December 25, 2015

The legend of St. Stephen's Day

Here in the United States, the day after Christmas is often a day of cleaning up the house and catching up on some rest after the chaos of the holiday. Other parts of the world continue the celebrations on December 26, St. Stephen's Day. Also known as Boxing Day and Wren's Day, this day commemorates the life of St. Stephen, known for his service to the poor and as the first Christian martyr.

An Irish legend recounts that St. Stephen was betrayed by a wren while hiding from his enemies, resulting in his death by stoning. Another story tells of a wren betraying Irish soldiers on St. Stephen's Day by alerting the Vikings of their presence before an ambush around 750 AD. Because of these legends, some Irish people held contempt for these small birds and felt they should be stoned to death the way that St. Stephen was. Young boys would hunt a wren and parade its body around the village to collect money in return for a wren's feather, then use the collections to throw a party for the neighborhood.

The tradition of killing wrens faded out in the early 1900's, but the day is still observed as a public holiday even today. In some areas, children will go door to door with a toy wren, singing and/or dancing to collect money for charity or school projects. Others spend the day relaxing with family, attending a special church service or visiting a theater. However you celebrate, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season!


November 23, 2015

Milwaukee Irish Fest Receives Rare Gifts from Makem Family

The family of Tommy Makem has donated two rare and valuable letters to Milwaukee Irish Fest to be added to the existing Tommy Makem Collection in the Ward Irish Music Archives (WIMA). The first is a letter from President Bill Clinton to Tommy, dated June 11, 2001, congratulating Tommy on the celebration of his Golden Jubilee as an internationally known folk singer/songwriter. The second letter is from Irish President Mary McAleese to the Makem family, dated August 2, 2007, one day after Tommy passed away. This letter expresses her condolences and fond memories of Tommy and his contributions to Irish culture.

WIMA has other rare items that were donated by Tommy, including an Aran knit sweater worn by him when he toured with the Clancy Brothers. His original five-string banjo is on loan to the Archives as well. Tommy was especially close to his friends at Milwaukee Irish Fest, where he appeared at 22 out of the 27 festivals between its origination and his passing.

Milwaukee Irish Fest has created a special Tommy Makem Cultural Legacy Fund, set up to honor Tommy and his longstanding passion and contributions to Irish music and culture. The goal of this fund is to raise $50,000. Once this target is reached, Milwaukee Irish Fest will award an annual grant or scholarship that promotes a living legacy of Irish music and culture. The Tommy Makem Cultural Legacy Fund is already two-thirds of the way to its goal. Anyone interested in supporting this fund can get more information or donate online or by calling the Milwaukee Irish Fest Center at 414-476-3378.

November 17, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from Milwaukee Irish Fest!

On behalf of the entire Milwaukee Irish Fest organization, we would like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! This year, we are especially thankful for the success we experienced in our special 35th anniversary celebrations. We are so fortunate to have some of the world’s hardest working volunteers supporting our mission. As always, our heartfelt thanks go out to these amazing people, without whom we would not have Milwaukee Irish Fest!

The 35th Milwaukee Irish Fest was truly incredible, and we’re working hard to keep that momentum going. Earlier this month, New York City’s rising Irish traditional band, The Yanks, visited Milwaukee for a day of music workshops followed by an impressive performance that evening. Many guests joined us at the Irish Fest Center in Wauwatosa for this event, helping to support the year-round presence of Irish music in our community. The Irish Fest Center was bustling last weekend as well, as we welcomed holiday shoppers to our 15th Annual Celtic Christmas Boutique, a unique craft fair inspired by the Emerald Isle.

Next month we’ll continue the fun with our Christmas Concert featuring Tallymoore and the Irish Fest School of Music on Friday, December 12. Proceeds will benefit the Irish Fest Summer School, and we hope to see you there! We welcome everyone interested in Irish music to join us for our monthly Family Sessions on the first Sunday of each month from 1-2:30 p.m. here at the Center. All ages and abilities are welcome to come play along, or just listen in and socialize. Plus, if you’re feeling generous this holiday season, we invite you to donate during the Chuck Ward Memorial Blood Drive on December 16, also at the Irish Fest Center. Check out for details on all of our upcoming events!

The Ward Irish Music Archives have been busy as well. Our team have put together a one-of-a-kind exhibition this year in commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. “Postcards from the 1916 Irish Rebellion” is taken from more than 140 postcards in our Bob Burke Postcard Collection. The postcards chosen for this exhibit help paint a picture of the destruction in Dublin during and after the rebellion. Look for this exhibit at Milwaukee Irish Fest 2016, at the Irish Fest Center and at festivals throughout the year. We will also be participating in three academic conferences in spring. We are especially thankful for those that support the Ward Irish Music Archives and all of its endeavors all year long. Without them, all of this wonderful work would not be possible.

Perhaps our most exciting news of the season has been welcoming our new Office Manager and Bookkeeper, Terry Gesinski! Terry started two weeks ago and has already become a wonderful addition to our team.

As we plan for our 2016 festival, we look ahead with excitement to pursue new opportunities and to continue cherished traditions. The sense of community, amazing talent and cultural awareness brought together by Milwaukee Irish Fest gives us so much to be thankful for in the coming seasons. We can’t wait for you to join us for our year-round programming and once again for Irish Fest, the largest celebration of Irish music and culture on this side of the pond.

We wish all of you a very safe, happy and “green” holiday season. Laethanta Saoire Sona Daoibh!

Patrick Boyle
Executive Director, Milwaukee Irish Fest

November 10, 2015

Thanksgiving - with an Irish twist!

Every November Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by feasting with family and friends. While many know the heartwarming story of the first Thanksgiving feast shared between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag natives, few are aware of the Irish influence on this American day of thanks.

Thanks to records from The Boston Post and the Massachusetts Historical Society, we can trace the Irish impact on this holiday all the way back to February 21, 1621. Early British settlers near Plymouth Rock were saved from starvation by none other than an Irish merchant. Struggling to make it through their first cold winter in the New World, this group of pilgrims had an Irish woman’s father to thank for their survival. Upon receiving word of his daughter’s plight, he sent his ship, The Lyon, loaded with food and drink from Dublin to his daughter’s settlement in America. Their celebratory meal made from this precious cargo marks one of the earliest known Thanksgiving stories, taking place just a few months before the classic First Thanksgiving narrative that we know and love.

Although an official Thanksgiving Day is not widely observed outside of North America, today’s celebration is in large part an extension harvest traditions that have existed for thousands of years across the world. What may be most important to remember this Thanksgiving is how meaningful it was for many of our ancestors. So many emigrated from Ireland to America to escape famine and found they had much to be thankful for during those first harvests in the New World. Lá Altaithe Sona Daoibh!

By Chelsey Porth, Milwaukee Irish Fest

August 19, 2015

Thank you for celebrating with us!

On behalf of the Board of Directors of Milwaukee Irish Fest, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of the volunteers, sponsors, special guests from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Canada and Scotland, the patrons, performers, vendors, City of Milwaukee officials and everyone else that helped us celebrate 35 years of Irish music and culture.

Even with such a busy weekend in Milwaukee, our turnout was great and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It seems that everyone enjoyed the festival - especially the stellar music lineup!

With more than 100 different acts on 17 stages featuring new artists like the Kilkennys, FullSet and Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, combined with festival favorites like Gaelic Storm, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and We Banjo 3, festival patrons had the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of music from the world-class international lineup.

The Living Tradition Showcase, our largest musical showcase to date, was a huge hit. The showcase highlighted Irish traditional music with 35 terrific local, national and international bands. This year's festival brought over a dozen different acts from Ireland, as well as several from Scotland, Canada and many other countries around the world.

Included in the celebration was a fantastic tribute concert to honor the late Tommy Makem. Crowds gathered for a lecture on this musical legend to support the Tommy Makem Cultural Legacy Fund, and many were brought to tears at the moving musical tribute led by Tommy's son and many friends.

In another special show, Cherish the Ladies invited seven Senior All-Ireland Champions on stage to be recognized. These tradition-bearers have kept Irish musical traditions alive and inspired other Irish Americans in keeping with this year's "Living Tradition" theme. They included Liz Carroll, Jimmy Keane, John Whelan, Joanie Madden, Eileen Ivers, Brian Conway and Billy McComiskey. The blockbuster Americana - Irish Style show was also a huge hit, featuring Scythian, We Banjo 3 and Eileen Ivers together on one stage.


We were honored to have "one of our own," long-time Irish Fest volunteer Fr. Michael Maher, S.J. as our celebrant for the Liturgy for Peace and Justice on Sunday morning. Many different elected officials from Ireland also attended including Minister of State Joe McHugh, representing Ireland's Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, as well as the mayors of County Clare, Galway City and County Mayo, among others. Jim Shannon, MP, was in attendance, representing DUP and Ulster Scots, as well as Mairtin O Muilleoir of Belfast Media Group and many other honored guests from throughout the world.

We are also pleased to report that we collected 41,000 pounds of food and $647.49 that was donated to the Hunger Task Force of Wisconsin. 12,000 school supplies were collected and donated to Hope House of Milwaukee. We also hosted a very successful run-walk to help support the Arthritis Foundation.

More than 4,000 dedicated volunteers helped stage this great event, and we were able to honor many of them for their own 35 year anniversary of volunteering with us. Milwaukee Irish Fest continues to be considered a cultural gem in the greater Milwaukee area and is recognized worldwide as the premier celebration of all things Irish.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your support and patronage as we celebrate 35 years of Irish music and culture. We hope that you will join us again August 18-21, 2016 for the next Milwaukee Irish Fest. I guarantee you will have a wonderful time!

Go raibh maith agaibh! 
Patrick Boyle                                               
Milwaukee Irish Fest
Executive Director

August 13, 2015

Milwaukee Irish Fest has $5 admission on Friday; Red Hot Chilli Pipers to play

By Christie Green
CBS 58
August 13, 2015

CBS 58

Friday is the second day of the Milwaukee Irish Fest.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will be celebrity bar tending at the event.

Festival goers between 4:00 PM and 5:30 PM can enter for reduced admission of $5. Regular admission prices apply after 5:30 PM.

The festival hours are 4:00 p.m. – midnight.

The Celtic Kitchen will host cooking demonstrations of traditional and modern Irish and Celtic cuisine with local and international chefs on the north end throughout the day. 
Irish comedian, Joe Rooney, will perform at 7:00 p.m. inside Celtic Kitchen on the north end of the grounds.

Family Passport program from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (collect stamps at various cultural destinations on grounds), parade at 6:45 p.m. and Children’s Performers throughout the day at the John Byrne Stage.

Headliners tonight include: The Elders, Goitse, Scythian, Red Hot Chilli Pipers, The Willis Clan, Socks in the Frying Pan, Flashpoint, Tallymoore, and Dallahan.

Read the full article at CBS 58.

Milwaukee Irish Fest opens Thursday

By Christie Green
CBS 58
August 13, 2015

The 35th Milwaukee Irish Fest  kicks off Thursday, August 13th.
Several Milwaukee landmarks will turn their lights green this week in anticipation of the festival.
Milwaukee Irish Fest is the world’s largest celebration of Irish music and culture. The four-day festival showcases more than 100 entertainment acts on 17 stages at Henry W. Maier Festival Park on Milwaukee’s lakefront. The annual festival occurs every third weekend in August. The 35th annual festival takes place August 13-16, 2015.

“Ushering in our 35th anniversary, this year’s festival will be the largest celebration of Irish and Celtic music and culture to date,” said Patrick Boyle, executive director of Milwaukee Irish Fest. “We’re honored and excited to have amazing partners in the community and have some of Milwaukee’s most famous landmarks welcome fans of the festival from around the world by turning Milwaukee green.”

Thursday there is free admission with donation of school supplies for the Hope House.
Friday there is $5 admission from 4:00 -5:30 PM.

Living Tradition Showcase performers include: Cherish the Ladies, Dallahan, Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul, Flashpoint, FullSet, Goitse, John Whelan, Liz Carroll, Lunasa, Moloney, Keane, and O’Connell, Morga, Pride of New York, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson, Socks in the Frying Pan, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, Tim Edey and Brendan Power, and We Banjo 3.

Read the full article at CBS 58.