Irish Fest draws enthusiastic crowds to Crown Center

Eric Dejong and his wife, Leyla, knew exactly what they wanted moments after arriving Saturday at the annual Kansas City Irish Fest.

The two made a beeline to Hamish’s Kitchen, one of numerous food vendors, and grabbed two servings of Scottish eggs — hard-boiled egg with pork sausage, covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried.

“We get it every year; it tastes so good,” said Eric Dejong of Kansas City, North.

An assortment of food, music and culture is featured during the annual three-day festival taking place through Sunday at Crown Center. Organizers estimate this year’s attendance will reach about 100,000, making the annual gathering one the largest Irish festivals in the country.

“Indeed, we sell a lot of beer and there is a lot of music,” said Pat O’Neill, one of the festival’s organizers. “But our mission from the beginning was let’s help people learn more about the Irish culture whether they are Irish or not and beyond the shamrocks and shillelaghs.”

The focus this year is on Northern Ireland and its music, literature and culture. Between the performances, speakers discussed how the region has changed over the years and worked to resolve longstanding conflicts, O’Neill said.

A steady stream of music flowed from seven stages positioned throughout the festival area. Children frolicked on giant air slides, inside an assortment of bounce houses and through other inflatables at Washington Square Park. Also featured there were art exhibits and a traditional Irish music stage.

O’Neill said the annual event has become an ethnic festival and draws a large multiracial and multicultural crowd.

“We are not Irish but there is no reason why we couldn’t come out,” said Rauchelle Davis, who brought her 4-year-old son, Mason, to the festival. “I thought it would be a good experience for him.”

Mass, an annual tradition at the festival, will be said at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Organizers began having the service 11 years ago when the festival moved to Crown Center. The service has grown from 400 to close to 2,000, O’Neill said.

“It is an engaging and beautiful spectacle,” he said. “And then we’ll have doughnuts and coffee for 2,000 people.”

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.