Seattle Center Festál presents Irish Festival Seattle in partnership with the Irish Heritage Club (IHC). Irish Festival Seattle is held in March, on or near St. Patrick’s Day, celebrating Irish heritage, culture, and arts with two-days of traditional music, step-dancing, lectures, genealogy workshops, Irish films, exhibits, displays, and more.
Irish Festival Seattle is organized by the Irish Heritage Club (IHC), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting Irish cultural activities in Western Washington, such as performances of Irish music, Irish dancing, Irish language, Irish history, Gaelic games, and cultural exchanges with Seattle’s Sister City of Galway, Ireland. The IHC was founded in 1982, the first year Irish Festival Seattle was held at the Seattle Center, and annually, the festival is a highlight of Seattle’s Irish Week celebrations organized to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, continuing the tradition of bringing together the Seattle area’s finest performers and artists to provide a taste of what it means to be Irish.
From the early days of non-native settlers arriving in the Puget Sound area, the Irish were among them, many of them having escaped the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852. It’s not surprising Irish people would be attracted to live in the Pacific Northwest. The area’s climate with its cool damp winters and warm summers is very similar to Ireland’s. The Pacific Northwest scenery with its great mix of rugged coastline and mountain backdrops would be very familiar to anyone born in Ireland. The only problem with Seattle from an Irish perspective was that it was so far away from home!
The fact there were many prominent Irish in the early days of Seattle will not be surprising when you consider in the 2000 census about 800,000 Washingtonians claimed Irish as their primary heritage. Some of the earliest non-native settlers in Seattle had Irish backgrounds, including Seattle’s first non-native settler, David Denny, who was the great-grandson of a man who left Ireland in the 1790s. Judge Thomas Burke, “The Man Who Built Seattle”, was born in New York of Irish immigrant parents. He was a Seattle civic leader, a railroad promoter, a champion of the University of Washington, a voice of tolerance during the 1886 anti-Chinese riots, and in 1889 Chief Justice of the Washington Territorial (later State) Supreme Court. John Collins, a native of Ireland, served 4 terms on Seattle’s City Council 1869-1883, and became Seattle's fourth Mayor in 1873. In the 1890s, the Klondike Gold Rush brought thousands of Irish people through Seattle on their way to the goldfields. When the Yukon gold petered out, thousands of Irish ended up settling in Seattle.
St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated annually in Seattle since the latter half of the 1800s, always involving parties and dances, and often times involving impromptu, but unofficial parades. The first official St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in Seattle in 1972 and a parade has been held every year since then in Seattle to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Starting in the late 1970s, cultural events were organized in connection with the parade and were held in various locations until the first Irish Festival Seattle was held at the Seattle Center in 1982. Since then, Seattle has been treated to an annual feast of free Irish entertainment that attracts thousands of attendees to the Seattle Center Armory each year.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Ireland is the country of birth for the largest number of Medal of Honor recipients born outside the U.S., more than twice the number for any other country.
- Some Native American tribes, empathetic to Irish people starving, sent donations to Ireland for famine relief during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852.
- The Uilleann Pipes, an instrument using a bellows to inflate the bag and usually played indoors while seated, are Ireland’s national bagpipe.
- Corned beef is a traditional food of Irish immigrant communities in the U.S., but was not traditionally a food served in Ireland.
- Seattle and Galway, Ireland, have been Sister cities since 1986.