Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival
Ireland is Calling You … to Cleveland: Riding shotgun
This is my 32nd year with Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival. I grew up with it, I hope grew wiser with it and the life lessons it taught. My dad, John Sr., gathered a group of friends and we started the festival in 1982.
It has grown, massively, since the first fest. I am often asked if it has become a year round endeavor. In many ways, it has, certainly mentally, often physically.
On Sunday we close; on Monday we clean, we clear, we unscrew and we store, mindful of next year’s preparation, in putting things away. Then, the families disperse to their homes 3 and 6 hours away and we drive off the grounds, essentially for the last time that year, by 5pm on Monday.
There is still much to do. Pay bills of course, figure out where the heck we are going to put all this stuff, count everything so we know what we used, and what we will need to order for next year, store it so it wont be damaged, etc…
For the first time in months, I am able to park my truck in my garage, we pull the pop ups out of my backyard, cut and trim the weed patch otherwise known as my lawn; we put all the pieces parts away till May.
That takes a couple of weeks of course. I made the mistake of calculating how much vacation time I have taken for The Fest – a little over 6 months time in 30 years. I could write another book in that time. In fact, I have.
Through it all, the music and the madness, there is great love; not so much for the physical toll, the miles put on the car, the evenings and weekends given to preparing people, displays and processes, but in seeing the reunions, the relaxation, the families and the memories we help create for others – this is love. We get more than our fair share, coming below.
We will meet again in a month or so; talk about what we did, what went well, what didn’t. What do we have to change, improve, eliminate or add; everything but the weather gets a once over (This year, the weather once over’d us).
Then we look at the results, and we choose 12 charities to help for that year. We crossed half a million dollars in donations a few years ago.
Off we go, on another year’s journey. Bands come first mostly, though a million little decisions and agreements are made, long before the winters freeze settles in. By January we know most of our lineup, some of our new things, and bigger changes and challenges.
After that, it is a freight train on a downhill rush, always under control, sort of, and it is being driven, sort of. But time flies and the momentum won’t be slowed. We go forward, adding, discarding as ideas are played up, or played out.
We start on the grounds the Sunday before The Fest. Banners and lights mostly, but this year, more than a dozen people, new volunteers and older ones, got up and showed up for the exciting task of painting easels, all 75 of them; Black. 6 hours and some really funny conversation, we were done. With that.
Tuesday night we set those easels in place and unloaded more than 20 man sized boxes of displays, plus lights, signs, banners and Velcro, lots and lots of Velcro, into the Temple Bar & Museum, the Sports Hall, Tir Na nOg (Land of our Youth) kids area and Abbey Theatre. Sorted, arranged and left to be adhered.
Set up Wednesday is the heart & soul of the effort. Stages, tents, dance floors, and loads of supporting pieces; the grunt work begins. I have 17 nieces and nephews. All 17 came.
So did 30+ others each day, and 300+ the weekend of. Some have been here so many times that they just show up with a hammer or a screw gun, grab a box of screws and get started.
Pat Leneghan and Andy Dever shook my hand as they walked in, and a few hours later, shook it again as they walked out. In between handshakes, they completed the Abbey Theatre set up, completed it, perfectly, all for the cost of a turkey sandwich and some chewy chocolate chip cookies. Friendship has no cost. I would surely clone them if I could (the men, not the cookies).
We melded the Celtic Heritage Hall into the brand new Temple Bar and Museum this year. We purposely did not have a ton of meetings, but we did have a ton of ideas, from our new subcommittee. Email facilitates less meetings, and more meaningful dialogue when we do meet. Over the months, more than a dozen people Got up, Showed up and helped us Lift up, the new festival feature, utilizing the best, and the most possible, of those ideas. Many more were written down, for next year.
Ballad, Pub, trad and dance Sessiúns, lessons and workshops, an Irish language teacher and the new Temple Bar brought great response and a few surprises. Maureen Conway Reich and crew did a masterful job.
I never expected the walk through the village, to the Temple Bar, lined with painted storefronts, to be a highlight. So many stopped and took photos, using the storefronts as backdrop. Families sharing a name with the storefronts, couples sharing a love; I took at least a ½ dozen pics of people, for people, over the weekend as I passed thru. I saw dozens more on Facebook and Twitter in the days following. Molly Kearney’s paintings were gorgeous.
We are so fortunate to have eloquent spokespeople like Rasa Chambers, Alec DeGabriel, John Delaney, Bob Canann of Claddagh Irish Pubs, Pat Campbell of Brady Campbell School of Dance, Marys Lane – people who jump in to do TV and radio shows and commercials promoting the fest, and freeing us up to assemble the giant. Their passion is contagious and their humor gives great stamina. They are our greatest feature, asset, ambassador, and most importantly, friends.
Each morning, certainly NOT with the sun, I grab a McD Bacon, Egg n Cheese bagel and a large coffee as I head out the road – a treat I love to push me on the road and onto the ground(s). Did you know what is $4.98 in West Park is $6.51 in Middleburg Heights? Why?
What’s that smell? Did you taste and smell the peat turf burning? Maureen Casey at Casey’s Irish Imports hunted down the product and the process to burn the quintessentially Irish turf all weekend in Temple Bar, without an open flame; a nice touch of home, whenever Ireland is calling you.
Through Thursday and into Friday signs, flags and flowers get hung, banners get found and placed, and the tables and chairs get set, tableclothed and filled to the brim. Our Celtic Cross honoring volunteers who have passed away had to be edited this year, as Eamon D’Arcy went to the biggest celebration of all, he went to heaven.
Then, the gates opened.
I have seen The StepCrew live before, but never like they performed at The Fest. They have been on far fancier stages, but no stage has ever seen such joy, energy and power. To watch Jon and Nathan Pilatske stand toe to toe, playing Julie Fitzgerald’s fiddle as she held it on her shoulder sticks in my mind, and will remain there forever more. On that set, Julie occasionally played it too, and all three burst into great rips of dance. The StepCrew are the only group to ever make Riverdance look melancholy.
Malachi Cush, Plunkett McGartland, Alec DeGabriel and many more joined in a Ballad Boom sessiún that could be heard far outside the building. Such voices are truly instruments of joy.
Ballad Boom Sessiun w Malachi Cush & Alec DeGabriel
The little queen joined the High Kings and for many, tears flowed, as they saw the pure joy of the young fan, singing side by side with her favorite band – she knew every single word of every song and let it out with such happiness.
The Queen and The High Kings
We rented 2 Air Conditioners for the first time – the delivery team didn’t know how to work them. I am serious. Neither did the front office. Calls in finally found the owner and also found 1 unit broken. A repairman came, twice. On Saturday, cooler air prevailed and we found the idea has possibilities.
Damien “DAMO” Dempsey, the Dublin, and now world-wide sensation, made his first fest appearance. Fantastic, mesmerizing; Damo is one of my favorite musical memories from this year.
When Damo joined the High Kings Sunday night on stage, I knew we were seeing something incredible, special, for the very first time. It was magic as they sang Damo’s signature ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin”.
Damo and The High Kings
Black 47 were also making their first, and their final, festival appearance. We were all on the Final Tour, as they are retiring after 25 years together. Surreal, Saturday’s show was surreal. I will always see Larry belting it out, the sax man, leaning back against him on one side, the bass on the other; the spotlights setting sun just right behind them.
Larry Kirwan, Black 47, spoke of the Final Tour, and the journey
Marys Lane were a highlight too. With a new CD and infectious passion, they showed why they are one of the top Celtic Rock bands on the circuit today.
The 2014 Sean Moore Memorial Irish Vocals Scholarship Winners Elise Scullin and Sydney Rexing were announced, and each sang so beautifully. If we can keep that flame lit, our ballad tradition shall rise again.
Sean Moore Memorial Irish Vocal Scholarship 2014 Winners: Elise Scullin and Syney Rexing
Every year, we give away a trip to Ireland, courtesy of Pat Hollywood at Travel Connections. This year, for the first time ever, the winner, Eastlake’s Cathleen Ellers, was in the audience when I called her name, drawn from the hopper by The Stepcrew’s Cara Butler. She screamed, we all screamed, for Ireland.
I remember later that Sunday nite. We had had a good day, sunny and with a nice crowd, after festifying in the Irish rain all day Saturday.
A Walk in the Irish Rain
I always resolve to not clean up, to see a final show instead, as the fest comes to a close. The weekend is such a blur, we don’t get to see much of the music, but for a song or two. I did see some of the epic finale The StepCrew arranged, inviting Dervish and Eileen Ivers on stage for a rambunctious revelry of music that shook the posts and rocked souls like only Trad music can.
A frenetic finale; The StepCrew, Eileen Ivers, Dervish
Yet … I am aware of all the work and money that goes into preparation, and how easily chunks disappear, when someone steals a sign for their bedroom. So I called for an available golf cart, and #1 nephew Tommy Beardmore roared around the corner, picked me up and we pulled all the signs and banners from the gates, before anyone could seek out a last souvenir gift for home. Tommy dropped me off and I kept walking, gathering more signs and banners as I walked the almost deserted midway, starting at the back gate, grabbing signs off beer & pop trucks, rest rooms and ticket booths.
We bring every sign, stage, light, tent, table and chair in to the festival grounds. They must be brought out too, by 5pm on Monday, the day after the fest. Of course, they have to be paid for, returned or not.
About 11:20, #3 Nephew John Beardmore radioed me “what’s your 20?” I said ticket Booth #2. He didn’t respond. I saw a bunch of kids just inside the new Temple Bar and stepped in.
Every square inch of the hall had been unscrewed, stacked and stripped. Maureen Carr, Kathleen Mangan, Dan & Kathleen Chambers and their nieces, nephews and friends had taken down and sorted in less than 1 hour, what had taken 2 ½ days to put up. Neatly and with Big picture, what are we going to use first next year understanding, to be boxed and stored .
My heart leapt, for the work and weight of tomorrow had been taken from my shoulders. They didn’t stop there, for they came BACK on Monday, and did much more, plus they brought Irish soda bread!
I celebrated and thanked each of them, then turned to cover the rest of the Midway, seeking the signs. Just then, #3 Nephew John walked in, with every single sign in hand and piled them with the already picked up signs. It is the simplest pleasures that tell us, in action, God provides.
The after parties at the hotel each night always live on in my mind. Sunday night especially is a release like no other. The ever laughing Alec DeGabriel, Malachi and Claire Mary Cush, Lisa McQuade, Plunkett McGartland, Bernadette Ruddy, Lex and Alex Fedoryka … T’was hard to go to bed with laughter hurtin sides and jaw so stitched up.
The After’s Party: Malachi Cush, Alec DeGabriel, John O’Brien Jr, Plunkett McGartland
So many milestones and memories, none better than another; just bricks n mortar in what makes an event, momentous.
On Sunday we close; on Monday we clean …
Ireland is calling you; we’ll never know if what we do has an impact, but most of all, we at least hope, you had fun.
My Dear Little Shamrock, my sweet little Shamrock, My dear little, sweet little shamrock of Ireland
Kevin’s Irish Art – our newest vendor – love their art, and really nice people too.
The Danny Lackey Clan
Fr Mahoney celebrates Mass, one of my fav parts of The Fest
Lil niece Niney
True red’s – gorgeous
The Stepcrew, rippin it
The Temple Bar, replica of the Temple Bar, in the Temple Bar District, in Dublin, Ireland
Beer truck #2 Volunteers, efficiency, grace, beauty and Bling!