SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - One of the longest-tenured festivals in Savannah will not happen this year. The city decided not to fund it in this year's budget.
Tara Feis organizers were gearing up for the 27th annual event when the decision was made.
The decision represented a shift in the way the city will do business going forward. They set their strategic plan, and they want their money in those initiatives.
For 26 years, people of all ages, backgrounds, and religions kicked off St. Patrick Day festivities with Tara Feis. The day was a chance for children to learn about their Irish heritage.
"They feel like that's their day," said organizer, Bernadette Winters.
Winters started the festival in 1991. She said the city asked her to host a more family-friendly event. Truthfully, the Irish-Catholic community had been looking for ways to do that after the revelry surrounding the parade turned into more of a drunken party.
Tommy Brunson has been on the parade committee since 1966 and served as Grand Marshal in 2000. He pointed to the parade in 1976 as the year things hit the bottom.
"Absolutely, by far," said Brunson. "It didn't build up to that. It happened, surprised everybody. It happened - boom!"
The Irish community, in partnership with the city, began to create family-friendly events that would honor their ancestors and the Patron Saint of the Irish. Tara Feis was started as a part of that effort, but now the event will end after 26 years.
"I was just disappointed that they're not going to continue it, but as I always say, I don't sit where they sit so I don't know what their reasoning is for it," Winters said.
"It's great. That's where the young children, that's where they get indoctrinated into knowing that they're of Irish descent," Brunson said. "It sets an example for what St. Patrick's Day means to those of us who are of Irish descent."
Winters said she's not mad or angry, rather just sad and disappointed.
"Sad to see it go. Anyway, I'm hoping that maybe down the road they'll reconsider and have some event of this kind because I think it's sorely needed," Winters said.
A city spokeswoman said the decision was made in an effort to align their spending patterns with a strategic plan focused on public safety, poverty reduction, and neighborhood revitalization.
"This is in no way the city of Savannah saying that Tara Feis is not a great event. It is the city of Savannah saying that we can no longer be in the festival business," said City of Savannah Public Information Officer, Michelle Gavin. "The city has to stick with this new strategic plan and really focus on that and commit the funding to those priorities."
"It was a nice event, and we'll miss it sorely," said Winters.
For this year at least, Emmit Park will be empty the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day - a somber realization for many Irish-Catholics.
The city funded and produced the Asian festival and the Tara Feis. Armstrong and Georgia Southern did not apply for funding for the Asian festival this year.
The city is giving money to the Jazz Festival, Savannah Film Festival, Savannah Music Festival, the Savannah Black Heritage Festival, and the Savannah Philharmonic in 2018 because they were at least 50 percent self-funded and identified how their festivals align with the Savannah strategic plan.
Back in the summer, the city manager told everyone applying for funding that the city would not give any money to organizations or festivals that did not raise at least 50 percent of their funding.
The city paid about $60,000 for Tara Feis in the past.