The pipes beckon with spirit

Irish pride is on full display at annual festival


As the calendar turns to fall, it’s time once again to share in the delights of all things Irish at the annual Feis and Irish Festival, presented by the Nassau County Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

The annual spectacle is a beloved tradition that brings out visitors and participants to enthusiastically partake in a lively celebration of dance, music, piping, drumming, language, and athletics known as a feis (pronounced fesh).

The dancers are ready and the pipes are calling all to the 51st edition of the festival at Nickerson Beach on Sunday, Sept. 17, beginning at 9 a.m.

It retains the distinction of being a full feis in the traditional meaning of that term, according to Nassau AOH, in that it showcases not only Irish step dancing competitions (many hundreds of dancers are expected this year), but also a full menu of Gaelic bagpiping, traditional Irish music and song, Irish language activities, games, sports, and even Irish soda bread baking.


Sharing centuries of tradition

From as far back as 18th century Ireland, communities would come together for special festivals of dance and music — involving competitions, laughter and good times. That tradition continues here, where the AOH’s eight strong divisions organize competitions of dance and piping, bestowing awards on the best.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians has presented Nassau County with its annual feis since 1972, celebrating Irish culture and history.

The Nassau AOH welcomes everyone to enjoy its traditional dance and piping competitions, along with an Irish Marketplace, featuring all sorts of Irish-related goods and treats for sale. And there’s a special area for the kids. And since it’s a Sunday, Mass will be said at noon.

It’s a day that highlights the always vibrant, age-old Irish traditions, with all eyes on those high-stepping lasses. The dance competitions make this the premiere feis in the New York metro region, a showcase of some the finest Irish dancers in the area (and beyond), which also attracts pipers from all over to perform.

The sheer energy of the step dancers fascinates the many visitors who come just to see them being judged. The dancers perform intricate steps, often arrayed in dazzlingly colorful outfits, dancing jigs, reels, hornpipes and set dances. Winners move on to national competition and even international competitions.

This year’s festival honors Tim Myles, a National Life Member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, Division 14, in Lynbrook/Rockville Centre. 

“I am honored and humbled to be chosen for this position, alongside many great Hibernians in past years, including a bishop and congressman who have been the honoree,” Myles says. “I have been involved in the feis for over 30 years, but most proud of the 10 years I ran the dancing competition. I oversaw entries go from 240 competitors to over 8O0 dancers, thanks to Riverdance. Please come out and support Irish culture, because if we don’t, who will?”

Myles, who retired from Long Island Rail Road 10 years ago, is devoted to supporting the Irish community at large. Among his many efforts, he serves on Rockville Centre’s St. Patrick’s Parade Committee and on the board of Molloy University’s Irish Studies Institute.

Other festival enticements include Gaelic bagpiping, along with traditional music and song. Individual musicians demonstrate their talents and compete for prizes on a number of instruments — including the fiddle, tin whistle, flute, accordion, all forms of bagpipes, drums and keyboards, or any other instrument of their choice. Singers do the same, and judges have been known to award extra points for songs sung in the Irish language.

The Irish soda bread judging, a perennial favorite, is also one of the most hotly contested events of the day. There are as many styles of Irish soda bread as there are bakers.

And, of course, the beach beckons. Bring a picnic lunch and settle in for a taste of Irish culture and hospitality.