Anna Ryan was up to her elbows in thin reeds, patiently twisting and turning the slender stems into something delicate and uniquely Irish in its symmetry: St. Brigid’s crosses. Now and again, kids would make their way over to the table in the Philadelphia Irish Center’s Barry Room, gracelessly grab reeds like hands full of pickup sticks and, with patient instruction from Ryan, begin to learn how to craft something sacred from nothing more than spaghetti-like strands of dried grass.
Ryan looks forward to the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival, which celebrates Irish culture through music and dance, of course, but also through the arts, history, genealogy and more.
Ryan has been a fixture at the event for years. “I don’t know how many years it’s been,” she says,” when asked about her ties to the festival. “It’s been over 10 years, anyway.”
For many of the organizers and participants, it’s been at least that long—and often longer.
And yet, it never gets tired. You see a lot of the same faces year after year, but the thing about the Ceili Group festival is this: It’s feels like a kind of Celtic renewal. Fluters and dancers, harpers and artisans flock to the Irish Center every September in the way Monarch butterflies return to Mariposa. Or maybe it’s like a Philadelphia Irish version of Burning Man—except with banjos and hard shoes instead of naked people who paint themselves silver.
We captured the spirit of the thing in photos.