Fourteenth annual Irish Fest draws 700 to IC

By Dan McWilliams

A little rain early on did not stop some 700 people from enjoying the 14th annual Irish Fest on Aug. 12, hosted again by Immaculate Conception Parish in downtown Knoxville.

The event netted more than $10,000 that will be earmarked for capital repairs at IC.

The Irish Fest featured live Irish music; Irish food and beer, including shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage, Reuben sandwiches, and Irish coffee and desserts; a Gaelic games demonstration; and a silent auction that offered trips, Knoxville Ice Bears hockey tickets, pet supplies, a package of Irish whiskey and cigars, a Crowne Plaza downtown hotel getaway, jewelry, purses, artwork, and more.

Two tours of the 137-year-old IC Church were led by Carole Wunderlich during Irish Fest.

Performers at the festival included Red Haired Mary, Knoxville Pipes and Drums, Jeff Nelson, Nancy Brennan Strange and Friends, Four Leaf Peat, the Tennessee Irish Dancers, Tracy Jenkins and Gill Draper, and Wild Blue Yonder

IC pastor Father Charlie Dona-hue, CSP, said the Irish Fest is “more a community-building event” than anything else.

“There’s a fundraising part to it,” he said. “On the list of important cultural festivals in Knoxville, we’re No. 9. The city’s been great. This is the 14th year, and it’s exciting to be a part of.”

Speaking early in the five-hour event, Father Donahue said the weather made matters “scary there for a while in the beginning, but I’m confident it’s going to pick up through the night.”

IC also held its regular 5 p.m. vigil Mass during the Irish Fest, and the liturgy drew more than the usual 75 or so attendees, Father Donahue said.

The IC pastor said he was “absolutely” pleased about the number of visitors to Irish Fest. He added that “an explosion of apartment buildings” downtown around Market Square has helped his parish grow with new families and “good neighbors.”

Meritt Brown demonstrated hurling at the popular festival.

“It’s an ancient Irish sport. It’s the fastest game on grass. The female version is called camogie,” she said.

Ms. Brown said there is a pub league for hurling that plays at Holston River Park in Knoxville.

“We split our club into two teams, and we play against each other,” she said.

The U.S. Gaelic Athletic Association promotes hurling and other Irish sports, she said.

Ms. Brown described Irish Fest as “fun” to attend.

“This is our second time coming,” she said.

IC parishioner Bobby McCarter and helpers Tim McLaughlin and Teresa Kiser of the parish teamed up to sell beer at the fest, including Guinness, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, Gypsy Circus Cider, and Highland Gaelic Ale.

Business at the booth “started off a little slow because of the rain, but it’s picking up now,” Mr. McCarter said.

He is a big fan of Irish Fest.

“Love it. We’re here every year. Been here eight years now,” Mr. McCarter said.

Knoxville Pipes and Drums did two shows at the festival. Fifteen performers, including bagpipers, took to the stage with the group. Three different styles of drums were featured: bass drum, flourishing tenor, and snare drum.

Kevin Summers of Knoxville Pipes and Drums was among the performers.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

IC’s religious-education ministry had a table at the festival. New parish coordinator of religious education Abby Sporsen helped hand out free stickers and candy to children as she hoped to sign up kids in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade for the parish’s religious education program.

“We are also having them get a raffle ticket if their parents sign up for an interest letter, just to try to draw in some new kids and get more people involved in both religious ed and youth ministry,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of interest, and we’ve seen a lot of the kids who have been involved before, so we’re excited about reaching out to some new families that we haven’t met.”

A parishioner of IC since 2005, Ms. Sporsen started as coordinator of religious education in July.

Pete Cunningham and wife Cindy of St. Mary Parish in Oak Ridge, representing the St. Paul Street Evangelization ministry, gave away rosaries, books, and Bibles at the festival. The ministry’s mission includes setting people straight about the Church’s beliefs, Mr. Cunningham said.

“We’re trying to show people that a lot of the beliefs out there are just myths. We tell them that this is the Church that Jesus started, and it’s been going now for over 2,000 years,” he said, adding that he was baptized at St. Mary in 1957, left for a number of years, and has been back at the Oak Ridge parish since 1986. “No, it is not perfect . . . but it’s up to us lay Catholics to tell people just exactly what the Church believes and what our purpose here is. People don’t understand that what we do during this short time on earth plays a major role in how we spend eternity.

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