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Irish festival returns for 2013: Dallas event expected to draw more than 50,000
Photo courtesy of Angela Cox: The North Texas Caledonian Pipes and Drums make their way through Fair Park.
Tens of thousands of Irish Americans and other lovers of Guinness and hearty Irish stew are preparing for their yearly pilgrimage to Dallas' Fair Park for the North Texas Irish Festival.
This year marks the 31st year for the event, which began in a small bar on Oak Lawn and has grown to be the largest Celtic festival in the southwestern United States. The event takes place March 1-3 and will feature Irish food and drink, as well as music, dancing, arts and crafts, and traditional story telling.
"There are some tremendous musical groups that come from all over the world to play at the festival," said Jimmy Dominguez, a Plano resident who has volunteered at the festival for 12 years. "A huge number of people come dressed in period clothes making it almost like a renaissance festival. It is just a fun environment."
Dominguez has worked his way up from a beer server to the assistant beer coordinator, a job that requires him to ensure patrons don't run out of beer. He said while there will also be American beers on tap for those less adventurous drinkers, the majority of customers want a taste of the homeland via a pint of Guinness or Harp. For those who prefer spirits, the festival also features a whiskey tasting with multiple bottles of Scotch and Irish whiskey.
While food and drink are a big part of the festival, Sheri Bush, the festival's entertainment director, said her favorite aspect of the event is the music.
"The goal is to introduce or reintroduce people to Irish culture," said Bush, who is also the president of the Southwest Celtic Music Association, which puts on the festival. "We have 10 stages set up so music is coming at people from everywhere. We have all types of music covering genres from rock to traditional. Everyone will find something they like to listen to.
"Pretty much all you have to do is walk around with your eyes and ears open and you will be immersed in a different world."
The festival should draw 50,000 to 60,000 people over the course of three days, Bush said - a far cry from its origins in the early 1980s.
"We keep growing every year," she said. "The first one was at a small pub. They expected about 100 people and they got 600 people. It totally floored everybody, so they moved it to Fair Park in 1984, which has allowed it to grow by leaps and bounds over the years. We now take up almost the entire western side of the park."
Bush said the festival is also special for the hundreds of volunteers who dedicate their time to make sure things run smoothly. She said over the years the volunteers have become one big family.
"You won't find a set of volunteers like this anywhere else; I don't think it can be replicated," she said. "We have people who grew up volunteering with us and now their kids are volunteering. This becomes a part of people's lives that they look forward to every year."
For a map of the event and a schedule of performers, visit ntif.org.
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