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The Great American Irish Festival Celebrates Celtic Heritage in the Mohawk Valley

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

The Great American Irish Festival, affectionately known to its many fans as The GAIF, will return to the Herkimer County Fairgrounds for its 16th year July 26-28, 2019.

House of Hamill, Great American Irish Festival, 2018
House of Hamill plays lively fiddle tunes at GAIF 2018.

Longtime fans of the festival will be glad to hear it’s back to three days this year after an experiment with two days last year. The Sunday Mass will also return to the fairgrounds and the Ranger Run 5K race will move to a Sunday time slot. Otherwise, the festival will feature all the best sights and sounds it has in past years with a few surprises.

The Music

The GAIF has a long reputation for attracting some of the hottest acts in Celtic music, and this year will be just as entertaining with a total of 22 different groups including The High Kings, We Banjo 3, Young Dubliners, Screaming Orphans and many more. Local favorites will also perform, among them Arise & Go, Donal O’Shaughnessy, and Craobh Dugan. Blarney Rebel Band will perform for the volunteer party. For a full list of bands and to sign up to be a volunteer, see the GAIF website at

Enter the Haggis, Great American Irish Festival 2018
Enter the Haggis performs on the Contemporary Stage.

The Culture

Although music fills every minute of the festival, there are many other things to do and see as well. The GAIF’s Cultural Building will serve as a mini-museum with displays about Irish poetry, Aran knitting, Irish language, and the history of Irish immigrants in the Mohawk Valley. Festival-goers will be able to ask a professional genealogist about tracing their Irish ancestry, get a nametag with their own name in Irish, and see how a thatch roof works.

“Craobh Dugan is looking forward to heading up the GAIF Cultural Building this year,” said Chris Hoke, Craobh Dugan’s president. “We love hosting the Saturday evening open session and are hopeful that some of the band musicians will join us. Also, we have a few fun surprises in store.”

The Shoppes of the Emerald Isle building will be fully stocked with a wide array of Celtic jewelry, Tartan kilts, Aran sweaters, T-shirts with humorous sayings, and all sorts of gift items.

Embracing Scottish along with Irish culture, the festival will host a bagpipe band competition culminating in the annual massed pipe band march around the fairgrounds on Saturday. And at the traditional Highland Games, you can watch muscular men and women hurl extremely heavy items like stones, hammers, and cabers. Cabers are wooden poles ranging in length from 16 – 22 feet and in weight from 70 – 180 pounds.

Mohawk Valley Frasers GAIF 2018
The Mohawk Valley Frasers lead the annual Massed Pipe Band March.

Heavy Games, Highland Games, GAIF
Feats of strength abound at the Highland Heavy Games.

The Community

One of the most endearing qualities of the GAIF is its sense of welcome and community. The Irish call it “craic”. Whether you have a drop of Irish DNA or not, and no matter what age you are, you’ll find someone to sing or dance with. The event is a fun outing for families with something to offer each generation. There’s even a special area for the kids called the Wee Zone where they can check out critters on the Utica Zoomobile, snack on popcorn and slushies, and do arts and crafts. Kids and animal lovers of all ages can also meet members of the Irish canine clan at the Dogs of Ireland booth.

The Ranger Run 5K, which takes a path around the fairgrounds on Sunday morning before the festival opens, also includes a ½ mile run for kids.


The GAIF packs its entry tickets with value, but if you want even more, you can buy additional tickets for the Whiskey Tasting, VIP backstage experience, and the Sip and Paint session on Saturday which includes all the necessary painting supplies and a drink to sip.

GAIF Sip and Paint
Artists create beautiful Celtic paintings at the Sip and Paint at GAIF 2018.

Food and Drink

Needless to say, no one will go hungry or thirsty at the festival. Food truck vendors will offer Irish favorites like Rueben sandwiches and Irish fries and the usual festival fare like hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, and funnel cakes. To wash it all down, the beer tent will keep the Guinness, White Claw, Saranac Irish Red, 1911 Blueberry Cider, and Utica Club flowing. And for those who prefer, wine and wine slushies will also be available.

It’s a little known fact that this entire festival is completely organized and run by volunteers. The 52 members of the planning committee meet year-round to schedule, plan, and organize the bands, vendors, step dancers, cultural exhibits and other activities, as well as details like security, parking, and publicity. Their ultimate goal has always been to raise funds for the construction of the Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley in Utica, which is nearly complete. But there are other reasons. The GAIF Committee members and festival volunteers love their culture and want to share it. Plus they enjoy the feeling of camaraderie and the friendships that grow from working together to make the festival better each year.

Discounted advance sale tickets for the GAIF are available on the GAIF website now and beginning July 1 at area Price Chopper stores. You’ll also find detailed schedules, race registration, photo contest submission forms, campsite reservations, an extensive FAQ page, and much more on the website at


Details for Your Planning Purposes

Great American Irish Festival

Herkimer County Fairgrounds, Frankfort, NY

July 26, 4:30-11:00pm

July 27, 11:00am-11:00pm

July 28, 11:30am-5:00pm

Also on July 28

Ranger Kids 1/2 Mile Run, 8:00am

Ranger Run 5K, 8:30am

Irish Mass, 10:00am


Friday: $15 ($18 at the gate)

Saturday: $18 ($20 at the gate)

Sunday: $10 ($10 at the gate)

Those attending Mass can be reimbursed their $10 admission fee if they choose not to stay at the festival afterward.

Weekend Pass: $35 (only available in advance)


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