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By Marty Callahan
They sang, they danced, they watched, they cheered, they listened, they played games, they learned, they met old friends, they made some new ones and they celebrated everything Irish this past Saturday in Greeley. And they did it all in absolutely incredible fall weather with temperatures in the low 80s during the afternoon and light winds. The entire weekend was perfect weather for the event along with the 5114 Dodge St. Irish golf tourney that was played the day before the festival at Ord. That tourney had a record number of golfers this year.
The 7th annual Greeley Irish Festival resulted in a crowd that is now being estimated as one of the largest, if not the largest in its young history.
The entrance streets from O’Neill Avenue, home of the Shamrock painted street intersection, were adorned with all Irish county flags. The flags marked the way for the Pipe and Drum Corp. to make its way from downtown Greeley northwest to the festival site for the official opening of the event at around noon.
Large attendances were noted in the culture center (S.H. gym) where presentations were made by Cherie Beame Clarke and Barbara Scanlon, along with numerous items on display of the area Irish history from Greeley to O’Connor.
The Sacred Heart School provided the area for the kids Irish crafts that were well attended.
The Sacred Heart grounds were covered with lawn chairs from just short of the main entertainment stage back to the shade that was provided by the large trees on the west side of the primary grounds. West of the trees dozens and dozens of primarily young folks competed in the Irish Bean Bag Toss Tourney. And a further view to the far west across the Greeley Ball Park revealed dozens and dozens of recreation vehicles at the new R.V. Park providing lodging for those that arrived on Friday.
The day was filled with the sounds of Irish folk songs played by the Dublin City Ramblers, the modern folk/rock sounds of The Elders and the high energy Celtic rock blasts of The Wild Colonial Bhoys. Between sets the audience was once again entertained by the Omaha Pipe and Drum Corp and the Dowd Dancers.
The Nebraska Football Tent provided a chance for the Husker fans to watch this weekend’s game and the tent was full throughout the middle of the afternoon. This tent was also equipped with a second stage that allowed some very, very good central Nebraska musicians the opportunity to show their talents before and after the game.
As has been the case in the past festivals, the daytime crowd enjoyed the music from their lawn chairs, with occasional dancing in front of the stage. But as sunset approached and the darkness and the slight chill of the September evening increased, so did the excitement of the evening shows.
A larger section than normal of the afternoon crowd remained into the evening this year and were joined by the younger Irish music fans as the scene became as professional appearing as any outdoor major concert for miles around.
The darkness of the night provided a first hand look at this year’s stage that was illuminated with a professional lighting system that provided almost breathtaking backdrops and silhouette images of the performers with accompanied lighting that was perfectly synchronized to the music being played.
Additionally, a large projection screen was added this year that provided mobile camera shots of the performers for the fans further back from the stage. But, as has been the case in previous nighttime performances, the screen was not needed for the fans that gathered directly in front of the stage to scream, sing, clap and dance to the Wild Colonial Bhoys and the night’s closing group, The Elders.
The performers noted the incredible Irish venue that the festival provides and who would have thought it would be in a little rural town in central Nebraska. A town where one of the largest concentrations of Irish ancestry exists decade after decade. A town where the streets are named after Irish counties in Ireland.
The reason for the whole event was perfectly displayed in a big screen presentation that was shown immediately before the last group’s set. A video accompanied to an Irish “toast to the deceased” song was played showing the tombstones displaying the Irish family names that fill the cemeteries and provide so much of the history of Greeley and O’Connor. As one performer stated following the presentation, “That’s really why we are all here tonight, to honor all those families that settled in this area for a better life!” What a success story!
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