The 35th Annual Great Irish Fair of New York – typically held in to-be-determined venues each year such as the parking lot of Coney Island’s MCU Park – celebrated its first of many festivals at the brand new Ford Amphitheater at the Coney Island Boardwalk on Saturday, September 24.
The change saw the typically two-day affair – 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 for just one day 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.
Still, despite some skepticism from longtime attendees wary of the switch, fair Chairperson Martin Cottingham said crowds spanned close to 3,000 people throughout the course of the day.
“We’re very happy with that given that it’s our first year [at the venue] and obviously there was some confusion on the front end,” Cottingham told this paper, stressing that, while there were definitely some bumps in the road, housing the Great Irish Fair in the Amphitheater going forward ultimately has more pros than cons. “It’s just great to be able to bring that event into a world-class venue like the Amphitheater. It’s a state-of-the-art facility with a roof. The volume was incredible. The bands sounded outstanding, and now, just to have a routine that people know where we are going to be going forward is a relief.”
Approximately 900 seats in the lower bowl area were removed to accommodate traditional Irish dancing, as well as an additional 500 seats in the mezzanine area to allow for more space for both party-goers and vendors (an important detail that longtime attendees at first feared would not happen), with the event’s lineup and schedule mirroring years past, including the fair’s usual opening mass and awards ceremony.
New this year was a second tent pitched outside of the Amphitheater — as well as four playgrounds for children — that allowed for traditional Irish music all day, no matter which of the many bands was taking center stage.
Among this year’s musical acts were 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.
This year’s honorees included Brian Ruane, BNY Mellon (Chief Brehon); Katie Byrnes, Fontbonne Hall Academy (Colleen Queen); Coach John Kelly, Xavier High School (Irish Man of the Year); Sister Theresa (Tesa) Fitzgerald, Hour Children (Kathleen Slattery Woman of the Year); Marguerite Peck, Downing & Peck PC (St. Thomas More Award); The Honorable Kevin Peter Carroll, Democratic State Committee/District Leader (Paul O’Dwyer Memorial Award); Reverend William F. Sweeney, Diocese of Brooklyn (Father Mychal Judge OFM Memorial Award); Danny Prince, FDNY (Captain Timothy Stackpole Memorial Award) Raymond C. Teatum, Former Lieutenant of Eastern Lieutenancy Knights of the Holy Sepulchre (Thomas Cuite Memorial Award); Caitlin Bowen, Stantec (Jerry Forest Memorial Award); Linda Gallagher-Lomanto, NBCUniversial (Round Tower Award); John Manning, NY AOH State Treasurer (Celtic Cross Award); and Paul Moses, Brooklyn College (Bard of the Fair).
“We were given some great feedback,” said Cottingham. “Obviously we have some stuff to tweak, but it’s just so different from operating an event like this in a parking lot. Ninety-five percent of the feedback we received was very, very positive, so we’re hopeful that the folks that showed up this year will come back next year and bring even more people.”
“This is a great venue,” lauded State Senator Marty Golden, who was on hand to congratulate Cottingham for his hard work and revel in his own Irish ancestry. “This event has come a long way from under the Brooklyn Bridge 35 years ago and, I gotta tell you, it’s been a long road, but what a great road, and what a great finish.”
Golden — a descendant of immigrant parents who made their way to the states from Ireland — noted the importance of keeping Irish tradition alive.
“The other reason that this is such a great thing is that all of our grandparents, our parents and many people who are here today came from Ireland and made that journey,” he told the packed crowd, “and that’s what’s continuing to make this the greatest city in the greatest state in the greatest nation in the world, because the Irish came here. They built it; they made it bigger; they made it better.”
“It’s been a lot of work,” continued Cottingham, “but to be able to continue this tradition somewhere reliable is really, really important to us.”