Festival at Hornell church celebrates Irish culture, spirit - Catholic Courier
Women and girls perform Irish dance.

The Ring of Chiarraighe Dancers from Horseheads perform during the Hornell Irish Festival Aug. 19 at St. Ann Church. (Courier photo by Mike Latona)

Festival at Hornell church celebrates Irish culture, spirit

HORNELL — “It’s the biggest party of the summer in Hornell,” Mark Kelly shouted as festive Irish music blared in the background on the afternoon of Aug. 19.

Indeed, St. Ann Church’s parking lot was filled with people of all ages — Irish and otherwise — enjoying the annual Hornell Irish Festival. Those who attended were treated to a variety of food and drink booths; kids’ games and activities; vendors selling Irish souvenirs, books and other wares; raffles; and a slate of musical performers who occupied a makeshift stage for much of the nine-hour festival.

The event was organized by Steuben County’s Ancient Order of Hibernians, an international Irish Catholic fraternal organization, for which Kelly serves as president.

“It’s an opportunity to just bring Irish culture to the community, to celebrate in the community,” John McCumiskey, another AOH member, said of the festival. He and Kelly are members of Our Lady of the Valley Parish.

Inaugural Irish festival in Hornell was in 2007

The first Hornell Irish Festival took place in 2007, one year after the local Hibernian group — known as the Sons of Ireland, Division 1, Steuben County — was formed. Kelly explained that the current festival follows in the spirit of longtime carnivals at St. Ann and the former St. Ignatius Loyola Church, which closed for regular worship in 2004.

The Hornell event is one of the few Irish festivals offered in western New York. Another one, coming right up, will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 9 in Elmira at the Hibernian Center, 701 Kinyon St.

Kelly noted that well over 1,000 people typically attend the Hornell festival, with 600 to 700 assembled at any given time. One notable group of participants is the Clancys, who arrange their large family reunion every year so all can go to the festival.

People who attended on Aug. 19 got to sample several Irish/Celtic musical groups, including Pat Kane, the Ring of Chiarraighe Dancers, the Donlon Brothers and Crikwater. A special added feature this year was the first-ever parade to kick off the festival; it began at the corner of Genesee and Seneca streets and ended at the festival site on Erie Avenue.

Noting that the Hibernians also are highly involved in the local St. Patrick’s Day parade each March, McCumiskey said the Irish Festival “gives us a chance to do something in between (St. Patrick’s Day) and take advantage of the nice weather.”

Kelly noted that everything came off smoothly on the sunny, warm festival day — a welcome change from the wind and rain one day earlier that had knocked a couple of tents over during set up.

Irish music and dress help festival spirits run high

Whether the music featured bagpipes, fife and drum, fiddle or guitar, spirits ran high throughout the festival. The only exception was between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., when the volume was brought down out of respect for the anticipated Sunday Mass taking place at St. Ann Church across the street.

Adding to the energetic proceedings was the sight of many Hibernians dressed in Irish kilts. According to Kelly and McCumiskey — who sported kilts of their own — this distinctive fashion was begun at last year’s Irish Festival, and the number of Hibernians wearing kilts doubled this year.

“It’s the best. It’s catching on,” McCumiskey said.

Charitable causes benefit from Hibernians’ efforts

Kelly said the festival is a cooperative effort between Our Lady of the Valley Parish and his Hibernians. Also providing a big assist are the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, Daughters of Erin Chapter 1, which was established locally in 2014.

Proceeds from the Irish Festival are typically divided between Our Lady of the Valley, youth-scholarship initiatives and other local charitable causes. This year’s special beneficiary is Hart House, a comfort-care facility in Wellsville. McCumiskey, who secures corporate sponsorships for the festival, said the event is strongly supported by the community.

Kelly added that the Irish Festival is an ideal way for Hibernians to carry out their motto of “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity,” which they strive to follow all year long.

“I’m very passionate about this organization,” he stated.

Tags: Steuben County News
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