The Irish culture is full of craic – which means fun in Irish – from incredible folksongs to dancing, it will warm your heart and make fast friends of those around you. This April, the Irish Cultural Society of the Pacific Northwest’s Sean-nós Northwest Traditional Irish Weekend is returning – after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19 – to The Evergreen State College for a weekend full of Irish craic including language, instrumental music, singing and dancing workshops.
Local Nonprofit Preserves Irish Culture
“Our first event was a single-day workshop held in Portland, Oregon in 2008,” explains Kimberly Goetz, festival director. “We rotated back and forth between Portland and Olympia for the first few years and finally made Olympia our permanent home starting in 2014. The first event was the brainchild of Portland singer David Ingerson and Portland dancer Maldon Meehan. They invited ICSPNW President Sean Williams to be an instructor with them at that event.”
It was also that year that the Irish Cultural Society of the Pacific Northwest (ICSPNW) took over the festival. The nonprofit was created to be the sponsor of the Sean-nós Northwest Traditional Irish Weekend. “As a nonprofit, it made us eligible for donation programs like the Combined Fund Drive,” explains Kimberly.
The nonprofit – and the festival – were created to preserve and cultivate Irish language and traditions in the Pacific Northwest. “We have a great tradition of Irish culture here in the Pacific Northwest!” shares Kimberly. “Some of the greatest Irish musicians in the world make their home here, and more than 10% of Washingtonians have Irish ancestors. Seattle, Spokane, Portland, and Eugene all rank in the top 50 most Irish cities in the country.”
And while you may think learning Irish – also called Irish Gaelic or Sean-nós – is not very practical, it’s incredibly important for preserving the traditions says Kimberly. “Preserving language is very important to preserving culture. The language you speak not only affects how you interact with the world, it affects how you see the world. Giving folks the chance to learn a bit about the Irish language and how it differs from English can give our attendees a chance to learn about a fascinating aspect of heritage that many languages offer. It can be a window into a completely different perspective.”
Olympia Irish Festival April 15-16, 2023
Sean-nós Northwest Traditional Irish Weekend will be held at The Evergreen State College April 15-16, 2023. The two days are full of workshops. Attendees register for the weekend but do not need to pre-register for certain classes, which means you can change your mind about what you want to attended right up until they start! The schedule is pending, but will be listed on the Sean-nós Northwest Traditional Irish Weekend website as soon as it’s ready.
You do not have to have experience in anything Irish – nor even be Irish! – to attend this fun event. “We make an effort to make sure everyone is welcome and can take something useful home with them, regardless of whether they’ve ever had any prior experience,” shares Kimberly. “The only exception to this is that musicians who want to take music classes do need to know how to play their instrument, as we focus more on learning tunes and skill building in those classes.”
Other classes include Irish language workshops, where you will learn some words and phrases (these are listed at Gaeilge – Irish word for the Irish language – on the schedule) and singing. There will be sean-nós singing, which will be songs sung in Irish, as well as traditional signing, which will be for those who want to try the Irish style of singing in English.
And of course, there will be sean-nós dancing workshops. “Sean-nós dancing isn’t the ‘Riverdance’ style step dancing you may have seen on TV or social media,” Kimberly explains. “Instead, sean-nós dance steps are low to the ground and focus on improvisation instead of choreographed numbers. It’s much easier on the joints and is a great activity for retired step dancers, cloggers, and tap dancers!”
Each day will have four classes. “Attendees are welcome to sit in on any workshop they choose, even if it’s just to watch and listen,” explains Kimberly. “We welcome all attendees and strive to offer an inclusive environment for everyone. We don’t have any minimum age, but we do ask that any kids attending be old/mature enough to follow along with the classes and not be disruptive.”
In the afternoon, there will be a tea and treats break, which gives you a chance to meet other attendees and chat. On Saturday evening enjoy a concert featuring the weekend’s instructors, included in your festival registration!
To learn more and register, visit the Sean-nós Northwest Traditional Irish Weekend website.