Great Irish Fair gets back to its roots at 41st annual celebration in Park Slope

young irish step dancers at the great irish fair
The crowd cheers on a young troupe of Irish step dancers at the Great Irish Fair on Sept. 24.
Arthur de Gaeta

The 41st annual Great Irish Fair celebrated the borough’s Irish roots with entertainment for the whole family and beautiful weather in a brand new location in Park Slope on Saturday. 

“I thought the day went very well, it was better than expected,” said Mary Glynn, vice president of the Irish American Building Society, which hosts the fair. “We reimagined the Great Irish Fair yet again this year, kind of brought it back to grassroots origins.”

The fair mostly stayed true to its traditional activities, featuring Irish step-dancing, Irish-American bands, and of course, great food. For the first time in the fair’s history, the celebration took place at Prospect Park West’s Holy Name of Jesus Parish, rather than at its usual home in Coney Island.

people hold check for futures in education at great irish fair
The Irish American Building Society presented a check to Futures in Education for $30,000.  Arthur de Gaeta

“We were a little nervous that maybe it wouldn’t be as fabulous, but it worked out so well,” Glynn said. “The property is fabulous. Holy Name parish has a beautiful property, they have two different schools.”

Previously, the annual event was held at the Coney Island Amphitheater, but when it returned in-person last year after a virtual event in 2020, the group found visitors weren’t coming to the event in the same numbers they were prior.

“The Coney Island Amphitheater is beautiful, it’s huge, it’s a great place for a concert, but it was just too big for the fair the crowds aren’t what they were before the pandemic,” Glynn told Brooklyn Paper. “We’re still putting it together to bring the crowds back in and some people may still be a little nervous [to be in crowds].”

The new location was the perfect size for them to get back to what they once were — a small neighborhood festival for families starting with a mass at the church and lots of fun afterward.

“We brought it back to its grassroots, that fun family festival that takes place in the neighborhood and you go with your friends and your family and you bring the kids along,” Glynn said. “So it really had that family day atmosphere to it.” 

men pose for a picture
Members of the Irish American Building Society and Brooklyn Diocese pose with former state Senator Marty Golden. Arthur de Gaeta

Organizers built a stage for the lineup of performers featuring The Screaming Orphans, The Hambones, The Diddley Idols, Dawn Doherty School of Music, Susan and Gerard, fan favorites the Canny Brothers Band, and Irish dancers from The O’Malley Dance Academy and Buckley School of Irish Dance. 

“The Great Irish Fair is so special because of the music and the dancing, so we bring in the bands and they all kind of have their Irish roots in the traditional Irish music,” Glynn told Brooklyn Paper. “The Screaming Orphans bring in that rock and roll to the traditional music. The Canny Brothers, they’re originally from Brooklyn. Everybody loves them, they’re just fabulous.” 

A big crowd hit was The Siege of Ennis, an Irish song where dancers switch partners throughout the routine, which Glynn said was new this year and a fun opportunity to meet new people. 

“The Siege of Ennis is a traditional dance that was done in dance halls in New York City, across New York City, back in the day, and of course in Ireland, Glynn said. “It’s line dancing for the Irish community. It’s interaction, you dance along and the line progresses. You always need a new partner or a different person and you don’t know that person.” 

The pint-sized fairgoers were entertained by bouncy houses, getting their faces painted and by the tricks of a magician who joined in on the festivities. 

great irish fair honorees pose in irish flag sashes
Three of the 2022 Great Irish Fair honorees pose for a picture. Arthur de Gaeta

“They had bouncy castles, I did walk by just to make sure everybody was happy and they all seem to be having so much fun. Laughing,” Glynn said. “There was a magician, there was face painting, and there was cotton candy so the kids had a fantastic time.” 

Glynn said she hopes it’s a day to remember for the kids as a fun end to their summer and the start of the school year, and somewhere they will take their own families when they grow up.

“For 42 years, people will remember parents bringing children and you always have these ideas: the end of the summer, we’re going into fall, school is starting but we have the Great Irish Fair to look forward to,” Glynn said. “We’re just going to be singing and dancing into the fall and the new school season and the kids just kind of remember and then hopefully as they get older, they come back to the fair with their families.”

The Great Irish Fair has celebrated the Irish community and provided fun for people of all ages for more thn 40 years. Arthur de Gaeta

Each year, the fair honors a group of people for their contributions to Brooklyn’s Irish community. This year’s honorees included Reagan Murphy as Colleen Queen, Monsignor John Vesey, and Jerry McCabe, who received the Celtic Cross Award.

Jim Houlihan, the beloved owner and bartender of Farrell’s Bar and Grill in Windsor Terrace who spent 20 years behind the bar before retiring in 2019, had been selected to serveas the 2022 Chief Brehon. Houlihan passed away on Sept. 17, just days before the fair. 

Glynn said he was greatly missed that day, and still held onto his post in spirit. 

james houlihan at farrell's bar and grill
James “Jimmy” Houlihan, longtime owner and bartender at Farrell’s Bar and Grill in Park Slope, died on Sept. 17 at 83 years old. File photo by Colin Mixson

“He passed away last week, so he was the first Chief Brehon to be honored posthumously but he was supposed to be there,” Glynn said “I don’t really think they expected him to pass away a week, before so it was hard.” 

The Irish American Building Society also presented a $30,000 check to Futures of Education, a charitable arm of the Brooklyn Diocese, which provides financial aid scholarships to Catholic school students in Brooklyn and Queens who are the most in need.