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The New England NFL Connection

Published June 6, 2016
By Ed Ward, Featured Blogger


New England Irish Festival

Oh, my goodness. Just a few short weeks ago I offered to write a few blogs for the CelticMKE website. I figured it would be fun to challange my memory to see if the past still beats inside me. These days I seem to forget a lot of things and it is wonderful as with each new day, everything renews itself in a brand new way. But, as I started thinking about the past 45 years and my association with Irish music and thousands of wonderful people and relationships, my memories are now whizzing by me like bullets. In my recollections of Derry’s Pub and the visits of the Bards to Milwaukee in 1975 and their repeated visits a few years after, I suddenly recalled that a talented young woman by the name of Lindsay Henes was a member of the band and would visit Milwaukee frequently. Lindsay was raised in Newton, MA and was an accomplished piano player and singer.



OK – here’s the next big jump. In late 1983, I got a call from Micheal Chamberlain, Stadium Manager for the New England Patriots. Tommy Makem had recommended that the Patriots' owner William (Billy) Sullivan call me to discuss running an Irish Festival at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro.  I went out to Boston and met with Micheal and Patriots' General Manager Pat Sullivan and they hired me to run the event in the stadium in September 1984. I had few contacts in Boston so I called Mick Moloney who suggested I call Brian O’Donovan, formerly from West Cork, Ireland, who had a local Irish music radio show.  Brian knew the local Irish music scene and we hit it off so I hired him as my local contact for the New England Irish Festival.  When I met Brian and his family, I learned he was married to none other than Linsday Henes.


  New England Irish Festival  

                                                                                                                                              (Tommy Makem, Micheal Chamberlain, Ed Ward at Sullivan Stadium, 1984)

The first New England Irish Festival, a two day event, ran inside Sullivan Stadium.  The Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs had an exhibition game on Friday night, in the pouring rain.  After the game the Patriots' ground crew put a layer of plywood on the field and covered it all with a gray tarp and started erecting the two main stages and a few tents we used for cultural and kids activities. As part of my budget, I had flown out to Boston a dozen Milwaukee Irish Fest folks who were all assigned festival responsibilities. We had a great lineup – many bands having been at Milwaukee Irish Fest a few weeks before. We made it through the weekend with just a few glitches and lots of war stories. After the event Brian was hired by the Patriots to join the staff and plan the following year’s Irish Fest. Brian went to work for Victor Kiam when Kiam bought the Patriots and had a long career in professional sports and pro soccer. He and Chuck Ward became good friends as Chuck was the Stadium Manager of Milwaukee County Stadium at the time, so they saw each other frequently at professional sporting events and conferences. 

New England Irish Festival

(Friday August 23, 1984 - workers laying down plywood and tarp on the football field)

New England Irish Festival

(New England Irish Festival, Sullivan Stadium, August 24, 1984)

New England Irish Festival - Brian O'Donovan

(Brian O'Donovan at the New England Irish Festival, 1984)


New England Irish Festival


Brian continues to broadcast his radio show on Boston’s local NPR affiliate 89.7 promoting traditional and contemporary Irish and Celtic music. His oldest daughter Aoife, has established a promising musical career of her own as a singer and songwriter. She was best known as the frontwoman for the Boston-based neo-stringband Crooked Still, which disbanded in 2011. Aoife has gained more notoriety recently for her appearances with Yo Yo Ma and on “Prairie Home Companion” and has toured with Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers and The Milk Carton Kids, among others. She appeared at Milwaukee Irish Fest in 2012. Aoife’s younger sister Fionnula sings harmony on Aoife’s debut album “Fossils." Thoughts of the O’Donovan family warm me up inside.




Ed Ward
Ed Ward founded Milwaukee Irish Fest.  
He also founded the Irish Fest Foundation and the Ward Irish Music Archives.  

Ed served as a permanent member of the Irish Fest Board and served as the Chair of the Entertainment Committee.

View more blogs from Founder's Corner, here.



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