While the nomadic facets of Irish history are well documented, it can be difficult to imagine that a diaspora of such scope and influence could originate on this small island.
We’re reminded of this global network at events like the Milwaukee Irish Festival (MIF), an annual celebration of Irish culture and heritage on the banks of Lake Michigan. This year, a Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture showcase will build on the festival’s 25-year-strong relationship with Galway City and County Council, while spreading the word of Galway as European Capital of Culture to an audience of over 100,000 people.
The showcase will take place from 15 to 18 August, 2019. Galway 2020’s dedicated festival stage will welcome an impressive roster of musicians from home. Among them, bluegrass-infused The Whileaways, traditional “supergroup” Back West, Connemara fiddle players The Kanes and Leo Moran & Padraic Stevens (two of the musical talents behind The Saw Doctors). We Banjo 3, another Galway act and Galway 2020 ambassador, will headline this year – their 8th year performing for loyal Milwaukee fans. On the visual arts end, Irish painter Joan Finnegan will brighten up the Cultural Pavilion with colourful, tactile artworks.
Migration is one of the key concepts for Galway 2020 – it comes as no surprise then that each of the Cultural Pavilion’s exhibitions focuses on mapping and navigation of some kind. Visitors can get acquainted with Galway roads, estuaries and landmarks at the Galway Historic Maps Exhibition. Archaeologist Paul Walsh and Jennifer Moore from the Royal Irish Academy are making the journey to answer questions on the maps, taken from their Irish Historic Towns Atlas series. From NUI Galway’s collection, there will be an exhibition of hand-drawn maps and Connemara folklore from award-winning author and cartographer Tim Robinson.
Galway Hooker sailors are another group who know a thing or two about navigation. MIF visitors will stumble upon an impressive 3D model of the Hooker in the Meehan Boat house, thanks to the Milwaukee Currach Club. The curious are also invited to the Hedge School, where Paul Walsh is set to give a talk on Galway’s 7th century “Renaissance” period – when markets flourished, and an array of goods passed through the mouth of Lough Corrib.
MIF has proved itself more than just a festival in recent years, with the introduction of satellite projects including a Milwaukee Irish Fest choir (frequently performing with Omagh Community Youth Choir) and a Summer School providing lessons in Irish dance and music, crafts and Gaeilge. Organisers have taken a particular interest in Galway, developing a close relationship with Galway artists and elected officials over the course of 25 years. The two cities have enjoyed the fruits of those efforts in forming a 20-year Sister City partnership, celebrated each year at Milwaukee City Hall. Indeed, it was this partnership that saw former president, Mary McAleese, pass through the festival gates in 2005.
The pride and excitement of being awarded European Capital of Culture has travelled far, perhaps further than we had imagined. Galway 2020 is thrilled to cultivate these rewarding relationships, and present our own unique county on the other side of the Atlantic.