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  • Writer's pictureKathy Stockbridge

Irish By Choice - How Listening to My 'Elders' Changed Life as I Knew It

I will begin this by saying, I very well could be Irish. But who knows?!!! My mother was adopted and I know little of her background, so I could have ancestors from Ireland. It would explain a lot. If I was to be asked, I would respond that "Yes, Yes I am choice". I don't know what it is about the country, the music, the customs, the food, and the people; but I have a kindred tie to it somehow. It draws me in and brings a peace to my heart in such a mystical way.

It began twenty years ago when my son was born on March 17th. Yep, he has some Irish in him on his father's side so how fitting was it for my boy to be born on St. Patrick's Day? I now see it was a bit of foreshadowing of what was in store for me many years later. Who knew that in 2007 my life would change forever with the visit to the Great American Irish Festival.

I had heard of the Great American Irish Festival before, however I had never been as it was always being held the same weekend as our local Honor America Days here in Rome.

One Sunday, a friend who happened to be Irish, brought me along with his folks to see some bands and have some eats. We would wander into a large tent and sit down to see a new band called, The Elders play, and life as I knew it would never be the same. It would be here that my life literally changed forever, and this moment would wind around to touch the lives of so many others as well. I was blown away by their music, their energy, and the whole experience of this single performance. It would be the first year they played here, and it would be shortly after this that I would reach out to them with an idea I had.

At the time I was the Site Coordinator for a Department Of Justice program called "Weed & Seed". This grass roots program was designed to weed out criminal activities and seed with positive alternatives through community collaboration. One of our founding members, Prudy Ellinger, who epitomized community had recently passed away, and we had talked about establishing a scholarship in her name. My thought was to have an annual concert to raise money for the scholarship. This is when I knew somehow The Elders, my team of volunteers, and I could transform Rome in no way it had before and make a mark as Prudy had in so many lives.

After talking my Board into believing in me and my crazy idea, we took a chance and with a collaborative effort and some amazing help from both Bonnie Eyre and Al Sisti from the Great American Irish Festival, and Tom Powers from the Celtic Harp, our local YMCA, as well as so many generous sponsors and volunteers, we were able to pack The Rome Capitol Theatre in the middle of January. For the next five years, we would welcome our friends from Kansas City, MO back to the great white north, sometimes with only moments to spare due to weather conditions!!! We also featured some sensational friends at the event giving our audiences a truly Celtic experience, i.e. The Butler Sheehan Dancers, Scott Rutledge's Holy Cross Choir, the Rome City School District 8th Grade Choir, the Blarney Rebel Band, and Searson; and through this collaborative effort we raised enough money to help a graduating senior each and every year for more than 25 years. Just as Prudy would have wanted!!!

As my grant program came to an end so did our concerts, but it didn't end there for me. Over the course of the next eleven years, I would find myself growing my photography business and covering shows at the Great American Irish Festival and helping out my friends at The Syracuse Irish Festival capture the amazing moments with this band as well as so many more amazing performers.

The friendships I established with the band, their families, other fans, other bands, and my friends at the festivals, have developed into a new family for me, a family of kindred spirits. Each of them hold such a special place in my heart and have changed me in so many ways for the better. All because I walked into a tent.

In 2016, as my son went off to college, I finally had the opportunity to go on my first adventure with the lads (and lass) as they embarked on their Ireland Tour. This had been an annual trip that I had longed to join them on for many years, however as a single mom I couldn't do it until this moment. It would be here I would discover the most magical place in the world, Ireland. The very first day there I would experience an unexplained spiritual moment. One that will have to wait for another blog, but let's just say, I do believe I met an angel with a message to set me on a new journey on this life changing trip.

As I begin my annual countdown to the Great American Irish Festival this week I urge you to come see what it's all about. The Great American Irish Festival is a special event, completely volunteer run, and this year will be the final year my friends, The Elders (who are retiring this year), will play... so you must come. If you aren't in our area, they have several other shows scheduled all over the country so please look them up and make a special point to go and see them when they come to your neck of the woods. Tell them Kitty sent you!!

But if you are in our area, I'm just going to leave this schedule below for you in the event you need some enticement.!!!! What, what?!!! It's like we stacked both tents with the best of the best. So hope to see you all there, rain or shine. And trust me when I say, the rain doesn't dampen the spirits at all!!!

Till then my friends.





Friday, July 27th

Contemporary Stage

5:00 – 6:10       American Rogues 6:40 – 7:50       Enter The Haggis 8:20 – 9:30       We Banjo 3 10:00 – 11:10    The Elders

Traditional Stage

5:00 – 5:50       Moxie Strings 6:10 – 7:10        Gothard Sisters 7:50 – 8:50       Arise & Go 9:10 – 10:10      Searson

Saturday, July 28th

Pipe Band Competition starts at 12:00

Contemporary Stage

11:30 – 12:40    Blarney Rebel Band 1:00 – 2:10       Searson 2:30 – 3:40       1916 4:00 – 5:00      American Rogues 5:00 – 5:45 Massed Pipe Band March 5:45 – 7:20       Barleyjuice 7:50 – 9:20       Enter the Haggis 9:50 – 11:00     The Elders

Traditional Stage

11:00 – 12:20   Craobh Dugan 12:45 – 1:35      Triskele 1:55 – 2:45        Stoutmen 3:00- 3:55        Donal O’Shaughnessy 4:10 – 5:00      House of Hamill

5:00 – 5:45      Massed Pipe Band March 5:45 – 6:35      Moxie Strings 7:00 – 7:50      Gothard Sisters 8:10 – 9:00      Hair of the Dog 9:20 – 10:10     Searson

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