CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

Cleveland Irish Festival Returns After Three Years

38th Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival
July 14-16, 2023

Featuring: The High Kings, Derek Warfield & the Young Wolfetones, The Bow Tides, The Fitzgerald’s, The Byrne Brothers, The Prodigals, Brigid’s Cross, Mary’s Lane, James Kilbane, The Elders, Ballinloch & More.

Plus: Cultural and Children’s areas, Sports, Great food, beverage and treats. clevelandirish.org

Tradition Lives On

History is finally picking up where it left off. The 38th Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival is back, July 14th – 16th at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds, and its revival promises to be better, and some might say, more progressive than before.

When the fiddles stopped playing and couples squared off their final Irish set dance in 2019, no one could have imagined that something like Covid-19 would come along and shutter the festival for three long years.

The annual event started by founder John O’Brien Sr., in 1982, was put on pause with some venturing to say that 2019 was going to be its last. Making it even more susceptible to calling it quits for good was when last year’s festival planners could not secure the dates they wanted, leaving some to question its longevity.

Thankfully, the speculation turned out to be just that and O’Brien Sr. passed the baton to his son-in-law, Phil Parente, who is making certain that the festival picks up right where it left off this and with a few welcomed changes.

“People who have been going to the festival for years will recognize a lot of their favorite things like pipe bands, Irish dancing and family-focused activities, but this year we’re making it easier for people to buy tickets online,” said Parente.

This year’s festival will primarily be cashless with vendors selling merchandise, food, and beverages, taking only credit or debit cards. On-site admission tickets at the entry gates will also be cashless.

“Going cashless will upgrade the quality of the event experience,” Parente said. Everything will go much faster with fewer lines, and people will not have to go searching for an ATM or pay high bank fees.”

Advanced tickets can be purchased by going to www.clevelandirish.org or visiting the festival’s Facebook and Instagram pages and scanning a custom QR code. General admission is $15.00 for a single ticket and a weekend pass is $35.00.

Regardless of the conveniences of modern technology, O’Brien Sr. said the festival will still focus on what is important and the traditions of the past.

“We will continue to exhibit the many aspects of our rich culture,” he said. We will bring it to younger people and whomever chooses to be part of it.”

The festival has indeed been a part of generations of families who come for the Irish music, dancing, sports, and theater. The hope is to make it a true destination in Northeast Ohio and celebrate the families who have been attending for years.

“There are people who have grown up with the festival who now have kids of their own they’ll bring,” said Parente. “We hope they come when it opens and stay until it closes.”

The hours of the festival are Friday, July 14th from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturday, July 15th from 1:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 16th from 1:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Some of the new additions to this year’s event include fireworks at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, an expanded children’s section with a petting zoo, a camogie demonstration, performances by comedian Bill Squire, and a jampacked musical lineup.

Familiar bands like The High Kings and The Prodigals will perform alongside new ones including Ally the Piper, The Bow Tides, The Elders, and Seanie Vaughn.

It is all part of making the festival more music-oriented, which generally appeals to younger audiences, which Parente hopes to attract.

“One of our goals is to make the festival more music-oriented,” he said. “We have bands who perform all around the world who some never heard of along with some local favorites.”

In addition to the entertainment, activities, and many cultural exhibits, the on-going success of the festival is thanks in part to the number of volunteers who have helped organize and manage it for years.

“We are a family-run festival, not a company,” said Parente. “We wouldn’t exist without the volunteers.”

Those who are interested in volunteering can sign up for available dates and shifts by going to https://signup.com/go/grWGFek

People visiting from out-of-town have the option of camping at the fairgrounds or staying at the Crowne Plaza Cleveland Airport, which is offering an exclusive rate of just $111.00 per night for festival attendees.

Festival planners anticipate nearly 30,000 visitors this year, up from the 3,000 to 4,000 attending in those first years. The festival moved to the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in 1990, making way for expansion leading to greater attendance, but always kept an eye on the things that mattered most.

John O’Brien Sr. attributes this to a long legacy of recognizing the impact and importance of the Irish culture on the city of Cleveland and beyond.

“It just took off and it will carry on from family to family for a long time,” he said.

*John is a Founder and the Publisher and Editor of iIrish, an archivist, spokesman, emcee, Spoken Word presenter and author of five books, so far.

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