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1981 Milwaukee Irish Fest

Milwaukee Irish Fest opened its gates for the first time at 4 p.m. on Friday, August 21, 1981 with four stages of entertainment, a children’s area and special events. The morning started with a promotional kickoff with a waiter’s race outside the downtown Hyatt Hotel, hosted by Mr. Basketball, Marquette University coaching personality Al McGuire. Three days of sunshine ensued, and the first festival was a hit with around 40,000 in attendance.

Headlining acts included Carmel Quinn, John Gary, Green Fields of America, De Danann, Joe Feeney, Kevin Burke and Michael O’Domnhaill. In 1981 and at other early Irish Fests, we had many barbershop quartets, bluegrass groups, cloggers and choral groups. The Geary Irish Dancers performed.

Special events included the County Executive’s walk across the Dan Hoan Bridge over the Milwaukee Harbor, parades, Irish traditional music workshops, pipe smoking contest, pram race, wandering troupes and performers, baking contest, mass and a dart tournament. At 9:30pm on Saturday fest-goers enjoyed the Milwaukee County fireworks. The Irish/Scottish Sing-Off made its debut and continued for many years.

The festival had four music stages and a children's area. Total expenses for the first festival were over $290,000 with a profit of about $4,000 after expenses. The board decided to proceed with the festival in 1982.

Parades through the grounds were held and on Sunday a mass for Justice and Peace was celebrated. These continue today and are two of the popular events within Milwaukee Irish Fest.

1981 Fun Facts

  • Days: August 21, 22, 23
  • Attendance: 40,153
  • Miller Stage
  • Pabst Stage
  • Schlitz Stage
  • Children's Stage
  • Ceili Dancing
  • Daily Parade
  • Roaming Theatre Companies
  • Cultural Exhibit Near Pabst Stage
  • Grafton Street Marketplace
  • Music Workshops
  • Mass
  • Contests


1981 Entertainment Highlights

  • Carmel Quinn
  • De Danann
  • Green Fields of America
  • Joe Feeney
  • John Gary
  • Kevin Burke and Michael O'Domnhaill
  • Red Clay Ramblers

1981 Milwaukee Irish Fest Media

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