NORTH HAVEN – The weather did not resemble the picture most have of the Emerald Isle – dark clouds, mist, a chill in the air – but everything else was distinctively Irish this weekend at the North Haven fairgrounds.
The annual Connecticut Irish Festival brought live music, dancing, plenty of good eats and frosty beverages, and big crowds to town Saturday and Sunday. And while temperatures were hot – perhaps too hot for some – event organizers were not complaining.
“Every year we say a lot of prayers. Last year it rained, but this year we lucked out,” said Eileen O’Keefe Roxbee, president of the Irish American Community Center out of East Haven, which puts on the festival. “We’re very fortunate.”
O’Keefe Roxbee pointed out that work on the festival started back in September.
“For me, it’s all about keeping Irish traditions alive,” she said. “We started the feis – the Irish traditional dancing – 51 years ago, and I happened to be one of the competitors in that.”
This year’s feis, held Sunday, saw some 400 colorfully-dressed young dancers competing throughout the day.
As O’Keefe Roxbee pointed out all that the festival has to offer, music from The Coracles rang out through the fairgrounds. “This song is from the 80s,” a band member said to start one particular tune, “... the 1780s.”
With the sun beating down on festival-goers Sunday, business was brisk for vendors selling lemonade and ice cream. The beer tent had a long line as well.
John Hanlon poured beers for thirsty customers all weekend. He said that by early afternoon on Sunday, some 11 kegs been emptied during the festival. He predicted that 18 or so would be depleted by day’s end.
The big seller was Guinness, of course.
“It sells itself,” said Hanlon.
While mixing alcohol and heat can be a recipe for disaster, Hanlon said Irish festival-goers are well-behaved. “There’s never any trouble. Never. We don’t allow it,” he said. “You’re here to have a good time.”
For fair-goers looking for a drink with less of a kick, there was a traditional tea house on site. Ireland-born Catherine McMorrow worked the tea tent. “Ireland is famous for; when visiting, you go and get a cup of tea and scone and Irish bread with jam and butter. And a chat,” she said. “It’s been the hospitality at many an Irish house for a long, long time.”
The traditional Irish way to take one’s tea?
“Most take sugar and milk,” said McMorrow. “Coffee is not very popular.”
With a quick stroll around the fairgrounds, a visitor also would find henna tattoos, face-painting, even a psychic. And there were plenty of keepsakes available, from Irish flags to jewelry.
For the wee one, there were two bounce houses.
And no Irish festival would be complete without a kilt sighting. Matt Casey, out of Sterling, Connecticut, roamed through the sun-scorched North Haven fairgrounds in one of those short pleated skirts.
“We go to pretty much all the Irish festivals in the area. I’ve researched my family lineage and history and gotten much more into (Irish culture) in my adult years,” said Casey.
As for the kilt, he said “I’m not embarrassed by it in any way ... It kind of makes sense” fashion-wise. But, Casey said he does have to answer one particular question. “Every once in awhile someone will ask me if I’m wearing underwear or not,” he said with a smile, pointing out that his answer varies. “It depends on the day.”
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