Although it’s hardly a “best kept secret” since it’s been happening annually since 1991, the Pittsburgh Irish Festival was to me since I only attended it for the first time last weekend. I’m not sure why I had never gone before since it was so me-ethnic food and cultural experiences and articles for purchase from said country (my name is Julie and I’m addicted to shopping). But attend I did and I had a great time even if the weather gods went overboard in delivering an authentic Irish experience in regards to the weather (it was cold, rainy, and damp complete with gray skies).
In previous years I had attended the Pittsburgh Folk Festival and while that’s certainly impressive within itself (a vast array of countries are represented), the Irish Festival was equally impressive if not more since the festival had so much going on, all tied to the Emerald Isle. But if there’s one ethnicity that knows it’s go big or go home it’s the Irish.
The festival took place at the Riverplex, which is an area of Pittsburgh’s famous Sand Castle water park. While it’s only a very short drive from the popular Homestead shopping and entertainment area where I’ve been countless times, I’ve never actually been to Sand Castle and had no idea how large a space it was either. And being the history nerd that I am, I think it’s cool that an ethnic festival takes place in an area that 100 years ago was home to huge populations of immigrants (the former Homestead Steel Works employed thousands of them). Just a nice symbolic touch in my opinion.
So when I say the festival had everything, I’m not embellishing. Food, drink (it’s an Irish festival, of course there was drink), Irish dancing, Irish dogs (my heart just melted in this area), Irish music (the same thing for drink applies here), even how to research one’s Irish genealogical past. We stayed for hours and didn’t even begin to skim the whole surface since there were so many neat sounding things going on at the same time.
But what we did get to:
Food & Drink
Unfortunately, my stomach is not big enough to pack away as much as I would like. But we did try Dublin coddle, boxties (potato pancakes), bangers and mash (bangers are sausages), and Irish Egg Rolls (not entirely authentic but when they’re filled with corned beef, they definitely win in the authenticity department). D got a Guinness and tried an apple flavor of Magners Irish Cider.
Although I had planned to check out the larger musical acts (The Screaming Orphans), we ended up listening to husband and wife musical act Matt and Shannon Heaton who were both amazing. According to their website, they’re performers, composers, and teachers of updated and traditional Irish music. It’s that type of music that I could listen to for hours-so pleasant.
I know Riverdance is not as big as it once was (at least here in the United States), but I saw it live two times and always loved it. And naturally at an Irish festival one will find some Irish dancing. I think it’s awesome that Pittsburgh is home to so many Irish dancing schools. It was really cute to see the “wee” ones perform, all of whom did a great job.
All I can say is that six years after my trip to Ireland I finally got my St. Brigid’s cross (I for some reason did not buy the one I saw when I visited the city of Kilkenny). There were lots of things for sale ranging from mass produced souvenirs to beautiful handmade items-we bought some lovely Guinness themed pottery pieces as well as scones and shortbread from the tea stand.
Being immersed in the culture of a country is the next best thing to being there yourself and on Saturday at this year’s Irish Festival, I felt close to being in the “real thing.” I’m glad that I finally attended and look forward to when next year’s rolls around once more.