[caption id="attachment_79850" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Two dynamos behind the stunning success of the Milwaukee Irish Fest: Patrick Boyle and Colleen Kennedy.[/caption]
By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- There are Irish in Milwaukee?
That’s often the response from — admittedly ill-informed — East Coast Irish Americans when told the Milwaukee Irish Fes is the biggest in the nation.
But with 17 stages, 200 acts, 4,000 volunteers and over 130,000 visitors, the summer spectacle on a purpose-built fairground on the shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, really is the daddy of them all. And last week it celebrated 35 years a-growin’.
Not that the Midwest Irish haven’t much else to crow about: the city is also home to the biggest hurling club in America while the Irish American Cultural and Heritage Center boasts one of the most impressive Irish-American archives in the country.
Performers and exhibitors at Irish Fest say the stunning success of Irish Fest is down to the famed hospitality of its hosts.
NYU professor and musician Mick Moloney — who has attended all 35 fests — reckons no other Irish festival in the U.S. treats its performers with the same respect and care as the Milwaukee Irish Fest. Evidence of that? Look no further than the hotel where the musicians are accommodated - the Hyatt downtown, regarded as Milwaukee’s finest.
Among the revered musicians hosted at the Hyatt this year were Chieftains fluter Matt Molloy, famed guitarist Artie McGlynn and vocalist John Carty as well as Novia Scotia ambassador and singer Brian Doherty — who doubles as Ireland’s Honorary Consul General in the Canadian province. Doherty told the Irish Echo: "Milwaukee Irish Fest is the biggest and best organized Irish Festival in America and includes all the various performance components that make up the mosaic of Irish culture. I’m delighted to be involved."
Kevin Gamble, director of the West Belfast festival, Féile an Phobail, has been attending Irish Fest for the past four years. “Nothing comes close in terms of engaging with Irish Americans we want to bring to Belfast for our August féile,” he said, “and we have unlimited potential in terms of forging partnerships with Irish American groups in the Midwest. For us, it’s the crossroads of Irish America and a must-attend event.”
Colleen Kennedy, powerhouse behind guest relations for the Milwaukee Irish Fest, isn’t one for resting on her laurels. She’s already planning ways to attract new exhibitors from Ireland for the 2016 celebrations.
And Executive Director Patrick Boyle said this year's “world-class international line-up” proved a sensation.
“In 2016, festival-goers can expect to see an expansion of the Celtic Kitchen to feature the wonderful, gourmet food of the region, as well as a special cultural focus to commemorate the events of 1916 in Ireland,” he said.
You can find details on the Milwaukee Irish Fest at their website.