The Dublin Irish Festival will be packing an extra punch this year.
The festival, which began in 1988, has a long-standing tradition of keeping true to Irish culture. From a traditional Sunday morning Irish Mass and a sheep herding competition to food vendors providing Irish baked goods and traditional Celtic foods, the festival does all it can to help attendees connect to the City of Dublin’s namesake.
This time around, festival-goers and Celtic sports fanatics alike will be introduced to pugilistic pursuits with the Irish Amateur Boxing Showcase.
The showcase will be held during the afternoon of Aug. 2, the three-day festival’s final day, at the Greenfields Sports Area.
“We try to bring as many authentic Irish experiences to the festival as possible,” says Mary Jo DiSalvo, event marketing administrator for the City of Dublin. “You can see boxing depicted in Irish films and other popular culture, so that’s partly why (we wanted to include it). Cultural authenticity is one of our overriding missions.”
When picturing traditional Irish boxing, one may think of stereotypes such as bare knuckles and street fighting. But rest assured, competitors will be wearing gloves and protective head gear and following Olympic-style rules, says boxing coach Rob Pilger.
Pilger, who owns Pilger’s Old Skool Boxing & Fitness Academy and serves as Dublin Irish Festival boxing match liaison, says he and a friend approached festival directors with the idea of a boxing competition.
“We thought it was a nice centerpiece to add to the festival,” Pilger says. “Boxing has a deep history in Irish culture, and it would be a good opportunity to showcase the sport, talk about the Irish fighters over the years and give everyone a good boxing competition.”
Jeremy Gerstacker, events coordinator for the City of Dublin, says the City was also inspired by a display from the Ward Irish Music Archives from the Milwaukee Irish Festival. The traveling exhibit features Irish and Irish American boxers who popularized the sport in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“A couple people suggested we (include boxing),” Gerstacker says. “(Ireland) is one of the most successful boxing nations ever.”
The showcase will feature six to 10 matches, depending on the amount of time available and the weather. As an amateur showcase, each match will have three three-minute rounds.
Pilger says featured boxers will range in age from late teens to 20s. There will be plenty of Ohio talent, including Toledo Golden Gloves tournament champions, some local youth around the Dublin area, high-level amateur fighters and even some fighters from Pittsburgh. DiSalvo says organizers are also looking to include boxers with Irish heritage.
The showcase will be in good company. Other Irish sports featured at the festival this year include the Amateur Highland Games, which features more than 40 athletes competing in the stone put, weight throw, caber toss, sheaf toss and weight over bar; a sheep herding demonstration by a local shepherd and his dogs; Irish road bowling and darts. Pilger and the City of Dublin hope to see the Irish Amateur Boxing Showcase take off.
“We anticipate it only to grow,” Pilger says.
DiSalvo says the first year of bringing something new to the Irish Festival is always a test. Directors aim to see how festival guests respond, and what they like and don’t like. If it goes well, DiSalvo says, they could expand on what worked. Though the showcase is only taking place on Sunday, in the future it could have a larger time slot.
“Our hope is to test it out, and see what it feels like,” DiSalvo says, adding that the city gives guests surveys every year to learn about what did and didn’t work. “We take those surveys very seriously when we program for the next year.”
The showcase will include a little more than just the competition. There will also be on-site presentations, including one by an Irish boxer who, between matches, will share boxing history and fun facts and answer audience questions, DiSalvo says. The display from the Ward Irish Music Archives that inspired the showcase will be included throughout the weekend.
“It’ll be a lot of fun,” DiSalvo says. “We’re going to make sure it’s family-friendly and something that will be palpable to the general masses.”
Visit www.dublinirishfestival.org for more information on the Dublin Irish Festival and Irish Amateur Boxing Showcase.