Dublin Irish Festival

For the next seven days, Celtic Life International will be featuring Celtic festivals of all shapes and sizes from around the world. Today we speak with Kitty Munger, co-founder of the Dublin Irish Festival, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this coming weekend in the community of Dublin, Ohio.

What is your own ethnic heritage and background?
My maternal grandmother, Mary Christina Roche Kennedy, was born and raised in Doonaha, County Clare – near Loop Head, where the Shannon meets the Atlantic.  She emigrated as a young girl, met and married my grandfather Robert Kennedy (of the Kentucky Kennedys, not the Massachusetts Kennedys!). They had four children and my mom Maureen, loved Irish music and instilled that love in me. I was brought up on The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem music and I even have their songs in my iPod!  My paternal grandmother came from County Cork as well.  After graduating from college, I became interested in Irish step dancing and joined a group in Columbus and performed and competed with them for many years (until my knees gave out).

How did you get involved with the Dublin Irish Festival?
Back in 1987, I saw a story in the Dublin News that Dublin, Ireland and Dublin, Ohio were celebrating anniversaries the same year: Dublin, Ireland was celebrating 1,000 years as a city, and Dublin, Ohio was turning one year old as a city. I joined forces with a handful of people to make this birthday a community celebration, and through a lot of planets aligning; the first Dublin Irish Festival was born. I’ve been with the Festival, serving on various committees for 25 years. I’m really proud to be able to look back at what the Festival has become when I think of those early days when we just wanted to celebrate the Irish culture in Dublin. As we’ve grown over the years, I’m very pleased that our focus on Irish culture hasn’t diminished.

What is the festival’s core mandate?
The mission of the Dublin Irish Festival is to produce an internationally recognized event that promotes Irish music, dance, culture and tradition while engaging, enriching and unifying the communities we serve.

How has it grown over the years?
The Dublin Irish Festival started in 1988 on a tennis court in Coffman Park with an estimated 100 guests. 25 years later, the Festival is set on 29 rolling acres in Coffman Park with more than 100,000 guests expected to attend.

Who attends the gathering?
Attendance ranges from children to adults including many local residents and families who have made the Dublin Irish Festival a Central Ohio tradition. We also have a steady following of out of state guests who travel to the event every year.

What can they expect to experience this year?
Irish attitude is all you need to experience the Dublin Irish Festival in Dublin, Ohio, USA. For 25 years, the first weekend in August has been reserved for what is now the world’s second largest Irish celebration. With 7 stages, 65 acts and more than 535 performers, there is truly something for everyone. Authentic Irish music, dance, shopping, culture, art and more make this a one-of-a-kind event that keeps guests of all ages returning year after year. In 2012, guests will join the city of Dublin, Ohio for a party 25 years in the making as the Festival proudly celebrates its 25th anniversary. In addition, The Dublin Irish Festival is proud to host the 2012 International Highland Games Federation Women’s Professional World Championships on Sunday, August 5 for the first time.

Why is it an important event for the Celtic community there?
The Celtic community, like other communities, enjoy gathering with people with similar backgrounds who share many of the same interests. In addition, they love to share their culture with others.  Because the Festival is set on 29 rolling green acres, many guests say that it reminds them of the landscape of Ireland. In addition to the camaraderie, guests often say that the Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival is “Like Ireland, Except Smaller.”

Why is it an important event for the non-Celtic community there?
Dublin residents and central Ohioans, regardless of nationality, consider this event one of the best organized events with world class entertainment. They appreciate the value of being able to immerse themselves in the Irish culture without having to travel abroad.  In addition, the Celtic and non-Celtic communities both understand that this event has incredible regional economic impact.

What are the plans for the festival in the years ahead?
Since 2008, the Festival has become increasingly dedicated to its green initiative by finding and implementing new ways to make the Festival more environmentally friendly. In 2011, 6,073 reusable mugs were sold and all beer cups were recyclable. Throughout the weekend, nearly 3.5 tons of trash was recycled. In addition, composting was introduced in multiple locations and totaled nearly 1.4 tons of food and other materials. Green efforts resulted in more than 35 percent of Festival trash being diverted from landfills. This will continue to be an important initiative in the years ahead. Presently, the City of Dublin is planning to expand Coffman Park in 2014. This expansion will certainly open up opportunities to change the footprint of the Festival from the present 29 acres. This means that Festival organizers will consider the addition of cultural programs and the expansion of existing ones.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture in the U.S. and around the world?
Dublin, Ohio hosted the North American Irish Festival Organizer’s Conference this year in March. At this conference, more than 70 Irish Festival staff and volunteers joined together to discuss how to produce Irish Festivals that are authentic, educational and fun. In addition, the International Festival & Events Association represents Irish Festival organizers from Irish events in the U.S. and other countries including Canada, Nova Scotia and Ireland. This has resulted in positive results for the tourism industry here and abroad.

What can we be doing better?
We can continue to seek and book fresh, new programming and entertainment from throughout the world. It is important to hold on to the time-honored traditions while continuing the quest for improvement. The goal must be to continue to present elements that attract guests from a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of the world.

Are young people still interested in Celtic culture?
It’s been said that “music is the universal language,” and interest in culture begins with music. Celtic rock music brings many young people to the Dublin Irish Festival. Many children come to the Festival with their parents and are exposed to the culture through the crafts that they make and the great storytellers that appear on stage at the Wendy’s Wee Folk area.