The Great American Irish Festival is heading into its 16th year at the end of July and it’s shaping up to be one of the best ones yet. There’s something to do, see, and listen to around every corner, but in this article I’ll focus on the Cultural Building, because for the first time ever, Craobh Dugan is in charge of organizing it.
We gathered a creative and ambitious bunch last winter and we’ve been meeting, emailing, and making things ever since. Here are some of the fun and fascinating things you’ll find in the Cultural Building this year:
The mini museum display boards will return, but even bigger and better this year. We’ve added interesting research about Gaelic sports, Irish poets, Irish tunes and instruments, and Irish people in Mohawk Valley history to the popular topics from last year - notable Irish women, Irish words in the English language, and political cartoons of the 18th and 19th centuries showing the cruel racist attitudes toward the Irish at that time.
A trivia quiz with a prize for the winner.
A photo contest where you can vote for your favorites with a $100 prize for the winner. And if you have a photo to enter, click this link to see the rules and registration form. The deadline is July 22.
A knitting display and hands-on demonstration of Aran and other Irish stitches.
Find out how to say and write your name in the Irish language and wear it proudly on your own name tag, presented by Two Rivers Gaelic League from Albany.
Professional genealogist Cindy Wood will give a talk and also be available for 30-minute appointments to help you with individual genealogical research.
Learn useful words and phrases in Irish at the Pop-up Gaeltacht.
Programs on the Schedule
Experience a bodhrán drum circle (on Friday evening). Drum circles have become a popular way to relax and relieve stress and lots of people have bodhráns as souvenirs from their trips to Ireland. Why not put the two together and create an Irish drum circle? Bring your bodhrán and tipper (or your djembe, cajon, or congas if you like) and join in this special session just for drummers. We’ll talk about the benefits of drumming in general and a little about the bodhrán. Then we’ll enjoy a relaxing bodhrán beat. We’ll have a few spare drums if you need one.
Create your own Celtic masterpiece at the Sip and Paint with Art & Vine (on Saturday afternoon). All art supplies and a drink are included with your $25 ticket. Find out more here.
We’ll be performing our Irish and the Erie program about the history of the Irish workers on the Erie Canal with songs and music. Find out more about this project here.
The traditional GAIF Open Session returns once again. All local and visiting musicians who play instruments usually associated with Irish traditional music are invited to join in the open session. We’ve also invited members of the professional bands to join us if they wish. So who knows? We may have some famous musicians joining in.
Performers in the Cultural Building
Along with all the great bands performing on the Contemporary and Traditional Stages (including Craobh Dugan on the Traditional Stage on Sunday at noon) there's even more music to listen to in the Cultural Building. The Mighty Craic, Deirdre and Jim McCarthy, Gerry Dixon, and Donal O'Shaughnessy.
And...we have a few secret surprises planned too. We’re not saying what they are, but you will be enchanted.
So hop over to the GAIF website for the full Entertainment Schedule, the Cultural Building Schedule and to buy your advance tickets at a discount price. It’s just incredible all the fun that’s packed into that ticket price.
With St. Valentine’s Day coming up, you may be thinking of sending cards or posting a message on your social media accounts to express your love and appreciation for your dear ones. But for these tender feelings, it’s sometimes hard to come up with the right words.
That’s when we turn to the poets, and Ireland has produced many excellent ones. Here we offer you three lovely examples of Irish word-weaving with a little about the poets who wrote them.
There’s nothing quite like hearing poetry read by the poet who wrote it, especially when he has a charming Irish accent:
William Butler Yeats
You can hear the melodious voice of British actor Tom Hiddleston reading this poem here:
John Boyle O'Reilly
Some brilliant animator on YouTube made this video bringing O’Reilly’s prison photo to life to recite the poem.
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A merry band of pub crawlers dressed in bright green T-shirts could be seen making their way from pub to pub on Varick Street in Utica, NY, on June 16. Joining James Joyce fans around the world that day, we had gathered to retrace (in a metaphorical way) the path of Joyce’s fictional character Leopold Bloom just as he strolled the streets of Dublin in the novel Ulysses.
The Utica Bloomsday Pub Crawl included stops at four pubs and the Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley, which is under construction.
Our group of about 60 started out at Utica Brews Cafe where we received our shirts and goodie bags containing round wire-frame glasses, much like the ones James Joyce used to wear, as well as candies and our passports which would serve as our program for the day and our door prize tickets.
Then we were off to Saranac Brewery’s 1888 Tavern where Mark Sisti put the pub crawl into context for us with a bit of history about James Joyce, Ulysses, and the tradition of Bloomsday pub crawls. The musicians of our own Craobh Dugan set the mood with traditional Irish tunes, and a group of costumed Craobh Dugan dancers performed traditional steps. The musicians and dancers travelled along with us performing at each of the stops.
After that we stopped at Nail Creek Pub and and enjoyed the sunny day out on the porch while we heard Herkimer College professor Matt Powers give a rousing reading from Ulysses. Powers is director of the Little Falls Theater (LiFT) and founder of a new dramatic podcast called The Brass Lantern.
Next we were off to see the amazing progress that’s been made on the Irish Cultural Center. Last year, we saw steel framing and samples of the stone that would be used to cover its outside walls. This year we were able to walk upstairs where we saw the rooms taking shape and the many windows installed allowing plenty of light into the very generous amount of space that will soon be home to Irish cultural events. The stone now covers most of the outside of the building. The center’s owner and developer Vaughn Lang joined us there in a champagne toast.
Then we gathered at Lukin’s Brick Oven Pizza. Its stylish industrial design served as a pleasant backdrop to poet Tom Townsley’s reading from Ulysses. Tom, who teaches English at Mohawk Valley Community College, has recently published a book of poetry called Night Class for Insomniacs.
Finally we made our way over to the Celtic Harp Irish Pub where we heard the multi-talented actor, writer, musician, and teacher Ann Carey give a spine-tingling performance of the final reading of the day: Molly’s Soliloquy.
Several members of the pub crawl won delightful door prizes, and everyone said they had a wonderful time and are looking forward to the third annual Utica Bloomsday Pub Crawl.
We would like to thank our many generous donors who helped make the day such a grand success!
The pubs who provided the venues, food, and donated door prizes.
Utica Brews Cafe & Pub
Nail Creek Pub & Brewery
Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley
Lukin's Brick Oven Pizza
The Celtic Harp Irish Pub & Restaurant
Other door prize donors:
The Great American Irish Festival
University of California Press
The Blarney Rebel Band
For filling the day with music and for door prizes:
For the cool James Joyce eye glasses:
For the portable amplifier and mic:
Big Apple Music
For the T-shirt and passport designs and event promotion:
Green Pencil Content