Irish block party puts crowd in jiggy mood

It’s the luck of the Alaskans to have the honor of the Irish.

Downtown Anchorage celebrated its fifth annual Galway Days Festival Aug. 6. And people did celebrate. Smiles were on every face, hot dogs were in every hand and the music was in everyone’s feet.

The live folk music of many countries, including Ireland, England and Scotland, could be heard blocks from G Street, where the festival took place. The welcoming sounds of music and laughter drew people from all over to check out the free festival.

From tiny tots to great grandpops, members and visitors of the community were on stage dancing to the music. Some were experts, others learned as they went. Everyone was having a blast.

Performer and Galway, Ireland native Charlie Piggott loved the idea of it being a free festival.

“It’s perfect. It’s grand,” he said enthusiastically.

Piggott travels the world playing at festivals such as this. Some consider him to be one of Ireland’s best button-accordion players specializing in the old style. He’s also renowned for his expertise on the fife and fiddle.

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Piggott, who helped found the groups De Dannan and The Lonely Stranded Band, has two loves: music and the environment. Piggott holds a doctorate in biochemistry from Galway University. Aside from performing at festivals, most of Piggott’s time is spent studying and researching ways to help the environment.

John Russell, a new Alaska resident of only four months, said he enjoyed the ambiance.

“It definitely reminds me a lot of Galway. It’s very much like it,” he said.

Russell said everything at the festival was true to the country, which he called home for 10 years – the people, the excitement, the laughter and the dancers.

“It really brings a smile to peoples’ faces,” said Suzi Fowley, the coordinator of the festival and owner of Suzi’s Woollies. Her face glowed with satisfaction as she watched hundreds of people walking through and enjoying the festival.

“It’s like you go there [Ireland] and you’re home,” Fowley said, as she gave hugs and kisses on cheeks to many people walking by her.

“The Irish are a very inclusive people,” she said. “But what I really enjoy about this festival is that everyone gets involved.”

People of all ages were enjoying the festival. Many UAA students were there scoping out the free entertainment.

Freshman Jessie Leonard attended the festival, not knowing what to expect.

“The Galway Festival really gave me an inside to the Irish culture,” Leonard said.

“It definitely gave me a better understanding of their culture and I truly respect their way of life.”