North Wildwood Imports the Emerald Isle

Source: Regina Schaffer, For At The Shore

Tuesday, 20th Sept, 2011

The luck of the Irish is once again coming to North Wildwood. The 20th annual Irish Fall Festival – the largest festival of its kind on the East Coast, according to organizers – kicks off Thursday, Sept. 22, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 25.

The Bogside Rogues return to perform at the Irish Fall Festival in North Wildwood, which begins Thursday, Sept. 22, and continues through Sunday, Sept. 25.

From Irish dance lessons, to a pipe-band competition, to a traditional Ceili and even live amateur boxing – chances are if it’s Irish-related, it will be featured in the vicinity of Olde New Jersey Avenue this weekend.

“The weekend celebrates our Irish heritage,” says Mike Mcguire, co-chair of the Irish Fall Festival and president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish heritage group. “Its just a good time to get all the Irish together. Everybody has a great time. It’s the biggest of its kind.

“It took a long time to get this accomplished,” says Mcguire, who has been involved with the festival for 10 years. “Every time I look out, there is more.”

Approximately 105 vendors will line Olde New Jersey Avenue in North Wildwood from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, selling everything from Irish crafts to clothing, decorations and traditional foods.

Free live entertainment also will be heard along the avenue from noon to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, including performances from The Paul Moore Band, Broken Shillelaghs, Celtic Connection, Sean Fleming Band, Secret Service and others.

Irish food and entertainment also will be available at most pubs and taverns in North Wildwood all weekend long.

New to the line-up this year – so new it wasn’t originally publicized – is the addition of a basketball team coming over from Northern Ireland to play an exhibition game against Wildwood’s St. Ann Regional School.

“So it will be a great culture mix,” Mcguire says. “It will be a good chance for the kids to meet players from another country. We try to improve (the festival) every year.”

Saturday’s festivities begin with a 5K Run starting at 8 a.m. and continue with the Brian Riley Pipe Exhibition, featuring some of the best pipe bands on the East Coast, at 10 a.m. at Eighth and Central avenues. Free Irish dance lessons will be available 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Anglesea Volunteer Fire House, located at Second and Olde New Jersey avenues.

A traditional Ceili will be held 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday evening at the Anglesea Firehouse, featuring the Pearl River Ceili Band.

The festival wraps up Sunday with an Irish heritage parade beginning at 1 p.m., beginning at 24th and Surf avenues and continuing to Spruce and Olde New Jersey avenues.

“I guess you just have to come and experience it,” Mcguire says. “You just have to come. One of the spectacular things is the pipe band competition. Once you hear those pipes … that brings tears to everybody’s eyes. Its an amazing thing to see.”

The Irish Fall Festival has grown into a big draw for the Wildwoods over the past two decades, according to Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, or GWTIDA.

A recent study done by Richard Stockton College’s Center for Hospitality and Tourism revealed the fall festival brings in roughly 137,000 attendees, with an economic impact of a little more than $10 million.

The festival has become a huge draw because of all it has to offer, Rose says.

“There’s live entertainment going on all day, there is great food, there are great crafts,” Rose says. “So, as a family, you can walk around and really have a fun day, at really no cost to you unless you want to buy something.

“Later on at night, it grows, and becomes an adult event,” Rose says. “It’s families all day, and late night it turns into an older crowd. So it really draws everyone.”

WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 22, through Sunday, Sept. 25

WHERE: Vendors will line Olde New Jersey Avenue, North Wildwood, Thursday through Sunday. A pipe exhibition Sunday will be located at Eighth and Central avenues. Sunday’s parade begins at 24th and Surf avenues and continues to Spruce and Olde New Jersey avenues.

HOW MUCH: Most events are free. There is a $15 entry fee for the 5K run. For early registration, visit Owen’s Pub, 119 E. 17th St. in North Wildwood, or register the day of the run at 8 a.m. at the AOH tent. Boxing tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door of the Irish Music Tent. For advanced boxing ticket sales, call 215-465-1778.

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