Growing Pittsburgh Irish
As the Pittsburgh Irish Festival, Inc. grew, it quickly became evident that to meet the needs of the community-at-large, a year-round effort would be required. A great resurgence of interest in Celtic arts and music exploded around the country. A three- day event no longer was enough to satisfy the appetite of our audience. Sparked in part by the prevalence of Irish music on popular movie soundtracks, and the huge success of dance shows Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, public interest proved that the time was ripe for many more Irish cultural presentations. In an effort to increase our community involvement, the Irish Education Outreach Program became established. This program has become an Irish resource for all. Having established ourselves as the leading presenter of Irish music, history, culture, and dance in the region, the key to continuing to build on this foundation of success has been in initiating partnerships with smaller Irish organizations and other local cultural groups to work together as a larger, unified whole. Out of these collaborations have arisen a number of special events, like Ireland’s representation in the Pittsburgh Folk Festival that we had previously defined as our audience soon came to include every person in the region.
By reaching into the schools and senior centers in the area, people of all ethnic backgrounds could come to share and learn about Ireland; its people, customs, arts, and traditions. These efforts to date have meet with much success. In 2011, we presented “Christmas in Ireland” and we frequently visit area grade schools and middle schools to educate them on St. Patrick, the history of Ireland and the Irish culture, as well as participating in the “Sparkle Season” of events in Downtown Pittsburgh. This program was established in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Federation for Events & Promotion and the Pittsburgh Folk Festival. Six schools were visited in all, with each student body being racially diverse. The audience response was refreshingly enthusiastic as the students and teachers all participated in a sing-along. From its inception in 1993, the Irish Education Outreach Program has grown steadily.
After many years of commitment to this project, we have expanded our educational resources and the variety of topics that we can offer. Over the last several years we have been fortunate enough to call upon a renowned harpist, Dennis Doyle, to present a demonstration on the history, origin, and legend of the Irish harp. Celtic symbol drawing has proven quite successful for school programs, as has our history and music presentations in area schools. The true voice of any people, of course, is their language, and to help foster a greater understanding of Gaelic, which was nearly eradicated by a less culturally sensitive English monarchy centuries ago, the Pittsburgh Irish Festival sponsors a Mass in the Irish language. This effort has proven rewarding for all involved.