Dorchester’s Irish Heritage Festival enjoyed a successful return on October 13, as crowds of Irish culture lovers took in music and dance performances, browsed through various vendors’ booths, and socialized in the warmth of a picture-perfect autumn day.
The festival, which is organized and run by community volunteers and supported largely through local businesses, went on hiatus last fall, when its leadership felt a need to regroup after the event’s first two years. This year, the festival was forced to relocate to the Florian Hall area of Hallet Street because of construction taking place at the original site in Adams Corner.
By early afternoon, the scene was bustling, as festivalgoers of all ages lingered in Florian Hall, or strolled around the hall’s parking lot or the McKeon Post AmVets lot across the street, while Irish songs and tunes of all varieties – performed by a roster of acts almost exclusively local – sounded from three different stages, and groups of young dancers jigged and capered in front of appreciative audiences.
But this year’s festival also had a solemn aspect to it, as an occasion to celebrate the community spirit and resilience that had been on display in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings six months ago. Several speakers and performers paid tribute to victims and others whose lives had been most directly affected by the tragedy, and to the dedication and bravery of first responders. Around the festival grounds, the “Boston Strong” slogan was almost as conspicuous as Irish phrases or Boston sports team logos.
One of the festival co-organizers, Mairin Ui Cheide, underscored the theme when she officially opened the day’s events by singing “Amazing Grace” – in hope and respect, she said, “for all that has happened and all that we as a city have endured.”
In the early afternoon, the festival staged “Dorchester Strong,” as students from local Irish dance schools – wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with “Dorchester Strong” above a picture of ghillies (Irish soft shoes) – processed from in front of Florian Hall to the McKeon lot stage, waving pom-poms and carrying signs with various messages such as “Thank You” and “Peace.” The children performed a celebratory dance, as parents, friends and other onlookers held cameras and smartphones aloft to capture the moment.
Later, festival committee leaders gathered on the stage to present the first Larry Reynolds Spirit Award to recognize a person whose positive impact on the area Irish community evokes the award’s namesake, the legendary musician and organizer who died last year. Ui Cheide, along with colleagues John O’Toole and Sean Weir, presented the award to Margaret Dalton, singer with the popular band Erin’s Melody.
“I would like to thank the Irish Heritage Festival committee and all the volunteers and all the city agencies for their help in making this such a great event and a success,” said Weir.
The committee also gave an award of appreciation to the Reynolds family, which was accepted by Larry Reynolds Jr., who was among the contingent of musicians from the local Reynolds-Hanafin-Cooley Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann branch providing music prior to the presentation.
“I am truly humbled by this generosity,” said Reynolds, his voice cracking. “Thanks to all of you for your kindness, and the love you always showed for my father.”
Reynolds then returned to his seat next to his fellow musicians, picked up his accordion, and the band struck up another set of tunes.
Weir credited the volunteers and key assistance from City Hall for making the day a hit.