I have just returned from an experience of a lifetime – the Milwaukee Irish Fest on the banks of Lake Michigan in America. I had the honour of representing County Donegal in the Destination Ireland section along with the crew from Donegal Tourism.
If there is such a thing as being more Irish than Ireland itself, then that’s what the Milwaukee Irish Fest is. The largest Irish festival in the world, held every August for the past 39 years, it was like a four day St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Even the odd shower of rain added to the Irish authenticity and certainly didn’t dampen any spirits.
The festival showcases over 100 Irish musical acts and performances across 16 stages so there is something for all ages and tastes. In the Cultural Village there was a genealogy tent, Irish language lessons, giant leprechauns and dozens of vendors selling Irish art, clothing, traditional Irish food and much more.
The festival is supported by 4,500 volunteers, many of whom return year after year to help make it a success. It’s like a badge of honour to be a volunteer at the Milwaukee Irish Fest and massive credit is due to the enthusiastic team there this year.
But the underlying factor to the event’s popularity is the love for Ireland. It’s unreal. Americans with Ireland in their near or distant family history, have an amazing grá for us. They truly immerse themselves in Irish culture and long to visit our green isle.
Our Donegal booth was buzzing for the four days, so much so that we ran out of literature on the last day. I was in excellent company with Sarah and Barney from Donegal Tourism, Deirdre McGlone, Donegal ambassador, Sean and Bronagh from Irish Music Tours, Kathryn from Rockhill House and Cathaoirleach Nicholas Crossan.
We were overwhelmed by the interest in visiting Donegal. We spoke with hundreds of potential visitors over the four day festival. There were people who specifically wanted to go where there wouldn’t be too many tourists. There were others who had already visited southern Ireland and wanted to see the north west on their next trip. Some people had been to “Donegal City” and after Nicholas and I (the two from Inishowen!) explained that there was much more to see in the county, they were interested in coming back. So Donegal in particular is on many Americans’ bucket lists, thanks to the exposure Donegal Tourism has been doing at events in America over the years.
When I catch up on some sleep and get my voice back I have dozens of Donegal vacation enquiries to respond to as well as catching up with the numerous travel agents and tour operators that now know that Donegal is open for business in 2020 and beyond.
I hope that this was the first of many visits to Milwaukee Irish Fest and look forward to 2020, the festival’s 40th anniversary, when County Donegal will be the themed showcase.