WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The “Halfway to Saint Patrick’s Day” weekend celebration, sponsored by Aer Lingus, kicks off Sept. 15 at The Big E. For 23 years, Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula has brought artisan vendors, heritage experts, and educators to North America’s fourth largest fair.
“Our crafters, vendors, and education and tourism representatives representing the Dingle Peninsula’s culture, language and artistry will again join The Big E to celebrate our Sister City relationship and historical ties with West Springfield and the Western Massachusetts region,” said Caroline Boland of Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance, which will reside in the Fair’s Young Building from Sept. 15 until Oct. 1.
According to a news release sent to 22News, there’ll also be Irish music performers in the first week of the Fair, including Éilís Kennedy at the Irish Cultural Center on Tuesday, September 19. There will also be a performance by the Massachusetts State Police Pipe Band in the parade on Saturday, September 16.
In the meantime, Irish Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, who oversees the Office of Public Works and the Gaeltacht, will visit The Big E, highlighting the importance of the diaspora and its ties to Western Massachusetts. Additionally, Kerry County Council (KCC) members will take part in a number of official cultural, educational, trade and tourism events culminating in the Saturday parade, showing their commitment to cultural and heritage exchanges.
“Given the large number of diaspora from County Kerry who live in the Greater Springfield area, we remain fully dedicated to our Sister City relationship with West Springfield and are pleased to visit the region and The Big E for the first time since we established our cherished relationship just prior to the pandemic,” said Councilor Robert Timothy O’Connell, Mayor of Castleisland – Corca Dhuibhne (Dingle Peninsula). “We are excited to be part of the Halfway to Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations and parade, and to be able to support the businesses from the Dingle Peninsula who will be in The Big E’s Young Building.”
Holyoke and Springfield, Massachusetts, also have Sister City relationships with Tralee, which lies at the eastern end of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland, and Councilor John Michael Wall is a Tralee Mayor who is participating in this official visit to Springfield.
In addition, four-time Emmy Award winner Mickela Mallozzi, host of the television travel show Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi that airs on PBS, will be appearing at the Dingle Pavilion and other Big E stages throughout Saturday, Sept. 16 for dance and cultural performances with the Dingle Peninsula’s cultural artist and Irish dancer Jamie O’Flannúra.
The Dingle Peninsula Cultural, Educational, Trade and Tourism Showcase at the Fair features some of the best pottery, jewelry, linen, wool and crystal artists in the west of Ireland, distillers, top educational institutions, an award-winning distillery, cultural and heritage leaders, and tourism executives from the peninsula.
The Showcase’s daily Meet the Makers Program at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. offers demonstrations of crafts, spirits tastings, and hand-made Irish merchandise and memorabilia. Fair-goers will see videos throughout the day about Dingle Peninsula’s spectacular scenery, villages, the literary heritage of the Great Blasket Islands, and its people.
“Our research shows more than 55 percent of those who attend the Dingle Peninsula Showcase plan a trip to Ireland within the next three years, with 66 percent saying that culture and heritage was a key reason for their visit to Ireland, reinforcing the very strong connection the New England region has for the country,” Boland said. “Our vendors can provide the information they need to heighten their Irish experience, or visitors can pick up a gift or memento of the Emerald Isle, and U.S. corporate businesses can visit the showcase to commission work done by any of the artisans.”
Among the businesses, craftsmen, and organizations representing the Dingle Peninsula at The Big E are:
- Brian de Staic Jewellery, which has crafted distinctive jewelry for over 40 years. One of Ireland’s leading goldsmiths, Brian and his wife, Máiread, opened in 1981, and celebrities including Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Saoirse Ronan and Laura Dern own Brian de Staic creations.
- Celtic Gift House, returns to The Big E for a 21st year, offering a range of Celtic jackets, hoodies, tee shirts and baseball caps, as well as a variety of musical instruments and accessories, including tin whistles, bodhrans and guitar straps. Also available will be ELFIS and the full range of “Craic House Chopper” products that have proved a hit with The Big E Fairgoers.
- Dingle Crystal is a family-run company founded by Sean Daly, who apprenticed in Waterford Crystal and studied for 15 years to become a master cutter. When Waterford Crystal moved production out of Ireland, Sean established Dingle Crystal, which designed and created the St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Bowls presented to President Joe Biden in The White House in 2022 and in 2023.
- Sacred Heart University in Dingle campus offers study-abroad programs through two-week sessions in January, May and June, as well as full Fall and Spring semesters with courses in history, literature, music, language, religion, the sciences and ecology, health and nursing, social sciences, communications, media, the performing arts, marketing, economics and tourism. SHU in Dingle actively collaborates with Munster Technological University in Tralee, University College Cork and Queen’s University Belfast, University Hospital Kerry and Bon Secours Hospital in Tralee, and the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium/Mara Beo Teo.
- Dingle Linens presents natural-fiber knitwear for men, women and children, including apparel made from Donegal tweed, gents’ caps and waistcoats, ladies’ caps and hats, capes, wraps and throws, as well as accessories such as Irish tweed and leather bags.
- Dingle Distillery’s spirits will be the Dingle Distillery Bar’s exclusive offerings for three daily tastings to celebrate its 11th anniversary as Ireland’s first independent, family-owned, purpose-built artisan spirits distillery in more than a century. The award-winning distillery, built on the outskirts of Dingle, County Kerry, makes its own small batch Dingle Distillery Whiskey Single Malt and Pot Still Whiskey, Dingle Original Gin (chosen the World’s Best Gin and the World’s Best London Dry Gin 2019), and Dingle Distillery Vodka. Its spirits are available in the United States through Hotaling & Co. importers.
- Louis Mulcahy Pottery has been crafting pottery in the heart of the Kerry Gaeltacht since 1975. Mulcahy, his son Lasse and a team of craftspeople hand-make everything from dainty posy jars, dinner sets and elegant lamp bases to ovenware and towering urns at their workshop located west of Dingle town on the Slea Head drive. Drop by the stand to see an expert potter at work.
- Lisbeth Mulcahy opened Siopa na bhFhíodóirí in Dingle in 1986 to showcase her personally designed, handwoven tapestries and wall hangings, as well as her range of seasonal scarves, stoles and throws woven by a small team of weavers, including her daughter Sally. Lisbeth. Mulcahy’s designs are sold exclusively from Siopa na bhFíodóirí and Louis Mulcahy Pottery shop.
- MyIrelandBox, created by Katharine Keane and Thomas Barrett, returns to The Big E, celebrating its 10th anniversary of delivering monthly subscription packages of curated Irish-themed surprise boxes to those who have an Irish connection. Each box provides a unique way to learn, taste and experience Ireland’s vibrant culture, traditions and craft from the comfort of one’s home. Irish-themed MyIrelandBoxes arrive in America with Irish treasures based on themes, such as The Irish Sheep, An Irish Christmas, An Irish Thanksgiving and more. Items range from Katharine’s booklet of Irish information and stories and sweet Irish confections to books, homeware, Irish-made accessories and more from local Irish artisans.
- Corca Dhuibhne Cultural Ambassador Jamie Ó Flannúra will serve as the Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance team’s “Irish Language and Cultural Ambassador / Ambasadóir Cultúrtha agus Gaolainne Chorca Dhuibhne.” A renown Irish dancer, Jamie will perform frequently and also teach cúpla focail — “a few words” — in the Irish language.
- The Irish Cultural Center of Western New England cultivates a connection with Ireland and generations of local Irish diaspora – many of whose ancestors left the Blasket Islands just off the Dingle Peninsula’s Atlantic coast. The ICC provides access to Irish-oriented lectures, concerts, exhibitions of art, artifacts and memorabilia, political discussions, international relations, GAA sports, Irish language classes, student international exchange and genealogical research. It also serves as a bridge between the Irish government and the Western New England region.
- Western Mass Tourism / Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, an affiliate of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass and a private non-profit destination marketing organization, promotes Western Massachusetts for meetings and conventions, group tours, sports and leisure travel. Irish immigration to New England peaked in the mid-19th century when countless families sought new opportunity and landed in Western Massachusetts, which still celebrates Irish culture and heritage — from one of the largest and most-cherished annual St. Patrick’s Day parades in Holyoke to The Dingle Peninsula Pavilion at The Big E.
- Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance is a sustainability-focused organization encompassing a community tourism destination management co-operative, owned and managed by its family-run businesses and community development members across Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula.
- Others involved in the Dingle Peninsula Showcase and the organization and sponsorships of the ‘Halfway to Saint Patrick’s Day’ celebration include in Ireland – Kerry County Council, Údarás na Gaeltachta, NEWKD, Fáilte Ireland, and in Western Massachusetts – West Springfield City Council, West Springfield Sister City Committee, Congressman Richard Neal’s Office, Irish Cultural Center of Western New England, West Springfield High School, Western Mass Tourism Organization and the Eastern States Exposition.