Irish Fest

Bonnie North

The special focus of this year’s Milwaukee Irish Fest is the Celtic World Showcase. Bands from Scotland, Ireland, The Isle of Man, Wales, the US and Canada are keeping their Celtic traditions alive while pushing their musical boundaries.

The Orkney Islands are part of Scotland, but with a history that includes time as part of Denmark, they have their own distinct traditions. And in the midst of that tradition are the Wrigley Sisters.

Bonnie North

Irish Fest offers traditional Irish music, dancing and food, but there are also innovative bands hailing from all around the world. This year's Celtic World Showcase features some of them.

The young, bilingual trio Ten Strings and a Goat Skin originated in Prince Edward Island in Canada's eastern provinces. The traditional music scene there sips from a rich musical soup that draws on Scots, Irish, English, and French influences. Ten Strings takes it even further.

Photo courtesy of Ellen Alden

Before one fateful trip to her attic, writer Ellen Alden knew next-to-nothing about the life of her ancestors, save for the fact that her red hair was a throwback to her family's life in Ireland. 

However things changed rapidly after Alden found nineteen old letters in a leather box written by her great-great-grandfather Florence Burke to his family during the Civil War.

Bonnie North

Irish Fest is underway along Milwaukee’s lakefront.  Tens of thousands of people will pass through the Summerfest Grounds turnstiles to take in both contemporary and traditional Celtic music.  And although it’s the largest Irish festival in North America, it actually features acts from all seven Celtic nations, plus Canada and the United States.

Bonnie North

You can know a lot about Celtic heritage and culture and still not know very much about the Isle of Man. The island is famous for international cyclist Mark Cavendish, its unusual flag and it’s unusual relationship with Great Britain.

It’s a “crown dependency,” which means it has its own parliament and money and is ruled by the Lord of Man, who happens to be Queen Elizabeth II.

Trinity Irish Dance Company

It's been almost 20 years since the explosive, award-winning, and internationally renowned performances by Trinity Irish Dance Company have graced a stage at Irish Fest. But founder and artistic director Mark Howard is happy to return to the festival he says made it all possible.

Adam Baker / Flickr

While most of the people who visited Irish Fest a few weeks ago were likely there to watch musical acts, another cultural attraction that many caught was Irish dance.  It’s a form that has a huge following in the Milwaukee area, even outside of the festival season.  Hundreds of kids attend any of several schools that prepare them for competitions.

But in the coming months, organizers hope the nation’s first professional Irish dance company will make Milwaukee home. 

socksinthefryingpan.com

The last band we had in for Irish Fest this year was Co. Claire's trio Flash in the Pan, made up of brothers Shane and Fiachra Hayes and Aodan Coyne. This is the band's second year at Irish Fest and their second year as a formal band.

webanjo3.com

Back in 2012 we had a brand-new band play for us in the Lake Effect studio. We Banjo 3 was here as part of Irish Fest's exploration of how Irish traditional music influenced American bluegrass and vice versa. It was the band's first appearance in America, and our interview that year was their first radio interview as a band.

dallahanmusic.com

One of the bands we had in the studio this year during Irish Fest is the Scottish band Dallahan. The band is made up of Balázs Harmann (double-bass), Paddy Callaghan (button accordion), Ciarán Ryan (banjo/mandolin/fiddle), Jani Lang (fiddle), and Jack Badcock (guitar/vocals).

Suzanne Plunkett / lizcarroll.com

Fiddler Liz Carroll has won just about every musical accolade there is to be had. Her parents immigrated to Chicago from Ireland in the 1950s and Carroll began playing as a child.

She won the Senior All-Ireland Championship when she was 18, has recorded with almost every luminary in the Celtic music pantheon, was nominated for a Grammy award in the Irish traditional category – the first time for an American musician – and she’s played for the President of the United States.

pamelaford.net

At first glance, the Irish potato famine of 1846 is an unlikely setting for a romance novel. But for Wauwatosa’s Pamela Ford, the Great Famine gave her a rich historical setting in which to set her fictional characters.

Desert Agama / Flickr

When Ann O’Farrell first entered the workplace, she was a drama therapist, a theater set and costume designer and helped run a children’s theater in Ireland. 

Milwaukee is a divided city in many ways, but in Belfast of the 1970s, the divisions were deep, formal and violent. 

Northern Ireland author Tony Macaulay grew up in Belfast and wrote about his experiences as a young man coming of age in a trilogy of memoirs - Paperboy, Bread Boy, and the latest, All Growed Up. 

Despite the violent background, the books are funny and touch on universal themes. 

irishfest.com

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.

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