The idea of an Irish Festival that would appeal to all lovers of Irish music and arts originated during conversations between festival co-founders Matt Nelligan and Jim Shaughnessy in 1996.
Both Nelligan and Shaughnessy had been involved in a number of efforts to increase awareness of the Albany branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and to raise funds to create a new Irish Cultural Center in Albany.
The key to achieving both goals was to develop an event that stayed true to the traditions of Irish Culture, while bringing in more modern elements that would appeal to young Irish-Americans. It was finally decided to test these ideas through the development of a music festival.
Since it started, the Irish 2000 Music and Arts Festival has grown in both attendance and in the number of entertainment attractions. In 2007, the festival launched a highly successful two day format. Today, Irish 2000 Music and Arts Festival is one of the top five Irish festivals in the United States. Its mission is "To preserve and protect Irish Culture in the 21st century."
During its inaugural year, Nelligan and Shaughnessy were joined by a small, dedicated committee of Hibernians and set out to plan the event without having a firm idea of how popular it might be. The first Irish 2000 Music and Arts Festival took place on Saturday, Sept. 20, 1997, at Heritage Park in Colonie. Even with a torrential rain, over 2,500 people packed the music tents to enjoy bands as diverse as the Makem Brothers and Black 47.
Since the goal had been for about 3,000 people to attend, the committee considered the event a success, and plunged ahead with the planning for 1998. Because of the success of the 1997 Festival, the committee sought a larger facility that might better handle the even larger crowds that were expected in 1998. It was decided to have the Festival at the Altamont Fairgrounds. The facility offered the necessary room to grow with annual attendance expected to increase each year.
By 2009, Irish 2000 had continued to go to the point where it moved to the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa. The new venue enables the Festival the opportunity for further expansion in the heart of Saratoga County.
The success of the first Festival, 19 years ago, produced enough profit to allow the Albany Ancient Order of Hibernians to move ahead with the purchase of a new Irish-Cultural Center on Ontario Street in Albany.
The Irish Music and Arts Festival Inc. was officially formed and separated from the Albany Ancient Order of Hibernians to become a 501 C-3 Not-for-Profit Corporation in February 2001.
Through the years, the Irish 2000 Music and Arts Festival has grown to welcome more than 15,000 visitors each year. Since its inception, the Festival has donated more than $350,000 to a variety of charities including the Albany Irish-American Center.
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