By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Mahoning Valley’s Irish festival will not take place this summer for the first time in 17 years.
The Gathering of the Irish Clans festival committee has voted to cancel the annual August event, citing a decline in attendance. The festival had been at St. Maron’s Church picnic grounds on Meridian Road since 2001. Before that it was at the Gaelic Society Grounds in Springfield Township.
The committee will meet later this summer to explore ways to reinvent the festival, possibly as an indoor event, said Robert Kale, committee president.
The weekend festival had been averaging about 1,200 in attendance over its two days. But numbers began falling in the last couple of years, and the 2010 festival only drew about 800, said Kale, while expenses increased.
He cited the weak economy among other causes.
Unlike some ethnic festivals in the Mahoning Valley, the Gathering prided itself on being a smaller event that was focused entirely on its cultural roots.
“It’s what made us unique,” said Kale.
“We were small and family-based, like a large church picnic.”
The fact that it took place in an out-of-the-way location made it a “destination” festival; people just looking for a street festival would not just stumble upon it.
The Gathering always had live Irish music and dance, food and imported beer, as well as an Irish marketplace and children’s area.
It did not have mainstream music, amusement rides or other nonethnic entertainment, and Kale said the committee refused to go in that direction just to survive.
“We wanted to attract people that want to be here,” he said.
Because the bulk of Irish immigration occurred in the late 1800s, Irish- Americans are more removed from their homeland than Italians and Slavs.
That fact, as well as the lack of an influx of younger members to the festival committee, kept a lid on growth, he added.