IRISH CULTURE IN AMERICA:
The Village Festival : It's Irish Weekend at the Clover!!
July 22nd (4pm) to July 24th, 2011
By Loretta A. Murphy
One of the most charming parts of any trip to Ireland is exploring the many small villages and towns that make up the patchwork of Irish life. Ireland is a land of festivals and celebrations. There is no finer place than an Irish village to join in the fun.
The lure of the Irish culture beckons us to follow it to Ireland. Ah, and if we could only answer that call of the pipes whenever it summons us! But since an ocean lies between American and Irish shores, there is a closer solution for those who cannot journey there this summer.
Follow the pipes – and the shamrocks - down the rocky road to Irish Valley. At the end of your journey, you shall find a festival that rivals that in any Irish village. It is located in beautiful “County Schuylkill” at the foot of the picturesque Broad Mountain on the grounds of the historic Clover Fire Company. For those of you who love the trill of a tin whistle, the strains of an Irish ballad, homemade soda bread, and the excitement of traditional step dancing, you will have found paradise not so far from home.
Clover Fire Company’s “Irish Weekend”, as it is affectionately called, offers a host of wonderful Celtic musicians, Irish cultural activities, and family fun from Friday, July 22nd at 4 pm until closing on Sunday evening, July 24th, 2011. Be prepared to have the time of your life. This will be Irish Weekend’s 24nd Anniversary and the 154th Anniversary of the Valley’s famous St. Kieran’s Church. A few Irish surprises are bound to happen!
Clover’s Irish Weekend is one of the most musical Irish festivals around. It has been the launching pad for some great Irish acts, including the now well-known Philly based band, Blackthorne. This anniversary year celebration promises to be no different. The musical venue starts off on Friday afternoon with local favorites, The Molly Wogs, a father and son trio that is a real crowd pleaser. From time honored Irish favorites to their own originals, this act is hard to follow. But it will be – by newcomers IrishtownRoad on Friday night, favorites The Irish Balladeers on Saturday afternoon and the boisterous Ceann that night. Sunday afternoon, another new act, The Martin Family, will wow the crowd with traditional fiddle tunes and stepdancing. Naturally, Irish Weekend will close, as always, with our own local legends The Irish Lads.
In addition to the stage bands, the crowd will be entertained by the Clover's two coal favorite miners, The Breaker Boys, and their unique brand of coal region song, history, and storytelling both on stage and as they travel the festival grounds. Two friendly lads you have yet to meet so make sure to stop by and say "Hallo!"
Joining the ranks this year are another couple of Clover rookies, The Troubles. This local act's Irish and coal cracker roots have influenced their blend of traditional Irish, folk, bluegrass, original, and vintage rock.
The Cass Township AOH version of “Finnegans Wake” will enthral the crowds again this year with two - count 'em, two - performances. This troupe of merry Irish actors - and we use the term loosely - will pay their respects to the infamous Tim Finnegan at an Irish wake you won’t want to miss. “Finnegans Wake” had the crowd – and a few actors as well - rolling in the grass during the 2008 Irish festival. Join us Saturday and Sunday this year.
The final day of the Festival, Sunday, starts off at 11:30 am with the traditional parade as the local chapters of both the Men’s and Ladies’ Ancient Order of Hibernians march to Irish Mass. Sadly, beautiful St. Kieran’s Church was closed last year following the 2009 Irish Mass.
But never fear! Clover Festival organizers have assured us that mass will be held. The exact location is not yet known, but Irish Mass and the traditional AOH March will happen. Watch for more news as the Festival nears!
All good things must come to an end but never Clover's Irish Weekend Festival without an appearance by one of its all time favorite band of Irish revelers, The Irish Lads. A wee bit of Irish Festival trivia here - The Irish Lads have played every Irish Weekend since it began twenty years ago. If you haven’t yet heard these local Irish talents, you are in for a treat. Join the Lads in their raucous brand of musical fun as you stamp your feet and sing along with the old traditional as well as the rebel-rousing tunes.
So far we’ve focused on the wonderful music that is so much a part of Irish Weekend. Yet there is more to Irish Weekend than the music. Though an integral part of the festival – it isn’t everything.
Irish Weekend is about all aspects of Irish culture from food to family. A wide assortment of food vendors provide Irish comfort foods, including hearty Irish stew, the world famous Clover Irish potato pancakes (we refer to them as Irish bleenies), soda bread, scones, and colcannon – a mixture of cabbage, onions, turnips, mashed potatoes and (naturally) love. Not into Irish soul food? There are plenty of down home American delights to fill you up, ranging from pizza and burgers to French fries and ice cream. And don’t forget breakfast at the Clover Fire Hall on Sunday before the AOH March and Irish Mass. It’s “All You Can Eat” and the heartiest breakfast this side of Donegal.
The emphasis on family events is undeniably heavy. Genealogy, Irish history and ceili dance lessons are Irish Weekend staples. County Schuylkill Ceili Dance Group and traditional Irish step dancers demonstrate the folk dances of Ireland. Campa na bhFiann, an historical Irish encampment, provides hands-on-demonstrations of medieval Irish weapons and armor, talks about illuminated manuscripts and performs household crafts. The demonstrators are attired in 16th century clothing and accompanied by their mighty Irish wolfhound.
A sense of clan pervades the beautiful festival grounds. Set in the lovely Irish valley, the Clover Fire Company grounds has been home to Irish Weekend for 24 years. The Clover Fire Company is a bit of a family affair itself. One of the many ethnic fire companies that populate Schuylkill County, the little but mighty Clover Company has kept its Valley safe from fires since 1936. With its volunteer fire fighters dwindling and facing financial obstacles, the Clover main annual fundraising activity is Irish weekend. The men and women of the Clover Fire Company and their families spend all year long preparing and planning for Irish Weekend.
Irish Weekend is a group endeavor, a culmination of effort by local volunteers who believe strongly in their community. Many hands make light work. The Callaghans are one of the many families who make the work lighter by supporting the festival annually. One of the family sons, Joe Callaghan, was Chairman of the Clover Fire Company Irish Festival for twelve years. Described by his kin as a man whose life was devoted to his family, his church, his community, and to his Irish heritage, he spent endless hours promoting the Irish culture through not only the festival, but by bringing notable Irish performers into Schuylkill County, sponsoring Ceili dances, and smoothing the way for the popular Irish radio show The Orange and the Green.
After his untimely death in 2000, his family and friends formed a fund to help Joe’s memory and good works live on. The Joe Callaghan Irish Cultural Memorial Fund’s mission is to carry on Joe’s efforts by ensuring the continuation of the knowledge and enjoyment of Irish culture. The fund provides the opportunity of studying and promoting Irish culture to those who would otherwise be financially unable to do so. Since 2001, it has awarded financial stipends to men, women and children for all types of educational and artistic endeavors, from dance to literature to academic studies. One of the highlights of the Irish Weekend is the announcement of the new recipients of the Award.
In addition to the numerous entertainment venues, games are available for the children and a host of vendors are on hand selling wares that include Irish jewelry, clothing, books, music, crafts and gifts. You don’t need to be Irish to enjoy all that Irish Weekend has to offer. There is fun enough for everyone.
Finally, there is one thing more – something more important than the music and the plethora of cultural activities. Being Irish means many things, but at the heart of Irish life is family. Clover’s Irish Weekend is about the coming together of clan. As you watch the faces of the crowd, young and old alike, enjoying the festival surrounded by the beauty of the rolling Pennsylvanian hills and valleys on that last weekend in July, one thing will surely strike you.
Look closely at the faces. They are strong, healthy faces. They are faces belonging to those whose forefathers and mothers came here on ships from far across the sea to find a better life. Not all of them were Irish, of course, for County Schuylkill – like Ireland – accepted those who came for citizenship with open arms. They came as Irish, or Polish, or Italian, or Lithuanian, or Welsh but then they became part of a new and stronger nation. They became Americans.
Still, it cannot be forgotten that it was the Irish who came in the greatest masses, leaving behind their beloved homeland during the horrific famine years, from 1840 through the 1900’s, when Ireland lost over half her population. They came - the young, the old, the poor, and the downtrodden - not knowing where they would settle or what trials they would face when they got there. They came with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs, their wits, a hope and a dream.
Look closely at the faces around you one more time. Do you see it now?
It is there in the smiles and the expressions of the crowd as they listen to the music and clap their hands, raise their voices in songs, and finally, as the night ends, stand proudly – shoulder-to-shoulder, arm in arm – in salute to both the Irish and American National Anthems.
It is pride you see in their faces – pride in their ethnic roots and pride in the lives they have made.
Join us at Clover’s Irish Weekend this July 22-24th and experience the pride for yourself.
IT'S ALMOST TIME FOR