The Festival began in 1997 by Charles Fanning, Director of the Southern Ilinois University Carbondale (SIUC) Irish and Irish Immigration Studies Program, as a Celebration of Irish American Music. Overwhelming response to this event prompted individuals in the community to organize the 1998 festival, which attracted 1000 participants.
SIUC’s Shryock Auditorium co-sponsored the Festival concerts in 1999 and 2000; the Festival became sole sponsor in 2001. A full-day Saturday Celtic Fair was added to the Festival in 1999. Attendance varies from 1,000-4,000 for the weekend events.
Festival activities compliment and enhance SIUC’s Irish and Irish American Immigration Studies Program and WSIU-FM’s nationally-syndicated Celtic Connections radio program, making Carbondale a hub of Irish/Celtic activities in the region. Until 2003, the Festival was loosely affiliated with SIUC, but self-supporting. In 2003, the Festival was approved by the IRS as a 501 (c)3 not-for-profit organization.