The Founding of Milwaukee's Irish Fest

Aug 7, 2015

The ethnic festival season continues next week with the nation’s largest Irish heritage festival.  

Before the 35th annual Irish Fest kicks off, Lake Effect connects with Ed Ward and John Maher, who have been with Irish Fest since before there was an Irish Fest. They’re part of the longtime Milwaukee traditional Irish band, Blarney, which started six years before the festival began in 1981.

Ward says it was from that interest in the music that the festival emerged. "We set out from the very start to make it a broad variety of musical acts that reflected the American-Irish song tradition, the folk tradition, the instrumental music, and of course, culture," he says.

Concerned about how to put on such an event, neither Ward or Maher thought about the long-term implications of the festival, or could have imagined that it would grow to such success.

"When Ed asked me to assist with the festival the first year, I remember thinking 'this would be an interesting way to spend one weekend in August," Maher says.