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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Spirits Not Dampened By Soggy Start to Irish Fest

Spirits Not Dampened By Soggy Start 
to Irish Fest
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – “We’ve got a bit of a mist, but it’s never stopped us before,” said evening emcee Pat Speer, looking out at the muddied grounds of Fairfield University and the rain tipping down Friday night.

He had mounted the stage in a large, white main tent to officially kick off the 23rd Annual Fairfield County Irish Festival, hosted for the second year at the university and scheduled for a three-day run, through Sunday June 19. Heavy rains had visited the area on and off during the day and continued to be nuisance as the festival began at 6 p.m.

To many, the gray rainy weather seemed an appropriate “old country” accompaniment to an event that celebrated all things Irish. Features included live music, food stands, Gaelic sports, dance performances, products vendors and, of course, Guinness, Harp and Smithwick’s.

In the event of lightning, which had shown itself repeatedly during the day, Speer warned that the fire marshall would make a judgement call and, if he determined there was a significant risk, he would order an evacuation of the field. Fortunately, he didn’t need to make that call and, after the singing of the Irish and American national anthems, Nova Scotia-based band Pogey got the festivities going.

Among the many food vendors represented was Fire Engine Pizza Company, formerly Marty’s Brick Oven Pizza of Black Rock, whose brick and mortar facility was destroyed by fire March 19. The business has carried on bravely and had onsite their now-famous fire engine, into which a brick oven had been installed.

Other food vendors included Giulio’s Pizza of North Haven, the Gaelic American Club with hot corned beef sandwiches and soda bread, Catering from the Hart with salads and wraps, St. Patrick’s Gaelic Football Club serving burgers and dogs, the Ancient Order of Hibernians with corn on the cob and Italian ices, and The Field of Black Rock offering fish and chips.

Manning a beer tap, Dave Russell, a Gaelic Club member for over 25 years, recalled the early days of the fest. “I was at the very first one, in 1987, which was held at Roger Ludlowe Middle School,” he said. “It was pretty modest with a few entertainers and some tents, but the beer was constantly flowing.”

Maura O’Donnell, festival chairwoman, said the fest, which is sponsored by Feile, a public charity, has evolved into a fun family weekend. “Now we have people, who came to the first year’s fest as kids, returning as adults and parents,” she said. “And they come rain, shine, sleet or snow. We watched the weather all day and have our puddles, but none of that has dampened anyone’s spirit.”

One of the dance groups on hand was the Sheeaun Academy of Irish Dance, led by Moira Speer. Instructor Frank Rupp said Moira started the school a little over two years ago and that the dancers, age three and up, are performing at the fest for the second year. “Irish dancing is a real crowd pleaser and the kids are really competitive,” he said. “They put on a great show.”

Working a tent dubbed Condon’s Kitchen, in memory of her late sister Marybeth Condon, Pat Harding was offering brownies, cake, apple crumb, homemade scones and coffee. “This is basically the nightcap after all the beer,” she laughed.

Tromping through the mud, balancing cups of beer and fish and chips, was Jackie Sliva, with family and friends, one from out of state. “We dragged Megan down from Massachusetts,” she said. “We won’t let a little rain stop us. There was even a rainbow – true Irish weather… and it’s always a good day for a Guinness. Anyhow, if you drink enough, you don’t notice the rain.”

On the opposite side of the field, Fairfielder Abby Grant, 11, had just seen a step dancing performance and remarked, “That was phenomenal. Their jumps are super high and their steps are right on target.”

Enjoying a pint nearby, Andy O’Leary made a similar weather comparison. “This is like Ireland in March, without the lightning,” he said. “Inclement sums it up. It makes you feel at home.”

As O’Leary spoke, Neil Harding of Harding Funeral Home came up to him. “That’s my undertaker,” smiled O’Leary. “Here he goes measuring me again, at the same time wishing me well.”

It was clear that no degree of Irish humor had been muted by the rain either.

Remaining Irish Festival Days/Hours: Sat. 6/18: Noon – 11 p.m. and Sun. 6/19: Noon to 8 p.m.  Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for students (with valid student i.d.), children under 16 free with parents. For more information: