Last week it was announced that the Fairfield County Irish Festival would return this summer after a year off. In recent years, the event took place at Indian Ledge Park in Trumbull and before that was at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Jennings Beach and a field at what is now property of Fairfield Ludlowe High School/Roger Ludlowe Middle School, among other locations.

Last year the event organizers were forced to pull the plug when venue costs proved too expensive, leaving hundreds of New Englanders disappointed (the event draws vendors, musical acts, dancing troupes and general participants from all over the Northeast and sometimes farther away). It was perhaps more personally disappointing to Fairfielders, as the event is essentially organized and run by the Gaelic American Club, right here in town.

Arguably, the people who were the most despondent, however, were my friends and me. This is an event was more than a tradition for us -- it was like an annual three-day cult. It was a reunion for our college buddies whom we don't see any other time of the year. For me, it was also a reunion with Fairfield's true Irish contingent, some of whom I see regularly, some of whom I see just this once (usually hanging out by the football pitch), but all of whom are in attendance at some point over the three-day fest.

Planning for the Irish Fest weekend starts as soon as the dates are released -- though we always have a good idea when it will be, as it's usually Father's Day weekend (and it is this year, too). Those of us who still live locally provide housing for those coming in from out of town. That used to include just our friends, but now includes their boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses, children, parents and siblings. For these newcomers, the event has also become an annual tradition.

Transportation is obviously a concern for a lot of reasons, and we always work out a fair schedule of whose car will be driven and by whom. Or we make arrangements for a cab. Whatever works ...

Next in the planning stages is what our schedule will be -- transportation will be worked out accordingly. This obviously happens once the official schedule of events is released. Some of my friends like to go early and leave early. Some only go to see a specific band or a specific Irish football or hurling match. Some like to stay all day and night, and some just prefer the evening activities. Regardless of what time you go, there's always plenty of music, dancing, sports and other forms of cultural entertainment for all ages. It is a true family event, and both kids and adults can find fun activities to do together or separately. The best part is that it doesn't really matter what the weather's like. So many times over the years the tents have provided respite from a deluge of rain outside. Even two years ago when a particularly strong storm hit the area, festival goers flocked to the booths to get sweatshirts, but stayed to enjoy the entertainment. In fact, think some of our favorite times at the festival came from when we were huddled in a tent or dashing from place to place trying to stay dry.

The event holds so many good memories for my friends and me. Hanging out with the Saw Doctors (an Irish band that my friends and I followed for a while) at the Irish Festival in Bridgeport one year is a time that stands out in my mind, or when we got a huge group of people to join in on a game under the main tent with us (until we were deemed a little too disruptive and the group had to disperse). Or maybe it's the bittersweet memory of the Irish Fest the year Joey Moran died. Moran was a huge part of the Fairfield County Irish culture and still has a place in the hearts of so many who live around here. He died of cancer the weekend of the festival, which also coincided with Father's Day. Event organizers carried on in traditional Irish fashion, paying heartfelt and appropriate tributes to Moran on that sad and difficult Sunday. (The Moran Cultural Tent is named for Joey.) If there's any better example of how a community can rally together and help each other grieve, I can't think of one.

Over the years we have found so many new relationships at the Irish Fest, and honestly, I can't think of one year or even one day that we had a bad time, no matter where the event took place. And the best part is you don't have to be Irish to feel welcome (I'm not Irish, for example). Like St. Patrick's Day, everyone's Irish that weekend.

This year's 22nd Irish Festival will take place at Fairfield University June 18 to 20. We welcome its return, and we particularly welcome its return to Fairfield. Check out www.Irishfestival.org for updated information on times, transportation and the schedule of events.