Originally posted 03-17-20. Revised 03-06-21.
My wife and I went to the North Texas Irish Festival in 2020. Had the event been a week or two later, it likely would have been canceled. Luckily it wasn’t, and we were able to attend.
The 2021 festival was scheduled for March 5-7. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, it became a virtual event this year.
I wrote an article about our 2020 adventures. I’m reposting it as part of my “Local Unknown” blog series to reminisce about the good ol’ times. Hopefully, we’ll be back at Fair Park in 2022 to enjoy the festival!
North Texas Irish Festival
March 6-8, 2020
The first weekend in March is the North Texas Irish Festival. Held at the historic Fair Park in Dallas, it celebrates Irish and Scottish culture. My wife and I have been to the festival many times. I decided that it was finally time to write about it.
The NTIF is one of the first major festivals each year and helps kick off the “Festival Season” in North Texas. This year is the 38th annual festival. It continues to draw crowds and is the second-largest event held at Fair Park — only behind The State Fair of Texas.
Trinity Hall Irish Pub & Restaurant
Before the festival, consider having lunch at Trinity Hall. It’s more Irish than the festival options, and it’s worth the detour. It’s comparable to what you’d pay at the festival, but you can sit down and have a full meal. Plus, it’s located at Mockingbird Station on the DART line. If you’re taking the DART train to Fair Park anyway, it’s a win-win.
I’ve never been to Ireland — or a pub therein — but Trinity Hall certainly feels authentic. It isn’t Bennigan’s, lads! Enter the pub and find yourself in another time and place. From the decor, atmosphere, food, and drink — you could mistake this pub in Dallas for one in Dublin.
My wife and I split the Shepherd’s Pie. Imagine seasoned ground beef, fresh carrots and peas, fluffy mashed potatoes, and sharp cheddar cheese, served with a piece of rye bread. And the icing on the cake — a pint of Guinness to wash it down. Oh my! Rich, flavorful, and incredibly tasty. We split it and were both stuffed.
Trinity Hall boasts an expansive beer menu with local, regional, national, and imports. Lots of choices, but it feels sacrilegious to stray from Guinness while at an Irish Pub. Their whiskey selection is impressive as well. They show rugby and football (soccer) matches on TV, and also have a stage for traditional live music. I imagine this place gets wonderfully raucous when the conditions are right.
The atmosphere is spot on, the food is delicious, and the pint of Guinness was perfect. The whole experience was an enjoyable appetizer for the festival.
You don’t have to be of Irish or Scottish heritage to attend the festival. Unfortunately, they let everyone attend. (Just kidding!) The festival brings out families, small groups, and people of all ages. There are plenty of opportunities for people-watching.
Many people wear green T-shirts accessorized with beads or little trinkets. It’s common to see Dallas Stars gear — to show love for the local hockey team and to wear the obligatory green. Others draped head-to-toe in green to try and stand out as much as possible. Guinness gear is common. Some people break out their renaissance or medieval garb. Kilts and full Scottish regalia make a presence. Steampunk and other costumes are popular. Most people wear something festive to show their spirit.
If you relate more to dogs than people, you’re in luck. The festival is quite dog-friendly. When the weather is pleasant, there are plenty of dogs out there in all shapes and sizes. The subtitle of the festival could be “Dog Fest” because they’re everywhere. I’m not a dog person, but I like seeing the dogs. Many of them are wearing green, too. Sometimes the Scottish Terriers will wear little Scottish costumes. I hate to admit it, but it is cute. Remember: There’s a time and place for pet costumes.
One of the real treats is to see the Irish Wolfhounds. If you’ve never seen one in person, they’re almost unbelievable. These dogs are larger than some animals you’d see at the zoo. (A male Irish Wolfhound is at least 32 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs 120 pounds. Many are bigger.)
Often referred to as “Gentle Giants,” Irish Wolfhounds are friendlier than they appear. The dogs are popular and often swarmed by adoring fans and gawking onlookers. People like to play with the dogs, take pictures, and talk to their humans to learn more about them. The dogs love the attention. They command a presence, and many of the smaller dogs aren’t sure what to make of them.
There’s a strong pet community presence at the festival. From pet adoptions to groups accepting donations, dogs are well-loved at the festival.
If shopping is your thing, you can do that as well. Rows of booths and vendors with tons of goods for sale. Clothing and collectibles. Artwork, photography, ceramics, woodwork. Arts and crafts, handcrafted goods and wares. Baked goods. Family crests and coat of arms. Guinness merchandise. Dog gear. It’s an eclectic mix, and there’s something for everyone.
There are plenty of food vendors at the festival. They offer the usual suspects when it comes to fairs — hamburgers, pizza, nachos, and the typical fair fare. The few Irish options at the festival are pseudo-Irish at best. The most authentic offering might be the Irish Stew in Bolla Bread. This feast includes meat, potatoes, carrots, and other veggies in a Bolla Bread bowl. I’ve had it before — it’s tasty — but at $14 it’s on the pricey side.
Festival food is never a bargain. There are plenty of choices, but if you’re on any kind of budget — caloric or cash — you may want to seek other food options. Check out Trinity Hall, for example! (The Shepherd’s Pie we had was $13.25 and large enough to split!)
It wouldn’t be a proper Irish festival without beer and whiskey! Check out the beer and cider tasting event. Enjoy a pint of Guinness or head over to the popular Whiskey Tasting event.
Here you can sample a variety of Irish whiskeys. Now, don’t expect that ultra-rare whiskey you’ve dreamt about and always wanted to try. They only offer relatively common ones. But it’s a fun area, and there’s a decent variety. And once the whiskey starts flowing, everyone becomes a wee bit more Irish! Sadly, I didn’t get to join in the fun this year, as it was too crowded when we made it over there. Next year!
Music & Entertainment
The NTIF offers performances all weekend. Regional and national artists — as well as some from Ireland — perform on various stages. Check out the traditional Irish music, dancing, and storytellers. Some of the acts may be less traditional, but no less talented.
If Scotland runs through your blood, check out the Scottish Village. Here, Scottish Clans proudly display their family’s heritage through flags and tartans. Stop by and swap stories with your clan or learn more about others. It’s a fascinating area, whether you’re Scottish or not.
How often do you see a DeLorean in person? Probably not too often. What about seeing a few of them at one time? I’ve only dreamt of that, you say!
Well, if you’re at NTIF, you could make that dream a reality. There is often a small group of DeLoreans at the festival. (I only counted three this year, but I’ve seen more in the past.) That might seem odd, but the DeLorean’s manufacturing site was near Belfast, Ireland. I bet you didn’t know that!
The North Texas Irish Festival is a fun event for the whole family. There’s a reason why people attend every year — it’s the right amount of Irish spirit and fun shenanigans! If you want to attend next year, mark your calendars for March 5-7, 2021. See you there!
And don’t forget — “If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, you’re lucky enough!”
Post and photos by Jason S. Sullivan, 03-17-20