Sláinte: CT Irish Festival Takes the Stage This Weekend

The annual two-day event — celebrating its 50th anniversary — features live music and sporting events, food and drink, crafts and vendors, as well as the popular Feis dancing competition.

The hasn't made things easy on the crew setting up for this weekend's .

The festival, which is this year, will take place this Saturday and Sunday at the .

"It takes a lot of man hours, a lot of work, just to get these stages set up," Jim Martens, the festival committee chairman, told Patch late Thursday afternoon at the fairgrounds.

'Perfect' Weekend for a Festival

All week long volunteers have toiled away under the to make sure everything is just right before the gates open on Saturday.

"Aat this point, we're just about set up," Martens said.

He added, however, that when it comes to the Mother Nature, the most important thing is how she will behave for the two days during the festival.

And the forecast for the weekend?

"It's going to be perfect," Martens, an East Haven resident, said.

A Full Festival Program

This Connecticut Irish Festival, sponsored by the East Haven-based , is the longest running Irish festival in New England — and, according to organizers, the United States. 

Each year thousands of people attend the event, which highlights some of the finest elements of Irish music, dancing and sports.

This year's festival will also feature language and instrumental competitions as well as genealogy, traditional music presentations and carving demonstrations.

In addition, the cultural building will also house area Irish organizations and feature an Irish bread-baking contest.

Family Friendly

The festival is a family-friendly event, with children under 16 admitted free.

And there are several activities and events taking place both days geared toward children, including: Irish magic shows, free face painting, Irish story time, rides, youth football scrimmage, sheep shearing, and pony rides.

And the Irish Tea Cottage, offering an assortment of food and merchandise, will be open throughout the festival.

"So the people can sit down and have a rest, have a scone with some tea or coffee," Martens said.

Musical Performers

Meanwhile, adults can enjoy on the Celtic scene. This year's headlining band is Seven Nations, which will take the stage Saturday evening.

Other acts appearing throughout the weekend include the Screaming Orphans, McLean Avenue Band, the Mickey Finns, Celtic Cross, Kitchen Party, Mean Carlene and Tommy Goodwin & Sharon.

"We bring in entertainment acts from all over the country, from Ireland and the New York area — and people have their favorites," Martens said.

For a full schedule of activities, performances and times, visit the festival's website or its Facebook page "CT Irish Festival."

Saturday Highlights: Gaelic Football

The day begins with the CT Irish Festival's 10th Annual 5K Road Race at 11 a.m., which benefits the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. There is also a kids’ fun run at 10:30 a.m. and 2-mile fitness walk at 11 a.m. Sign-ups start at 9 a.m.

Saturday evening will feature a Gaelic football exhibition game between two teams comprised of members of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Fire Department New York (FDNY).

"It will be the first time ever we're having these two teams play here," Martens said.

Prior to the game, there will be a "Battle of the Bravest" Tug-o-War tournament among area professional firefighters competing for the "Bill Miller Trophy" and benefiting the Leary Firefighters Foundation.

Sunday's Highlights: Feis

The day will start at 8:15 a.m. with a Catholic Mass on the fairgrounds. 

But the day's feature event will be the , an Irish dance competition, which will showcase hundreds of competitors from local studios as well as dancers from across the county.

Feis, a Gaelic word pronounced "fesh," is a traditional Irish dance competition.

John O'Keefe, of East Haven, is the competition's director.

"We probably have about 600 competitors coming from all over New England and the Tri-State area to compete," O'Keefe said.

He said the festival is the last compeition before the dancers head off to the 2012 North American Irish Dance Championships in Chicago next month.

"So there are a lot of kids coming to try out their new dances, and make sure that their dances are ready to go for the national compeition," he said.

O'Keefe added that this is the 48th year for the festival's feis.

"And it's grown. There's people that have been coming for decades, from one generation to the next," he said.

Festival Information

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday. And Mass begins on Sunday at 8:15 a.m. and the festival ends at 7 p.m.

Admission price is $12 per day per adult. Children under age 16 and active military personnel with ID card are admitted free.

For general information, contact Jim Martens at 203-467-3638 or email ctirishfestival@gmail.com. Or visit the festival's website CTIrishFest.com.


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