According to Deana Shores, chair for the Savannah Irish Festival Committee Inc., the weekend-long celebration of Irish heritage began 25 years ago after a small group of members from different Irish organizations decided they wanted to celebrate “every part of their heritage.”
The group is now a nonprofit and the mission of the all-volunteer festival is to honor and promote Irish culture and music in a family-friendly setting.
“The Savannah Irish Festival kicks off the Irish season here in Savannah,” she says. “We start out with a Ceili on Friday night where we teach Irish folk dancing. Everyone, young and old, enjoys it. Then we have the festival on Saturday and Sunday in the Savannah Civic Center with four stages of entertainment — something for everyone. This festival is supported by all the Irish societies in Savannah.”
This year’s Friday Night Ceili takes place from 6-10 p.m. Feb. 17 at Holmen Hall, 3 W. Liberty St. Dancing and music begins at 6:30 p.m. There will be a cash bar and refreshments for purchase.
The main festival event is Feb. 18-19 at the Savannah Civic Center.
Shores adds that they have some great entertainers performing this year like Searson, Jill Chambless and Scooter Muse, Oisin MacDiarmada with Samantha Harvey and Seamus Begley, funnyman Seamus Kennedy and locals Harry O’Donoghue and The Savannah Ceili Band.
All funds raised from the event will help to benefit the nonprofit and its mission.
“We are hoping to continue celebrating with some events after the Irish season. We also have some charities we want to help.”
While the music is great, Shores says, “everyone loves to watch our Irish dancers.”
“Savannah is blessed to have two schools teaching our young ones the art of Irish dance: The Irish Dancers of Savannah and Legacy Irish Dance Academy. Students from both schools have gone on to compete in some serious competitions worldwide.”
The festival is also known for its unique marketplace of authentic Celtic products.
“We will have unique Celtic jewelry, traditional kilts, special glass artwork to honor your family heritage and food: fish and chips, Irish bangers, corned beef sandwiches and my favorite, whiskey cake,” Shores adds.
She also says that over the past years celebrating this Savannah tradition, she has a lot of great memories from these events.
“I remember a festival we held at the National Guard Armory. The big act that year was the band Gaelic Storm. They were that band in the movie ‘Titanic,’ and all the teenage girls were asking for autographs after their set.
“… The festival has its devoted followers who come every year from all over the United States. It’s like a big reunion. I love to watch people as they are watching the entertainment. When you go up to the Pub Stage and watch the audience sing and sway with Harry O’Donoghue. Or, when you spot a mom in the audience counting the steps with her little dancer up on the Children’s Stage.
“And there are the kids when they are watching in amazement of the magic of Debbie O’Carroll. But one of the best ones is at the end of Sunday, when all the entertainers come up and perform together on stage.
“All the volunteers stand together behind the audience and sing along and pat each other on the back for another festival well done.”
IF YOU GO
What: Friday Night Ceili
When: 6-10 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Holmen Hall, 3 W. Liberty St.
Cost: $5 at the door; $25 maximum per family
What: Savannah Irish Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 18 and noon-5 p.m. Feb. 19
Where: Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
Cost: $12 per day; $16 for two-day pass; children 14 and younger get in free; military families and students with ID admitted free Feb. 19