City Desk

Butte America’s An Ri Ra


by Diane Larson

For the last several years, August in Butte has meant An Ri Ra, Montana’s Irish Festival. It is a time to celebrate all things Irish; the heritage, the culture, the food, the dance, and of course, the wonderful Irish music.


According to their website, the festival “is a celebration of the Irish heritage and contributions to the people of Montana. The festival has created its place as a world-class event that draws people from not only Montana but across the United States and internationally.”



The 2017 An Ri Ra in Butte commemorates 15 years of Irish celebrations.  An Ri Ra is an event put on by the Montana Gaelic Cultural Society (MGCS). The MGCS sponsors classes in the Irish language, Irish dance and promotes and sponsors music and drama events. An Ri Ra is their signature event.


The Irish culture is important to Butte. Irish families have their roots in the early days, if not in blood, certainly in spirit. Those who come to Butte from other places in Montana or the U.S. soon become immersed in that Irish spirit, the culture and tradition.


One of the highlights of the entire weekend is the Tiernan Irish Dancers. This style of performance dance has its roots in traditional Irish dance. It is characterized by a stiff upper body, arms held fast to the side, and quick precise movement of the feet.


According to Antonio Pacelli, The Home of Irish Dance, no one knows for certain why the arms are held to the side with no movement while dancing. However, there are legends. One such legend is that it has to do with the English occupation of Ireland. The story, according to Pacelli is that when “a group of Irish dancers were brought to dance for the Queen. These dancers refused to raise their arms to her, and kept them rigidly by their sides as they danced out of defiance.” Some say it would be highly unlikely that the Irish would have been called upon to do their own dance in front of the Queen.


Another interesting tale is that the Irish would go into pubs and dance behind the bar with their upper body straight so that the English wouldn’t know they were dancing, and so many more such stories exist.


The curly hair styles of the female dancers are most likely wigs. Many dancers choose wigs that match their natural hair color. Why the curly wigs? Again, we rely on legend or myth. According to the story goes,


“Every Sunday, communities in Ireland would go to Church, and would then hold a sort of celebration or festival afterward. The young girls of these communities would curl their hair every Sunday and dress up for church. During the gatherings after Church, the girls would come together and dance. Their curls would bounce up and down as they hopped and danced around. The Sunday gatherings became a tradition, and the story of the curly hair still remains to this day.”


Whatever the reason for the hair, the costume, or dance style, it is a wonder to behold. One can get completely swept up in the joy of the dance, the energy of the performers, and the spirit of a people who embrace their heritage.


Music is another big draw. Conor Cunneen said, “You can listen to traditional Irish music anywhere, anytime. But the very best place is sitting in the west of Ireland, downing your third pint of Guinness and knowing its great to be Irish.” Mike Saffran said, “People young and old come to listen to the traditional Irish music. Everyone’s welcome. Everyone is Irish for the day.”  


In August, during An Ri Ra, Butte is the best place to listen to Irish music, and everyone is Irish for the weekend. The Original Mineyard is an amazing venue for watching the dancers and listening to this amazing Irish music. Bring your lawn chair or a blanket and relax on the hill with the music wafting up from the stage below. One may even down a pint or two during the festivities.


The line-up of musicians this year is wonderful as always. Scheduled are The Prodigals. the Irish Times said of them, “Trad/Rock or Rock/Trad? Who knows/cares – This lot tackle both genres with energy and skill.” According to their Facebook page, “the band combines original lyrics and melody with a genuine passion for the traditional music of Ireland and a funky energy that is pure New York.”


Evans & Doherty, blend traditional, original and contemporary songs. With Kevin Evans & Brian Doherty you get music, storytelling, and lots of humor: the trifecta of entertaining.


Téada is a traditional Irish band who not only performs but often headlines major music festivals throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Russia, the Middle East and Australia. They are a must see at the festival. On their Facebook page, it says that “Téada is driven by a fascination for the timeless, expressive force of music inherited from previous generations of musicians.”


The list of wonderful music and musicians for An Ri Ra would not be complete with Dublin Gulch, Irish music from Butte, America. “Don’t bother to tarry in America, go straight to Butte.” This quote taken from the Dublin Gulch website says it all and is the reason An Ri Ra is such an important weekend for Butte. Executive Director of the Myrna Loy Center, Krys Holmes said of Dublin Gulch, “Mile high and a mile deep, just like Butte, America. Dublin Gulch is the voice of the miner, the lilt of the Irishmen, the rhythm of the Montana landscape, and the spirit of the hopeful heart.” To experience that alone is enough to bring a person to the festival.


These are just a few of the music acts that will be playing all weekend.


There are a variety of vendors cooking for you and selling their crafts. The lecture series will have speakers both local and from outside Butte. Father Patrick Berretta, Former Representative Pat Williams, and David McDonnell will speak. The Lecture series will be held at the Maroon Activity Center at 550 East Mercury from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm.


This year’s raffle includes some great prizes.


First place prize is a trip to Ireland for two with the Town Pants Band. It is their 20th-anniversary tour.

Second place is a week’s trip for two to a Mexican Resort

Third place is two tickets to Notre Dame Football game in South Bend, Indiana against Georgia on September 9th.


There is really something for everyone to enjoy. An Ri Ra takes place at The Original Mine Yard in Butte on August 11, 12 & 13. This is a free event but donations to keep the event going are well appreciated.


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