New festival celebrates Irish music, spirit and more

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St. Patrick’s Day and its related parades may have passed, but according to Tim Driscoll, any time is a good time to celebrate the Irish spirit.

And in a state that’s either first or second (depending on variable data) in terms of the percentage of residents with Irish ancestry, Massachusetts is as good a place as any to show Irish pride, says Driscoll. , a Florence resident and longtime member of the city’s St. Patrick’s Association.

Add to that the fact that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Holyoke is the third largest in the country, Driscoll adds, and there’s yet another compelling reason to bring the Ireland Festival Forever at the Three Country Fairgrounds on June 4 for a full day of Irish-themed music, dancing, beer and more.

The festival, organized by members of the St. Patrick’s Association of Northampton and the Holyoke Parade Committee, represents the start of what Driscoll and other planners hope to make of an annual event – one they imagine could be expanded to two or even three days and incorporate additional events. , like a rugby match, Irish theater and maybe a road race.

“We live in a state and region that has such a strong connection to Ireland,” said Driscoll, who has visited Ireland many times himself. “Why not recognize that and have a summer event where we can bring people together?”

The Ireland Forever Festival will run from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on June 4 and will take place in the Allsport Arena at the fairgrounds, dispelling any worries about bad weather. There’s plenty of music on tap, from traditional Irish music and new interpretations of it, to Celtic rock and more.

Indeed, the festival will close with a performance by unforgettable firea U2 tribute band who were joined onstage several years ago by guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton of the real band.

Students from the Duffy Academy of Irish Dance in Hadley, led by Alycia Duffy, who grew up in a family Irish dancing business in Connecticut, will also provide entertainment. On her websiteDuffy says her Dublin-born grandmother, May Duffy, became the first certified Irish dance teacher in North America and her mother, Elizabeth Duffy, became “a beautiful world championship dancer.”

Driscoll, the main organizer of the Ireland Forever festival – “I was a bit nervous about it,” he said – says part of his inspiration for creating the event was seeing and d just hear about the annual Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival at Look Park, an event that dates back to the 1990s.

“It’s a big event, and I always thought, ‘There must be more Irish than Scots here, so why don’t we have something too?’ ” he says.

Ireland Forever will include vendors selling Irish-themed products, and there will be a dedicated children’s area for games and other activities. Food and drink will be on hand, including — of course! — Guinness Stout and Irish Red Ale from Berkshire Brewing Co.

The music kicks off at 2pm with Banish Misfortune, the Celtic band from the valley who played in Northampton at the annual St. Patrick’s Day toast hosted by the town’s St. Patrick’s Association. They will be followed by Boston Blackthorne, who offers a mix of Celtic and Americana — “more rock than the Clancy Brothers, more folk than the Dropkick Murphys,” as the band’s website puts it.

“They’re great – the band still has all of its original members after 25 years of playing,” says Driscoll, who remembers hosting Boston Blackthorne when he owned the old City Cafe in downtown Northampton.

Rounding out the music will be the Big Bad Bollocks, the drunken Celtic rockers from Northampton who, since the 1990s, have been fronted by singer John Allen, who may be British by birth but has plenty of Celtic spirit.

As for the future of the festival, Driscoll explains that some time ago he learned that Springfield has a rugby club – and wouldn’t that be a great addition to the event, he says, if the organizers could organize a match between the club of Springfield and one of Boston?

“There are a lot of things we could do,” he says.

Tickets for the festival are $30 – children 13 and under are free – and can be purchased in advance from the event website, irelandforeverfestival.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be contacted at [email protected]

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