Sunday August 30th, 1981 was an overcast day in Peoria when the first Erin Feis event was held outdoors at the Peoria Knights of Columbus. Over 800 people attended the 8-hour family event, sponsored by the newly formed Saint Patrick Society of Peoria. Entertainment on stage featured local bagpipers and the Barley’s, a local Irish group. Several of the large tents served corned beef and cabbage, along with some other great Irish foods and beverages. Many vendors were in attendance selling Irish merchandise that you cannot find in stores. The new Erin Feis t-shirts sold fast and the money that was raised paid for the next Erin Feis and Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.
Due to the great success of the first Erin Feis festival, the event was moved to the Exposition Gardens Exhibit Hall and remained there for several years. The Barley’s, Baal Tinne, and the Brogue from Kilkenny, Ireland have returned on multiple occasions to entertain at the festival. The Trinity Academy of Irish Dance of Peoria and the Peoria Celtic Bag Pipers (to be later known as the Celtic Cross Drum and Bagpipers) have also made appearances at Erin Feis. Booths containing historic Irish memorabilia and art have also been a great success.
With continued growth over the years, Erin Feis moved to Ravina on the Lakes in 1986. Erin Feis moved again in 1991 to the German–American Society Grounds at Hickory Grove, north Peoria. In 1997, the Saint Patrick Society of Peoria partnered with the Peoria Park District, moving Erin Feis to the Peoria RiverFront and making it a 2 day event. In 2002, Erin Feis expanded to include Fridays, thus becoming a 3-day event.
While holding onto tradition, the Erin Feis Committee has done a great job of integrating fresh and new ideas into the event each year. Erin Feis celebrates our Irish culture through music, sports, arts, crafts, religious services, food, and beverages. Erin Feis is a family event where friendships are made and renewed.
Robert Sloan, the first Chairman of our event, had a committee of four members and a handful of volunteers. Over the next 14 years, the chairmanship has passed from one board member to another. John L. Martin was appointed Chairman in 1995 and still holds the position today. In 2017, the event was renamed the Peoria Irish Fest – Erin Feis. Under John’s leadership, Peoria Irish Fest – Erin Feis has become one of the leading Irish Festivals in the Midwest. Today, the Peoria Irish Fest – Erin Feis Committee consists of about 20 members, and the committee coordinates activities for all volunteers, now several hundred strong.