Find the PDF version here: Irish Echo August 20, 2014 page 9
By Evan Short
It’s a little known fact but Kansas City, Missouri, is a city with a huge Irish American heritage and a staggering 250,000 people living within its confines tracing a history back to the old country. So it’s no wonder then that the annual Kansas City Irish Fest (KCIF) is among the best attended Irish American festivals in the fifty states, with 90,000 people expected to attend the 2014 event from August 29-31. Although it has only been going around 11 years in its current guise, KCIF has been able to establish itself as one of the foremost events in Irish America. There is no one more proud of how far the KCIF has come in a short time than Craig Duke.
This year’s president was born in Belfast, and moved to the U.S. at the age of 23. He says becoming festival president has been a dream come true, and he is particularly looking forward to the Labor Day weekend’s events as the North of Ireland has been chosen as the festival theme for 2014.
“Every year we pick something to concentrate on that that would be from the Irish woman to sports, stuff like that. This year, with me being from Belfast, that was one thing I pushed on them, to try and emphasize Northern Ireland. “We are going to cover everything from medicine, science, industry, the Titanic, Massey Ferguson – people don’t realize the tractor was invented in Northern Ireland. Then you have the inflatable tire invented in Belfast by Dunlop, and writers like CS Lewis and Jonathan Swift.”
The jewel in the six counties showcase will be the DeLorean motor car, he says. “Stuff like that. People don’t realize it was made in Belfast.” The pride in Craig’s voice as he talks about the festival is evident.
Although he has a demanding day job, as Senior Deputy Chief of the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department, the married father of two says the hours spent working on the festival are a joy. “That’s something I really enjoy. The KCIF has been going on 11 years. It started off as two smaller festivals in different parts of town, and then we thought we would do better if we joined forces and became one big one. “The new one, singular, now does more to expose people to the cultural side of Ireland.” Modern Ireland features to a greater extent that the fairy tale image of the country, he says. “Last year we opened up an area called the Cultural Café. We hooked up digitally with the Omagh Jazz Festival on the Internet. People were Skyping and able to questions - there’s a huge Irish contingency here.”
Keli O’Neill Wenzel from the KCIF organizing committee says the focus on contemporary Ireland helps to keep relationships going, as generations become further removed from their relatives who emigrated 150 years ago. “We want to hit on facts that are contemporary, and not just about history. We always have a lot of heritage and culture and genealogy which is very important, but one thing our festival is really trying to pick up on is more the contemporary, and Ireland today. “That’s so the younger folks are connecting. For example, I am a fifth generation, so it’s so far beyond me that it’s now more about loving the culture as saying ‘that’s where I’m from.’” Craig says that this is how they are able to keep the young people engaged with the festival. “We are one of the biggest festivals in the States, but at 60 I’m the oldest on the board, the rest are all young people. That’s a big strength.” For more information visit www.kcirishfest.com