Irish musician Eddie Delahunt looks back over past Irish Fests

Roanoke resident and Midtown business owner Eddie Delahunt will perform at the Kansas City Irish Fest this weekend. He recently talked about the Fest and how he got to Kansas City at his coffee shop, Café &, at 4448 Bell St.

Posted by Joe Lambe

From the first rain-soaked Kansas City Irish fest at Berkley Riverside Park in 2003 to the much larger one last year at Crown Center, Eddie Delahunt performed at them all.

He’ll also be performing at this year’s event that starts Friday and runs through Sunday at Crown Center.

“Seeing it grow was great,” he said.

It started as a merger of two smaller neighborhood events, the Westport and Brookside Irish fests. Even in rain and deep mud in 2003, about 8,000 people attended.

The next year it moved to Crown Center and has been growing ever since, drawing 97,000 people last year.

It has become a big family event, Delahunt said, and a massive gathering of Irish descendants that have scattered throughout the metropolitan area and beyond.

Here’s a video of Eddie at last year’s Irish Fest. He’s playing with Leo Eilts, another popular Midtown musician.

How did a bartender from Dingle end up a Kansas City Irish Fest favorite? That’s a great story…

Delahunt, originally from Dublin, first came to Kansas City in 1989. The singer had been working at a bar in Dingle, Ireland, that year when the owner of Harling’s Upstairs in Midtown called to check on another musician who was to perform at Harling’s  for St. Patrick festivities.

Delahunt told bar owner Jerry Wyatt that the other musician was in the hospital but that he could perform instead.

And so Delahunt, then 29, and his 19-year-old brother went to Kansas City and walked into what seemed to them a form of insanity.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is a low-key religious affair and pubs are closed, he said, but here they saw streets packed with people wearing bright green and running wild.

The brothers played and sang in the packed bar until 1 a.m.

In the evening, a woman who looked to be 90 or older walked up to the stage and told Delahunt to play “Danny Boy.” As he bent over to talk to her, he said, she took off a shoe, swung it like an axe and slammed it into his groin.

Bouncers on each side of her escorted her out then, he said, and all the while she yelled, “Danny Boy, Danny Boy.”

The next day all seemed back to normal, with people again obsessed with the March madness college basketball games.

“That St. Patrick’s Day we were Redford and Newman,” Delahunt said, “and the next day we were nobody.”

But his music took hold, and he kept returning to Kansas City to perform, moved here, and is credited with helping fuel a kind of Irish resurgence in the 1990s. He also met the woman who in 1992 became his wife, Betsy North Delahunt.

Not as many Irish descendants currently live in Midtown as in 1989, he said, and then there were probably far fewer than when a wave of Irish Americans moved there in the early 1900s.

But there are still a lot of Irish in these neighborhoods who emerge at fest time, he said.

“It’s like history repeating itself in Midtown.”


Related stories:
Midtown’s Irish history