Chicago’s Irish Festivals

irish american heritage museum
Photo Credit

Chicago Gaelic Park
6119 W 147th St.
Oak Forest, IL 60452
Memorial Day Weekend

Irish Fest celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011 at Gaelic Park with music, dancing, theater, food, drinks and carnival attractions. Chicago’s South Side has a long-standing tradition of Irish families, hence the location of Chicago’s Gaelic Park. However, Irish Fest provides an atmosphere identical to that of St. Patrick’s Day where “everyone is Irish,” and you certainly don’t have to be from Dublin to enjoy yourself.

The last time I went to this celebration I was a young lad, so it was nice to go back and really appreciate the environment. The festival is attended by all ages and nationalities, and there’s entertainment for everyone. It’s rare to find a place where Mom and Dad can really enjoy themselves while not having to worry about the kids being bored, but Irish Fest provides families with that environment.

The sounds and smells at Irish Fest are unmistakable. It’s a place where you can hear bagpipes while enjoying the aroma of a freshly made funnel cake. The fest grounds are extremely easy to navigate, and you’ll never have to look very far for great food, beer and entertainment.

The main attractions at Irish Fest aren’t only the food and drinks, though. Be sure to check out the Irish Fest Mall, filled with 20 Irish import stores, unlimited carnival rides (included with your ticket), and a wide selection of musical and theatrical performances. Some of the other entertainment you can expect include a fireworks display, exhibition matches of Gaelic Football and Hurling, the opportunity to ride Irish Bred Conemara Ponies and “a Dogs of Ireland” exhibition and parade.

Personally, the main reason I went to Irish Fest this year was to see Gaelic Storm play. For those unaware, Gaelic Storm is an Irish band that gained popularity after appearing in the movie Titanic. The band is extremely unique, combining modern rock with traditional Celtic music. The blend is something that you must hear for yourself, and what better venue than an Irish festival?

Needless to say, I recommend a visit to this fest when it rolls around in May to help kick-off your summer. The atmosphere is unmistakable: the “Kiss Me I’m Irish” memorabilia, the men wearing kilts, meeting the descendents of Irish immigrants, the smell of funnel cakes, the carnival rides and a multitude of bagpipes playing throughout the weekend.

In case you missed Irish Fest this year, the Irish American Heritage Center will be putting together an Irish Festival of their own in July.

Irish American Heritage Center
4626 N Knox Ave.
Chicago, IL 60630
July 8-10
Tickets: $14 per day or $8 if paid in advance before July 7
Seniors $7, Children under 12 are free if accompanied by a paid adult
Hours: 6 PM-Midnight on Friday, Noon-Midnight on Saturday, Noon-11 PM Sunday

The Irish American Heritage Festival strives to offer families in Chicago the best in Irish music, entertainment, food and dancing. The venue for this fest, the Irish American Heritage Center (IAHC), is dedicated to preserving Irish culture and sharing its history for all those interested in learning about the story of the Irish American. All proceeds of the annual festival benefit the mission of IAHC.

Just a year older than Gaelic Park’s Irish Fest, the Irish American Heritage Festival will celebrate its 26th celebration and expects roughly 15,000 people to walk through their gates on the second weekend in July 2011.

The biggest attraction is undoubtedly the live music, featuring almost 30 bands across five stages with some of the most recognizable names in Irish music showcased (yes, Gaelic Storm is included). The stages will also play host to eight Irish dancing schools, including Trinity Academy which has experienced great success on the national and international levels of competition.

If you are even mildly interested in Irish culture I suggest you spend a day at the Irish American Heritage Festival. Not only will there be plenty of music, dancing, food and drinks to go around, but you’ll also be given the opportunity to take part in hands-on activities such as demonstrations of how to play Irish instruments. You’ll also have the option to take part in Gaelic language lessons, cultural poetry readings and one-act plays. Did I also mention there was a mashed potato eating contest?

For $14 you can go to a movie and get half a bucket of popcorn… or you can try something new and visit the IAHC.

Pat Howard

About Pat Howard

Patrick grew up in Jefferson and Norwood Park on Chicago's northwest side. He spent most of his childhood playing sports, but when he wasn't holding a bat or shooting free throws he found he needed a creative outlet for his thoughts. He found he had a love of storytelling and how it brings people together. This is when he started writing creatively and talking to people... a lot. He attended college at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota where he graduated with a degree in journalism and English. He soon returned to Chicago where he is currently working at a career as a journalist.

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