It’s the best time of year to visit “USA’s Ireland”
This charming little community in the heart of West Virginia pays tribute to its Emerald Isle namesake every spring. But Ireland’s roots run deeper than just the Irish Spring Festival.
Ireland residents Denton and Sandy King gave a presentation about their home turf at the Celtic Calling festival in Charleston recently.
“Ireland was named for one of the area’s earliest settlers, Andrew Wilson, who immigrated here from the other Ireland,” Denton King said. “They say he lived to be 114, so he was called Old Ireland. And when the first post office was established in 1847, residents named the community after him.”
By the early 1980s, Ireland was struggling with a population decline, so the residents set in motion a plan to reclaim their identity and revitalize the area – and that’s when the Irish Spring Festival was born. The event has brought the residents together as they decorate their yards and brainstorm for new festival ideas every year.
While the festival theme is decidedly Irish – the event takes place on the weekend nearest St. Patrick’s Day and includes a 10K “Snake Chase” commemorating when St. Patrick chased the reptiles out of Ireland – there are no hard and fast rules to keeping everything Irish, Sandy King said.
“We had a spaghetti dinner one year and someone asked, ‘Why spaghetti at an Irish festival?’ The answer? ‘Because everybody likes spaghetti!’” she said with a laugh.
The festival does have a few quirky rules, though:
- The parade, called the “March March,” does not allow motor vehicles, but anything else on wheels is encouraged. You might see bicycles, wagons, strollers or even roller skates on the parade route.
- Residents must pledge to attend events regardless of weather – and we all know that March weather is notoriously unpredictable! Past festivals have seen participants on cross-country skis sharing the road with state road snow plows.
- Something new or different must be added to the festival each year. 2017’s new event will be a Quilt Turning, during which festival goers are encouraged to bring their homemade quilts for display in turn with a brief explanation of the history of their piece.
As with every year, there will be plenty of food, games, music and Irish dancing – and did we mention Irish Road Bowling? The sport, brought over from the old country, made its West Virginia debut in this tiny little community (population 200-300), and now there are more than 20 road bowling events throughout the state!
It’s no wonder the sport is so popular here. At roughly 20 square miles, Ireland’s geography is reminiscent of its overseas counterpart, with rolling green hills and quiet country roads. The community has produced several road bowling champions who have gone on to compete in the country of Ireland. (Every 3 years the national finals are held in the Mountain State; Ireland will be the West Virginia host in 2019!)
If you want to experience the charm of Ireland deep in the heart of West Virginia, visit the Irish Spring Festival and bring your hiking shoes so you can join the residents in their annual trek up the hill to kiss the Blarney Rock!