Community Spotlight: Irish Fest

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In 1850, Irish immigrants represented about 15% of Milwaukee’s population — the second largest ethnic group. While the German immigrants settled on all sides of the town, the Irish chose the Third Ward for its easy access to jobs on the waterfront, rail yards and the developing industries. In 1892, a fire destroyed the southern end of the Third Ward and left 2,500 homeless. Irish Milwaukeeans moved west and settled in the Tory Hill neighborhood, which is now Marquette University. Anchored by St. Rose Church and the shops of Milwaukee Road, Merrill Park’s Irish community endured for generations.

Members of Milwaukee’s Irish Community gathered to discuss opportunities to promote their Gaelic heritage in the early 1980s. The idea of a three-day fest to promote Irish culture through music, dance, cultural exhibits, drama and sports was born. Under the direction of Ed Ward and with volunteers spending months planning the event, the first Irish Fest premiered in 1981, incorporating an extensive lineup of musical entertainment and cultural programming. By 1992, Irish Fest hired a full-time executive director and opened its first office in 1992. In 1998, the festival opened the first Irish Fest Center to provide a year-round facility dedicated to Irish-related activities, including concerts, workshops, rehearsals and Gaelic language lessons.


Irish Fest is more than just a music festival! Take a stroll through the Cultural village and Marketplace, bring the family to the Children’s Area, or come to the Liturgy on Sunday morning. There are lots of contests including a baking, leprechaun, red hair and freckles, photos, poetry and more.


With over 100 acts on 16 stages including 30 Milwaukee groups and 7 local dance groups, there’s no better place to listen to traditional Irish music favorites, acclaimed contemporary groups, and legendary folk. The Irish Fest School of Music’s Choir will also be performing.


Bring your appetite — there’s plenty of food to share! Irish Stew, shepherd’s pie, corned beef sandwiches, Irish egg rolls, Irish nachos, chicken o’leary on biscuits, Irish sausage, bridies, reuben sandwiches, reuben brats, cabbage, corned beef hash, Irish Philly cheesesteak and more.


For more information on Irish Fest, or how to purchase tickets, click here.

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