Our Views: Janesville's celebration of Irish heritage is overdue

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Maybe you've noticed the unusual flags blowing in the breeze in downtown Janesville and popping up in business windows.

You might wonder what those green, white and orange flags are all about.

Well, for one weekend, Janesville will celebrate its ties to the Emerald Isle. Janesville's first-ever Irish Fest starts Thursday. Promoters and supporters have assembled a list of events and activities as long as those famous stone fences gracing Ireland's countryside.

No doubt, revelers will tip a Guinness or two. Go ahead, but drink responsibly, and consider designating a driver.

The event took root after the Janesville Performing Arts Center booked Gaelic Storm, a popular Irish band, for a concert this Saturday night. It quickly sold out, and JPAC set a second performance for Sunday.

The enthusiasm encouraged a committee to form and obtain a grant to spread festivities across the city. Bars, restaurants, other businesses and nonprofit groups got behind it. Those involved deserve a pot of gold for their efforts.

But why an Irish Fest? Consider the Janesville families that have been movers and shakers in business and politics for generations. We're talking about the Ryans, the Cullens, the Fitzgeralds, the Kennedys, the McDonalds, the Sheridans and others. More than 13 percent of Janesville residents have Irish heritage—the largest percentage among major Wisconsin cities, according to zipatlas.com.

Given that, this festival is overdue as a way to bring people together to recognize Janesville's Irish history and heritage.

The music, food, entertainment and other cultural activities should make even a grumpy leprechaun smile. Besides the Gaelic Storm shows, here are highlights:

-- The Beloit International Film Festival will show an Irish film on its outdoor screen during the Irish BIFF Stew & Film from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday at the Rock County Historical Society. Irish music and a fish dinner also are planned.

-- Kutter Harley-Davidson and Quaker Steak & Lube will team up for Irish Bike Night with an Irish theme and band at Kutter's pavilion from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday.

-- The documentary “Irish in Janesville” will premier during a party from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Pontiac Convention Center.

-- Forward Janesville's Irish Piper's Ball will be from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday at BMO Harris Bank.

-- Rotary Gardens will host a Leprechaun Dash, featuring options of 5 and 10 kilometers and 1 mile, from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday.

-- An American Irish Variety Show starts at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Janesville Senior Center.

-- Rotary Gardens will feature a pancake breakfast with an Irish dance group from 8 a.m. to noon Sunday.

-- Kids can enjoy the Mercy O'Asis Family Fun Festival, featuring interactive singers, dancers, activities and food, from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at Lower Courthouse Park.

-- Shamrock Around the Block, a smaller version of the former Rock Around the Block party, will run from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Main and Milwaukee streets downtown. Popular regional bands The Kissers and The Gleasons will perform.

This is just a sampling from a field full of cultural shamrocks. Check out janesvilleirishfest.com for more details and a complete list.

The list is so extensive that we hope Janesville's residents and visitors take in enough of them that all succeed. Of course, with many outdoor events, a little luck o' the Irish wouldn't hurt.

A toast to all involved. Here's hoping Irish Fest becomes an annual event.

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