Irish Fest: Stars will come out to shine; an occasion to salute Rising centenary

It has gone by different names over the years, but the Irish Cultural Centre of New England’s annual festival – now known as Irish Fest Boston – is set to celebrate its silver anniversary on June 4 and 5 at the ICC campus in Canton with a line-up that includes international performers such as The Wolfe Tones, John McDermott, Andy Cooney, the Cunningham Family, as well as numerous Boston/Massachusetts acts.

Irish Fest Boston also will feature other Irish-related arts and culture, and family/children-oriented entertainment and activities.
This year’s festival will mark the centenary of Ireland’s 1916 Uprising, and the commemorative theme will be reflected in several new songs to be performed by The Wolfe Tones. One aDublin-born group – co-founders Brian Warfield and Noel Nagle, and longtime member Tommy Byrne – has for five decades played its repertoire of traditional, historical, topical, and rebel songs, and humorous ditties throughout the world. Their extensive discography includes 16 studio albums, three live albums, and 40 singles, among them “Flight of the Earls” and “Streets of New York,” which were No. 1 hits in Ireland. In 2014, they released their 50th anniversary box set containing six CDs and three DVDs. Although retired from full-time performing, they have periodically reunited for special events, such as the 1916 Uprising centenary.

The Wolfe Tones will be the closing act on Stage 1 both nights of the festival.

Born in Scotland and raised for most of his childhood in Canada, John McDermott has nonetheless advanced the legacy of the Irish tenor in popular music throughout a long career that stretches back to the early 1980s. Working at a full-time newspaper job, McDermott started out performing at company parties, then began singing the national anthem at professional sporting events (including Boston Red Sox games), until he recorded the album “Danny Boy” in 1992. The record’s success spurred him to become a full-time singer, beginning as an opener for The Chieftains before touring as a solo act. In 1998, he, along with Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan, formed The Irish Tenors, which was featured regularly on PBS. Since leaving the group, he has continued to perform with his own band as well as various symphony orchestras while also working in support of veterans, for which he has received the Medal of Honor Society’s Bob Hope Award. In 2000, he dedicated McDermott House in Washington, DC, which provides transitional living quarters for homeless vets.

Long Island native Andy Cooney has been singing professionally for some 30 years, and since launching his solo career in 1994 has performed across the country as well as internationally, offering renditions of familiar Irish favorites like “Danny Boy” and “Galway Boy,” and his hit records “The Irish Wedding Song”, “Boston Rose” and “Daughter of Mine.” He has worked with prominent entertainers including Ronan Tynan, Crystal Gayle, Seamus Egan, and Phil Coulter, and been featured on CD and DVD as well as on broadcast TV.

The Cunningham Family, individually and collectively, has galvanized the world of Irish sean-nos (old-style) dance. Galway natives Irene, Brian and Ashline regularly perform with well-known acts like Dé Danann, The Chieftains, Sharon Shannon, Altan, Dervish, and Téada. Their “Fuaim Chonamara” show was a headline act at the Volvo Ocean Race spectacular in Galway during 2009, attracting an audience of some 20,000. Brian Cunningham is known to many Bostonians through “Atlantic Steps,” a tribute to sean-nos dance he created and co-directed; the show was a headliner at the ICC’s 2013 festival.

Other special guests at Irish Fest Boston include Galway country singer-songwriter Matthew O’Donnell, Connemara “country-and-Irish” singer Beairtle O Domhnaill, and the Co. Tyrone-based folk-rock band The Whistlin’ Donkeys.

Also on hand will be many acts that have become familiar to area concert and festival-goers, such as Marian Ui Cheide Keady; Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak; Devri; The Silver Spears; Boston’s Erin Og; Inchicore; Jinty McGrath; Colm O’Brien; Denis O’Gorman; Fenian Sons; Erin’s Melody; Pauline Wells; the Noel Henry Irish Show Band; Erin’s Guild; Danny Gill & Old Brigade; Stuart Peak & Friends; Boxty; House DJ Sean O’Toole; Curragh’s Fancy; The Gobshites; Clare Egan with Eoin O’Neil; and Bill Bailey.

Other attractions include The Viking Irish, a Boston organization that recreates Hiberno-Norse Viking culture from the ninth and 10th centuries; the Irish Wolfhounds Association, which will show and offer information about its iconic dogs; a recreation of a 19th-century Irish cottage that will provide a setting for talks and demonstrations on the language, traditions and folkways of Gaelic-speaking communities; Irish sports and games organized by the Gaelic Athletic Association; numerous vendors of authentic Irish products, food and beverages; and activities for children and families.

“The mission of Irish Fest Boston is to give people a true sense of what it means to be Irish here in New England,” said ICC President Seamus Mulligan. “The activities during festival week will create a sense of this region’s rich Irish roots. The festival during the weekend features dozens of the finest musicians, singers, dancers, writers, and cultural advocates you’re likely to see in one setting.”

For tickets and other event details and updates, go to the festival website