WHILE ST. PATRICK'S DAY REVELRY seems to be on everyone’s mind these days (as the City is once more making a last-minute attempt to curb the more excessive elements of town’s famous, libation-heavy annual holiday festival), it’s worth noting that for almost two decades, a small group of local Irish and Irish-Americans have consistently hosted a Celtic-themed festival that’s overflowing with tradition and a sense of community rather than a foaming malt beverage.
Smaller in scale, but infinitely more educational and cultured, this weekend’s 17th Annual Savannah Irish Festival is a dream come true for those who either feel separated from their homeland, yearn to connect with their heritage, or are simply enamored with or unfamiliar with Irish food, music, art and history.
“It always takes place the third weekend in February, and between now and St. Pat’s there’s some sort of Irish celebration taking place every weekend, explains Chris Hagan, Vice Chairman for this year’s Festival. According to Hagan, the original intent of this event has remained the same over the past 16 years: “To share the culture of the music and the dancing and to make it available to children as well as adults.”
With a fairly staggering lineup of both traditional and contemporary Irish musical acts on tap for this two-day celebration (funded for the first time by a grant from the Irish Consulate), as well as numerous vendors of all types (including many artisans and crafts people who are coming directly from Ireland with a selection of handmade wares not otherwise available in the USA), demonstrations of Irish dancing and lectures on Irish history from University Professors, this perennially popular gathering is easily the most concentrated dose of Celtic information and entertainment to be found in this area at any time in any given year.
A wide variety of Irish-related music is always a big part of this event’s draw, and this year, organizers have once more assembled an impressive roster designed to appeal to all age groups — including: Ireland’s own buzzworthy traditional band Slide, who launch their U.S. tour at this Festival; the quartet of John Doyle, Sean Doyle, Mick Moloney and Athena Turgis, collectively, some of the most recognizable artists in the world of traditional Irish music; Celtic balladeer Tommy Sands, composer of “There Were Roses,” and “Their Daughters and Their Sons”; Na Fidleiri, a repeat favorite at this Festival who’ve been called the finest youth Celtic fiddling ensemble in the country.
Acclaimed acoustic singer/songwriters Harry O’Donoghue and Brendan Nolan return again as well, plus Ed Miller, a leading name in the Scottish Folksong Revival. He’ll be joined by two members of the well-known combo Henri’s Notions.
And, while the atmosphere of this event is certainly more sedate than that of the beer-soaked street party which will consume downtown Savannah just over a month from now, this is by no means a “dry” celebration.
“We’ll have all manner of soft drinks as well as beer, Guinness and other types of adult beverages available,” says Hagan.
He noted that this event has traditionally been held right around Presidents’ Day, at least partially because that often makes it easier for out-of-towners to travel to Savannah to attend the Festival. “We don’t have nay hard and fast numbers on how many tourists come to the event,” says Hagan, “But the statistics form the past three years show a huge spike in hotel reservations during our event, so we’ll claim that! (laughs)”
Also worth noting is that this year’s Irish Festival kicks off —coincidentally— on Valentine’s Day. Hagan says there are no special Valentine’s programs of any kind at this gathering, however, he says with a grin, “We hope everybody will bring their sweetheart out with them.”
The 17th Annual Savannah Irish Festival
When: Sat., 10:30 am & Sun., 12 pm
Where: Savannah Civic Center
Cost: $10 each day (kids 14 & under free with paid adult)