Journal entry by The Ward Family

A visitation will be held at Becker Ritter Funeral Home (14075 W North Ave, Brookfield) on Thursday, October 17 from 4pm until 8pm.

A funeral Mass will be held at the Church of the Gesu (1145 W Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee) on Friday, October 18 at 10am. Free parking is available at the Marquette University Parking Structure that's located on the North side of Wells Street, between 12th and 13th streets. Please tell the attendant you are here for the Ward funeral, in order to receive the free parking.

Donations are appreciated to the Tommy Makem Cultural Legacy Fund or the Irish Fest Talent Development Fund.

**Due to a family allergy please refrain from using Lily’s in any floral arrangements sent.**

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Journal entry by The Ward Family

Surrounded by his family, Edward James Ward, age 74, died peacefully at his home on Sunday, October 13, 2019 after a long battle with cancer. Ed was preceded in death by son Brendan and brother Chuck. He is remembered by his wife Cathy, sons Patrick, Sean (Melissa) and Conor, daughters Caitlin (Jimmy) and Kelly, grand-daughter Moira, brother Jack (Margaret), sister Colleen Kennedy (Tom) and sister in law Cathy. He will be further remembered by his many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends. 

Ward served in the Peace Corp from 1967 to 1969, in the Malaria Abatement program in Thailand and served in the United States Army, during Vietnam, from 1970 to 1971; he was awarded a bronze star medal for his heroic service.

In 1967, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Marquette University of College Arts and Sciences and in 1976 earned his Juris Doctor degree from Marquette University Law School. Through his professional career he worked in politics and in financial services; he worked for the county government, state government and federal government, and as a wealth advisor for Morgan Stanley. 

Ward’s involvement in the Greater Milwaukee community was extensive. He founded Milwaukee Irish Fest, the Milwaukee Irish Fest Foundation and the John J. Ward Irish Music Archives and was one of the founding members of the Irish folk band Blarney. He was a member of the Wauwatosa Rotary Club and the United Ethnic Festivals. He served on the board of directors for Catholic Financial Life, CelticMKE, St. Charles Youth and Family Services and Tosa Tonight, and as president for the Shamrock Club of Wisconsin.

Ward was a source of inspiration for Irish musicians, colleagues and friends around the world. He received various awards for his services to the community, including his A Person for Others award from Marquette University Alumnae; he also received awards for his commitments in promoting Irish culture in America, including Irelands’ Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad

No amount of accolades can match the profound pride and love he had for his family. Ward was a loving husband, father, grand-father, brother, uncle, mentor and friend. Humble in nature, he was charismatic and thoughtful. Many will remember him for his infectious laugh and his zest for life that followed everywhere he went.

A visitation will be held at Becker Ritter Funeral Home (14075 W North Ave, Brookfield) on Thursday, October 17 from 4pm until 8pm. A funeral Mass will be held at the Church of the Gesu (1145 W Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee) on Friday, October 18 at 10am.

Donations are appreciated to the Tommy Makem Culteral Legacy Fund or the Irish Fest Talent Development Fund.

**Due to a family allergy please refrain from using Lily’s in any floral arrangements sent.**

Journal entry by The Ward Family

To our family and friends, 

Ed passed last night peacefully, a little past midnight, surrounded by Cathy, his children and granddaughter. 

Your overwhelming support, love and prayers during the last few weeks of Ed's life have been amazing to us and very much appreciated by our family. 

Ed so enjoyed sharing his thoughts and blogs with all of you and reading your memories and well wishes. It was always a highlight of each day and helped make his final journey one filled with love and friendship. 

Arrangements will be posted soon. 

Thank you all and God Bless. 
The Ward Family

Journal entry by The Ward Family



Newly Organized Committee for Leprechaun Understanding and Education


The  N.O.C.L.U.E committee came around in 2010 when Ed came up with the idea to introduce a new goofy concept to Milwaukee Irish Fest. Ed drafted a letter to the festival acting as the Order of Ancient Leprechauns Convocation Committee (also known as 


When Milwaukee Irish Fest received the letter, Ed put on his special space glasses that helped him read the leprechaun language. Soon after he began forming the no clue committee in effort to learn the facts and customs of leprechauns. The committee consisted of Ed, Jan Burke, Dan Gille, Ginny Sandroni, Dave and Maureen Modlinski, Dave and Carol Wesolowski and Mike and Carolyn Conley as well as Brian Meehan from Celtic Inc. 


The committee had to wait a day of two in order to send the their response due to it having to be placed under a specific rock, with instructions to not attempt to take photographs of the leprechaun that would retrieve it. 


The No Clue committee met periodically to discuss facts about leprechauns to ensure they were correct. Fortunately, NO CLUE member Dan Gille had actually seen a leprechaun, which was helpful to the committee. Here is just a sampling of the facts that they were able to verify:


-      Leprechauns are known as shoemakers and are often seen mending shoes – only one shoe, never a pair – and the sound of their tapping hammers are often considered clues to where they are. 

-      They are about 2-3 feet tall, but are perfectly proportioned. 

-      Leprechauns have been known to jump on walls and spin on the top of their hats. 


The Festival came and went, and though leprechaun convention attendance was hard to gauge due to their tendency to avoid contact with humans, it is estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of leprechauns attended. 


The No Clue committee continued to meet to share facts and information and continued their commitment to explore the legend of the leprechaun. Through the meetings, the idea of a leprechaun village came up. At this point many others became involved, some of which were Mike Taft, Donny Almquist and eventually Liam “the extra large” Leprechaun (who of course Ed did his due diligence in finding). 


This very serious effort led to Milwaukee Irish Fest’s leprechaun village in which it’s buildings are leased out for sponsorship. What started as a goofy idea turned into an educational, successful and more importantly fun addition to the festival. 


Next time you join us at Milwaukee Irish Fest, stay sharp! You may get to see some of Milwaukee Irish Fest’s visiting leprechauns, Spinner and One Mike McCarthy.  If you do, keep your wits about you, it’s said that leprechauns enjoy mischief and enjoy tricking humans! 

Journal entry by The Ward Family

In 2016, after much discussion and analysis, the Irish Fest Board of Directors voted to introduce a new logo/icon which better represents the umbrella organization and its varied cultural and non-festival activities.The decision reflects the growth of the Irish Fest organization into an internationally known music and cultural event and acknowledges partnerships that extend well beyond the borders of Ireland.

The decision will have little effect on the look and feel of the festival itself and of course, our well known and loved mascots Paddy and Molly McFest will continue to be as visible as ever.

Growth and Prosperity

Since our first festival in 1981 the Irish and Celtic music industry has experienced dramatic growth and prosperity.  During this growth surge, Milwaukee Irish Fest has become a driving and innovating force.  It is recognized among the top Celtic cultural events in the world along with Celtic Connections in Scotland, Celtic Colours in Nova Scotia and Festival Interceltique de Lorient in France.    

As I have personally witnessed this commercial transformation in the past three and a half decades and commented on it, I have often used the imagery of Irish music as a river.  Starting with a trickle in the late 1970s it grew into a stream, growing bigger and wider pulled by the gravity of greater commercial popularity of Irish music and dance.  Many new musical streams branch off and flow away from the mainstream while others reconnect to the main musical branch. But the musical river grows and changes the landscape it travels through creating new routes and side channels to follow. Some musical styles flow intermittently high or low and an occasional sleeper style may emerge with great interest and success. It is very exciting to fully embrace the global community of talented and passionate Irish and Celtic artists and promoters who have brought us where we are today.  

The new CelticMKE brand embraces this larger and expanded musical world enabling us to better compete in a multitude of Celtic nations for funds, influence and new and innovative ideas.

Journal entry by The Ward Family

Those of you who have been involved with Irish music and dance for some time are familiar with Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE), which translates to "Society of Musicians in Ireland." CCE is the primary Irish organization dedicated to the promotion of the music, dance and language of Ireland. Founded in 1951 by a group of Westmeath pipers concerned about the decline of Irish musical traditions, CCE now has over 400 chapters around the world. It also runs the annual Fleadh Cheoil, a national Irish music festival and competition. 

In early 1979, a CCE chapter was formed in Milwaukee and the chapter was approved by CCE headquarters in Dublin and the appropriate rules, membership instructions, etc. were sent on to us by CCE U.S. Coordinator William McEvoy. The original officers of the Milwaukee branch were Pat Williams, John Maher, Jeff Keeling and me. It was the intention of this group to draw together local musicians, singers and dancers to organize and promote Irish music and cultural events. An effort would be made to coordinate the weekly Irish Ceili dancing sessions with traditional Irish musicians. Organizers also pledged to promote Irish albums and musicians and assist local Irish music lovers in finding music they enjoy. Membership dues were $1 a year and the branch met quarterly. Local membership in the Milwaukee branch grew to over 30 members at its highest points. John Maher and I atended the Midwest Region annual CCE conference in Oak Lawn, IL, in June 1979 with full voting rights. While the Milwaukee CCE chapter lasted only a few years, the goals and the objectives of the original organizers were clearly met. The efforts of these dedicated and passionate local musicians and dancers helped keep Milwaukee on a trajectory to one of the largest celebrations of Irish music and culture in the world. 

Journal entry by The Ward Family

Ed had a good weekend. The return of Jimmy, Caitlin and granddaughter Moira made for a louder atmosphere. Sean, Melissa and Jimmy took a very short trip to Ohio to donate (most) of what was left of his record collection to the Bill Schurk Sound Archives at Bowling Green State University.

This weekend was full of family visits. Ed spent time with brother Jack, sister Colleen, brother in law Tom and sister in law Margaret. He also enjoyed nice conversations with nieces Katie and Alyssa and nephew in law Kurt. 

The highlight of the weekend was Sunday, getting to spend some time outside on a beautiful fall day. Moira got to sit next to grandpa and hold his hand as we enjoyed the weather and watch the leaves fall. Lunch was an amazing cherry turnover brought by a very close friend, John Thomas. We finished the weekend watching the Packers. Despite the performance in the 4th quarter, we were all very happy to have the win.

Journal entry by The Ward Family

Were you there? 

They say that photos capture moments that are gone forever. Photos emerged a few years ago from the April 25, 1981 Summerfest/Irish Fest contract signing on the Summerfest grounds. Pictured were Summerfest Executive Director Rod Lanser, Summerfest Operations Manager Kris Martinsek, a few volunteers, and me. Musicians John Maher, Dan Hosmanek and Pat Williams were pictured. I knew however, that there was a much larger group of people who had gathered to celebrate and witness the official and final step in the "we are going to do this" process. 

But who were these other folks? So when Mark Goff, an early Irish Fest Board Member, called me a few years ago to say that he had found a roll of film with photos from the contract signing, I was delighted. After viewing them closely, I have counted and named over 30 folks who shared that moment with us. Many of our early key coordinators were in attendance and at least one local TV station was recording the contract signing. We are sharing these photos with you so that you can see, that despite the chill in the air, there was a great sense of anticipation and excitement. Clearly, it was a historic moment in the history of Irish music and culture, not only in Milwaukee, but also in the entire country.  

Journal entry by The Ward Family

The 1970s in Ireland ushered in a golden age of Irish traditional music. Based on the groundbreaking blending of traditional and modern music techniques introduced by composer Sean O'Riada at the University College Cork in the 1960s, a number of new Irish bands emerged a decade later that revolutionized Irish traditional music. In 1972, Donal Lunny and Christy Moore formed Planxty along with Andy Irvine and Liam O'Flynn. In 1975, Donal Lunny, having left Planxty, formed another legendary group of traditional music talent and master musicianship - The Bothy Band. Many former members of both of these bands have performed at Milwaukee Irish Fest over the years. 

Another traditional musical ensemble, De Danann, was also influential and acclaimed for their musical style in the mid-1970s. Named after the legendary Irish tribe Tuatha De Danann, De Danannn started with musicians Frankie Gavin, Alec Finn, Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh, and Charlie Piggott playing sessions at Hughes Pub in Spideal in the County Galway. In 1975 they released their first album De Danann followed a year later with Selected Jigs, Reels & Songs. I first heard them when Chuck Judkins, a regular at Nash's Irish Castle, gave me a cassette of their music. I was hooked.

As De Danann's popularity grew, they started touring the U.S. The Shamrock Club invited them to play in Milwaukee; on October 7, 1979, De Danann played in concert at the Wauwatosa West High School Auditorium. I remember it well. Here's why. During the intermission, two elderly ladies were walking out and I heard one say to the other, "well that certainly isn't Irish music." It seemed clear to me that these ladies were probably raised on the music and songs of John McCormack, Bing Crosby, Morton Downey and popular Irish American singers of the day. When Frankie, Alec and I were conversing at an iHop, Frankie expressed his concern over the small market for trad music in Irish American communities. The Irish American ballad tradition was significant, and Irish Fest in its early years featured many of the wonderful artists who sang what we now call "the old ballads." Carmel Quinn, John Gary and Joe Feeney (of the Lawrence Welk Show) were with us in our first year. Dennis Day also appeared a number of times. These singers had large followings and were truly great entertainers, especially Carmel Quinn. But boy, how the market has since changed. 

When De Danann played in Wauwatosa in 1979 and at the first Milwaukee Irish Fest in 1981, they were an immediate hit and helped grow a whole new generation of Irish music lovers. By 1981, the band had added Jackie Daly, but their original vocalist Dolores Keane, who later appeared at Irish Fest with Kinvara, had left the band. Many who heard their early Irish Fest appearances remember the shows by the featured singers that accompanied the band. Maura O'Connell, Mary Black, Eleanor Shanley, and Tommy Fleming were all legitimate stars in their own right in Ireland. I love pulling out my old LPs of De Danann, The Mist Covered MountainStar Spangled Molly (which featured their first hit single, "Hey Jude"). It's great stuff. Ah! The good 'ol days. 


P.S. In 1987, the band changed the name to De Dannan.

Journal entry by The Ward Family

Hello my Dear Friends,

I want to take this opportunity to offer my heartfelt thanks to each and everyone of you. What you have accomplished these past 39 years is extraordinary. I hope you will take time to reflect on how Irish Fest has impacted your lives and moreover, how it will enlarge your future. 

The early years were special because of the group of people that worked together to produce the festival. They were so passionate about what we were trying to accomplish. Many of them are still involved in Irish Fest. I worked alongside them as the Director of Irish Fest for 10 years and how fortunate we were to have Jane Anderson ready to step into that role when I stepped down. One thing our organization has always had are strong, passionate and dedicated people such as yourselves to lead the way. 

Now as we face our 40thanniversary we are in great shape to take on the future. I have all the confidence in the world that with Mike at the helm and the help of our hardworking volunteers and staff such as yourselves the future of the festival as well as CelticMKE will be very bright.

Thanks again and God Bless,


Journal entry by The Ward Family

Ed has fought prostate cancer for many years. After a slight turning point in December of 2018, 2019 brought new challenges for Ed and our family in regards to Ed's cancer. 

Despite the challenges, Ed enjoyed a family trip to Disney World in January, a trip to New Orleans to see his youngest daughter Kelly graduate from Tulane University with a Bachelors degree in public health, many trips and visits from his oldest daughter Caitlin, her husband Jimmy and his grand daughter Moira, and much time spent with his wife Cathy, and their sons Patrick, Conor and Sean as well as his daughter in law Melissa. 

Ed continued attending and participating in Milwaukee Irish Fest and Tosa Tonight meetings and events throughout the year, as well as working with his clients and enjoying his everyday job at Morgan Stanley. 

In August the cancer continued to cause additional challenges that resulted in some time in the hospital. With the help of family, friends, and a VERY determined and swift acting medical team, Ed was able to attend Milwaukee Irish Fest to watch his son Sean's band, Tallymoore, play on the Miller Stage, where his own band Blarney played countless times. He enjoyed time spent with family and very close friends and watched the "Best of Irish Rock Hits" show at the Leinie's rock stage. Afterwards his sister Colleen took him for a golf cart ride along the lake walk and throughout the grounds.  

On September 20th, Ed came home from the hospital where he will enjoy time with his wife, kids, granddaughter and other close friends and family. Our family will be supported by hospice nurses as needed. 

We will continue to post updates and communicate through Caring Bridge, so feel free to continue to check back and share this site with anyone you may think would like to follow Ed's journey.
Ed’s Story

Site created on September 20, 2019

After a long fight with prostate cancer, Ed has entered into hospice care in our family home.  This Caring Bridge website is intended to keep everyone informed as time goes on. We are blessed to have such a large support group of family and friends, and will appreciate and pass well wishes and sentiments on to Ed as we are able. We would like to thank everyone in advance for the respect and privacy given to our family as we continue to enjoy our time spent together.