Cape Coral Irish Festival

Irish-FestivalThe weather might be a wee bit cool in south-central Florida this time of the year, but that won’t stop things from heating up at the 10th annual Cape Coral Irish Festival this weekend. Event publicist Anne Carney fills us in on the festivities.

What are your own roots?
I’m an Irish-American; born on Market Street, Swinford, Co. Mayo. My family emigrated during the post WWII economic depression and settled into dual cultures while staying in contact with family and friends in Ireland.

When and why did you get involved with this event?
I’ve been involved in Irish cultural events – forever. I volunteered for this org for about eight years ago when I offered to use my creative and publishing skills to help promote the festival. It was a way to contribute to the community while also doing my part to preserve the authenticity of our Irish culture.

What are the rewards of being involved?
Among the rewards is the opportunity to educate Americans of Irish heritage. They are eager to learn about their Irish roots and customs. Some years ago when we started to establish the club as a “brand,” members were receptive to using the Irish harp as our logo in place of an image of a leprechaun (which is fine in Irish folklore but doesn’t pack the historical and cultural punch of the harp).

Why is it an important event for the community there?
Our Irish Festival has grown to be a significant event in Cape Coral and surrounding communities.  We have kept it affordable for families. And, in addition to providing two days of live Irish music and fun for all ages, we support local charities and a scholarship fund that allowed us to award four scholarships this year – to children and young adults who foster and preserve Irish culture through (but not limited to) the arts, such as dancing, and performing on pipes and drums, etc. Our Festival is also significant in that we support local businesses. The past few years have been economically challenging in SW Florida and we are viewed as an opportunity to stimulate business.  For example, we purchase print and advertising and rent sound, tents, stages, seating and other equipment from local sources. In addition, we provide as many as 50 vendors with the opportunity to sell their books, goods and services – and many of them return year after year.  Also, our festival supports the local German cultural organization from whom we rent the beautiful Bavarian Gardens and purchase the food for our festival.

What can attendees expect this year?
In addition to two days of nonstop Irish music performed on two alternating stages, attendees can enjoy the ceremonial pipes & drums and award-winning Irish step dancers. They can also rock to the edgy music of the headliners we consider “the festival darlings” – The Screaming Orphans – and many more. New this year is a Ceilidh Dance tent with celebrated accordion player Donegalman, Brian Bonner, with dancing for all ages and located next to the expanded Leprechaun Lane tent with free face painting and games for kids 3-13. Attendees can also expect a return of the popular hot corned beef & cabbage dinner which can be enjoyed with family and friends at outdoor round tables with benches and umbrellas – with the spirited sounds of Irish music to set the mood.  What’s more, attendees love the Basket of Cheer and 50/50 raffles popular in this part of the world. Plus, a chance to win a Trip for Two to Ireland that includes airfare, rental car and B&B for a week of winner’s choosing.

Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
Absolutely. In fact I’m involved this year even though personal business prevents me from attending this year. I’m leading the Publicity & Promotion team remotely from Chicago.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
With the festival work filling a good number of months I enjoy getting together with members at club meetings and outings. There’s much to learn – especially about the international activities and community outreach at nearby Florida Gulf Coast University.

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
There are courses in colleges and universities in literature and the performing arts, and maybe architecture but for the most part I don’t think most people know the relationship between, let’s say, what’s Irish and what’s Celtic. For years the city of Chicago supported a Celtic Festival but it was discontinued with the tough economic times.  In Chicago, the job of education is left to individual orgs, such as The Irish American Heritage Center, Gaelic Park and Old St. Patrick’s Church – all of which promote Irish culture. And then there’s “St. Patrick’s Day” that offends me greatly with its promotion of Irish as drunks.  Old discriminatory prejudices linger for generations.

What can we be doing better?
Ahhh – that surely worthy of a conversation over a pint sometime.