People have been celebrating their Irish heritage by taking in The Philadelphia Irish Festival at Penns Landing for more than 20 years. That translates to thousands of Irish or those who just want to be Irish for the day. You can add to those impressive stats. The festival is coming up again on June 2. Best of all—it’s free.
Part of the PECO Multicultural Series, the festival offers a day of great Irish tunes, dance, food and drink, vendors, and plenty of activities for the kiddies.
“It’s a family-friendly event,” says organizer Michael Bradley. “It attracts everybody from newborns to people in their 90s. Everybody’s welcome. It’s a nice way to get your family out and to keep the Irish tradition alive, at a beautiful location along the river. It’s just a really neat place to be.”
Free admission means people who might be struggling financially can come out and enjoy the music, the vendors and all the rest. “It’s not a price-conscious thing,” Bradley says. “You don’t see free admission too much anymore.”
The day starts with a Mass at 11 a.m. at the Irish Memorial, Front and Chestnut in Old City. After that, says Bradley, people can just stroll across the bridge down to the waterfront. Gates open at noon. The event runs till 7 p.m.
Music is a huge part of the festival’s appeal. The tunes start on the main stage at noon with CJ Mills, Seamus McGroary and Joe Kirschen. From 2 to 4:20, it’s the McLean Avenue Band from New York City, and from 4:40 to 7, Jamison takes the stage.
Bradley is particularly excited about the McLean Avenue Band. They’re new this year.
“We’re just changing things up a bit,” he says. “They’re fantastic. They are really good. They’re friends of mine and they’re incredibly talented—and they’re fun.”
As for vendors—well, there are a lot of them, selling everything from cookies to soaps. “Most of them are Irish-related and they do well,” Bradley says.
IBEW Local 98 is also sponsoring a kids’ zone which, in keeping with the spirit of the day, is also free of charge. Children attending the festival will be able to do everything from face-painting to moon bounces. “It’s an incredibly generous thing for the union to do,” says Bradley. They do a tremendous amount of good that nobody knows about.”
There’s also going to be plenty of Irish dance exhibitions, featuring some of the area’s dance schools.
Every year, prominent members of the Irish community are honored, and this year is no exception. Earning recognition this year are Sister James Anne Feerick, IHM, and Marty Farrell of Muller Beverages. “Marty is always in the background,” says Bradley. “He sponsors many of our events. He’s just a wonderful human being.”
Sister James Anne is a former grand marshal of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade (2011), a parade judge, parade board member, former Irish dance teacher and dancer. “Sister is a dedicated IHM sister for over 50 years, teacher and one of the kindest people I have ever met in my life,” says Bradley.
Former Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade director James F. Cawley started the festival, and Bradley has been managing it for 18 years—recently aided by his son Colin. The festival is on, rain or shine—or as Bradley likes to put it, sunshine or liquid sunshine.
Let’s hope for the dry kind.