Each year, the Pittsburgh Irish Festival welcomes thousands of Celts to the ‘Steel City’ for three days of fun & festivities. Recently we spoke with Executive Director Mairin Petrone about what attendees can expect.
What is your own heritage?
I am Irish & Italian.
When and why did you get involved with the Festival?
The Pittsburgh Irish Festival was launched in 1991 by my mother and aunt. I got involved in any way that I could as a small child. As I got older I became an intern, eventually took on a full-time role as Assistant Director, and am now the Executive Director.
What are your roles and responsibilities there?
With assistance from a great team and many advisors, I manage the fundraising, marketing, administrative work, programming, human resources, finances, and operations of the festival.
What are the challenges involved?
Each year we work towards our mission of preserving and promoting the Irish culture. As a non-profit, we are not always able to raise the funds necessary to do everything we’d like to at the Festival – new activities, new bands, etc.
What are the rewards?
Now more than ever, celebrating culture and diversity in our region is very important. Each year we are rewarded by increasing Celtic cultural awareness in our area and by providing an opportunity for so many people to celebrate that culture that they love so much.
Why is it an important event for the community?
The Festival is preparing for our 28th annual celebration. Each year we hear more and more stories from our attendees about the significance that the event has had for them in their lives. We have had many couples meet, get engaged, celebrate anniversaries, etc. at the Festival. We have watched individuals who have been coming forever as young adults now attend the Festival with their children and even grandchildren. And we have families who hold family reunions at the Festival each year. There are many people in our region who claim Celtic ancestry and we believe they are grateful to have an annual event celebrating that ancestry.
Who traditionally attends the Festival?
The Festival is attended by all ages, all backgrounds, and from many locations. We have people travel to visit our Festival from all 50 US states as well as Ireland, Scotland, and Canada.
What can they expect this year?
This year guests can expect all their Festival favorite entertainment and activities to return as well as many new items such as Ancient Celtic Axe Throwing, Foods of Ireland exhibit and sampling, live Celtic art demonstrations, and so much more!
How has the event evolved since last year?
Each year we pay attention to the feedback our audience gives us and are working towards creating an event that everyone enjoys! Guests can expect their favorite activities and new ones that they are sure to enjoy!
Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
The Pittsburgh Irish Festival is under an umbrella organization, The Irish Partnership of Pittsburgh. Each year the partnership is involved in many other Celtic activities throughout our region by sponsoring events, donating time/tickets/etc., and by bringing our Irish Education and Outreach Program to various locations.
Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally, and how can that be improved?
I believe that the Celtic culture in fortunate enough to be one of the most highly preserved and promoted cultures in the United States. There are many great organizations and Festivals working towards this goal. The Pittsburgh Irish Festival is a proud member of the North American Irish and Celtic Festival Association, a cohort of almost all of the major Celtic festival in North America. Each year we travel to each other events to discuss best practices, learn about new activities and bands, and work towards our unified goal of preserving and promoting the Celtic culture.