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Death of Ed Ward, Milwaukee Fest founder

Ed Ward


By Irish Echo Staff

The death has taken place of Ed Ward, the founder and driving force behind the world famous Milwaukee Irish Fest.

He was 74.

Ward, who was featured in last week’s Echo in Daniel Neeley’s traditional music column and described in the headline as “a titan in Irish music,” was in failing health in recent months.

Last year, his wife Catherine accepted a Presidential Distinguished Services Award for the Irish Abroad on his behalf and presented by President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin.

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The Irish government responded Tuesday to the news pf Ward’s passing.

Minister of State for the Diaspora, Ciarán Cannon, expressed his sadness “on the passing of Mr. Edward J. Ward, the founder of the Milwaukee Irish Fest and a leading figure in the promotion of Irish culture in North America.”

Said minister Cannon: “I am very saddened to hear of the death of Ed Ward. I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Cathy, his family, and his many friends.”

Continued Cannon: “Ed Ward was the founder of the Milwaukee Irish Fest and a towering figure in Irish America who dedicated his life to the promotion of Irish culture. It is a testament to Ed Ward’s entrepreneurial spirit and focus on high-quality production that since its inception in 1981, the “Milwaukee Irish Fest has transformed from a shoestring operation into the greatest celebration of Irish culture in North America, attracting well over 100,000 attendees annually.

“His generosity of spirit is evident in the mentoring role he played, notably through the Association of Irish and Celtic Festivals which he established.

“I have had the pleasure of attending the Milwaukee Irish Fest myself. I was struck not only by the sheer scale of the event, but also by the tremendous energy and spirit of the volunteers, the quality of the programming, and the enthusiasm of the attendees. It was clear to me that the Milwaukee Irish Fest holds a very special place in the hearts of the many thousands of people who join in its celebrations each year.

“His efforts, however, did not limit themselves there. Ed Ward was also the founder of the Ward Irish Music Archives. This archive, founded 27 years ago, is now considered one of the United States’ most important collections of Irish folk music and plays an important role in preserving and transmitting this unique cultural legacy.

“Such was the respect for Ed Ward’s contribution to the promotion of Irish culture that in November last year, he was honored with a Presidential Distinguished Service Award. Sadly, Ed himself was unable to travel, but I was delighted to meet his wife Cathy at Áras an Uachtaráin, who travelled to accept the award from President Higgins on Ed’s behalf.

“As a fellow musician, I cherish the fact that Ed chose to make Irish music the means that unites hundreds of thousands of people each year in celebration of this cultural heritage, and the rich contribution it has made over the course of centuries to the cultural tapestry of North America. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”