The thought of a feis in Dayton first emerged in the 1960s because of the success of the Cleveland Feis and Detroit Feis, and because of a growing contingent of competitors in the Dayton area. An informal feis was held in 1962 at the Eintracht Hall on Troy Street in Dayton. However, there was no follow-up effort until 1974 when the first official Dayton Feis began. Instrumental in the formulation of our first Dayton Feis were Martin and Helen Kelly; Bill and Lois Lynch; Jack and Ann Richens; Paul Rado Sr.; Paul and Cindy Rado; Jack and Mickey Mulhern; Gus and Renate Shroyer; Janet Kelly; Tess Donnelly; and Marguerite Walhrab. The Dayton Area Feis Society constitution was finalized and ratified on 11 December 1974.
Our first three feisana (1974-1976) were held at St. Leonard’s College, Centerville, Ohio. The prize medals for the third feis were designed by the Dayton Feis Society and became the standard medal for the Dayton Feis. The medal coin displays a shamrock encircled by an ancient Celtic design derived from the book of Kells, and is attached to an Irish Tricolor ribbon. Music competition were added to the third feis and included violin, Irish-style accordion, and the piano accordion.
During the third feis, a pre-feis party for adult ceili competitions was held at the Ramada Inn, Dayton, Ohio. Pre-feis parties were held the night before the feis at the Ramada Inn up until 1984.
The success of the first three feis resulted in increased number of competitors and required the Feis Society to search for a larger location. The size of the third feis had increased 20 percent. Several locations were considered for the fourth feis before the Coliseum at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Dayton was selected. The tin whistle and flute were added to the music competition. The fourth through the sixth feis (1977-1979) were held in this location.
As history repeats itself, the Dayton Area Feis Society was faced with the task of finding a new location with the growing number of entrants for the seventh feis. The St. Joseph’s Home for Children was selected. St. Joseph’s had provided support during the past and had a large open field, a permanent shelter and a barn for storage of the stages. Vocal competitions were added to the feis agenda. The seventh through the fourteenth feis (1980-1987) were held there. The fourteenth feis (1987) hosted the North American Senior Belt Championship which was won by Regan Wick, O’Hare School, Washington, DC.
During 1984, the St. Joseph shelter was destroyed by fire. The twelfth feis had no shelter. Large tents were used for shelter for the thirteenth and fourteenth feis, but proved costly. The rains “flooded” the feis activities several times during those last years at St. Joseph’s. All feis’ were completed, but too often with drenched dancers.
The Dayton Feis Society decided that the feis needed permanent shelter. Carroll High School, located east of the Dayton city limits, was selected for the fifteenth feis. This location provided a large indoor stage ideal for open and championship competitions and a large adjacent field for the remaining competitions using “portable” stages that were assembled on-site. In 1990, the seventeenth feis hosted the North American Junior Cup Championship which was won by Collette Cremins, Dennehy School, Chicago, Illinois. The fifteenth through the twenty-fourth feis (1988-1997) were conducted at Carroll High School..
In 1988 and 1989, outdoor temperatures ranged from the high 90’s to the lower 100’s with high humidity. In 1990, the Dayton Feis Society decided that, in the future, all stages would be located indoors as a result of the previous hot, humid weather and the continued risk of rain, especially, with fresh memories of the feis drenchings when located at St. Joseph’s. This approach lasted until 1996 when the number of competitors grew from an average of 450 to 550 and forced the society to reconsider locating the some stages outside again.
Pre-feis parties were reinstituted in 1989 at Carroll High School on the evening before the feis and continued up to and including 1991.
In preparation for the eighteenth feis, repair of the old portable stage modules were required. The Feis Society ad hoc committee, in addition to repairing the modules, also developed an interlocking design for each module to facilitate easy assembly. The dancers did not notice any difference compared to the old design.
The eighteenth feis, in 1991, added child/parent dancing competitions and Irish soda bread and Irish arts and craft competitions.
Mr. Ted Schaeffer’s homemade Irish stew provided delectable energy to many beginner through championship dancers from 1980 to 1991.
The problem of size compounded by what appeared to be the ever present heat wave during the fourth week of June and the dependence on good weather for two stages, forced the Society to search for a larger totally air-conditioned location. The University of Dayton, John F. Kennedy Memorial Union was selected for the twenty-fifth feis in 1998. 636 competitors participated. One year later the number of competitors jumped to 860. Similar participation was experienced in 2000.
In 2001 the 28th feis moved to Sinclair Community College in downtown Dayton and a cap of 800 dancers was established. The feis was held in the Great Hall in Building 12 for two years (2001 and 2002). Due to cramped quarters, the feis moved to the Physical Activities Center in Building 8 in 2003. Air conditioning was added to the PAC in 2004.
The Dayton Feis moved again in 2015 to the spacious Dayton Airport Expo Center located adjacent to The Dayton International Airport. The City of Dayton closed the Expo Center after the 2016 Dayton Feis.
In 2017 the feis relocated to the Hobart Arena in Troy, Ohio.
The Dayton Area Feis Society has been chaired by Martin Kelly (1974 – 1975); Bill Lynch (1976); John Hoswell (1977); Jack Mulhern (1978 – 1979); Jack Richens (1980 – 1981); Barney McGovern (1982 – 1983); Chuck Timm (1984 – 1987); Jim Kelley (1988 – 1993); Ed Gerhard (1994 – 1995); Pat O’Brien (1996 – 1999); Dan Strine (2000 – 2002); Jon Higgins (2003); Frank McFadden (2004-2006); Brenda Mays (2007-2015 ) and Nancy Robinson (2016- ).
Over the years, the Dayton Area Feis Society has lost key members. Specific feis’ were dedicated in their name in memory of their important lifetime contributions to the advancement of Irish culture in the Dayton Area.
Joseph P. Nugent – Twelfth Feis (1985)
William J. Coutier – Fourteenth Feis (1987)
De Donnelly – Fifteenth Feis (1988)
Frederick Kelley – Twenty-First Feis (1994)
Jerry Laffey – Twenty-Third Feis (1996)
Mickey Mulhern – Twenty-Ninth Feis (2002)
Tess Donnelly – Thirty-First Feis (2004)
Renate Shroyer – Thirty-Second Feis (2005)
Jack Mulhern – Thirty-Third Feis (2006)
Dan Strine – Thirty-Fourth Feis (2007)
Ann Richens – Fortieth Feis (2012)
The Dayton Area Feis Society is committed to maintaining and developing Irish culture in the greater Dayton area.