Waterfront Park once again took on a definite green hue this past Saturday as the site of Alexandria's annual Irish Festival, or as chairman Pat Troy prefers to now call it "John Fitzgerald Day."
Although the crowd was somewhat smaller than in recent years, the food, beer, entertainment and vendors were in abundance. The festival serves as one of the main fundraisers for Ballyshaner's St. Patrick's Day Parade in March.
Kicking off the festivities at noon were the Alexandria Pipes and Drums leading a host of City dignitaries, that included Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald, and City Manager James Hartmann, into the park. Following the singing of the national anthems of the United States and Ireland, Troy introduced Euille and others assembled on the stage.
"This is a beautiful day for a beautiful event," said Troy. The Ballyshaners, which means Old Town in Gaelic, is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Irish heritage. As Troy has pointed out the Irish are the largest ethnic group in Alexandria, followed by the Germans and English.
Throughout the seven hour festival there were 14 entertainment groups performing on stage that included Boyle Irish Dancers, Double Down, and the Flying Cows. One of the most popular each year are the Irish dancers, according to Troy.
Troy has been on a mission for the past decade to get City Council to rename Waterfront Park, John Fitzgerald Park. Troy has persistently referred to the site as "no name park."
He has maintained, "This park would not be here today if it were not for John Fitzgerald. He is credited with filling in the river to create the land that encompasses the area from Lee Street to today's river edge in that section of Old Town that contains the entire 100 block of King Street, Torpedo Factory Art Center and the park land.
Fitzgerald served as George Washington's Aide de Camp and secretary from 1776 to 1782. In 1795 he was commissioned a U.S. Naval officer for the fortification of Alexandria. He served as Alexandria's mayor in 1886 and 1887. Col. John Fitzgerald died December 2, 1799, within 12 days of his close friend General George Washington.
Thus far there has been no movement by City Council or Council's Naming Commission to change the name of the park. Their rationale for no action is that Fitzgerald's recognition is incorporated in the name of Founder's Park on the north side of the Art Center.