Manhattan Irish Fest

storyThe cozy Chicagoland community of Manhattan, Il (pop; 7,093) celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its Irish festival this coming weekend with an array of amazing activities. Event committee member Danny Doyle gives us the details.

What are your own roots?
My personal heritage comes from Ireland.  My family tree is filled with Surnames from Ireland: Doyle, Fitzgerald, Cavanaugh, Marin & so on.  My father was a Doyle & my mother was a Fitzgerald.  Both of their ancestors left Ireland in the 1840’s, during “The Famine” years.  Growing up, my mom always made certain that I knew I was an American but, she also taught me that I was Irish.  Her and my dad always felt that being Irish in America was something to be proud of.  As I got older, my mom explained that the reason for this sentiment arose from her father and grandfather and great-grandfather being looked down upon in America because they were Irish.  It was this sense of pride that led me to undertake extensive research into the Irish in America, as well as Irish history in general.

When and why did you get involved with this event?
The Manhattan Irish Fest began in 1995 and, although I was not yet a member of the organizing committee, I loved that our small town was putting on a festival to celebrate Irish heritage and culture.  Manhattan, IL was incorporated in 1886. Due to railroad construction in the mid-19th century, many immigrants, especially Irish, moved to the area.  My family was part of the Irish community that settled the area around that time.  My studies in Irish history combined with my knowledge of our town’s history attracted me to find a way to work with Manhattan Irish Fest.  After years of being merely a loyal patron of the fest, my friend Coley O’Connell asked me to help with the parade.  From that start, it did not take long for me to find myself assisting with other areas to continue the festival’s success.  I can proudly state that I have been a part of Manhattan Irish Fest Committee since 2004.

What are the rewards of being involved, and why is it an important event for the community there?
The rewards for our hard work are numerous.  The Manhattan Irish Fest Committee is strictly volunteer and that allows us to give back all of our profits to many deserving organizations.  Some of the organizations that we have had the privilege of working with include: The Manhattan Park District, The Irish American Society of County Will, Operation Care Package, MYAA, Manhattan Lions Club, St. Joseph’s school, Easter Seals, Manhattan – Elwood Library District, Manhattan Food Pantry, Critter Junction, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce & countless others.  In addition to all of the organizations we help, Manhattan Irish Fest is important for our community due to the beneficial impact that we provide to Manhattan’s local economy and that we offer the people of our community the first indication that winter is over.  We like to think of our festival as a “Spring Training” for the warmer months ahead.  We offer this festival for anyone interested in learning more about our town.  This is our showcase to show some of the values that we, in this town, hold dear.  We have a tight knit town with excellent schools and we would love for you to come have a look.  We also award a King & Queen scholarship for college bound students in the amount of $1,000.00 each

What can attendees expect this year?
Anyone who wishes to attend the 2014 Manhattan Irish Fest will have plenty of activities to suit each individual’s taste.  One aspect that sets our festival apart from almost all other Irish festivals is that a button is required for entrance.  We do not stamp hands on the way in.  We sell admission buttons designed by a professional graphic artist and produced by Harry’s Buttons in Tinley Park, IL.  Harry’s Buttons works with Easter Seals and employs Autistic workers to deliver quality admission buttons to us.  Admission buttons are on sale now at  Once a button is purchased, the supporter of our fest is entitled to entrance into any of our festival areas.  Our festival begins with a Friday night event at our Main Entertainment Tent along with activities at our Family Tent.  On Saturday, we really kick into high gear with an Irish Mass at St. Joseph’s Church followed by a pancake breakfast, a 5K run that kicks off our signature parade through the streets of Manhattan, a craft fair, the Family Tent for all of the younger Irish kids and the Main Entertainment Tent for all those who want to hear some great Irish music.  We also have men’s and women’s rugby matches and great raffle prizes to be won.

Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
Absolutely!  While I was growing up, my mom made our house work.  I am the youngest of 11 children and my mom did it on a waitress’ wage.  There were many times when our life was rough.  We made it through those times because my mother never quit but, sometimes we needed a little bit of help from others, which we fortunately received.  I will never forget all of those that helped me and my family and I am proud to know that I can now help others.  Being a part of this committee allows me to give back.  We have one committee member that has been with us since the very beginning.  Or should I say, we are now with him.  Mike McHugh is the only member that has been working this festival since its inception.  As I mentioned before, our entire committee is all volunteer.  The staggering amount of time that each member has to put in for this event to work is amazing.  They are taking time away from work, their families, their children, their lives.  Any group of people with that amount of dedication to a singular goal, which is completely selfless, is a group of people that I will always want to work with.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
In addition to Manhattan Irish Fest, I am also a member of the Irish American Society of County Will.  Our mission is stated simply as: To promote Irish culture in America and to preserve Irish-American Heritage, to promote education, friendship, understanding and cooperation among members, and the community in general, and to promote and cooperate in the general welfare work of the community.  The Irish American Society of County Will also puts on its own festival every summer.  The Will County Celtic Fest opens up to all people of Celtic descent, not just those of Irish origin.  Along with those memberships, I also teach the Irish language to children (and some adults) whose parents think it is important to keep the language alive. I also have a small Celtic music workshop where I teach children and adults the music of the Celts.  This endeavor starts with lessons in appreciating Celtic music and includes the instruction of how to play Celtic instruments.

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
I assume by the “We” in the question that you are referring to those of us actively involved in the preservation of the Celtic culture.  With that in mind, my answer is yes, and no. Here is my “yes” answer.  I love how the numerous Celtic festivals have gained widespread popularity throughout the world.  An Irish Fest, A Highland Fest, A Celtic Fest.  These are more of the norm these days and a great way to celebrate and share our Celtic past with people of the Celtic cultural background.  It has also become a great opportunity to share our culture with people who have no roots in the ancient Celtic nations.  The widespread acceptance and popularity of mainstream bands mixing Celtic music with other genres is definitely a sign that we are doing something right.  Another sign that we are working in the right direction is that “Celtic Life International” has such a large readership.  Through the efforts of this publication, many more of us Celts have a place we can turn to and find our place in this world. Here is my “no” answer.  I believe that we are witnessing the death of the Gaelic languages.  Irish, Scottish Gaelic & Manx are soon to be extinct.  We need to find a way to make these languages relevant in peoples’ lives somehow.

What can we be doing better?
Continue to reach out to the younger generations of Celtic descent.  Make sure that they know why they should be proud to be Irish or Scottish or any other Celtic lineage.  It is always a shame to me when someone says that they are proud to be Irish or Scottish but, has no knowledge of their country’s history.  I am proud to be Irish because I know what it means.  We need to teach that to others!  We also need to find a way to expand the interest in the languages of the Celts.