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Pittsburgh Irish Festival revelers celebrate Celtic traditions |

Pittsburgh Irish Festival revelers celebrate Celtic traditions

Elizabeth Behrman
| Sunday, September 11, 2016 5:54 p.m
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Lily Cunningham, 13, of Wexford plays with the Balmoral Pipe and Drum Band under the direction of Pipe Major George Balderose of Manchester (right) at the annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival in West Homestead Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Cunningham has played the bagpipes for two years after taking a course with Balderose at Duquesne University.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Adam Filla, 8, of Lincoln Place, strikes a pose at the photographer at the annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival in West Homestead Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Socks in the Frying Pan perform at the annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival in West Homestead Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. The trio of traditional Irish Musicians are based in Co. Clare in the West of Ireland.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Michael Patrick, 5, of Finleyville, walks through a tent of vendors selling Irish themed wares with his family at the annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival in West Homestead Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Devin Hanna, 4, left, and his brother James Hanna, 7, of the West End dance with their cousin Callie McArdle, 18 months, at the annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival in West Homestead Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Katie Janeiro, 10, of Monroeville, does a celtic dance on stage with the Balmoral Highlands Pipe and Drum Band under the pipe major George Balderose, of Manchester at the annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival in West Homestead Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Janeiro has danced for three years at the Thompson Studio of Scottish Dance in Monroeville.

Adam Valenti has been playing the bagpipes ever since he picked the instrument for a project in middle school.

Every year, he takes in the sights and sounds of the Pittsburgh Irish Festival, which he loves not only because he gets to perform and listen to some good bagpipe music, but because it helps celebrate the local Celtic tradition.

“The Irish just have this strong connection to their heritage,” said Valenti, of Cranberry, as he watched a friend perform with the Pittsburgh Police Emerald Society pipes and drums ensemble on Sunday afternoon.

The Pittsburgh Irish Festival, held at the Riverplex in West Homestead, draws more than 25,000 people annually. On Sunday, the crowd made their way around the park carrying cups of Guinness and Bailey’s-flavored ice cream cones. Dance groups and musicians performed on multiple stages.

Jan Griffith, who has worked as a festival staff member for two years, noted that visitors stopped first at her station after they made their way through the front gate and past the main stage. She sent out an email a few weeks ago and got multiple responses from people willing to bring their Irish breed dogs to the festival. That afternoon there were two Wheaten Terriers, a young Irish Setter and a shy Wolfhound named Knox greeting the festival-goers.

“Nobody is keeping score, but we think it’s the best,” Griffith said as she watched a crowd of people venture toward the pups and past a sign warning kilt-wearers about the dogs’ cold noses.

After a quick stop to see the Irish dogs, Ellanora Ramsey and Vince Clements of Trafford wandered over to the nearby genealogy tent, where staff members gave Ramsey some tips about tracking her mother’s family tree.

She had been struggling because her mother’s maiden name is Kelly, a very common Irish name, Ramsey said. The volunteers gave her some tips on how to distinguish her family from all the other Kellys in Ireland.

“I think it will really help,” she said.

Griffith, who also is a committee member for the Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day parade, said the Irish festival always draws people from all across the area, even those who aren’t of Irish descent. On Saturday night, the park was full of revelers dressed in Pitt and Penn State gear.

“They love the dancing, they love the music — everything about it,” Griffith said. “It’s just fun.”

Elizabeth Behrman is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. She can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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