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Photo courtesy of Mike Beitchman
Photo courtesy of Mike Beitchman
A scene from a previous Great Irish Fair.

Some major changes are coming to the Great Irish Fair.

The 35th Annual Great Irish Fair of New York – typically held in the parking lot of Coney Island’s MCU Park – will relocate this year to the brand new Ford Amphitheater at the Coney Island Boardwalk.

“We’re really excited,” said fair Chairperson Martin Cottingham. “This is something we’ve worked on for a couple of years, and we’re excited that the event now has a permanent home.”

The change will see the fair – founded in 1982 by the Brooklyn Chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and hosted, since 2007, by the Irish American Building Society as a way to commemorate the city’s abundant Irish-American culture heritage with live music, food and draft beers served up by local watering holes – unfolding in the recently unveiled 5,000-seat open-air venue that, since opening earlier this summer, has hosted bands like Boston, the Beach Boys, Aerosmith and more.

However, while the format will mirror years past, Cottingham said, the event – typically two days at the end of each September – will hit the waterfront nabe on Saturday, September 24 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. for just one day.

“As excited as we are, we’re dealing with some of those growing pains,” Cottingham explained. “There were some challenges with the schedule, and that’s why we had to settle for one day instead of two.”

In addition, the cost this year has gone up to $25 for general admission (it was just $10 for adults and $5 for kids last year), $45 for pit and lower level access and $65 for VIP rooftop bar and lounge access.

Nonetheless, with the hike in pricing, Cottingham said, comes a silver lining in that this year’s tickets will be distributed through Live Nation, the official ticket vendor for the amphitheater, and promoted to more than one million subscribers nationwide.

“We’re revisiting the pricing,” he added. “We’ve had some pushback but one of the things we’re going to do this year that we’re adamant about is having kids free because that’s important for the community. We’re trying to manage that.”

Expenses and atmosphere aside, Cottingham told this paper that the Great Irish Fair will be just as great as – if not greater than – what is has been for decades.

“From a logistical perspective, we’re going to have the first 1,000 seats removed to give us that dance floor everyone is used to year after year,” he said, adding that, though rumors have spread online that the new venue will oust local vendors, there will “absolutely” be goodies up for grabs. “Year after year we have great Catholic school representation and this year is no different. We have about 15 grammar schools signed up so far, some of them from Manhattan.

“The format is the same,” he stressed. “There will be a mass at 10 a.m., awards at 11 a.m., and music starting at noon.”

Another plus side, he said, will be an added thrill for young lads and lasses.

“There will be some rides for the kids,” Cottingham said, “and we’re also bringing back the smaller stage which we’re going to locate in the park behind the amphitheater and have traditional Irish music playing all day.”

This year’s musical acts will include traditional Irish music by John Nolan, Andy Cooney, the Buckley School of Irish Dance, FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, Derek Warfield & The Young Wolftones, O’Malley Irish Dance Academy, McLean Avenue Band, Breezy Point Catholic Club Pipe and Drums, Searson and Unforgettable Fire, among others.

While many longtime attendees were quick to praise the coming changes, some are admittedly skeptical that the change in venue will affect the fair’s small-town feel.

“The Great Irish Fair of New York is my way of getting in touch with my heritage, a heritage I’m still learning about. The years I’ve attended, this great fair was held in fields or parking lots: under the Brooklyn Bridge, Floyd Bennett, the Abe Stark Ice Rink lot. For a small price, ranging from $15 to $20, I was able to enjoy the sounds, the food and beer, and prep for St.Paddy’s,” said Bay Ridge native and longtime attendee Nikki Gross. “The change in venue feels as if this is no longer for the long-supporting New Yorkers, but rather to attract tourists. The amphitheater, although a beautiful addition to Coney Island’s attractions, feels confined and much less like a fair.

“By changing the venue to a newer, more expensive one such as the amphitheater, the doable prices have been increased and include service fees,” she added.

Still, others seem to be hopeful.

“I look forward to checking out the amphitheater for the first time,” noted Mike Beitchman, who will be photographing the fair. “As far as the changes, there are a few positives and a few negatives. To bring the Irish fair to the new amphitheater will be great for the entertainment scheduled. How the changes will affect the vendors remains to be seen. The cost to enter fair is a bit more this year with various options and could be an inconvenience to all. It will be interesting to see how everything turns out.”

For more information and a full list of this year’s honorees, visit www.iabsny.com/great-irish-fair.

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