Iowa’s Irish heritage on full display at annual Waterloo Festival | Local News
WATERLOO – The Iowa Irish Fest, now in its 16th year, is truly a cultural event.
From Anton’s Garden to Lincoln Park and every street between and along Fourth Street, Waterloo city center was overrun this weekend by thousands of people who don’t just wear the green and the orange.
This was evident to visitors braving the sweltering heat on Saturday.
There were few imposters.
Andy Duffy, a sailor from USS Iowa SSN 797, read aloud “How Cúchulainn Got His Name” during story time at the family stage outside Anton’s Garden.
“I’m Irish so I know the history pretty well,” he said.
And not too far away, children could become ‘junior archaeologists’ and learn that ‘time is a good storyteller’, as the old Irish saying goes.
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The children won the title by digging in the sand in a fake Irish tower dating back to 1500 AD and uncovering toy pottery, glass, bones, wood and other treasures like a Tara brooch, a famous Irish piece of jewelry .
That’s what Adam Baumann’s 6-year-old daughter, Lydia, was doing at her very first Irish Fest. Having just moved to the area, his family thought it would be something fun to do over the weekend.
Baumann wore a kilt and sported a shirt that read “Real men wear kilts”.
The Garrison Resident acknowledged that the shirt wasn’t just for show.
“It’s because it’s true,” said Baumann, who said he would wear the kilt once in a while. He noted that his wife was primarily Irish.
As Lydia dug through the sand to find a fake bone, the Bill Riley Talent show began on the family stage.
Michael Smith, 11, of Cedar Heights Elementary School, kicked off the contest by singing “The Wanderer” by Dion DiMucci and showing off some dance moves.
While listening to and watching the various acts, attendees were able to witness the 12th Annual “Anything Irish” Photography Competition with the theme of Ireland saturating the art.
It was all part of the activities and entertainment near the Fourth Street Bridge.
All you had to do was take a stroll down Fourth Street to learn about Irish heritage.
Weavers and spinners in northeast Iowa set up a booth to teach the products of various artisans. One was Irish lace, and one lesson explained how poor Irish women began selling it to the wealthy at the height of the Potato Famine to support their families.
“A lot of people don’t realize how important fiber arts are to our history,” said guild member Dee Kruger.
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But there is one aspect of Ireland that the average person will associate with the culture, regardless of their knowledge of it.
If lucky, visitors may encounter the Cedar Glen Pipes and Drums playing and parading down the street. People stop to immerse themselves in the harmonies.
“It’s always fun to get the pipes and drums together to practice while enjoying a little whiskey,” said Mike Knapp, one of the members.
Outside the Elks Club were sailors from USS Iowa SSN 797 and USS The Sullivans DDG 68.
“It brings young and old together to build that sense of community while honoring heritage,” said sailor Kimberly Jones. “We are personally honored and proud to be here, and thank everyone for hosting us. Everyone was kind and supportive and made us feel warm and fuzzy inside.
In Lincoln Park, one of the main attractions was the Highland Games, or what director Matt Faltis called the precursor to modern track and field events.
“Some people think it was the Greeks who started it, but you have to tip the felt to the Irish,” Faltis said.
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People attended traditional sporting events pitting men against women from across the Midwest. One of the events was the Sheaf Toss, in which competitors attempted to throw 20-pound bales of straw (10 for women) over bars 13 to 27 feet high in the air.
“It takes a lot of determination to do this on a hot day,” said Janesville’s Bruce Stotser, who watched from afar.
“But look at those muscles. They are strong,” added his wife, Freddy Stotser.
Among the thousands of visitors and all the food, beer and music was Ken Jacobsen, an Iowan native who traveled from Gold Canyon, Ariz., to Waterloo to soak up the festivities and volunteer.
“I plan my vacation around it,” he said. “We’ve been to all the music festivals, and this is one of the best around. Whether it’s food or music, or just the general friendly vibe, you name it, they’ve got it.
“It’s one of those positive events that puts Waterloo on the map,” he added.
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The Red Hot Chilli Pipers were back to headline Friday night, Gaelic Storm was scheduled for Saturday night and the High Kings close out the festival on Sunday. Additionally, Jacobsen praised the shepherd’s pie sold at Jameson’s Public House.
“It’s better than what they have overseas,” he said, recently returning from an eight-week trip to the UK, Ireland, Norway and Iceland.
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