Brian Boyce, competitor Number 819, adjusted his dark green tie, white jacket, green sash and kilt and stepped up to stage one. He nervously licked his lips and began a solo performance of an Irish jig.
He was among the hundreds of East Coast competitors who came to the Irish American Club of Washington's Third Annual Feis (pronounced fesh), a Gaelic concert, folk festival and traditional song, story and dance competition.
The feis, initially pagan in character, is more than 3,000 years old. The comcept originated with the Druids of Gaul, who held periodic meetings were religious ceremonies were performed and legal cases were judged.
Last weekend's festivities began on Saturday night with a traditional Irish music concert at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. About 600 people came to hear master of ceremonies Mick Maloney, Eugene O'Donnell, the Irish Tradition, Father Charlie and Jack Coen and Sean McGlynn play bajo, fiddle, according, guitar, concertina and flute. Special guests were Deirdre Hogan and Cora Summerville, Irish dance champions from Dublin, and Michael Flatley and Donny Golden, from Chicago and New York, who performed Irish jigs, reels and hornpipes. Washington's own Celtic Thunder also performed Irish music selection.
Sunday's program at Walter Johnson began at 9 a.m. with a Mass in Gaelic. Later there were outdoor competitions for Irish dance, including reels, jigs, hornpipes, figure dancing and choreography depicting Irish history. The music competitions were for solo and duet bagpipe, fiddle, flute, tine whistle and accordion performances. There also were contests for Gaelic langugage stories, speeches, poems and essays. Despite the 92-degree weather, several hundred people attended.
Brian Boyce danced in five events - "two group dances and three solos for jigs, reels and hornpipes" - and also entered a solo accordion competition. He and his family travel to feises throughout the East Coast, and his two brothers also compete in dance events. Eleven-year-old Brian has been dancing competitively for five years. "This is a pretty nice festival except for the weather. It's too hot," he said.
Rose Cull and her husband, Patrick, came from Queens, N.Y., for the feis.
We came because my son plays violin and my daughter plays accordion for the competitors," she said. "The Washington festival is very nice. This is the third year we've come. We like it very much. Where we live in New York, there are all nationalities. We meet all Irish people here."
The Culls also travel extensively to attend Irish celebrations. "Whenever we get calls, we go to Philadelphia or Detroit or wherever," she said.
Carmel Cullen, 11, also from Queens, to compete in the reel dancing events. She has been dancing for six years, but this was her first visit to the Washington feis. "I travel around to most of the competitions on the East Coast. This is a good festival. I like it," she said.
Shirley Murphy brough her three children, ages 14, 13, and 10 from New York. All three danced in the events. She said they had been to festivals before in "Hartford, Stamford, Delaware and Rockland County (New York)."
Outside the festival, vendors sold Irish crafts and T-shirts, glasses, linens, sweaters, tam-o'-shanters and paintings. One club held a raffle for a trip to Ireland. Others handed out leaflets to "Support Human Rights for the Irish" by picketing the White House on June 24th at noon.