Chicago Gaelic Park Irish Fest 2017
Welcome to Chicago Gaelic Park Irish Fest
This is our 31st Year hosting Chicago Gaelic Park’s Irish Festival which has been an anxiously awaited event on Memorial Day Weekend for over the last twenty five years. The reasons people look so forward to this event are as varied as the participants it attracts. For some folks Gaelic Park’s festival is the harbinger of the spring and summer festival and outdoor activity season. Just as Memorial Day Weekend is the first major holiday of the summer, Irish festival is the first major festival. After being cooped up all winter, the idea of enjoying great entertainment, delicious food and satisfying refreshment, in an outdoor setting is extremely attractive. The numerous exhibits, including a petting zoo, Irish dog and horse exhibition and sports contests are a refreshing change from the winter hibernation. For other people, Gaelic Park Irish Festival is a great value for family entertainment.
Come out and Enjoy the FUN!!!!
4 Days of Great Music, Theatre & Storytelling on 6 Stages
Interview with Festival Chairman Frank Bradley
– Daniel P. Smith for Sun-Times Media
Over the last 25 years, there’s a scene Frank Bradley’s enjoyed more than a few times at Irish Fest, the annual celebration of Irish culture and friendship at Gaelic Park in Oak Forest.
“When it’s a beautiful evening and the place is packed, I’ve been able to stand back on the stage and look out to see thousands having a good time and know I played a part in bringing that enjoyment to life,” said Bradley, one of the founders and principal leaders of the spring time ritual that enters its 27th year in 2013.
For Bradley, who dedicates dozens of volunteer hours to Irish Fest each year, a smooth-running family festival sparking smiles and memories is all the reminder he needs to assure that his physical, mental, and emotional labor has been worth the commitment.
“I’m just thrilled to see a big group of people having a good time,” he said.
Prior to the first Irish Fest in 1987, leadership at the Irish American Heritage Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side and Gaelic Park decided to combine their efforts to produce an Irish cultural festival in downtown Chicago.
After a brief three-year run in the mid-1980s at Olive Park near Navy Pier, the distinct organizations thought it better to create their own festivals to maximize the celebratory mood. Gaelic Park would host its Irish Fest in the spring, while the Irish-American Heritage Center would run its event later in the summer. The South Side contingent tabbed Bradley as Irish Fest’s first chairman.
“They figured I could do it and I suppose I thought I could pull it off, too,” said Bradley, a homebuilder and father of four. “But I was blessed with a board that supported me and so many were full of energy, power, and only saw one direction for our event.”
Gaelic Park hosted its first four-day Irish Fest on the facility’s football fields, mixing two stages of live entertainment with food, drink and carnival rides.
“We got maybe 5,000 or 6,000 people and were delighted,” Bradley said. “We looked at this as just the beginning of a learning process.”
Fest spreads its wings
Confident in the demand for a South Side Irish festival, Bradley and Gaelic Park leadership charged ahead in future years.
Not long after the inaugural Irish Fest, Gaelic Park purchased an adjacent seven-acre parcel to serve as the festival’s grounds. In 1998, after years of bussing festival attendees from scattered off-site parking lots, Gaelic Park purchased another adjacent 25 acres to hold guest parking. These purchases, Bradley said, provided Irish Fest the space and amenities it needed to craft an efficient, enjoyable festival for patrons.
Over the festival’s 27 years, Irish Fest has added more stages with headline acts, expanded its budget, and witnessed a 10-fold increase in attendance.
“We expanded as we saw a need and as the demand grew,” Bradley said. “We built a monster even if we didn’t realize it.”
And Bradley’s been there every step of the way in virtually every role — booking bands, placing tables and chairs, directing traffic, and handling a variety of event troubleshooting projects.
“I’ve done just about everything but bartend,” Bradley said, though he’s quick to send praise to a volunteer army that approaches 500. “The volunteers and the committee leaders, they’re the real backbone of the festival.”
Now, tucked into his role as the unofficial patriarch of Irish Fest, the 65-year-old Bradley stands eager to reflect on what drives the annual festival’s success and its push into a 25th year.
“Everybody likes to be a little Irish and Irish Fest offers that opportunity to celebrate in a safe, friendly environment for a great value,” he said. “And it’s no secret as well that the Irish like to have a good time.”
While acknowledging that much of the festival’s success lies in the hands of Mother Nature, organizers have taken steps to ensure a good time despite the elements. Tents now enclose stages and seating, and tarmacs and walkways throughout the festival are now covered.
“We’ve learned our lessons over the years,” said John Devitt, president of Gaelic Park. “We’ve done our best to weather-proof the fest and to make it as enjoyable to everyone as possible.”
Preparing for the massive undertaking is a monumental task, and one that couldn’t be done without the tireless and dedicated commitment of scores of volunteers. The Irish Fest also serves as a major fundraiser for Gaelic Park.
Thanks to ALL who make it possible!!!!!!!!!
Chicago Gaelic Park is situated in a tranquil setting, adjacent to a Cook County Forest Preserve in Oak Forest, Illinois. We are located on 147th Street, two miles west of Cicero or one block east of Ridgeland.
From I-294 South
Exit Cicero Avenue south to 147th Street. Turn right, and go west two miles to Chicago Gaelic Park.
From Downtown Chicago
Take the Dan Ryan to I-57. Exit I-57 at 147th St West. Then proceed 4 1/2 miles west to Chicago Gaelic Park.
- 01 Mar
- Category: Fest General Info
- Written by Walt Kennedy
Céad Míle Fáilte!
On behalf of the directors, volunteers and staff of Chicago Gaelic Park, we look forward to welcoming you to our 31th Irish Fest. We’re pleased to be able to once again bring you the best in Irish entertainment and the best value for carnival rides that you will find anywhere, all in a safe and comfortable setting with free on-site parking.
Our festival field and building will be full of music, dancing, theatre, games and fun, with enough variety to please everyone. Kids of all ages will enjoy unlimited carnival rides, along with magicians, clowns, ponies and a petting zoo. We will also be welcoming Gaelic Football and Hurling players, and hundreds of Irish dancers who will compete at the Chicago Feis. As always, I’m looking forward to seeing some new bands and some old favorites, but the only one I will mention by name is the one that has been performing for over 50 years. The Wolfe Tones, arguably the world’s most popular folk and ballad group, are often identified with Irish rebels, and they will be part of our commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising. I’m very glad that they are joining us for Irish Fest, and I hope that you’ll join us, too.