August 16-19, 2018

August 16-19, 2018

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2017 Poetry Contests

Milwaukee Irish Fest offers two poetry prizes annually; each award is $100. Winners will be announced at Irish Fest during the poetry events on Sunday afternoon, August 20, in the Hedge School in the Cultural Village on the south end of the grounds. Only the winners will be notified of the contests’ outcomes, during the first week of August; the winners’ names will be posted here by September.

The poetry awards will be given to the entries best reflecting Irish or Irish-American poetry traditions. Although the poems do not necessarily need to have direct Irish or Irish-American themes, the winning entries should have a culture/literary relation to either Ireland, Irish-America, or to Irish poetry.

  • The Donn Goodwin Prize is named after a Wisconsin poet, linguist, and educator who was active in supporting poetry events at Irish Fest. This contest is open to all.
  • The Joseph Gahagan Prize is awarded in the memory of the man who served as poetry consultant to the Fest for many years. This contest is limited to current residents of Wisconsin.

Rules for Submitting Entries

Please read all instructions before submitting your form. Submissions that do not follow these instructions will be omitted from consideration.

  • Each contestant may submit no more than one poem. However, Wisconsin residents may submit one poem for each contest.
  • Each entry should be the poet's original work and should not have appeared previously in publication.
  • Entries will be accepted only between June 1 and August 1, 2017. They must be received by August 1, 2017 to be considered.
  • All entries must be typed and mailed. No handwritten, faxed or e-mailed subbmissions.
  • All entries should be mailed to:
         Milwaukee Irish Fest
         1532 Wauwatosa Ave
         Wauwatosa, WI 53213
  • Each entry should have a cover sheet stapled to the entry that contains
    • The poet's name, address, telephone number and e-mail address
    • The poem's title and a label indicating which contest the poet is entering.
    • The poet's name or other identifying information should appear only on the cover sheet.

Due to the large number of submissions, entries will not be acknowledged nor returned. Contestants are urged to write the mailing address clearly and to use a return address on the envelope.

On The Grounds Limerick Contest 

Information on the Limerick Contest is located in the Information Cottage on the South end of the grounds in the Cultural Village. Entries will be available to fill out and drop off. Winner will be called following the festival.

2016 Poetry Contest Winners

The Donn Goodwin Prize of $100

Awarded to Michael Waterson of Napa, California for the poem, "The Graveyard on Inisheer."

Michael is Poet Laureate Emeritus of the Napa Valley and the vocalist in the Irish band, Kith & Kin.

Rough ferry ride across the South Sound
beneath a mackerel sky.

Some light of breakfast by the time
Tranquility disgorges queasy cargo on Inisheer:
limestone, brine, dune grass and sand
combed by low stone-pile walls,
capped by a crumbling stone fort.

Celtic crosses with flotsam epitaphs
ring St. Caomhan's sunken church,
roofless granite walls in a pit
where gravedigger shovels forever
battle encroaching dunes.

If you fit
through the narrow window
behind the altar slab,
you squeeze into heaven,
say the locals. 

I like it and I love it, the shopkeeper says
of his stone outcrop of sea-churn
and wind-bowed grass,
ringed in aquamarine.

Why not this afterlife? I think.

Music of accordion, an ancient tongue
and a pint of porter pass
a slow afternoon between tides.


The Joseph Gahagan Prize of $100

Awarded to Catherine Jagoe of Madison, WI for her poem, "Cillini."

This poem comes from Catherine Jagoe's new book, "Bloodroot," which won The American Poetry Prize for first-generation immigrants and will be published by Settlement House Press in late September, 2016.


cillini: grave sites for unbaptized infants and others who were not allowed burial in consecrated ground. Found throughout Ireland; some were in use until the 1990s. 

They still call, those unlived lives
of the unbaptized, stillborn, unshriven
before death and buried in unhallowed ground,
no headstones to mark their graves.

Always after dusk the hospital van
arrived at Belfast's Milltown cemetery
with its loads of dead infants
who were slung, unsung, and coffinless,
by a sour-faced grave-digger
into an open hole.
A few still bore their caul.

Elsewhere, in the country, it was the fathers'
job to bury them, at night, after
the chores, the fodder forked
over half doors, the lamps swung
through muddy yards, the steaming pails
milked from the cows in their stalls.

Men numb or grim or weary bore them
out beyond the last houses, to where
snipe creak and the sheep bleat, 
to a patch like this on the other side
of a wall, where a track leads up the hill
and a stream comes down. They would 
take their spades and pierce
the sod beneath the clumps of rushes,
furze bushes, bramble, nettles,
a hunch of wind-warped thorn. 
It had to be done before dawn.

Sometimes they laid them lovingly,
limned in pebbles of white quartz.
But no one's to know: to the eye
of the passerby there's just rough, 
lumpy ground, tussocks of wet grass.

Babies lingered in limbo - in eternal
darkness, but no actual pain,
like floating in a currach on the outgoing
tide at night, minus your oars, 
through cloud-burst, peat-drench, soak,
snow, drizzle, and the louring clouds;
the mist, some days, descending over all. 


On-the-Grounds Limerick Contest Winners


Terry Puhek-Sandberg

Irish Fest jigging is fun!
We'll step by moon and by sun.
Come reel all the day,
or you can just sway.
We'll dance till the music's done!


Ingrid Wallace

I lost my cool Irish Fest shirt
My fault. I wasn't alert. 
So I bought me a brew, 
then had quite a few.
And the brews I consumed eased my hurt.


Terry King

We met at Miller Stage,
though Guinness was all of the rage.
But no matter the potion,
love was set into motion,
and our romance will never know age.


  • Aer Lingus
  • Catholic Financial Life
  • Celtic, Inc.
  • Habush Habush Rottier
  • Jameson
  • Jameson
  • Lakefront Brewery
  • Miller Lite
  • Potowatomi
  • Sprecher


  • Center: 1532 N. Wauwatosa Ave, Milwaukee
  • Festival Grounds: Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee
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