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 | By Tom Didato

Camden’s Irish Fest

Maybe, and maybe only, in her wildest dreams did Becki Briers O’Hara imagine Irish Fest Camden taking off and becoming a booming success story.

Held annually on the first Saturday in March for the past seven years, upwards of 10,000 patrons are expected to descend on the grounds of Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site March 2. 

The chief beneficiary of the festival’s proceeds is Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church (OLPH), whose membership is composed of some 470 families. These same parishioners provide the backbone of the festival, performing every task from event set up to picking up litter, parking cars, serving the signature dish of Shepherd’s Pie and then breaking the operation down that night. And then? They return for any last-minute tasks after Mass on Sunday morning.

Seated outside a Camden restaurant on an unseasonably warm evening in early November, O’Hara chatted about what it takes to make the Irish Fest a success each year. She said volunteers are critical.

“We need almost 200 volunteers to help with everything from the set-up of the event to needing more than 100 volunteers on the day of the festival,” she said. “We also reach out to nonprofit and civic organizations throughout the community … the festival is requiring an increase in volunteers and, in turn, those organizations receive a donation for their help.”

It is a sizable task that O’Hara undertook eight years ago, and she was honored for it by the Columbia Regional Business Report as a Women of Influence in 2023. 

The festival has also enjoyed stunning success from its humble beginnings when it occupied just one downtown block.

“In our first year, we had just more than 1,000 visitors, which surpassed any expectation that we had,” O’Hara recalled with a smile. “It quickly outgrew being a street festival [within] two years. In 2019, we moved the festival to Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, which encompasses more than 100 acres of beautiful property.”

Over the past six years, where OLPH became the primary beneficiary, Irish Fest Camden has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars. The festival supported much-needed church repairs and footed the entire bill for the renovation of its attached St. Mary’s Hall. In addition, 10% of the annual funds raised are dispersed among area nonprofit organizations.

The festival caps off a busy week of Celtic-related programs in the area. These include an Irish Bingo night, an Irish pub in the Black Box Theater at the Arts Center of Kershaw County, downtown businesses decorating their storefronts in an Irish theme and a festival-eve pub crawl featuring bands and solo acts at various venues.

As opposed to these adult events, Saturday’s grand celebration is a family-friendly affair that in 2024 will feature eight bands on three different stages with the large “Dublin Stage” hosting feature acts. Festival favorites Syr, from Columbia, and the popular Steel City Rovers, out of Hamilton, Ontario, will perform. The day includes a 5k, bands, dancing, more than 40 food trucks, festive green beer, beer brewed in Ireland plus more than 100 vendors dotted among the grounds. There are also games for the young and young at heart.

For those who prefer to watch sporting activities, Camden’s event also hosts the Highland Games, which is now a recognized and registered event with the National Association of Scottish Game Athletics. Relatively new to the festival is the Irish Fest Camden Hurling Cup. Hurling is Ireland’s national sport and is a combination of lacrosse and rugby. Teams from across the Southeast will again make their way to the festival for the tournament that organizers hope will be played inside 9,500-seat Zemp Stadium.

Planning for Irish Fest Camden starts in earnest some six months prior to the event for O’Hara and her volunteer staff of committee chairmen. In reality, in the days immediately following the event, her team goes to work highlighting the “roses and thorns” of the operation and discussing what needs to be changed or tweaked. 

“We have grown to become the premier Irish festival in the Southeast,” O’Hara beamed. “I think part of our success is because we have amazing music. We keep it focused to the Celtic and Irish genre, which people appreciate. We are also a family-friendly event; we are kid-friendly and family-focused.” 

In spite of it technically being held in winter, Irish Fest Camden has been blessed with sunny and mild weather conditions since its inception. In 2020, Irish Fest Camden was the last event to be held in the state before COVID-19 restrictions were put into place. One year later, it was the first event to be given the green light to come back as South Carolina eased virus mandates.

O’Hara laughed when asked how Irish Fest Camden has been able to run interrupted through its first seven years — all while skirting its way around a global pandemic with near-perfect weather to boot.

“We have been blessed with seven years of fantastic weather,” O’Hara said as a smile spread across her face. “I think it’s because we do a lot of praying on our knees for good weather.” 

VOLUNTEERS: Anyone wishing to volunteer their time at Irish Fest Camden may do so by emailing

Tom Didato is sports editor of the Chronicle-Independent, editor of Camden Horse & Equestrian magazine, and publicity chair for Camden Irish Fest. He’s also a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. Contact him at