Emily Fritz | Staff Writer
Sept. 15, 2022
Irish Partnership Pittsburgh celebrated its 31st-annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival this past weekend. The festival saw around 25,000 attendees this year at a new venue and National Historic Landmark — Carrie Blast Furnaces.
Mairin Petrone, the executive director for the festival and Duquesne University alumnus said, “This new venue was so ‘Pittsburgh’ and so beautiful” and that the Carrie Blast Furnaces were the “perfect backdrop for the vibrancy of our event.”
Petrone has lent her talents to the festival since its first year in 1991. In just over three decades, the festival has changed and adapted, but Petrone said that “we all come together to celebrate culture, as “everyone involved and attending the Pittsburgh Irish Festival is family.”
The festival was a three-day weekend event that was filled to the brim with Irish food, entertainment and vendors.
Among the anticipated line-up of Irish musicians and entertainers was Shannon Lambert-Ryan, one of the vocalists for the Irish folk band RUNA. Lambert-Ryan said “Irish festivals are usually pretty open and welcoming to a pretty broad scope of people.”
For groups like RUNA, the importance of Irish festivals originates with the communities that host them and the Irish heritage that they celebrate.
One of the ways RUNA supports the local areas where they perform for is through sock drives. At the Pittsburgh Irish Festival, they asked in advance for attendees to bring a pair of socks to donate, which RUNA then gave to those in need within the Pittsburgh area.
For the Irish community present at the festival, they serve through their music and the passing on of Irish history embedded in the songs they play.
“The Holy Ground,” a song originally by Gerry O’Beirne, highlights the plights of Irish soldiers during the Mexican-American War, which resulted in the present-day Texas border.
Although RUNA is known for their folk characteristics, they include several unique instruments, most notably in their use of auxiliary percussion. Lambert-Ryan plays a traditional Irish instrument called the bodhrán, but the group’s other female vocalist incorporates instruments such as the djembe, bongos, chimes and tambourine.
Their instrumentation lends itself to the Irish heritage celebrated at the festivals they attend, while also promoting a greater diversity and deeper love for music as they travel.
Other musical groups included Gaelic Storm, Screaming Orphans, Bastard Bearded Irishmen, The Bow Tides, The Friel Sisters and Donnie Irish.
Attendees who were musically inclined were also encouraged to bring their own personal instruments to join in the festivities. Those who did were awarded with free admission and the opportunity to perform informally.
Along with the bands that belonged to the entertainment line-up were other traditional acts and demonstrations, such as step dancing. Five Farms Irish Cream also hosted a kitchen to present baking demonstrations for traditional Irish and Irish-inspired dishes.
Lambert-Ryan participated in the entertainment offerings with her son by presenting a workshop on traditional Irish shortbread and Welsh cakes.
Axe throwing, Irish genealogy, raffles and mini-golf were offered. An Irish marketplace hosted vendors selling festival merchandise, Irish garments, jewelry, crafts and name plaques.
A festival of this size would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of its staff.
“I know I’m biased, but I do sincerely feel that my favorite part of the festival is meeting and working with our great volunteers,” said volunteer organizer Mary Ann Ging. “Many of the volunteers have been coming for years and we’ve developed personal friendships.”
Volunteers working the festival can be responsible for almost any area, including Leprechaun Landing, the pubs, stages, artist merchandise, merchandise sales and ticketing.
Ging also told The Duke that there are many perks to being a volunteer for the festival.
“We have a volunteer party prior to the festival and provide free admission, t-shirts, snacks and other benefits to the volunteers during their shifts,” Ging said. “We try to create an environment where volunteers can have a fun experience, while also supporting the festival.”
Having worked with the festival for three decades, Ging remains passionate about her Irish heritage and the community that she has helped to cultivate.
“The festival volunteer group is a wonderful community. It’s a great place to meet new people and reconnect with old friends,” Ging said. “We look forward to getting together each year to listen to music, eat great food and support an organization that we love.”
Current Duquesne graduate student and Duquesne in Dublin alumnus Grace Furman also shared her experiences with the Pittsburgh Irish Festival and her semester abroad last fall.
“The Irish festival definitely made me feel very nostalgic for my time in Ireland,” Furman said. “I had so much fun while I was there, and if anything, it motivated me to go back even sooner than I was already planning.”