Hillbilly Music at the Cultural Village: Milwaukie Irish Fest


The Cultural Village during Irish Fest

I am here at the second day of the Milwaukie Irish Fest as President of the Ullans Academy and a guest of the Ward family. I have been able to immerse myself in Irish art, literature, history, sports and theatre in the newly redesigned Cultural Village. There’s a lot to see in the Village, which is home to the Hedge School, Harp Stage and Moore St. Market. I have heard lectures at the Hedge School by Gordon Lucy ,who is here with the Ulster Scots Agency, on Lord and Lady Pirrie and Mr and Mrs Thomas Andrews of Titanic fame, Mick Maloney, musician and folklorist, on The Irish Roots of Hillbilly Music and Gabrielle Gray and Forest Roberts of the International Bluegrass Museum in Kentucky on A Band for the Ages: Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.

Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and a sub-genre of country music. Bluegrass, also known as “hillbilly music,” was inspired by the Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots music of Appalachia. It has mixed roots in Scottish, Irish and English traditional music, and was also later influenced by the music of African-Americans through incorporation of Jazz elements.

I explained that the only sensible derivation of “Hillbilly music” was  from the Billy-Boys of the Hill Country of Appalachia, who as Scotch-Irish sung the songs of King William of Orange when they arrived in America. I was pleased to see how proud Bill Monroe was of the Scotch-Irish roots of his music. I shopped the artisans at the Moore Street Market and stopped at the Village Pub, where I experienced a diverse cross-section of music before I visited the rest of the festival.

The harp is the only musical instrument to be a symbol of a country, and the Harp Stage was the place to be to hear the beautiful sounds of this instrument as it is played by the world renowned Patrick Ball and local Mary Ann Miller. The Bangor Drama Club of County Down returned to the theatre with Lay Up Your Ends by Martin Lynch. I presented and signed my three books Dalaradia, Kingdom of the Cruthin; 1690, William and the Boyne and Bombs on Belfast at the literary Corner.

Harp Stage

The Harp Stage was certainly the place to hear the music of the harp. The mix of music marries the ancient to the modern, in an often electric manner, with some of the best harpers in the world.

Hedge School

The Hedge School offered a series of lectures by leading authorities in Irish history, literature, language, and culture.

Literary Corner

Irish Fest thanked Little Read Book, 7603 West State Street in the Wauwatosa Village for again being the sponsor of the Literary Corner.  Rainbow Books for Children, from West Vliet Street on Milwaukee’s west side, will again be a vendor in the Literary Corner.   Both were located in the Literary Corner with  favorite Irish, Irish American and children’s books.

The Authors in the Literary Corner also included:

Mick Moloney, Irish Musician and Folklorist will have his books “Far From the Shamrock Shore” and “Close to the Floor.”  When not performing, Mick leads a series of cultural tours. For more about Mick and his books, go to: http://mickmoloney.com/

James Redfearn, Irish history comes alive during the 1919 Boston police strike in his first novel, “The Rising at Roxbury Crossing.”   James, a Boston native from the Mission Hill neighborhood, has been a photographer, a State Trooper and a investigator.   For more information about James, go to http://therisingatroxburycrossing.com/

Sue Lawton, a Milwaukee writer and artist tells her own story through exaggerated, lavish romance and a quirky sense of humor.   She will have copies of “The Circus and the Cyclone” a brilliantly illustrated story with her.  For more on Sue go to: http://www.suelawtonart.com/circus/

Drew Blanchard, is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.   Drew brings his full length collection of poems, “Winter Dogs” to Irish Fest.   Drew has studied in Peru and Ireland.   For more about Drew, go to:  http://www.drewblanchard.com/

Connor Cunneen a entertaining and motivational speaker as well as a writer, will bring his latest, “For the Love of Being Irish” to the festival.   For more information on Connor, go to http://irishmanspeaks.com/cms/

Cliff Carlson, the editor of the Irish American News and the chief organizer of the IBAM! 2012 in Chicago this November was in the Literary Corner throughout the Festival. For more about IBAM go to: http://ibamchicago.com/


Visiting the Archives tent brings to life signs of the past. Explore Irish history in music, stories, and biographies through exhibits created by the Ward Irish Music Archives. Each year’s exhibit focuses on unique aspects of the Irish and Irish-American experience.There was a special section on Van Morrison.


Steeped in tradition, brimming with talent, and sweetened with native speakers, the Gaeltacht line-up is sure to hit the spot. Performances by award-winning musicians, singers, dancers and actors will bring a smile to your face, music to your ears, and set your toes a tapping! Check out the Gaeltacht schedule!

Irish Language Workshop (Ceardlann na Gaeilge)

Irish language books, games, DVDs and CDs for adults and children for sale. Irish language films to view/buy, plus games to play and Irish speakers to help learners practice the language. Scholarship applications available. Some translating possible. Failte Romhat!!

Cultural Pavilion

The Cultural Exhibits Pavilion in 2012 will have a number of diverse displays including: the cuimhneamh an chláir – oral history project from County Clare, by Tomás Mac Conmara; Bill Monroe Traveling exhibit, International Bluegrass Music Museum; Exhibit on John Barry – County Wexford native who founded the United States Navy; Irish science Fiction and Fantasy Writers – from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to James White and Michael Carroll; Irish-American boxers, by the Ward Irish Music Archives; The Ulster Scots American Presidents, presented by the Ulster Scots Agency of Belfast, represented by Maynard Hanna and Gillian Pearson; the St. Patrick Centre of Downpatrick – Co. Down with Tim Campbell and the Young Ambassador Programme with my friend Sofina Ziu and her colleagues; Titanic – 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Belfast-built shipy ; The Volta Theatre  featured beautiful People,a movie about the oldest session in New York by Sam Adelman.


Sponsored by findmypast.ie a Dublin based company featuring extensive resources in Irish genealogy.  They had several representatives on hand for consultations.

Visiting Professional Genealogist Michael Brophy is a specialist in Boston and Eastern Massachusetts Irish-American ancestry.  I viewed the Hall of Faces of Ireland, Civil War exhibit and DNA updates.  Research by our dedicated volunteer genealogists with access to Ancestry.com and Family Search.

Meehan Boat House

The Meehan Boat House displayed Currachs for fest goers to see.  Learn about the history of Currachs and you could sign up to join the Irish Currach Club of Milwaukee.


You could also see the Celtic Groove School and learn hands-on how to play the bodhran. Bodhran lessons provided (no experience necessary). In addition, you could purchase bodhrans and other fine Irish instruments.

Hurling Club


You could learn about Hurling, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Milwaukee Hurling Club located inside the new Irish Fest Sports Pub, try your hand at hurling by giving a sliotar (ball) a whack at the hitting tube. Just outside of the Sports Pub, Master Craftsman Philip Doyle Senor of County Wexford demonstrated his craft, explains the characteristics of a good hurley and chats about this cottage industry in Ireland. I witnessed live hurling games at the Urban Hurling Park located just outside of the North Gate.

Moore Street Market

The Moore Street Market was a must-see destination featuring some of the best artists from Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Theatre Pavilion

The Theatre Pavilion offered some of the best Irish plays written by Irish playwrights and performed by Irish (and honorary Irish) players.  The Theatre is rich in Irish theatre tradition and Irish Fest brought a nice assortment of Irish plays for all fest goers to enjoy.


Dinner with Kathleen and Sofina in Milwaukie

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