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Amber Ireland Ryan with mom Denise before competing in the Red Hair and Freckles competition

Freckles and the City: Chicago Irish Festival a big hit

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Amber Ireland Ryan with mom Denise before competing in the Red Hair and Freckles competition

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The sun shone brightly on the 30,000-plus visitors to Chicago’s Gaelic Park as they came to celebrate their Irish heritage at the 23rd Annual Irish Fest.

The weekend included events and activities for all members of the family.

For the youngest, there was a "Bonnie Baby" competition, a "Red Hair and Freckles" competition, a "Leprechaun Tent" with magic shows, carnival rides, and much more.

For the adults, there was a fine array of educational events, with speakers lecturing on everything from the history of Irish surnames, music, and dance, to the tradition of Irish wakes.

Entertainers such as The Screaming Orphans and the Lavin-Cassidy School of Irish Dance delighted the huge crowds with modernized Irish dancing performances by dancers of all ages.

President of Gaelic Park for the past 18 years, John Griffin has been part of every Irish Fest.

“Having the festival at this time of year is always risky,” says Griffin. “It can be 30 degrees or 90 degrees.

"Once Finbar Furey was here and it was so cold, his whistle was frozen,” he said.

Former treasurer of the South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Griffin is one of the many South Side Irish who are disappointed at the cancellation of the annual parade.

“Now, with the parade gone, this is the main way we hope to keep providing an Irish presence in South Side Chicago,” Griffin says of The Irish Fest. “We’re creating memories here,” he said.

As Gaelic Park’s main fundraiser, the event ran largely on the support and dedication of the Gaelic Park committee, who volunteered at every corner of the event.

“They are brilliant. Their hearts are in Gaelic Park,” says Frank Bradley, organizer of the Irish Fest. Bradley, who was involved in the start-up of the very first fest 23 years ago.

He says he'll keep at it “to keep the culture on as long as possible, and to pass it on to the next generation.”

Both Bradley and Griffin expressed their satisfaction at this year’s turnout.

Kathy Fitzmaurice comes to the Irish Fest every year. Fitzmaurice, who brought her children Melissa, Laura and Tommy, always enters her children in the "Red Hair and Freckles" competition.

“I’m a freckle champion!,” said Tommy.

Shana Kavanagh, who was at Irish Fest with her three red-haired children Brideigh, Ryan and Molly, has been coming since she was a child.

“I’m happy to pass on the tradition to my children, for our heritage,” she told IrishCentral.

The event was a roaring success. The lines outside the tents, and the cries from the children reluctantly exiting the park certainly proved so.

Irish heritage is well and truly alive in Chicago.

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