The History of the Liverpool Irish Festival

Liverpool is a vibrant and culturally rich city. Its cultural identity has developed over 800 years with major inputs from our long established Black, Chinese, and Irish communities, producing an exceptional multi–cultural identity which is both national and international.

The appreciation and celebration of the unique links between Liverpool and Ireland were primary motives for the creation of the Liverpool Irish Festival in 2003. Late in 2002 John Chandler returned from playing guitar at the Ennis Trad music Festival in County Clare with an idea that was reinforced during a dinner party with some of his Liverpool Irish friends held, by chance, a week later. Shortly after, John established a Board to form the Liverpool Irish Festival Society and create the charitable company.

The idea was to create a permanent, annual, event to celebrate the Irish contribution to Liverpool’s cultural identity and heritage. The Festival would include performance, participation, entertainment and education in Irish traditions, music, literature, theatre, and art and reflect their significance in defining Liverpool as a great European city. The ambition was that the Festival would develop to take its place among the world’s leading arts and music festivals.

The Liverpool Culture Company and Arts Council helped fund the inaugural Festival, which was held over four days in October 2003. It produced over twenty, largely musical, events headlined by local singer/songwriter Anthony John Clarke and the traditional band, ‘Garva’, with Tom Paulin heading a strong line-up of poets.

A more substantial series of events was delivered over 10 days the following year, headlined by Christy Moore’s appearance at the Philharmonic Hall, which had now become a partner organisation.

By 2005 the Festival had grown to secure its status as one of the Liverpool Culture Company’s regularly funded organisations and it was able to recruit a part-time Festival manager for the first time. The late Dinesh Allirajah co-ordinated nearly sixty events that October with Christy Moore again returning to Liverpool to headline alongside such events as the National Theatre production of Brian Friel’s ‘Translations’ at the Everyman Theatre and the premiere of Pearse Elliott’s film, ‘The Mighty Celt’.

In 2006 the Festival delivered over sixty events over three weeks in October, including performances by Van Morrison, plays by Donal O’Kelly, and Jimmy McGovern in conversation with the BBC’s Roger Phillips at FACT. Since then, the Festival’s focus has been sharpened over a concentrated 10-day period each October with an emphasis on bold, creative programming, delivering something for everyone and enabling the participation of local people as users and providers of arts and cultural services.

The organisation can now draw upon a substantial mix of experience and expertise to support a broad range of activities. It delivers more than fifty events each year in an exciting eclectic programme, making them accessible and affordable to all visitors to the region and the community and now reaching (in 2015) an audience of 20,000. The Liverpool Irish Festival‘s unique focus, now led by Emma Smith, keeps it on course to build on its successes and fulfil its lofty ambition from 2003 to become one of the world’s leading arts and music festivals.

John Chandler, Chair of the Board, 1 Sept 2016

Liverpool Irish Festival is a member of COoL, a diverse collective of key arts organisations in Liverpool: championing the arts; changing perceptions; creating possibilities.

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COoL (Creative Organisations of Liverpool) logo