The Friendly Sons

and It's Tradition of the Feis

    The Feis, an ancient Irish traditions going back a thousand years before the birth of Christ was first held on the hill of Tara called "Teamhair na Riogh". And so it was in the early 1970ís that the Friendly Sons carried on this ancient tradition.

Pat Connor has been credited with the idea of the Friendly Sons of Shillelagh hosting a Feis in central New Jersey and Paul Smith was appointed as the chairman of the first feis.

It would be a gross understatement to call the Feis a tremendous undertaking, it was a SPECTACULAR, one Cecil B. DeMille would have been proud to create. A committee was formed to research the tasks that had to be accomplished and then, somehow do them. The professionalism and enthusiasm of the committee soon produced results.

Funds to initially finance the Feis were pledged by the Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh executive board. Additional funds from the Ad Book and Competitors were arriving on a daily basis.

The enthusiasm spread rapidly to the Friendly Sons of Shillelagh membership and it seemed that every member was contributing in one way or another.

Freehold Raceway was rented and we prayed for a sunny day. A press release was mailed and the membership took on the task of building massive stages for the hundreds of dancers. The pipers tuned up, and May 15, 1971 arrived. It was a beautiful day. (Thank you again, Lord)

Thousands of visitors attended and the Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh once again rallied. Had the Hill of Tara ever hosted such a sight?

The fiddlers, the pipers, the 1375 dancers, the drums. What incredible music! There was such an aura of happiness at Freehold Raceway that day in May. The decision was made to continue this great Irish Festival and Scottish Games in future years.

The Friendly Sons Feis was the Feis in which to compete and in one feis visitors arrived from 21 states, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada. The Feis in 1974 had 1463 dancers compete for prizes. Three more Feiseanna were held in Freehold Raceway. The respective dates of the Friendly Sons Irish Feis and Scottish Games were:

May 15, 1971

June 24, 1972

June, 17,1973

July 14, 1974

About the same time as we were conducting our own games at Freehold Raceway, the Garden State Parkway Authority was beginning to form itís own ethnic festivals at the Garden State Arts Center and naturally came looking to us for support in promoting itís Irish Festival. As a Club we joined in and began promoting this festival which continues to this day.

Among the many accomplishments of the Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh of Old Bridge over the past 30 years in connection with the Arts Festival was helping Senator John P. Gallagher, then Chairman of the New Jersey Highway Authority, present the first Heritage Festival ever held at the Garden State Arts Center on Sunday, July 24, 1971.

Representing the organization that first year on the Irish Festival Committee were the late Jack Williams, Jerry Kennedy, and Robert Trachman. Freg Duggan helped arrange the colorful Irish Pipe and Drum Band competition which has continued to be highlight of these Festivals.

Each of these men continued to support the Irish Festival in those formative years, and the Club was host to early organizational meetings.

"The program in which you will be taking part today is one of the most significant in the history of the Garden State Arts Center," said Gallagher in his message of welcome at the first Irish Festival. "The Irish community of New Jersey has received the single honor of being the first such group to organize this experimental program."

"Todayís event is also important since proceeds will benefit various school children and senior citizen groups who attend free performances from Spring through Fall."

This "Great Day for the Irish" continues with the support of the Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh who come out in good numbers on the last Sunday of every June when the Irish Festival is held at the Garden State Arts Center . Many of New Jerseyís other ethnic groups have presented Arts Center Festivals since 1971, but there is something special about the Irish Day, and we can be proud of it.






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