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RI group hosts 1st Annual James McNally Wilson Irish Music Festival

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The sights and sounds of Ireland will fill Slater Park in Pawtucket this fall with the first annual James McNally Wilson Irish Music Festival.

The free family event is scheduled on Sunday, September 16, 2012, the halfway mark to St. Patrick’s Day, from 11 am to 5 pm, and is sponsored by the Sons and Daughters of Erin Pawtucket.

“The Irish are well-known storytellers and the music relays those legends as well as the hardships and dreams of the people,” said Christopher McDonald, president of the Sons and Daughters of Erin. “Many area musicians still tell those stories and create those magical sounds. We wanted to showcase their work and the magic of Ireland itself.”

The festival is named in honor of James McNally Wilson, one of the seven Irish rebels rescued from an Australian prison by Irish Americans on the whaling ship Catalpa out of New Bedford in 1876. Wilson lived out the remainder of his life in the Blackstone Valley section of Rhode Island, and is buried in Pawtucket. McDonald and another group, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, led the movement to recognize the bravery of Wilson in graveside ceremonies in 2010.

“James McNally Wilson is the epitome of the Irish spirit and his rescue demonstrates the strong bond the Irish feel for each other. We as a group want to pay tribute to his life and bravery, and to cultivate that sense of Irish pride,” McDonald explained.

The event will include live Irish music, stepdancing and storytelling by local performers, and Irish food and gifts offered by a variety of vendors and restaurants. The entertainment line-up includes Tom Lanigan Band, Brian Twohey, John Egan Band and Stepdancers from the Damhsa Irish Dance Studio in Warwick, RI.

In addition to the music on the festival stage, there will be storytelling for children and adults by Irish author Eoghain Hamilton and friends.

Area restaurants will be selling traditional Irish food, such as corned beef sandwiches by Doherty’s Irish Pub and Irish food by Sullivan’s Publick House.

The festival is funded in part through the generosity of such sponsors as Doherty’s Irish Pub, Sullivan’s Publick House, Shannon View Inn, Irish Social Club, O’Rourke’s Bar and Grill, County Cork Irish Pub, Galway Bay Irish Pub, City Councilman Al Vitali, City Councilman Chris O’Neill, Mayor Donald Grebien, and Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty.

For more information on the James McNally Wilson Irish Music Festival, call Susan McDonald at (401) 728-4382. The festival is part of the Pawtucket Arts Festival. For details on the other events that make up the Arts Festival, go to www.pawtucketartsfestival.org

The Sons and Daughters of Erin Pawtucket meet the first Thursday of every month at 7 pm, at the Irish Social Club, 89 Pawtucket Avenue, Pawtucket, RI. Membership is available to men and women of Irish or Irish American descent and their children.

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