Pittsburgh’s 30th Annual Irish Festival turns Homestead green


John Blair | Staff Photographer

Pittsburgh’s Irish Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary Friday through Sunday with Irish food, dancing and even an area to pet Irish and Celtic dog breeds.

By Maria Scanga, Staff Writer

Susan Banks visits nearly 15 Irish festivals a year, but she said Pittsburgh’s festival always has the best food. 

Banks, the owner of Faith & Bogorra, a New Jersey-based religious goods store, has been a vendor at Pittsburgh’s festival for 20 years now, and she’s confident that Pittsburgh’s festival is one of the best in the country. 

Pittsburgh’s Irish Festival, created in 1991, is an interactive way to celebrate Pittsburgh’s vast Irish history, culture and tradition. The festival always runs the weekend after Labor Day weekend, which fell on this past Friday to Sunday. 

The festival was held in Homestead at the riverplex between the Waterfront Mall and Sandcastle Water Park. It had accessible parking and pre-ordered ticket options available. 

Through the years, the festival became more than just a three-day weekend celebration, but a non-profit corporation that hosts educational and cultural programs year-round. The festival itself sees an estimated 25,000 visitors over its three-day run.

For Duquesne junior and education major Rita Smith, the festival became a family tradition she looks forward to each year. Her family has attended for five years in a row now, and they have no intention of skipping out any time soon. 

“My whole family is Irish, so we go all out on St. Patrick’s Day,” Smith said. “The festival is just another reason for us to get dressed up in green and Irish-themed stuff.”

The festival highlighted several different aspects of Irish history and culture, featuring traditional Irish food, Ireland-based entertainment and even a set area to pet Irish and Celtic dog breeds. 

One of the festival’s biggest attractions was Irish dancing. Along with the several different musical performers, including this year’s headliner, Screaming Orphans, the festival had professional Irish dancers who dazzled the festival in authentic Irish costumes. 

For Pittsburgh’s very own Irish dance club, Pittsburgh Ceili Club, who performed at the festival, the Irish-themed dancing happens year-round. The club is a non-profit organization and celebrates the dance and social culture of Ireland. 

Club member Sue Ann Hogan said the club offers over 20 different kinds of Irish dances. The club is always open to new members of all ages, Irish or not, with dance practice every Tuesday. Hogan said young kids to 90-year-olds are part of the club. The group has attended the Irish festival every year to promote the club and celebrate Irish traditions. 

“We like to come down and get the word out there about the club, and invite people just to come and watch,” Hogan said. “The dancing here is one of the best parts of the festival.” 

Smith said that the live music and dancing — as well as the company of the festival-goers —  are some of her favorite parts of the festival. 

“Aside from seeing the Celtic dogs, I love the live music,” Smith said. “Being surrounded by people who are genuinely excited to experience everything the festival has to offer is so nice.” 

Some of the traditional Irish food offered at the festival includes fish and chips, lots of potatoes, Guinness beer and Banks’ favorite — shepherd’s pie.

“You can’t come here and not get the shepherd’s pie,” Banks said. “It’s the best I’ve ever had.”

Banks’ booth features handmade quilts, hats and clothes — all of which are either made in Ireland or made by Banks herself. She said the authenticity and the people who both take part of and visit the festival are really what make it so special. 

“I hear so many different stories about these people’s families and where they came from, and I love that,” Banks said. 

This year, the festival featured a genealogy pavilion where visitors could search for their family name and learn about their family history. There are also more familiar activities such as Celtic axe throwing and the Irish dog area where Celtic and Irish dog breeds were happy to meet people and get lots of attention. 

Although the festival is a celebration of Irish history and culture, Smith said it’s enjoyable for both Irish and non-Irish visitors alike. 

“It’s enjoyable for everyone, not just the Irish,” Smith said. “Irish or not, I would highly recommend trying the traditional Irish food and listening to the live music.” 

Regardless of one’s Irish roots or lack thereof, Smith said that the festival really is a great way to learn about Irish culture and celebrate its heritage both in Ireland and Pittsburgh itself. 

“The whole point of the festival is to celebrate Irish culture and that’s reflected in the activities, the food and the entertainment,” Smith said. “It’s as close to some time in Ireland as you can get here.”