March 2023 marks the 25-year anniversary of The Craic Fest, New York's brightest annual celebration of Irish film and culture.

Like many of the best New York stories, New York's long-running Craic Film and Music Fest began with a chance meeting. 

In 1998 now Festival Director Terence Mulligan, then a doorman in the city, encountered the award-winning director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In The Name Of The Father) at a club. 

Taking his shot Mulligan pitched the idea of starting an Irish film festival in the city and Sheridan was surprisingly receptive. In fact, to this day he's a Craic Fest honorary board member. 

Craic Fest visionary director Terence Mulligan

Craic Fest visionary director Terence Mulligan

“I had a vision in mind when I met him and I just shared it,” Mulligan tells IrishCentral. “He was one of the first people to come on board and he just got it right away, what the vision was and what I was looking to do.”

2023 marks the Craic Fest's 25-year anniversary of continuous operation, meaning it has survived all the big historic changes like 9/11, the Blackout, the Iraq War, the Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy, Hurricane Sandy, Donald Trump's presidency, and Covid-19, to name a few.

It's no small thing to keep a signature arts event running through every kind of upheaval, so credit where it's due, but Mulligan still prefers to celebrate his many festival associates like Sheridan. 

Sheridan has been a remarkably effective honorary board member, Mulligan says. “He's a dynamic guy, he helped us shape the cultural identity of the festival which from the beginning we didn't see, but as the years went on, I think it really made us better as a festival, having him on board.”

This year the film portion of the festival runs from March 2 to 5 at Village East Cinema. The opening night film on Thursday, March 2 is a New York premiere of a new documentary about one of the brightest stars Irish cinema has ever produced, legendary actor – and Limerick man – Richard Harris.

In 'The Ghost of Richard Harris' his sons, led by the actor Jared Harris, explore their family life with their famous father and along the way, the film reveals that there was much more to Harris than his hell-raiser image. 

He was not only a powerful screen and stage actor but also a successful singer and published poet, the film reminds us. Actors like Russell Crowe, Vanessa Redgrave, and Stephen Rea all participate to remember the man they knew, and the film's director Adrian Sibley will attend the screening on the night, where he will be in conversation with special guest the Oscar-nominated director Jim Sheridan. Tickets will include the film and an after-party at Bar 13 (the party will be held right after the screening sponsored by Stella Artois).

On Friday, March 3 at 7 P.M. at Village East Cinemas the festival will present actor and writer Siobhan Fallon (Saturday Night Live, Forrest Gump) in 'Shelter in Solitude,' which she describes as an American, faith-filled, country western, prison love story told during Covid times. 

Shelter is the story of a wannabe country singer and her unconventional relationship with a death row inmate, and along the way, the film offers some social commentary on the truly inhumane conditions of the American prison system. If one determined, uneducated woman can bring humanity to the system, the film asks, why can’t the government?

Star and writer Siobhan Fallon will attend the screening with a question and answer session afterward, including an after-party at Bar 13. 

The closing night film on Saturday, March 4 at 7:30 P.M. features award-winning actor John Connors in 'Black Guelph.' It's another deep dive into the heart of Irish darkness for the courageous Dublin writer, actor, and director.

In the new film, he explores how unaddressed and unresolved generational trauma has defined so much of our recent history, this time courtesy of one-man crime wave Kanto, a small-time drug dealer trying to get off the streets whose long-absent father Cormac, an industrial school survivor, returns home looking for forgiveness and reconciliation.

“It's written by and starring Connors, but it's also starring up-and-coming actor Graham Earley, who plays Kanto, and his reconciliation-seeking father Dan who is played by Paul Roe,” says Mulligan. “It also has Ireland's current social and political scene as a backdrop and that's when Connors is at his best.” Tickets to 'Black Guelph' also include the after-party at Bar 13.

For the Craic Music Fest, which will also feature live standup performances and more, Mulligan wanted to celebrate the last 25 years and keep it fun, because that's what the Craic Fest is. 

“It's a fun time festival but it's also cultural. So how do we marry those things? Well, John Connors has a huge following here in New York, so he will be MC on the night. He's a performer and a natural on stage.”

“And then we have local musician, Brendan O'Shea, a veteran of the New York music scene since the 1990s. I also reached out to writer and actor Siobhan Fallon, who's going to come down and tell a few stories on the night. And there will be some surprise guests I cannot mention, but I will say we have a music guest who's on the way up in Ireland.”

“We all also have rising comedy star Katie Boyle, well known for her popular The Shift podcast. She's going to be doing a short set and it's great to have somebody who's young and emerging because that's what the essence of the Craic Fest is, a springboard for up-and-coming talent. She's gonna kill it.” 

“It's going to be an intimate show for like 100 to 150 people at Rockwood, which is a perfect venue because it lends itself to music, cabaret, the spoken word and comedy but the emphasis is still on the music first and foremost,” says Mulligan. The Craic Music Fest concert will be held at Rockwood Music Hall on February 24 at 7:00 P.M. 

Actor John Connors and Terence Mulligan at the Craic Fest in New York City

Actor John Connors and Terence Mulligan at the Craic Fest in New York City

Finally this year they will also host the annual Kids Fleadh, which this year will include Irish step dancing and short films. “For people who have kids who are looking for a fun afternoon on Saturday, March 4, they should come along to Village East Cinemas for the event that runs between noon and 2 P.M.

Did Mulligan ever suspect the Craic Fest would have so much life to it, I ask? 25 years is a silver jubilee, and not every arts fest makes it to that landmark. “I knew we were going to be here 25 years, I'm not surprised,” he laughs. “Equally I knew that we were going to learn things and grow on the way and I knew having Jim Sheridan on board was invaluable. In all this time we have really embraced the culture coming out of Ireland and that's what makes the Craic Fest special. And that's why we're still here!”

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