The United Irish Counties Feis saw a drastic drop in the number of participants this year. Only 750 dancers attended, nearly 200 fewer than previous years.
The economy is an obvious explanation for the decrease – dancing dresses and travel to feiseanna are both expensive. Parents who are saving pennies are likely to choose local contests, rather than travel to an out-of-state feis.
So are times hard for feis vendors, the people who make a living from selling dresses, wigs, and Irish paraphernalia at feiseanna?
“The feises do seem to be down,” said Jeanne Farrell, owner of Head for the World, a vendor’s table that sells everything from wigs to sequinned headbands to glitter spray. Farrell creates the items herself, with the help of her husband.
Unlike Irish music CDs or Irish-themed sweets, all this is absolutely necessary for dancers, Farrell said. “Vendors that sell the gifty-type stuff, they’re not doing so well,” she explained. “But I sell something that the dancers need.” She pointed out some sparkly white ankle-socks, with hand-sewn sequins.
Head for the World is a labor of love for Farrell. She started the business 17 years ago, pursuing it part-time. Since retiring, the unique dancers’ accessories at vendor’s tables have become her full-time job.
In the past two decades, Farrell says, outfits have become more and more elaborate. “If you could put crystals on crystals,” she joked, “that’s what they’d do.”
Over the years, competition between vendors has also grown more intense. “When I started, there were only a couple of vendors,” Farrell says. “Now ... Next week there’s a big feis on Sunday. And there’ll probably be 20 vendors there.”
Still, Farrell sees few problems dealing with the tough economy ahead of her. “Most of the vendors have an online business,” she explained. “So even if attendance is not as much, we’re still getting online orders.”