying a pint or two at the Village Pub.
“The Cultural Village is intended to give our guests a ‘feel’ for the Emerald Isle,” said Anderson. “Irish song, food, and crafts are presented in traditional manner so that Irish heritage can be celebrated, promoted and preserved.”
The village’s new destination, the Literary Corner, will feature Kenny’s Row — a literary treat featuring Kenny’s Bookshop of Galway, the famous bookstore stacked with the latest books from Ireland.
The Literary Corner also features the Hedge School, where guests can participate in lively literary discussions, or meet with representatives of Irish publications while enjoying snacks and a cup of tea from the CafT Takeaway.
Visitors are also invited to see the “Brendan,” a sea-faring boat that transported the “Saints and Scholars” from island to island, or visit Walton’s Music to learn the art of the bodhran.
In addition, artisans from Ireland will excite visitors with demonstrations of their crafts and artwork that can be purchased at the Moore Street Market, named for the well-known open-air market in Dublin.
The festival will have a special Mass this year as well.
The newly appointed archbishop-elect of Milwaukee, Timothy Dolan, will celebrate a Liturgy for Peace and Justice Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
Last year’s Festival Mass attracted more than 10,000 people.
“We’re honored to have the newly elected archbishop celebrate Mass with us,” Anderson said. “His participation in this Irish Fest tradition is a highlight of the festival and a great welcome to Milwaukee.”
The festival features Irish and Irish American talent, and serves as a stage for up-and-coming local performers.
Admission is $5 on Thursday, from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. On Friday, it is $10, open from 4 p.m. to midnight. Saturday and Sunday, admission is also $10, and opening hours are noon to midnight and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., respectively. Further information at: www.irishfest.com.