This is bit of history about the Fest which started in 1995. So, here it is, a brief history of the amazing things that Irish Fest has done for the Village of Manhattan, its organizations, and its residents.
Manhattan Irish Fest was founded in 1995 by Tim and Mary McGrath and Mike and Mary McHugh. With a passion to share the town's Irish heritage and the Chamber's interest in increasing the town's exposure, Irish Fest was born as a one-day celebration.
From the onset, the idea for Manhattan's Irish Fest was met with enthusiasm and good weather!! At the April 22, 1994 general meeting, Chamber President Tim McGrath introduced Donna Mann of the University of Illinois Extension Service, to present a program on organizing special events in the community. She was one of the organizers of "Autumn on Parade", in Oregon IL. At the end of the presentation, McGrath indicated that having a St Patrick's Day Festival might be appropriate for the Manhattan community the committee investigated the possibilities, costs and needs, and created a working budget. The first order of business would be to determine the date, as St Patrick's Day fell on a Friday that year. That would be the traditional date for the Downtown Chicago Parade. Consequently, it was determined that the South Side Irish Parade would be on Sunday, March 12. Preliminary investigation showed that the cost of Irish musicians increased geometrically, as St Patrick's Day approached. If Manhattan could sneak in on the Saturday before the feast, the celebration might be able to get a band or two without blowing the budget.
After much discussion, deliberation and cost estimating, the committee worked to find sponsors and a beer vendor. An Irish Mass was envisioned and plans laid for a 5K run–– the Shamrock Shuffle.
The Chamber established several goals related to the event:
""Anyone that has volunteered or partaken in a festival the size of Irish Fest, which is attended by over 10,00 people from the greater Will County area and beyond, knows that it does not take long before committees, organizations and volunteer pools are run ragged. And thus, Irish Fest has seen a total of 4 different organizations take on the job. The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce ran the Fest form 1995-1999 when the Manhattan Youth Athletic Association took over until 2004. In 2005, Manhattan Irish Fest was going to disappear. That's when the Irish American Society of County Will stepped up to the plate. Today's festival is run by the IASCW in conjunction with the Manhattan Park District Foundation.
"Now on to the most remarkable part of Irish Fest, the donations to the community and the improvements that have been done to and for the town of Manhattan, all because of an annual 2-day festival on the first, mostly frigid, weekend in March over the past 22 years. The Chamber of Commerce funded numerous projects totaling over $25,000 including: Village of Manhattan entrance signs, banner poles throughout town, many improvements to Central Park including land acquisition and savings bond to local grade school and high school students, and the creation of the Chamber website. MYAA refurbished and built many of the Athletic fields now used in Manhattan including the softball field at the junior high and the soccer fields on Smith Road. Updates were made to players and field equipment as well. On top of everything the MYAA had already given to Manhattan, it also donated $50,000 to the Manhattan Park District Foundation. Because of their generous efforts, the taxpayers benefited as well as the participants in the athletic programs!
"The Irish American Society continued the gracious efforts of both the Chamber and MYAA. Before taking over the Fest, the Society had provided many volunteers to help run the Fest, including the members of the men and women's rugby teams. In 2005, the IASCW donated $20,000 to the MYAA field fund, $3,000 to the Lincoln Way High School Rugby Club, and $10,000 to St. Joseph Church and Curtain Call Community Theater over the years. The IASCW and Manhattan Park District/Foundation has given $18,000 to the King and Queen Scholarship winners and provided 7 students with opportunities to study in Ireland. From 2005-present over $215,000 has been raised and donated to local organizations!!
"On behalf of the Manhattan Irish Fest committee, please remember what you have read this year when March 2nd and 3rd rolls around. Instead of hesitating at the price of an admission button ($7 presale and $10 at the door), think instead about organizations such as, the Irish American Society of County Will, the Manhattan Park District Foundation, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Operation Care Package, MYAA and Critter Junction that benefit from the Fest. Each organization donates it's time and good spirits to help run the Fest, which relies solely on volunteerism. Your attendance awards scholarships, brightens military lives, saves animals, builds Athletic fields, creates programs for area children and promotes local businesses. As always, Manhattan Irish Fest will highlight some of the most well-known and enjoyed aspects of the Irish Culture, such as, bagpipers, Irish dancers, music, food, and drink. This year's Fest will once again showcase local, regional and national Irish musicians and entertainment. Events will take place in and outside the Main Tent, the Park Rec Center, the library, St. Joseph Church and downtown Manhattan.
"For more information, pre-sale buttons, sponsorship opportunities, parade entry, schedules and more visit the website at www.manhattanirishFest.com and "Like" us on Facebook!"
A Moveable Fest: 20 years Manhattan Irish Fest by Michael J. McHugh
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