All About Ireland

The Republic of Ireland occupies five-sixths of the island of Ireland, the second largest island of the British Isles.  Irish is the common term of reference for the country’s citizens, its national culture, and its national language.  While Irish culture is relatively simple when compared to other countries states, Irish people recognize both minor and some significant cultural distinctions that are specific to the country.  In 1922 Ireland, which until then had been part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was politically divided into the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland, which continued as part of the renamed United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Northern Ireland occupies the remaining sixth of the island.  Almost 80 years of separation have resulted in differing patterns of national cultural development between these two neighbors, as seen in language and dialect, religion, government and politics, sports, music, and business culture.  Nevertheless, the largest minority population in Northern Ireland (approximately 42 percent of the total population of 1.66 million) consider themselves to be nationally and ethnically Irish, and they point to the similarities between their national culture and that of the Republic as one reason why they, and Northern Ireland, should be reunited with the Republic, in what would then constitute an all-island nation-state.  The majority population in Northern Ireland, who consider themselves to be nationally British, and who identify with the political communities of Unionism and Loyalism, do not want unification with Ireland, but rather want to maintain their ties to Britain.


Location and Geography: Ireland is in the far west of Europe, in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Great Britain. The island is 302 miles long, north to south, and 174 miles at its widest point.  The area of the island is 32,599 square miles, of which the Republic covers 27, 136 square miles.  The Republic has 223 miles of land border, all with the United Kingdom, and 898 miles of coastline.  It is separated from its neighboring island of Great Britain to the east by the Irish Sea, the North Channel, and Saint George’s Channel.  The climate is temperate, modified by the North Atlantic Current.  Ireland has mild winters and cool summers.  Because of the high precipitation, the climate is always humid.  The capital city, Dublin, at the mouth of the River Liffey in central eastern Ireland, on the original site of a Viking settlement, is currently home to almost 40 percent of the Irish population; it served as the capital of Ireland before and during Ireland’s integration with the United Kingdom.



Language: Irish (Gaelic) and English are the two official languages of Ireland.  Irish is a Celtic language.  Irish evolved from the language brought to the island in the Celtic migrations between the sixth and the second century B.C.E. Despite hundreds of years of Norse and Anglo-Norman migration, by the sixteenth century Irish was the spoken tongue for almost all of the population of Ireland.  Nevertheless, in 1835 there were four million Irish speakers in Ireland, a number that was severely reduced in the Great Famine of the late 1840s.  By 1891 there were only 680,000 Irish speakers, but the key role that the Irish language played in the development of Irish nationalism in the nineteenth century, as well as its symbolic importance in the new Irish state of the twentieth century, have not been enough to reverse the process of vernacular language shift from Irish to English. In the 1991 census, in those few areas where Irish remains the language, there were only 56,469 Irish-speakers.  Most primary and secondary school students in Ireland study Irish, however, and it remains an important means of communication in governmental, educational, literary, sports, and cultural circles.

Irish is one of the preeminent symbols of the Irish state and nation, but by the start of the twentieth century English had supplanted Irish as the spoken language, and all but a very few ethnic Irish are fluent in English.  Hiberno-English (the English language spoken in Ireland) has been a strong influence in the evolution of British and Irish literature, poetry, theater, and education since the end of the nineteenth century.  The language has also been an important symbol to the Irish national minority in Northern Ireland, where despite many social and political impediments its use has been slowly increasing since the return of armed conflict there in 1969.

Symbolism: The flag of Ireland has three equal vertical bands of green, white, and orange.  This tricolor is also the symbol of the Irish nation in other countries, most notably in Northern Ireland among the Irish national minority.  Other flags that are meaningful to the Irish include the golden harp on a green background and the Dublin workers’ flag of “The Plough and the Stars.”  The harp is the main symbol on the national coat of arms, and the badge of the Irish state is the shamrock.  Many symbols of Irish national identity derive in part from their association with religion and church.  The shamrock clover is associated with Ireland’s patron Saint Patrick, and with the Holy Trinity of Christian religion.  A Saint Brigid’s cross is often found over the entrance to homes, as are representations of saints and other holy people, as well as portraits of the greatly admired, such as Pope John XXIII and John F. Kennedy.

Green is the color associated worldwide with Irishness, but within Ireland, and especially in Northern Ireland, it is more closely associated with being both Irish and Roman Catholic, whereas orange is the color associated with Protestantism, and more especially with Northern Irish people who support Loyalism to the British crown and continued union with Great Britain. The colors of red, white, and blue, those of the British Union Jack, are often used to mark the territory of Loyalist communities in Northern Ireland, just as orange, white, and green mark Irish Nationalist territory there.  Sports, especially the national ones organized by the Gaelic Athletic Association such as hurling, camogie, and Gaelic football, also serve as central symbols of the nation.

All about our Festival

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.