St. Patrick's Day may be around the corner, but it is never too early to celebrate Irish culture and heritage - this time, with less boozy shenanigans than the annual city-wide celebration typically brings.

The Savannah Irish Festival, set for Feb. 17-18, is in its third decade and promises an authentic Irish experience with plenty of food, dancing and music for the whole family.

The festival at the Savannah Civic Center features a packed schedule of traditional and contemporary Irish music performed continuously on four stages.

One of this year's highlights is The Gothard Sisters, three step-dancing, fiddle-playing siblings from Seattle whose whimsical, Celtic-influenced folk music is sure to get everyone on their feet.

Also on the bill are Dave Curley and Mick Broderick (of the band Slide) with Colin Farrell. The velvet-voiced Curley hails from County Galway, Ireland, and performs folk and traditional songs on banjo, mandolin, bodhrán and other instruments and is accompanied by Broderick on bouzouki. The highly regarded and in-demand performers are regulars on the Irish festival circuit.

The slate of seasoned Irish-born musicians also includes Brendan Nolan, Harry O'Donoghue, Tom O'Carroll, Roger Drawdy and Keith Aherne, many of whom will be offering special presentations on the cultural stage with focuses on history, humor and storytelling.

Besides music, the convention floor will be covered with vendors selling Celtic merchandise and apparel and the many Irish societies of Savannah will be cooking up delicious food like beef brisket, whiskey cake and bangers.

There is a Kids Corner to entertain little ones featuring Silly Dilly and Angela Beasley's Puppet People. Also, the children of Irish Dancers of Savannah and Legacy Irish Dance Academy will be leaping all over the children's stage performing traditional step dancing, which is always a treat to see.

If two days is not enough Irish for you, there are a few events leading up to the weekend festivities. A whiskey tasting is at 6 p.m. Feb. 15, followed by a Ceili folk dance party at 6:30 P.m. Feb. 16. Both events take place at Holman Hall on Liberty Street.

The annual event has drawn crowds since 1992, and according to festival chairwoman Deana Shores, it continues "to promote and preserve Irish family history and Irish traditions."

"The Irish struggled for many years with the potato famine and their own civil war," said Shores. "A lot of people immigrated to the United States and Savannah to avoid religious prosecutions and to have a better way of life. It's those customs and traditions that we need to preserve.

"If you can't remember and learn from history, you're doomed to repeat it, so we want to remember our roots and remember where we came from so that we can move forward and preserve those histories."


What: Savannah Irish Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 17; noon-5 p.m. Feb. 18

Where: Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.

Cost: $9 per day; $13 for two-day ticket; free for children under 14


Also: The Whiskey Tasting is at 6 p.m. Feb. 15, followed by the Ceili Party at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16. Both take place at Holman Hall, 3 W. Liberty St.