The Irish Fest – when Milwaukee is more Irish than Ireland

By Judy Enright

It’s not exactly Ireland, but Milwaukee’s Henry W. Maier Festival Park will be more Irish than Ireland over the third weekend in August when the 35th annual “Irish Fest” comes to town.

The mission of Milwaukee’s annual Irish Fest is “to promote and celebrate all aspects of Irish, Irish American and Celtic cultures and to instill in current and future generations an appreciation of their heritage.” The Fest runs from Aug. 13-16 this year and features Irish and Celtic artists from around the globe and much more. The mission of Milwaukee’s annual Irish Fest is “to promote and celebrate all aspects of Irish, Irish American and Celtic cultures and to instill in current and future generations an appreciation of their heritage.” The Fest runs from Aug. 13-16 this year and features Irish and Celtic artists from around the globe and much more. Organizers claim that, “Milwaukee Irish Fest is the world’s largest celebration of Irish music and culture.” The four-day festival (August 13-16 this year) features more than 100 entertainment acts on 17 stages, as well as sports events and more in the 75-acre park that stretches along Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan waterfront. The event includes a dog show in the Celtic Canines’ area where you can see all nine native Irish dog breeds, including setters, spaniels and wolfhounds.

I’ve been to “Irish Fest” several times over the years and the organizers are not exaggerating one bit. This event is enormous and attracts more than 120,000 visitors annually. Spokesmen are there to represent every kind of Irish tour group and organization ranging from Tourism Ireland and Aer Lingus to car rental firms, hotel groups, different counties, and tourist attractions.


And, don’t forget about the great shopping! Organizers say there is no place better to shop for Irish goods than “Irish Fest” where there is “the largest gathering of Irish vendors and products outside Ireland. More than 90 vendors sell everything from soccer jerseys to fine art, jewelry, clothing, music and more.” Many musicians and artisans travel to Milwaukee for this annual fun event and the fairgrounds are buzzing with activity. “Irish Fest” has children’s activities, too, as well as booths selling all sorts of food and drink. It’s a perfect event for singles, couples and families.

Some of the bands on the roster this year include Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson, FullSet, Kilkennys, Morga, Pride of New York, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, and more. And there are special shows, such as: Americana - Irish Style, featuring We Banjo 3, Scythian and Eileen Ivers, a tribute to Tommy Makem.

Because 2015 is W.B. Yeats’s 150th birthday year, “Irish Fest” will celebrate in the Cultural Village where you can also check out Irish quilts, view postcards from 1916, and see several other special exhibits.

The annual closing event is called “The Scattering” where many of the festival’s musicians play together in one combined session. Having 50 or more musicians on the stage at one time for “The Scattering” is not uncommon.

The “Irish Fest” organization promotes Irish culture and, with the help of more than 4,000 volunteers, teaches Ireland’s music, dance, drama, sports, culture, children’s activities and genealogy through year-round programming. For more information, visit


If you can’t make it to Milwaukee, don’t despair. An Irish Festival is in the works for the Marshfield Fairgrounds on Route 3A on the South Shore, Sept. 12 (11 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and Sept. 13 (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) Gates will open at 10:30 a.m. both days.
Festival planners have advertised that there will be two stages working every day with 20 Irish bands, Irish step dancers, well-known singers Johnny McEvoy, John McDermott, and others. There will be children’s activities and lots more to do and enjoy. Be sure to look for the Irish Setter Club of New England with their beautiful dogs. Reduced tickets will be available online at


Did you see the news story about US distillers Brown Forman, the company behind Jack Daniel’s, investing a cool $50 million (44 million euro) to acquire all shares in Slane Castle Irish Whiskey? (The Irish spell whiskey with an “e”).

The new owners project that as many as 25 permanent jobs could result at Slane. Plans include building a new distillery in the old stable yards at the 1,500-acre Co. Meath estate. Slane Castle is probably best known today as a rock concert venue and not for its whiskey, but that could very well change soon.

The Conyngham family launched its Slane Irish whiskey brand in 1999 and it was initially distilled for the family by the Irish-owned Cooley Distillery, but production stopped when Cooley was acquired by the US company Beam.

Speaking about the Slane purchase, Lord Henry Mountcharles said that for the foreseeable future his family would continue to be involved in the business. The purchase and the new distillery is expected to boost tourism in the Boyne Valley region.

Slane Castle whiskey is expected to be on the market by 2017 and Lord Henry assured rock fans that the new venture would not preclude future Slane concerts.

Speaking of whiskey, did you know there’s an Ireland Whiskey Trail? See for details. Slane should soon be listed!


Beer lovers, here’s great news for you. Craft breweries and beer producers along the Wild Atlantic Way have created a brochure to help visitors find their breweries that are located all the way down the coast from Co. Donegal to Co. Cork.

Included are: Co. Donegal, Kinnegar Brewing in Rathmullan and Donegal Brewing Co. in Ballyshannon; Co. Sligo, The White Hag in Ballymote; Co. Mayo, Reel Deel in Crossmolina, Oilean Eadaigh West Mayo Brewery in Islandeady and Mescan Brewery in Kilsallagh, Westport; Co. Galway, Independent in Carraroe, Galway Hooker in Oranmore and Galway Bay in Galway City; Co. Kerry, Dingle Brewing in Dingle and West Kerry Brewery in Ballyferriter; Co. Cork, West Cork Brewing Co. in Baltimore and Blacks of Kinsale in Kinsale.

The brochure also recommends a slight detour to those touring the Wild Atlantic Way to visit the following breweries: Black Donkey in Ballinlough, Co. Roscommon; Killarney Brewing Company in Killarney, Co. Kerry; Mountain Man brewery in Macroom and 9 White Deer in Ballyvourney, both in Co. Cork.

Tours are available at all but do contact them in advance for more information.


August already? Hard to believe the summer is grinding to a close. But, don’t dismay. There is still plenty going on in Ireland if you’re planning a visit.

There is much water-based activity now and year-round in this island country. You can opt for scuba diving, surfing, boating and more. Or take a sea cruise from companies such as Dublin Bay Cruises (dublinbaycruises) on the east coast, which offers a number of different cruises from Howth south to Dun Laoghaire or on the west coast try Garrihy’s Doolin2Aran Ferries (, which has a series of cruises during the day out of the Co. Clare port.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Anyplace you go in the North or the Republic, you will find friendly, informative staffers at local tourist offices who can give you advice for accommodation and activities in the area. Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go.

See the tourist board’s website,, for more information on locations and activities.