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Irish Fest takes center stage

Constructibegins Gaelic Park preparatiIrish Fest this week end Gaelic Park Thursday May 22nd 2014 Oak Forest. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times

Construction begins at Gaelic Park in preparation of the Irish Fest this week end at Gaelic Park, Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 in Oak Forest. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 24, 2014 8:14AM



Nobody knew when it started nearly three decades ago that Irish Fest would put Gaelic Park in Oak Forest on the proverbial worldwide map.

The plan then was to simply present a Memorial Day weekend festival that would focus heavily on Irish culture, provide plenty of fun activities for families, and raise some money for other programs at Gaelic Park, 6119 W. 147th St.

But as the years rolled on, the festival began getting bigger and bigger, attracting top entertainers and becoming something that — in its 28th rendition — is indeed known worldwide, said John Griffin, who was president of Gaelic Park from 1991 to 2011.

This year’s edition kicks off Friday and runs through Monday.

Like many who have been involved in the event, Griffin can’t stay away. He will be busy helping out any way he can this weekend at the Celtic Stage.

Griffin reflected Thursday on an event that will pack people in all weekend, rain or shine, and has become a must-attend festival. It will feature many bands, Irish dancers, comedians, shows and carnival rides.

“You know, one of the key things is it allows us to bring entertainment to the area that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to bring. Economically, you can’t bring people like Ronan Tynan — he sang at Yankee Stadium and for President Reagan — or Black 47 — they typically play downtown venues and charge a lot more money — and people like Nathan Carter, in his first tour of America,” Griffin said.

“We couldn’t have (big names) because the cost of tickets would be astronomical. But here, we’re able to bring in a wide variety of Irish entertainment from all over the world, and the festival allows us to bring high-caliber entertainment to the Southland at family-friendly prices.”

Success builds on itself. The bigger Irish Fest got, the more bigger-name performers came, which resulted in bigger crowds and, of course, bigger profits that could be used to attract more big names and help fund the many Irish-American programs held year-round there.

“Gaelic Park is known worldwide. This festival plays a key role in allowing Gaelic Park to meet its mission of preserving and promoting Irish culture and heritage,” Griffin said.

A Gaelic Park favorite for years, Black 47 plays two shows, one Sunday night and another late Monday afternoon. This is being billed as the band’s farewell tour.

“Their Sunday night show is a special event at Gaelic Park, special for them and for us. We get huge crowds. Black 47 has always been a cutting-edge band, and the shows are just electric,” he said. “It’s a must that they come to Gaelic Park, for them and for us.”

Live entertainment, including Irish dancers and comedians, is scheduled for all four days and nights.

Griffin is pleased the price has remained affordable. Visitors still can get in for $10 for the first hour each day. Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday and Monday. After that, it’s still affordable, he said, at $15 for adults and $12 for senior citizens age 65 and older, and children ages 4 through 12. Those younger than 4 get in for free.

Families benefit as “Mom and Dad can go see a show while the kids are on the carnival rides,” Griffin said.

“I can’t think of another event where all the carnival rides are included in the price of the admission,” he said. “I watch the papers and see local carnivals will have one price for three or four hours. This is the whole weekend, unlimited carnival rides. So it allows families to come out,” Griffin said.

Workers were busy Thursday putting the finishing touches on stages that will host entertainers.

Griffin credited Frank Bradley, “the guy who’s run it for 28 years,” he said, as being “one of those detail-oriented guys who has improved it over the years.”

Muddy paths have been replaced with stone-covered paths, for example. And not everyone, Griffin noted, is a fan of portable potties.

“I don’t know of an outdoor festival that has indoor washrooms to this extent,” he said. “I don’t want to sound sexist, but women really prefer those. So do some of the men.”

For more information, visit chicagogaelicparkirishfest.org.



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