Warm weather is waning. So are the Chicago Bears. That means you might as well make the most of the next few weekends by going somewhere. This coming weekend offers opportunity to make that somewhere downtown Indianapolis where there will be an Irish Fest running Sept. 18 – 20, with a preview night Sept. 17.
According to Erin O’Rourke, a small group of people who wanted to do more in Indy to celebrate and preserve the Irish heritage and culture started the event.
“When the fest first started, it was a one-day festival, starting at noon and ending with Mass, running for just a few hours,” O’Rourke said. “Over the years, we’ve relocated a couple of times, growing in size with each move. We moved to our current location, Military Park, in 2001, and which has allowed us some continuity since then and given us the opportunity to grow audience sizes.”
Finding a home in Military Park has helped the festival grow by providing a great family experience in a beautiful state park, she noted.
“We have consistently provided attendees with top notch performers from near and far. In the process of bringing new talent to the area, we have exposed attendees to fantastic performers who showcase Irish culture,” O’Rourke said. “Even if they are now not familiar with the performers we have booked, they have come to rely on us to always give them something they will love. The event has become one of the last weekends where families can gather and have a great time before the bad weather descends on Indiana.”
O’Rourke used to work for the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, and when they were performing at the Irish Fest a few years ago, she talked with the event chair at the time and wound up on a committee running the kids area. This will be her fifth fest and now she helps with entertainment, social media, marketing and other stuff.
“It’s been very rewarding for me to be able to give back to the community, and also to honor both sides of my family’s heritage.I feel very lucky to be a part of such a wonderful festival,” O’Rourke said.
As for a unique attraction, the fest will be featuring someone who calls himself Jazz.
“His full name is Barry Finnegan, and he is a large-scale charcoal artist from Dublin. We have not yet settled on the subject of his design (of what he will create),” O’Rourke said. “We’re looking forward to engaging him and selecting a vision that will be indicative of the spirit of the festival and the important contributions of so many Irish. His work is wonderful, and we are thrilled we will have a commemorative piece for the future.”
As for the city’s Celtic roots, O’Rourke said Indianapolis can claim as part of their history, an Irish immigrant population second only to the Germans.
“The Irish came to build railroads and canals. They stayed and built communities, schools and parks. They became politicians, firefighters, policemen and community leaders. Nearly everyone in Indiana can claim some Irish ancestry,” O’Rourke said.
To that point, there are many active Irish groups including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Hurling Club and two Emerald Societies, O’Rourke noted. Arts and dance are represented by Irish Dancers of Indianapolis, the Irish Arts Academy and the Indiana Celtic Community.
If you’re looking for Irish places to go past the fest, tops on the list if just for its past would be The Golden Ace.
“The Golden Ace was started just after the prohibition as a place for the Irish community to come and enjoy a pint or two at a local establishment,” O’Rourke said. “It looks like a renovated older house, and you can honestly feel the history when you go in.
It’s a cash only place, O’Rourke said, and they serve some really great cheeseburgers.
“It’s still a family-owned bar, which I love, and Jimmy McGinley and the rest really work hard to bring great acts in to perform,” O’Rourke said.
The fest’s downtown location also makes it a good one for exploring the rest of the city, O’Rourke said. Within walking distance is a baseball field that is home to the minor league the Indianapolis Indians and not far from Lucas Oil Stadium where the way-better-than-than-the-Bears Colts play, a shopping mall, a movie theatre, and lots of bars and restaurants.
“Museums and memorials surround us and include the Indiana State museum, the Eiteljorg American Indian museum, the USS Indianapolis, a Civil War museum and the best children’s museum in the country,” O’Rourke said. “We’ve also got some art galleries for those inclined. There are many green spaces everywhere too, that allow for picnics, canal walks or even a gondola ride.”
If you are looking for local, mid-priced places to grab some food and drink, O’Rourke recommend Mass Avenue or Fountain Square.
“Both have lots of options, and are fun neighborhoods in the city,” O’Rourke said. “We’ve got a ton of local craft breweries downtown too. If people are looking for more Irish food, then I’d recommend Nine Irish Brothers, just off Mass Ave.”
For more information, see http://www.indyirishfest.com/