Stepping Out

The pipes beckon in spirited style

Nassau County’s Irish Festival returns to Nickerson Beach

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Fall’s arrival brings about that delightful celebration of all things Irish, the Nassau County Feis and Irish Festival. The annual spectacle is a cherished tradition that gathers visitors and participants who enthusiastically partake in that most time-honored celebration of Irish 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 Ancient Order of Hibernians’ 45th Annual Feis at Nickerson Beach Park, in Lido Beach, on Sunday, Sept. 17, beginning at 9 a.m.

The Nassau County Feis, according to the AOH, retains the rare distinction of being a full feis in the traditional meaning of that term, in that it showcases not only Irish step dancing competitions (over 500 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 baking.

Everyone — including the kids — will find plenty to keep them occupied all day long along with plenty of food and beverages.

Settle in for the day, ready to experience the age-old traditions of this fascinating event. Both the AOH and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians of Nassau County sponsor the feis.

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 custom continues here in Nassau County, where the AOH’s eight strong divisions organize competitions of dance and piping and bestow awards on the best.

Since 1972, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has presented Nassau County with its annual feis, sharing Irish culture and history, held every year in September.

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 a special area for the kids.

And since it’s a Sunday, mass will be said at noon.

It’s a day that focuses on the always vibrant Irish culture. The dance competition showcases some the finest Irish dancers in the New York metropolitan area, and pipers from all around come to perform. The sheer energy of the step dancers fascinates the many visitors who come just to see them being judged, so that they can move on to the championships. The dancers perform intricate steps, often arrayed in dazzlingly colorful outfits, dancing jigs, reels, hornpipes and set dances. Winners from last year’s feis continue on to national competition and even international competitions.

Other highlights include Gaelic bagpiping and 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.

And for those who want to delve into the language, the famed Gerry Tobin Irish Language School, “Scoil Ghaeilge Gheróid Tóbín,” returns this year. Visitors can drop in to the Gerry Tobin tent for “ceol agus craic” (music and fun) a “cupán tae” (a cup of tea), listen to conversation and recitation “as Gaeilge” (in the Irish language) and even learn a “cúpla focail” (a few words).

Then there’s the Irish Soda Bread judging, a perennial favorite, and one of the most hotly-contested events of the day. There are as many styles of Irish soda bread as there are bakers, and spectators are free to taste the entries and make their own decisions once the judges are finished.

A special musical act is also featured each year, always adding some additional excitement to the day.

Bring a picnic lunch, and settle in for a taste of Irish culture and hospitality.

An ancient order

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, founded in New York in 1836, now has more than 80,000 members in 46 States, Canada and Ireland. It was founded to protect the Roman Catholic clergy and the Church itself from attack. Its roots are deep in Irish history. It has grown to become the largest and most influential Irish Catholic men’s organization in the world.

For more information on the Nassau County Hibernians, visit www.nassauaoh.com or the New York State Hibernian website at www.nysaoh.com.

Nassau AOH Feis

When: Sunday, Sept. 17, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. $10 per person. Children under 12 free.

Where: Nickerson Beach Park, 880 Lido Blvd., Lido Beach. For more information, visit www. nassauaohfeis.com or call (516) 782-7494.