Irish Fest brings Celtic tradition to Carbondale

Though the language is most commonly spoken in northwestern Europe, Celtic connections are strong in southern Illinois with a Celtic radio show originating here as well as an annual festival.

The 14th annual Southern Illinois Irish Festival in Carbondale will begin at 7:30 p.m. with an acoustic concert from Scottish singer and guitarist Ed Miller.  The concert will take place at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Carbondale as part of Cousin Andy’s Coffee House, a not-for-profit organization that provides a smoke- and alcohol-free performance space.

The Festival’s Celtic Fair will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Turley Park with two music and dance stages, Highland Games, bagpipes demonstrations, beer, wine and activities for children.

Bryan Kelso Crow, president of the festival’s board of directors and an associate professor of speech communication, said the Highland Games are a sort of Scottish strongman competition, and in recent years have been one of the festival’s biggest attractions. Crow, host of Celtic Connections radio show, said the Games’ proximity to the beer tents might be one reason for it’s popularity.

“People can drink inside the beer tents and watch the Highland Games without hurting their back at all,” he said.

Event preparation is nearly year-round, Crow said, with fundraisers throughout the year to help bring in the bands, dancers and vendors that make the event possible.

The festival began in 1997 as a Celebration of Irish American Music by Charles Fanning, director of the University’s Irish and Irish Immigration Studies Program, according to the festival’s website.

Though the event isn’t new to the area, Mike Shanahan, the festival’s entertainment coordinator, said it’s only the second year the fair will be hosted in October.

“After 12 years in April, we just had to pick a drier date,” he said. “We settled on the first weekend of October because it doesn’t interfere with any Saluki home games, and for the past two years things have worked out well and the weather’s been great.”

Shanahan said WSIU-FM’s nationally-syndicated Celtic Connections radio program and the festival make Carbondale a hub of regional Irish Celtic activities.

Saturday’s Celtic Fair performers include Carbondale’s Irish band The Dorians, Johnston City Celtic duo Roisín Dubh, Irish and American singer E.L. Kurtz, Shaina’s Strings, dancers and musicians from St. Louis Irish Arts, St. Louis Irish fiddlers Kevin Buckley and Ian Walsh, and cameo appearances by Ed Miller and Chicago Reel.

Sunday’s “Celtic Roots, American Traditions” lineup includes Wil Maring and Robert Bowlin, The Bankesters, Rural Kings, The Dorians and Bone Dry River Band.

Admission at the park entrance will cost $5 each day, and children ages 12 and under have free entry.

Chicago Reel, a five-member Irish band from Chicago, will play at 7:00 p.m. Saturday at Rustle Hill Winery. Admission at the gate is $12 per person.

Brian Stone, a doctoral student in English from Rockford and member of the Irish Studies Forum — a Registered Student Organization of graduate students with Irish backgrounds — said though the southern Illinois Celtic community is small compared to the state’s northern section, the festival is a great opportunity to meet those with similar backgrounds.

“It’s a great chance for people to take pride and celebrate their heritage,” he said.


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About Caleb Motsinger

Caleb Motsinger can be reached at or 536-3311 ext. 269.

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