Celebrating All Things Irish

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Thursday March 16, 2017

Irish poet William Butler Yeats, considered to be one of the greatest of the 20th century, wrote, “Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.” One might look at the brochure for the Burlington Irish Heritage Festival (BIHF) happening throughout the month of March and concur. The family friendly festival, currently in its 22nd year, offers a range of activities from concerts and singalongs to their signature event, The Festival Ceili, Sunday, March 19, 1 to 3 p.m. at Contois Auditorium, City Hall, 149 Church Street, Burlington. According to BIHF, Ceili is the Irish word for a music, dancing, hand-clapping good time. At Festival Ceili there will be Irish step dancing, fiddles and flutes, Irish pipes and pennywhistles, and the bodhrán, an Irish frame drum. Area musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and join in. And it sounds like, although not obligatory, dancing will be contagious.

South Burlington’s Jennifer Platten has been a BIHF board member, as treasurer, for three years. She explains that the group was formed to promote the traditional Irish culture largely through dance, music, and history, adding, “Every year we organize a week-long festival with a variety of cultural events that culminates on a Sunday with Festival Ceili’s music and dance.”

Platten, who describes herself as having “Irish in her family,” shares that her children, Finley and Rowan, “have a good deal of Irish blood in their veins.” Her family has traveled to Ireland, an experience she fondly recalls. “It was a wonderful experience to meet the people, tour the countryside, and my boys picked up hurling while there and brought their hurling sticks back to the states to continue to play.”

Platten adds, “One of my most enjoyable life experiences involves traveling to different cultures and learning about that place, meeting the people, enjoying the sights, eating the local food and experiencing life from a new vantage point. Being involved with BIHF gives me the opportunity to share cultural experiences ‘in my own backyard.’”

She notes that her favorite event, Sunday’s Ceili Festival, features an opportunity for travel. Every year, BIHF holds their annual Luck of the Irish raffle with the grand prize being a trip for two to Ireland. Platten says their organization has wonderful stories and notes of appreciation from past winners who have found the trip to Ireland to be an experience of a lifetime.

Also from South Burlington and part of BIHF is Margie Vagt, who joined last fall. Vagt’s responsibilities include helping with the organization’s social media platforms and website. “At the risk of being biased,” says Vagt, “my favorite part of the festival is the Ceili. I get to listen to Irish music and watch my daughter and her friends do what they love most - Irish dance.” Vagt’s daughter, Grace, is a member of McFadden Irish Dance, and along with other dancers from South Burlington, will be performing on Sunday.

The final event of this year’s festival is on Friday, March 24, at the University of Vermont’s (UVM) Patrick Gymnasium when the university’s Irish step dance club, the Celtic Cats, perform. Like many of the festival’s events, there will be an opportunity for audience members to particulate in the celebration.

Vagt explains the draw of the festival, saying, “Being Irish for me is not just about my family, but also a state of mind. Our Irish identity informs so much of our family stories, but I also find Irish music and culture is a great unifier. There is nothing better than an evening of Irish music and great conversation.”

Meanwhile, Platten closes with yet another Yeats quote, exemplifying the joy of connection found throughout the festival, “There are no strangers here, only friends that have not yet met.”

For more information about the Burlington Irish Heritage Festival, including event times, locations, and costs, visit www.burlingtonirishheritage.org.