Irish fest holds wide community appeal - Catholic Courier

Irish fest holds wide community appeal

Only six months ’til St. Patrick’s Day!

For folks of Irish heritage, it’s not too early to be thinking that way. And even if you’re not Irish, there’s no harm in a bit o’ St. Patty’s Day fun in September, is there?

Thus, the annual "Halfway to St. Patrick Day" Irish Festival is set for Saturday, Sept. 10, from 1 to 11 p.m. at the Hibernian Center grounds, 701 Kinyon St., on Elmira’s south side.

Food, beverages, raffles, music, dancing and other Irish festivities will highlight the day. Headlining the musical offerings will be Hair of the Dog, a popular Celtic band from the Albany area that has released numerous CDs. Other scheduled musicians are Pat Kane and The Stoutmen, along with pipers and Irish dancers to round out the entertainment. 

"Often imitated but never duplicated" is the popular slogan for the festival. According to Julie McInerny, event cochair along with P.J. White, the one-day festival typically draws 1,200 to 1,500 people (participants are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.) McInerny said attendance is enhanced by a family-friendly atmosphere along with food and drink at reasonable prices. In addition, there is no admission fee.

"We wanted to continue the tradition of an ethnic celebration in our community versus other Irish festivals that have cropped up and do charge admission," McInerny said. The festival is traditionally held on the second Saturday of September and is so well-known that "we don’t really advertise — we don’t need to," she remarked, adding that the event’s high quality is made possible by a dedicated all-volunteer team.

Proceeds from the day will go toward charitable organizations in the community as determined by the men’s and women’s divisions of Msgr. John J. Lee Division No. 1 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). "We will raise anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 dollars depending on weather," said McInerny, whose husband, Justin, coordinates the festival’s beverages and serves as the Elmira AOH’s house committee chairman.

The Irish Festival dates back nearly 30 years and serves as a reminder that "people should celebrate their Irish heritage throughout the year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day," McInerny stated.

Amid the celebratory atmosphere, McInerny said the festival, which this year falls the day before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy, pays due tribute to that recent piece of history. As part of opening ceremonies, organizers recognize all of the veterans in attendance and acknowledge those who lost their lives in 9/11. McInerny recalled that in 2001, the Irish Festival was reinstituted as a yearly event — not long after 9/11 occurred, as it turned out.

"During such unsettled times, the committee decided to go ahead with the festival feeling that people needed some down time after that devastating day. We had a great turnout, and proceeds from that festival went to the 9/11 fund," McInerny said.

The Elmira Hibernians are the local affiliate of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which began forming in the United States in the 1800s as a response to anti-Catholicism during a period when the Irish immigrant population was accelerating. Today, AOH continues to advocate for political, social and religious causes on behalf of American Irish Catholics while also providing education to the public about Irish heritage and participating in fundraising all year long.

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