Capri Scarcelli & Mary Liz Flavin | a&e editor and news editor
Sept. 16, 2021
The “luck o’ the Irish” was certainly present last weekend, Sept. 10-12 at Pittsburgh’s annual Irish Festival in the Lots at Sandcastle — celebrating their 30-year-anniversary.
Brimming with life, the festival brought about an unmatched sense of community that showed how important it is to share alike the culture and customs of one’s heritage. From woodwork and kilts to potatoes and jigs, the music, food, atmosphere and nostalgia kept a hot summer’s day feeling like a blissful storybook tale.
With tents lining the perimeter of the lot, food vendors, craftsmen and musicians alike were able to share their specialities with the growing crowds.
Richard Machaux and his son Ben Machaux have been showcasing their woodworking talents at the fair for seven years. Their products range from walking sticks to charcuterie boards, carved mantle pieces to Santa Clauses.
“I love doing what I do. I make characters and they are a lot of fun to have and it’s fun to do. That’s why I do it, people enjoy looking and talking about it. It becomes a center piece of conversation,” Machaux said.
Machaux has been working at his craft for over forty years, passing his knowledge down to his son. He enjoys sharing his talents with others through the craftsmanship of woodworking.
Malaki Inks, a cook from McCarrick’s, said he has come to the festival with his family for the past five years to set up a booth. Additionally, McCarrick’s has been a part of Pittsburgh’s Irish Festival since the very beginning, according to Inks.
McCarrick’s carries classic Irish cuisine: including shepherd’s pie; a mashed potato dish with ground beef, peas and carrots; Dublin coddle, an alternate mashed potato combo topped with sausage and onions; ham and cabbage; Irish sausage and more.
“Coming down means a lot. We offer a lot, a lot more than food, so just having people here to enjoy makes it really fun,” Inks said.
Neighboring food booths also offered an array of appetizers, alcoholic beverages and desserts. If not sitting outside at the many benches lined in the middle of the lot, visitors took their food to the main stage tent, where Sunday’s entertainment schedule was jam-packed with activities.
The day started as visitors were welcomed with Irish Mass led by the Rev. Sean Hogan, followed by pipes and drums, poetry, a lecture on the origin of Irish names, as well as guest performances by The Bow Tides and The Screaming Orphans: Irish musicians who have now performed for the first time since the start of Covid-19.
This Irish rock band said they were elated to be back performing, with some of the set being performed for the first time in front of an audience. The Screaming Orphans played a select number of songs off of their album released during the pandemic, where they joked that most of the creativity for it came from their childhood bedroom at their parents’ house. The band members, who are all sisters, said it was a pleasure to perform for an audience that cares about their heritage as much as they do.
One of their hit singles, “Every Woman Gardens,” can be streamed on Spotify.
There were smaller tents that provided traditional instruments and styles for visitors who wanted to join along as well, or simply relax to the calming floutists, harp-players and pianists play pieces from their childhood.
Cushla Srour, who performed on a traditional Irish flute and piano, and Maurine Reich, who played the violin, welcomed guests into their tent with the soft lull of Irish tunes. Together, they have been running the tent for seven years.
“It’s not about the music but it really is. The music is the glue that binds the relationships of the people you meet through music. You’re bonded by the music, your passion is the music,” Srour said.
Both Srour and Reich find that it is the little moments that they share with the people who stop by to listen or perform that makes what they do so special.
“We want you here to spread your joy,” Scour said.
Inside the tent, a book was laid out for festival goers to write their stories and experiences from the day, and what the fair meant to them. Reich explained that the book is an act of appreciation for the festival coordinators and all they do behind the scenes.
Many kind notes and signatures could be found by flipping through the pages, as there was so much gratitude and support throughout.
Alivia Moore, a 12-year-old Irish dancer, said she was excited to immerse herself back into her heritage with the help of Pittsburgh’s Irish Festival. Moving from New Jersey, Moore said she wanted to find a place where she could get back into dancing while appreciating the culture.
“I had just moved here, so we came to [the Irish festival] to hear the bagpipes and get me back into Irish dance, where I can hopefully find a [dance] school to re-join and get into a groove again,” Moore said. “I like learning all of the dances, it just makes me happy and it is very peaceful and calming to me to hear Irish music.”
Moore said she was also able to enjoy the axe-throwing, and was even able to perform for the instrumentalists who played as her background.
“I liked dancing [for an audience], it brought back some steps that I probably need to re-learn,” Moore said. “I love being able to say I’m Irish, saying that I can Irish dance… it’s a really cool thing.”
The Pittsburgh Irish Festival allows people from all over Pittsburgh to share in their Irish heritage. For some it is a way to connect to old roots through music, crafts and food, while for others it is a great way to learn more about Irish culture. Regardless, the festival is a great way to create unforgettable memories and experiences.