John O’Brien Sr. founded Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival in an effort to showcase, and thereby preserve the many traditions of Ireland. Gathering a group of incredibly dedicated volunteers, John realized his vision for a festival. During the first two day run, that first festival brought in more than 3,000 visitors!
The festival committee met soon after the crowds went home to evaluate and develop the event for the following summer. Their continual dedication has produced one of the premier Irish festivals in the United States. The growth of the festival is proof of this. In 1985 the event expanded to three days. In 1991, it finally outgrew the small wooded venue used during its first 9 years, and so relocated to The Berea Fairgrounds. The annual attendance is now over 30,000!
Cleveland’s Irish Cultural Festival highlights Irish History and Tradition, from the gentle stirrings of the harp, to the boom and pomp of the pipe bands; from the soft hush of our love songs, to the thunder of Celtic dancers and rock bands. We are incredibly happy that the culture we celebrate boasts such a wealth of tradition, music, literature, and art. It is this sense of community that the Irish hold so dear.
Cleveland’s Irish Cultural Festival is a non-profit, annual civic event, benefiting local and national charities. Attractions include: 24 performers on nine stages, a crap ton of exhibits, and a bunch of kiosks.
Our festival boasts some awesome family activities, including the following:
- Tir Na nOg Children’s Area
- Byrne McCaffrey Workshops & Stage
- Celtic Rock Stage
- Two outdoor and seven indoor stages
- 24 Performers, Pipe Bands and Entertainers
- An Irish Coffee House
- Award winning Irish plays each day
- Fresh exhibits each year ~ there is always something new and interesting to learn about Irish culture
- Over 50 Irish Vendors offering authentic Irish goods, foods and crafts
- An outdoor Mass on Sunday
As a country, Ireland has produced some of the finest novelists, poets, playwrights and musicians in the world. Fortunately, a good number of them ended up in United States. The result? Some of the most highly acclaimed Irish American artists call Cleveland home.
Like blues, traditional Irish music is a source of inspiration for many of today’s rock and country artists. Where there is song, there is dance, and there is song in Cleveland. Long before the public began worshipping Michael Flatley as a foot stomping deity, Irish steppers were in the shadows of popular culture. The recent revival ignited by Riverdance and Lord of the Dance served only to bring the step form of Gaelic dance to a broader audience.
Given all of the above, it’s no surprise that people from throughout the US and Europe head on in to Cleveland for our festival each year. Many take advantage of the fun-filled atmosphere and large grounds to hold reunions of family and friends. Others come for the dancing, the history, or the food, but most of all, people come for the music. Having one of the most incredible rosters of Irish artists assembled anywhere, here is just a sampling of previous festival performers:
- Tommy Makem: Tommy is often called the “Godfather of Irish Music.” His lifelong commitment to lyricizing the struggles and triumphs of the indomitable Irish has appealed to generations of music lovers, regardless of race or nationality. Tommy is the author of “Four Green Fields” and many other Irish and folks songs. It is said that Irish music was born in America when Tommy appeared on the Ed Sullivan show with the Clancy’s. His sons, Rory, Conor and Shane have maintained the family business, forming the Makem Brothers. Successful in their own right, excitement peaks when they take the stage and perform with their dad.
- Paddy Reilly: One of the most famous and loved Irish entertainers, Paddy still sells out venues whereever he performs; when Irish gather, hearing Paddy’s “Fields of Athenry” is a joyous inevitability.
- Joanne Madden: The dynamic and energetic leader of Cherish The Ladies has performed world-wide, before princes and presidents. Cherish The Ladies is an all female group whose energetic renditions of tradition tunes, and great interaction with their audiences has won them fans from the U.S. to Australia, and everywhere in between. A festival favorite!
- Dennis Doyle: This renowned Historian and Harpist has performed at all 17 festivals and is as well known for his knowledge of Irish history and story-telling abilities as he is for playing the Harp itself. A featured performer at the festival mass as well, Dennis’ performances are both stirring and educational.
- John Timm: 1993 World Champion Irish Dancer and Teacher, John continues to thrill his audiences with his skill and flair. He was Flatley before Flatley! His brilliant dancing is no less impressive than his dedication to passing the tradition to successive generations through his Academy of Irish Dance in Cincinnati, Ohio.
- John Lynch & The Kilfenora Ceili Band: This band has been together for over 110 years! — a family band, continuously refining their craft as new generations of musicians arise to repopulate the stage! With seven current world champions among the 10 members, they are truly “The Best of the Best,” and to have them on our stage, we are just as truly blessed.
- Alec DeGabriel & John Delaney of The New Barleycorn: Alec & John reside in Cleveland but are known throughout the world as members of The New Barleycorn, an updated version of The Barleycorn — a world-renowned band of which John was a founding member. Both Irish born performers are stars in their own right, but when they get together – sparks fly! We are very lucky and proud to have them call Cleveland home.
- Paul Baker & Peggy Goonin-Baker of Brigid’s Cross: Paul and Peggy have been singing and performing all their lives. A classically trained violinist, Paul was only 8 years old when he first performed with the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra. He also plays a mean fiddle, and has performed in both rock and Irish bands for many years. Peggy and Paul were mainstays in Alec & Darby’s Folk before setting off to chart a successful music career of their own.
- Byrne & Tom McCaffrey: Cleveland’s own, legends Tom and Tom have taught hundreds of Clevelanders how to play and love Irish traditional music. They have also performed all over the U.S. and competed at many Irish Feis (music & dance contests). Everywhere they go, these Irish born musicians are recognized and thanked by performers everywhere for their contributions to Irish Music and its continued growth here in the U.S.
One element above all, binds the community of the Irish: our religion. The outdoor Mass held on Sunday morning is a beautiful gathering, where all are welcome to unite in a celebration of thanks. The large number who attend, and the many performers who join in the celebration, exemplify how deeply rooted the Irish are in their faith.
Cleveland’s Irish Cultural Festival is a wonderful celebration of all things Irish. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading a bit about the festival, and hope as well that you will join us on the third full weekend in July so that you can experience first-hand all the history, tradition, and entertainments the festival has to offer.