By John Benson
Everyone agrees you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day.
The same mindset applies to the 32nd annual Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival, which takes place Friday through Sunday at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Berea.
“The key is celebrating culture,” said John O’Brien, Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival deputy director. “Whether you’re Irish, Chinese or Spanish, it doesn’t matter. We always say we’re American first, Irish second. If you love music, you love history and stories, you’ll have a great time at the festival no matter what your nationality is.”
O’Brien pointed out in Ohio alone there are 1.4 million people of Irish descent.
“It’s just a huge Irish population,” O’Brien said. “The heritage is everywhere.”
Apparently plenty of Northeast Ohioans agree, with annual attendance at the Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival in the 30,000 range. The appeal is more than 30 performers on eight stages with bands such as Black 47, Dervish, The Stepcrew, The High Kings and Scythian, as well as Cleveland’s own The New Barleycorns, Marys Lane and Brigid’s Cross.
Also, local Irish dance schools will be performing and more than 50 Irish vendors will sell their wares.
There’s also Irish food, with local eateries and an Irish coffee house on site.
For the younger ones, there’s an area ($3 wristband required) where children can paint their names in Gaelic script, make their own Irish flags, and learn Irish dance.
One new attraction this year is the Temple Bar, where festivalgoers can have a drink and share in a sessiun (Irish jam session), as well as take in presentations and workshops.
“Temple Bar is an entertainment district in Dublin, Ireland, so we’re kind of modeling after that,” O’Brien said.
“When you walk into that hall, you’re walking into the village to the pub called Temple Bar. Inside there are dance sessions and balladeers and singalongs. It’s a typical pub-like thing with a little more structure to it. You can learn to Irish dance or sing songs.
“Also, it’s an air-conditioned building, which is always an attraction in the middle of July.”