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‘Floating’ at Snug Harbor

POSTED ON July 16th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Larry KirwanGeorge Seminara

Larry Kirwan.

By Irish Echo Staff

Larry Kirwan has never been busier, it seems, since his band Black 47 called it a day last fall after 25 years. On this Saturday, his solo career will take a Staten Island twist when he debuts and records “Floating.” The song may be brand new, but it tells a story from the past, specifically one about his great-grandfather, Captain James Moran, and his relationship with the sea. For tickets for the 8 p.m. event at the Noble Maritime Collection, Snug Harbor, go to www.noblemaritime.org/Larry_Kirwan.html.

“My great-grandfather was lost at sea off Penzance along with all of the crew on The City of Bristol SS, Sept. 29, 1898,” Kirwan said. “His body floated north over 150 miles, and the family legend has it that but for the tides he would have come ashore in Wexford rather than directly across the Irish Sea in Pembroke, Wales on Nov. 2, 1898.

“I had always wanted to write the story in some form but didn’t receive the inspiration until playing last year at the Noble Maritime Collection in Snug Harbor, Staten Island,” he said.

And is Mr. Kirwan as busy as ever or does it just seem that way? We asked him about whether he’s taking it easy post-Black 47.

“As regards retirement, I’ve just arrived back from playing in Milwaukee.  After the Staten Island gig, I’ll be playing July 23 at Bridge Street Live in Collinsville, Conn., and July 24 at the Bull Run in Shirley, Mass.,” he said.

“One of my musicals is being developed for a major production and I’m in the midst of writing another musical about Iraq.  ‘A History of Irish Music’ has just been released as an eBook on Kindle and Nook, etc.

“I’m still doing ‘Celtic Crush’ on SiriusXM every week, and there’s a certain editor at the Irish Echo who demands 700 words of flawless prose for my column every couple of weeks,” he said.

The multi-talented Wexford native added: “A man hardly has time to raise his elbow with a couple of pints!!  But I’m thinking strongly of throwing my hat in the ring for the Republican presidential nomination.  After all, I have just as much hair as The Donald!”

Peter Harding, 69, St. Brigid’s advocate

POSTED ON July 14th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

 

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Peter Harding.

 

By Peter McDermott

pmcdermott@irishecho.com

“When my father came to America, he had a lot to learn,” said Connor Harding in a eulogy at St. Brigid’s Church in Manhattan’s East Village last Tuesday afternoon.

Indeed, Peter Harding was just 18 in 1964. But when the Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, native gained the American knowledge and education he needed, he was always ready to pass it on.

And the architect Harding was the first person to call if there was a problem. “If you wanted business handled, you went to Dad,” Connor Harding said.

Officiating priest at the funeral Mass, the Rev. Peter Meehan, said afterwards: “Peter was the voice of reason during the St. Brigid’s crisis.”

Edwin Torres, chairman of the local Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church, said: “We will be forever grateful to Peter. It was his knowledge of Building Department laws that gave us our big break.”

After the New York archdiocese proposed to demolish the church completed in 1849, Harding became one of the most active members of Torres’s group. “Many people gave up hope,” Torres said. “Peter didn’t.”

“Those people [the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church] really deserve a lot of respect,” said Meehan, a pastor at Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Downtown Manhattan.

The priest said that clergy, frustrated at the late Cardinal Egan’s “intransigence,” passed on information to Harding during the long stand-off over the church. (An anonymous donation of $20 million saved St. Brigid’s and it reopened in early 2013.)

Not that the Irishman was an active churchgoer. “He was like my immigrant parents,” said Fr. Meehan. “They never darkened the door of a church. But they knew and respected the traditions. They had faith.”

Harding informed Meehan last year that he wanted his funeral Mass to take place at St. Brigid’s. “I said: ‘You better tell somebody else,’” the priest recalled. He was concerned that such a wish could get lost if only one priest in another parish knew about it.

Last September, the architect moved from a New York hospice to be with his elder son Connor and daughter-in-law Heather in North Carolina. “I spoke to him every four weeks or so after he moved,” Meehan said.

Harding died in Hope Mills, N.C., on July 2, and was cremated. Connor Harding traveled with his wife and younger brother Niall Harding, who is a Washington DC resident, for the Mass at St. Brigid’s Church five days later.

Torres heard about the death of his friend just before he flew out of New York on vacation. “I’m heartbroken,” he said upon his return yesterday. Several committee members spent a day with Harding at the hospice last year, Torres remembered.

Extended family joined the Hardings at the St. Brigid’s Mass, as did friends and colleagues from Alcoholics Anonymous. Harding was centrally involved with the World Trade Center group for many years. “He was a well-respected, quiet leader,” Meehan said, adding that Harding did a lot of pro bono work for homeless shelters and addiction centers over the years.

“He wasn’t a perfect man,” Connor Harding said. “But he was a good man.”

 

Great poet befriends plucky maid

POSTED ON July 14th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

 

Nuala O'Connor (c) Emilia Krysztofiak

Nuala O’Connor.

PHOTO: EMILIA KRYSZTOFIAK

 

“Secrets will always out,” the Dublin novelist Dermot Bolger wrote recently. “In the same way as Emily Dickinson’s poems were once the best-kept secret in Massachusetts, Nuala O’Connor’s luminous prose has long been one of Ireland’s most treasured literary secrets. Now, through her superb evocation of 19th century Amherst, an international audience is likely to be held rapt by the sparse lyricism and exactitude of O’Connor’s writing.”

And so it has proven, if “international audience” means admiring fellow writers here in the U.S. Ahead of its publication here this week, several have stepped forward to praise “Miss Emily.”

“The structure of the book is reminiscent of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, a lyrical dialogue between two voices,” said Stephanie Barron, author of the Jane Austen mystery series.

One of those voices is fictional. Dickinson didn’t have a maid in 1866, and so O’Connor created Ada Concannon, and made her a cousin of one of the poet’s real-life servants later on, Maggie Maher, who was born to immigrants from County Tipperary.

“An original portrayal of Emily Dickinson seen here not just as a lover of words, but as a heroine and friend to a plucky Irish maid who casts a new and sympathetic light on the Belle of Amherst,” said Sheila Kohler, author of “Becoming Jane Eyre.”

“The Bookman’s Tale” author Charlie Lovett wrote: “I lost myself in the beautiful detail of 1860s Amherst, a cast of characters that leapt off the page with life, and the constant reminder that words, properly wielded, can transcend time, transmit love, and, above all, inspire hope.”

O’Connor, a former Irish-language translator, library assistant and arts administrator, will visit Dickinson Country next month for a series of events.

 

Nuala O’Connor

Date of birth: Jan. 14, 1970

Place of birth: Dublin

Spouse: Finbar McLoughlin

Children: Cúán, 21, Finn, 13, Juno, 6.

Residence: Ballinasloe, Co. Galway

Published works: Three novels, four short story collections, three poetry collections, two chapbooks published in Ireland and the U.K. Full time writer since 2004. Up until now has written as Nuala Ní Chonchúir.

book cover

 

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I write in the mornings from about 8.30 a.m. to 2 p.m., while the kids are out at school. I have a desk in the corner of my bedroom. I like peace and quiet – no music, interruptions or radio.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read like a maniac; write every day; walk a lot; travel as much as possible; listen and take notes. Don’t worry about productivity or what anyone else is doing – write as much as you can when you can. There is no right age or time – do it now.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco; “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen; “The Country Girls” by Edna O’Brien.

What book are you currently reading?

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” by Jennifer Tseng. Set on an unnamed island (probably a fictional Martha’s Vineyard) it’s about a 41 year old librarian’s obsession with a 17 year old boy. It’s hilarious and beautifully written.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco – such a delicate, fairy tale-like novella about the power and ingenuity of women.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“On Writing” by Stephen King. Part memoir, part writing guide, I found it fascinating and affirming.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

Flannery O’Connor. I love her cock-eyed humor and penchant for darkness; I love that she kept peacocks. I imagine her conversation would be raucous and incisive.

What book changed your life?

“The Portable Virgin,” Anne Enright’s first short fiction collection. It changed my writing life in the sense that she made me understand that it is possible to write about Irishness in a modern, open way.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Mill Lane in Palmerstown, Dublin, where I grew up – a country idyll on the hems of the city. We spent our childhood in and on the Liffey, swimming, boating, fishing.

You’re Irish if…

You love to make a story out of every small thing.

 

 

Questions for Lucy McDiarmid

POSTED ON July 13th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

book cover

 

When did the poets eat a peacock?

Seven poets gathered to eat a peacock over a century ago, Sunday, Jan. 18, 1914, at 12:30 p.m.

And why would they do a thing like that?

W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, the most famous of the lot, organized the gathering to honor the Victorian poet, horse-breeder, and anti-imperialist Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, who was married to Byron’s only granddaughter.   Blunt was actually a mediocre poet, but he was tall, handsome, and notorious for his protests against British imperialism in Egypt and in Ireland. He lived a life that was operatic in its scale and drama. It was primarily his iconoclastic behavior that appealed to Pound, who wanted to meet him.

And why did they eat a peacock?

Blunt was also notorious for his philandering, and one of his early romances had been with the Irish writer Lady Gregory back in 1882. Behind the scenes Lady Gregory (at Yeats’s request) helped plan the dinner.   It was she who suggested the main course, because she knew that Blunt had a flock of peacock and that Yeats had always wanted to taste that particular bird.   One bird was not enough for all those hungry men, and Blunt, who hosted the dinner at his manor house in West Sussex, served roast beef in addition to roast peacock.

Why were only men invited?

Pound told Yeats he wanted to avoid the atmosphere of what he called “literary men’s wives.” In fact all the men at the dinner knew many women poets, but Pound aimed to ground his own writing in a tradition of literary masculinity and identified Wilfrid Blunt – with his oppositional politics, his good looks, and his women – as a role model. Blunt, who still felt great affection for Lady Gregory over thirty years after their affair, hoped she would attend the dinner, but she claimed a family obligation.

However, women were present as the invisible connections between the men: Blunt had allied himself to Lady Anne in large part because she was Byron’s granddaughter; Richard Aldington, one of the other poets, had recently married Pound’s former fiancée Hilda Doolittle, and Pound was engaged to Dorothy Shakespear, the daughter of Yeats’s first lover, Olivia Shakespear; and Yeats had met Blunt through Lady Gregory.

How can you get a whole book out of one meal?

What interests me are the overlapping biographies of the celebrity writers, their intimate friendships and their literary partnerships. They worked together under the same roofs. After her last night with Blunt, Lady Gregory handed him a sonnet sequence she had written about their adulterous affair. Later Blunt (with her permission) published the sonnets under his own name, “improved” by himself with revisions to some her words.   In 1901, at Lady Gregory’s estate Coole Park, Yeats and Gregory together wrote “his” most famous play, “Kathleen Ni Houlihan,” presented to the world as if it were his alone. And in the winter of 1913 – 1914, Pound and Yeats were living together at Stone Cottage in Sussex, writing poetry and reading one another’s manuscripts with the ink barely dry. Out of all these intimacies the peacock dinner was constructed.

Then isn’t the book a kind of literary gossip?

Yes indeed; and why not? This is what literary history is made of. In their letters to one another and their poems, all these writers talk about one another, about their friendships, their rivalries, and their romances, and out of these relationships poetry is made. Pound twice made poetry out of the peacock dinner itself, attacking one of the other peacock poets, Victor Plarr, in his 1920 poem “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly” and commemorating the dinner and Blunt’s generosity to the poets in “Canto 81” (1945). Lady Gregory’s romance with Blunt inspired not only her love sonnets but her own literary career.

If the dinner took place in West Sussex, how important is the Irish element?

Blunt was very proud of being the first Englishman imprisoned in the cause of Ireland. In fact he was determined to be arrested: in 1887, during the Land War, he attempted to speak at a banned meeting in Galway, and after the second time the police pulled him off the platform, he shouted, “Are you all such damned cowards that not one of you dares arrest me?” The police took the hint, and before long Blunt was locked up in Galway Gaol, where he wrote a sonnet sequence that Oscar Wilde praised in a review and Yeats anthologized. He also wrote a play on the Cuchulain theme for the Abbey Theatre. And of course, the dinner could not have happened without Yeats and Lady Gregory. In its politics, its oddness, and the sympathies of those at the table, the peacock dinner was in large part an Irish event.

As told to Peter McDermott.

 

Lucy McDiarmid

Lucy McDiarmid is the author of “Poets and the Peacock Dinner: the literary history of a meal”   (Oxford University Press). Her next book, “At Home in the Revolution: what women said and did in 1916,” will be published this fall by the Royal Irish Academy. Her previous works include “The Irish Art of Controversy” (2005). She is the Marie Frazee-Baldassarre Professor of English at Montclair University in New Jersey. For more information go to: lucymcdiarmid.com.

 

 

 

 

Emory U. launches Belfast Group site

POSTED ON July 10th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views

IRISH POETS SEAMUS HEANEY PORTRAIT LANDSCAPE

Seamus Heaney was an original member of the Belfast Group organized at Queen’s University from 1963. He is pictured near his home in Dublin in 1995 after it was announced that he’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature. PHOTOCALL

By Maureen McGavin

A new website called Belfast Group Poetry Networks will make it easier to understand the connections between Irish writers, particularly members of the mid-1960s Belfast Group, using open-source software created by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS).

Belfast Group Poetry Networks (http://belfastgroup.digitalscholarship.emory.edu), which launched last Tuesday, provides an interactive way to explore the poets’ literary and social networks, based on correspondence, shared poems at workshops, and mentions of names and places in poems and throughout their personal papers. The new site builds on and extends the previous Belfast Group webpage, created in 2000 by the Lewis H. Beck Center for Electronic Collections (now part of ECDS), as well as EmoryFindingAids, a repository of collection descriptions for MARBL manuscript collections.

Belfast Group primer

Organized by Philip Hobsbaum, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, the Belfast Group was a writers’ workshop that met from 1963 until 1972, when it disbanded due to political turmoil in Ireland and the rising literary careers of many of its participants. Members would bring Group sheets – typed copies of their drafts – to the weekly meetings to distribute to fellow Group members for feedback. (Since these are drafts, some of the poems differ from their published versions, adding another layer of interest for researchers.)

Original Group members included Seamus Heaney and Marie Devlin (who later married), Edna Broderick, Bernard MacLaverty, Stewart Parker, James Simmons and Arthur Terry. Heaney and other members took over running the Group when Hobsbaum moved to Glasgow in 1966. Over the years, the Group counted Ciaran Carson, Brendan Kennelly, Michael Longley (who married Edna Broderick), Derek Mahon and Paul Muldoon among its members.

The new website

The project for the Beck Center’s original Belfast Group website began in the mid-1990s, when a small number of poets whose papers are held by MARBL gave permission for their Group sheets to be digitized to create an electronic poetry collection.

The updated site features the Group sheets of poets who gave permission, which include Heaney, Muldoon, Michael Longley, Hobsbaum, Carson, Simmons, and Kennelly. The papers of one poet often contain Group sheets written by other poets.

“In our Muldoon collection, we have Heaney’s Group sheets because Muldoon was there when Heaney read, and in Simmons’ papers, we have Longley’s Group sheets,” says ECDS digital humanities strategist Brian Croxall, who served as deputy project leader and project manager.

Other features of the website include biographies of several Belfast Group members, generated from the MARBL finding aids (if MARBL doesn’t have the poet’s papers, the software will pull in the biography from Wikipedia); network graphs of the authors’ connections to the Belfast Group and to other writers; maps of places connected to people associated with the Belfast Group; and essays about both archival biases and women in the Belfast Group.

The road to networking the Belfast Group

The idea to update the Belfast Group site started with senior software engineer and project lead Rebecca Sutton Koeser, who completed a majority of the software development. She wanted to provide a new way to visualize some of the information found in the finding aids, which list the contents of poets’ papers and archives. Online finding aids are constructed more for humans to read rather than computers, Croxall says, even though there is data embedded.

“There’s so much work that archivists do when they process a collection and describe the material, and they put a lot of that information into the finding aids,” says Koeser. “This is a way to use more of that data.”

Koeser proposed the “Networking the Belfast Group” project to ECDS in 2012, but she first started experimenting with the idea in 2010, when members of her team were given time to explore new technologies and possible projects.

She noticed that four Irish collections held by MARBL have an index of correspondence, and she began harvesting the names to map the connections. “It’s really kind of extraordinary; they have a list, person by person, of what letters are in the collection,” she says. “But I would say maybe fewer than 10 collections in MARBL have this type of index, because it’s so time-intensive for archivists to do.”

The team went through the finding aids, tagging the names of poets, their places of birth and residence, locations mentioned in their poems, and organizations. The software Koeser wrote allowed team members to complete this process more easily, and it also communicates with an international cataloging system that assigns a permanent ID tag to each poet and author. Even abbreviations of names could be tagged, so if Seamus Heaney was referred to as S.H. or SH, those abbreviations could be identified as Heaney – something that is obvious in context to a human, but not obvious to a computer, Koeser says.

Once those tags were in place, Koeser then wrote software that could infer relationships among them from the data in the finding aid, which was then output in RDF, a linked data format.

“For example, Seamus Heaney marries Marie Devlin. She is his spouse, and the software recognizes that relationship,” Croxall says. “We can then essentially start to make a Facebook for these people – that’s one way to think of it.”

Open-source software and open data

The software Koeser developed is open-source and can be used by other archives to show similar connections among their collections. Anne Donlon, a CLIR postdoctoral fellow in MARBL and ECDS, is using the software for preliminary work with MARBL’s African American collections to connect the writers who wrote, owned, or inscribed books to each other, Koeser says.

“It’s a quicker way to find connections among our collections, and it really gives a sense of what the library has and how collections relate to each other,” Croxall says. “That opens up a lot of possibilities for research.”

In addition to Croxall and Koeser, team members included digital text specialist and original Belfast Group website manager Alice Hickcox, digital archivist Elizabeth Russey Roke, and senior software manager Kevin Glover.

The team also plans to publish the data from the site in Emory’s Dataverse Network and on Figshare, for others to use in their research.

1st full-length album hits bullseye

POSTED ON July 9th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

SOAK

Derry’s Bridie Monds-Watson, aka SOAK,

is currently on a United States tour.

 

By Colleen Taylor

letters@irishecho.com

Bridie Monds-Watson never goes anywhere without her notebook. At the young age of 19, Monds-Watson, or SOAK as she’s more commonly known in the artistic world, has traveled all over the world sharing her idiosyncratic music—the fruits of those well-traveled notebooks. SOAK’s creative process is never put on pause. Even when she’s busy touring, she’s always processing, creating, writing. “Now that I’m on the road all the time, I’ll write on my phone and draw and do things like that all the time,” Monds-Watson explained. With such consistent productivity, it’s no surprise that at 19, the young Derry native already has three critically-acclaimed EPs, several single releases, and most recently, the culmination of all her hard work, her first full-length album, “Before We Forgot How to Dream.” The album has already been tagged by many as yet another bullseye for the young artist. Everyone seems to be in agreement: SOAK has done it again. In the following weeks, SOAK will be sharing her album with American audiences as part of her international summer tour.

You might remember SOAK from my previous praise in this column. Her early work in the EPs “Sea Creatures” and “Blud” blew me away with their unique identity, their freshness. From the first time I heard Monds-Watson, she struck me as the antithetical teen star. Her music is subtle, tragic, raw and stylistically exploratory. “Before We Forgot How to Dream” is no exception. It troubles the status quo—topically and musically.

Monds-Watson describes her album like a diary: “It’s a collection of songs I wrote since I was 14,” she said. “When I felt like I needed to talk about something, I’d go into my bedroom and I’d write down everything I was singing, everything I was trying to work out.” It’s fitting then, that SOAK’s vocals are noticeably young in sound, while being paired with sophisticated melodies and beats, not to mention smart, mature lyrics about the hardships of adolescence. The album signifies the apotheosis of three years of careful work while still reflecting that self-identified status of a teenage diary. The 14 tracks are both youthful and wise simultaneously. She sounds like a young girl singing the music of a well-rehearsed artist at the peak of his or her career—which, in a way, describes just what SOAK is.

SOAK is known for her quiet, acoustic songs, but some of my favorites on “Before We Forgot How to Dream” are the ones with a strong beat. “Garden” is likely the most upbeat on the album, and I’d say one of the best too. It shows the other side of SOAK’s theatrical mask, and it suits her. “Reckless Behaviour” is another standout not only for the fact that it’s a great alt-folk song in and of itself but also because it reveals the audible evolution of Monds-Watson’s artistic formation. Her voice reflects growth here, a mix of smoky verses, high notes and beats. But don’t let me misguide you—there’s unavoidable darkness in these songs. For instance, “Reckless Behavior” offers the following haunting metaphor to illustrate the turnover from youth to adulthood: “We are reckless, ready for apocalypse. / We are golden, until the very last falls.” “B a noBody,” the keynote lament of the album, seems to be a fan favorite. It’s vulnerable, ghostly—audible pain and confusion. It’s exquisite, if scary. The song, between its dual, echoy choruses and its high and low notes, encompasses—for listener and singer alike—all the pain we associate with the confusion of teenage trials.

You can’t quite say SOAK is “beyond her years” because she writes so poignantly about her specific point in life. And yet, her musical intelligence would match that of someone three times her age. As “Before We Forgot How To Dream” evinces, SOAK holds a special, if paradoxical, place in the music industry. Behind the mic, Monds-Watson is of, as well as far beyond, her age group.

SOAK is currently busy promoting her transatlantic album release. I spoke with her while she was on the road to her next gig in the UK, and she was—unlike her music—reserved, guarded. Luckily I’ve watched enough interviews with the young singer not to take this personally. After all, to get at the depth of this young woman’s complex artistry, one should turn to the music itself, where she is in her element. Nonetheless, she gave me a bit of insight into SOAK on a day-to-day basis. Monds-Watson loves to keep in touch with her fans via social media. She says it’s a way to “make sure people know you’re there.” Her fans are very important to Monds-Watson, and she makes a point of going out after her gigs to meet everyone. She remembered her previous gigs in the U.S. fondly and found her New York audience to be a friendly one. Any time off she gets (which is little these days), she spends with her family or friends, or, as she told me, “in her room,” her original recording studio.

I think SOAK is rather excited about her American tour, despite her cool and calm exterior. “It’s weird to think your name has gotten all the way to America,” she said. The idea is not so strange for the music critic, however, of which there are many singing her praises across the pond and here in the States as well. No doubt after her North American tour, there will be even more to praise.

SOAK will be hitting both East and West coasts on her tour, and stopping by all the major Eastern cities. She will be in Boston on tomorrow night, Friday, July 10, Philadelphia on the 11th, D.C. on the 12th, and finally, at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC on Tuesday, July 14. Check out “Before We Forgot How to Dream” and get tickets for the tour at: soakmusic.co.uk

Director created ‘sense of community’: Ward

POSTED ON July 8th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

barry ward

Barry Ward as the activist James Gralton in a scene from the

County Leitrim-set “Jimmy’s Hall.” SONY PICTURE CLASSICS

 

By Karen Butler

letters@irishecho.com

Irish actor Barry Ward says the notion of working with Ken Loach was a lifelong dream that ultimately came true when he was cast in the British filmmaker’s latest period drama, “Jimmy’s Hall.”

“Even though I kind of adored him and worshipped him, I had underestimated him. I had undervalued him,” Ward told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. “When I met him then, I thought, ‘Wow!’ I had no idea just how good he is – as both a man and a director.’”

Ward said he was a young teen when a friend introduced him to Loach’s brand of social realism, urging him to watch the auteur’s 1969 picture, “Kes.”

“I never thought movies were made about people like me, so when I saw ‘Kes,’ I was kind of going: ‘Wow! This is incredible that there’s somebody out there, making movies about people I can relate to.’ So, it really opened up a new world to me,” Ward noted.

Inspired by a true story, “Jimmy’s Hall” is about Jimmy Gralton’s return to County Leitrim after the Great Depression ends his decade-long exile in the United States. Gralton was run out of his rural Irish town in the 1920s by the parish priest and politicians who feared his Pearse-Connolly Hall — a community center he opened for those seeking education, entertainment and intellectual discussion – had become a breeding ground for social and political activism. Gralton arrives back home years later with the intention of caring for his elderly mother, working on the family farm and living a quiet life. However, it isn’t long before his neighbors convince him to re-open his hall, a move seen by the local authorities as an open act of rebellion.

“It’s a story of Irish history that was unknown to me, or Ireland at large, so I was thinking, if anyone was going to unearth it and give it a fair hearing, it was Loach and [screenwriter Paul] Laverty,” Ward explained. “I agree with their politics. I think their movies [such as ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ and ‘Bread and Roses’] are always politically sound, though, my main concern wasn’t the politics, to be honest. I wanted to just be sure we were making a good movie and, in that regard, I was absolutely confident from the get-go because of having seen their previous work. There is never a bad performance in a Ken Loach movie, so I really thought, as soon as I got the job, you know, ‘This is a winner.’”

“Jimmy’s Hall,” which is imbued with warmth and humor, addresses Irish politics and history without ever losing sight of the people at the center of its story. Ward said that sense of comradery amongst the characters was evident even as he and his co-stars – including Simone Kirby, Jim Norton and Brian F. O’Byrne – were rehearsing for the film.

“There is a great sense of community and heart and I was aware of that whilst rehearsing because, at that stage, we still hadn’t a script, so I didn’t really know the story or what we were getting in for. But [Loach] creates that working environment, so we were all rehearsing together, dancing together and just hanging out, and it was wonderful because we had all of these kids who had never acted before and they were so enthusiastic about it and just really gave it their all and they kind of looked up to me as an older actor, who had some experience. That dynamic you see in the film, Ken Loach created that behind the scenes, so we were living that every day,” he revealed.

Ward also said Loach hired locals whenever possible and met with numerous actors for the role of Jimmy, trying to quickly determine where they were from and what class they were to see if they were right for the part.

“When I went in to meet him, I knew well that he would be sussing out my working-class credentials, which wasn’t a hard sell because that’s the truth of it,” emphasized the actor, who was born and raised in the Dublin suburb of Blanchardstown. “So, we kind of talked about everything other than acting, really. He asks you about your life and what you do and what your parents do or what they did and their background. And my dad happened to be born in the year that Jimmy Gralton was deported, about 20 miles away, in the same town in the same part in the west of Ireland, so there was that connection to that place and that part of the world, so I was trying to sell him my working-class credentials and my connection to the countryside.”

After a successful run on the film-festival circuit where it earned stellar reviews from critics, “Jimmy’s Hall” is to open in U.S. theaters July 3. It co-stars Andrew Scott, Francis Magee, Aileen Henry, Stella McGirl, Sorcha Fox, Martin Lucey, Mikel Murfi and Shane O’Brien.

Turner is ready for the summer party

POSTED ON July 7th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Pierce Turner

Pierce Turner will play at the Harp

Raw Bar & Grill on July 12, 19 and 26.

 

By Peter McDermott

pmcdermott@irishecho.com

People don’t associate Pierce Turner with summertime in New York.

“I’m usually in Ireland, anyway,” he said. “That’s been the pattern for quite some time.”’

But he has just returned from touring there and a vacation in Europe, and he’s ready to take the Manhattan stage again at Harp Raw Bar & Grill (Third Avenue, between 45th and 46th Streets) this Sunday evening at 6 p.m., as well as on the 19th and 26th.

Some acts have traditionally steered clear of the summer gig, working under the assumption, Turner said, that “people leave on the weekends.”

The Wexford-born singer-songwriter said: “It’s questionable if that’s the case anymore. The recession is supposed to be over, but people can’t afford to go the Hamptons or Fire Island.”

Turner promises “to brush off some summer classics” for the Harp event. “Summer in the City,” with the venue’s open roof, will be different to the show he staged in April at the Irish Arts Center.

“It will be less theatrical — looser and more spontaneous. More of a fun event, but it’s always fun,” he said.

If some of the songs are deep, the important thing is to send them home smiling, Turner said, “or they won’t come back.”

There will, of course, be storytelling. “[The story] is big part of it. And bigger with time,” he said.

On his website, there’s a clip of Turner telling composer Philip Glass — who produced his first solo album and with whom he’s worked occasionally since – the background to “Yogi With a Broken Heart.”

“Some songwriters don’t like explaining lyrics, but I don’t mind, if it helps,” Turner told the Echo. “And people want to know.”

They certainly do in Ireland. He reported that his recent tour there was “incredibly good,” though one event was rained out.

The singer-songwriter said he turned down some events, preferring quality over quantity. Besides, his fans there seem to be a “bit casual,” preferring to buy tickets very close to the day or just to turn up on the night – and that has its anxiety-inducing aspect.

“If I drive to Mullingar,” Turner said, “will there be anybody there?”

But even if a gig is full and a big success, it being Ireland, there will be always those fans who’ll seek him out afterwards to offer their unvarnished critique.

“They don’t bullshit you,” Turner said with a laugh.

“Summer in the City” with Pierce Turner will take place at the Harp Raw Bar & Grill, 729 Third Ave, on Sunday, July 12, 19 and 26. Doors open at 5 p.m.; show is at 6 p.m. He will also perform at An Beal Bocht Café, 445 West 238th St., in the Bronx, on Saturday, Aug 1 at 7 p.m. For more information, go to: www.pierceturner.com

 

Combined talents make easy listener

POSTED ON July 6th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Woodson and McDonald

The emphasis is Scottish on Will Woodson

and Eric McDonald’s CD “The Sunny Hills.”

 

By Daniel Neely

letters@irishecho.com

It was only a few years back that Will Woodson was living here in New York City, and working in Brooklyn as an apprentice to the well-established Scottish bellows pipe maker Nate Banton by day (elbowmusic.com) and playing tunes by night. (The nights he wasn’t busy locked away working in the pipes shop, that is.) It was always a pleasure to see him come into a session because in addition to being a friendly, gregarious guy, Will is an excellent player with a bag of unusual and interesting tunes.

Next thing you know, Banton’s off to Maine, moving his shop away from the increasingly untenable Brooklyn rents, and Will’s followed, chasing his passion for music and pipe making. It was a smart move for Will, but unfortunate because for those of us living in New York it meant that no longer would it be so easy to hear him play.

Or so we thought.   Earlier this year Will released “The Sunny Hills” with Eric McDonald, a lovely album of Scottish music which features Woodson on the border pipes and flute (willwoodsonmusic.com) and McDonald singing and playing guitar and mandolin. It’s an album lovers of Scottish music will want to check out.

Woodson is a compelling musician. In addition to playing and making pipes, he holds a master’s degree in Scottish music performance from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, is a well regarded teacher and even helped set up the Scottish Iona session in Brooklyn, which has yielded the “Iona Session” album, a CD I have in hand I look forward to discussing here some time in the future.

He gives a strong show of it on this album. Take “Willie Murray’s / …,” “Chloe’s Passion /…,” and “Bundle and Go / …,” three tracks that each gives a very good overview of Woodson’s piping abilities. All of these tracks are lovely and show a piper who plays with great character. And indeed, the tone of his pipes is stellar and a very good advertisement for the work he and Banton are doing together. (Incidentally, anyone interested in knowing more about these pipes is encouraged to visit Banton’s website, elbowmusic.com.)

Woodson’s flute playing is similarly engaging. His style is restrained and relatively unadorned, allowing the rhythms of the melody to do the work. I particularly like what he does on “Cameron’s Got His Wife Again / Donald Blue / A Dhòmhnuill, A Dhòmhnuill,” a strathspey and two reels, on which he articulates the rhythmic nuances of the different tunes nicely.

This album also has McDonald showing some lovely flashes on the mandolin. Take, for example, his playing on the waltz “Drunk in the Night, Dry in the Morning.” The two musicians, mandolin and flute, play together brilliantly and the resulting music is sweet and confident, captured with an intimacy that draws the ear.   The mandolin playing on “The Garden of Skye / Lime Hill / Captain Byng,” (march/strathspey/reel) is also lovely. With Woodson on pipes McDonald provides both harmonic and melodic support that alternately drives the melody and gives it depth.

McDonald also contributes three songs, “Caledonia,” “Charlie, Oh Charlie,” and “Dark Lowers the Night.” McDonald’s voice is light and easy and he delivers the songs well.   “Caledonia” is a slow song of longing, learned from Tony Cuffe, that comes from Cape Breton Island. “Chairlie” gives it a nice contrast. In a minor key, it has a brooding, snarly character that in combination with the pipe’s drone conveys the song’s darkness well. However, I find “Dark Lowers” the best of the three. McDonald’s voice has a fairly lonesome quality to it that adds the song’s feel, and Woodson’s flute backing sounds great with McDonald’s mandolin playing. It’s a standout track.

Ultimately, “The Sunny Hills” is a lovely album of Scottish music by two young musicians who have a special affinity for the tradition. If Scottish music is your thing, this is an album you’ll definitely want to check out for yourself, but it’s an easy listener for anyone interested in traditional music of any stripe. For more information about the album and artists, visit www.willandericmusic.com.

7/4/10

POSTED ON July 2nd  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Marian Toal

Marian Toal will celebrate her 105th birthday on July 4.

 

By Peter McDermott

pmcdermott@irishecho.com

You can find Tyrone’s Marian Toal in the Census of Ireland, 1911.

And you can also find her at the United Hebrew home in New Rochelle, N.Y., where she is a resident.

“She’s very sharp,” said Belfast native Joe Kennedy, who volunteers there. “I’m surprised. She seems to be doing remarkably well.”

Surprised maybe because Toal will turn 105 on Saturday.

She has no age listed for the Census taken on “the night of SUNDAY, the 2nd of APRIL,” for she’d only been born on July 4, 1910.

Then she was Mary Ann Early. Whether the enumerator or her parents decided that was how her name was spelled, it’s not clear. Whatever the case, the future Marian Toal arrived in New York in October 1929, a couple of weeks before the Wall Street Crash.

“She shouldn’t be blamed,” quipped her son Terence Toal Jr. to the Echo on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

In 1935, the farmer’s daughter from Rock married Terry Toal, a native of Carrickmore, who was involved with the New York City medallion taxicab industry. The family continued to be closely connected with that business and the Yonkers bar and restaurant trade, too.

“Until quite recently, she was active in a lot of organizations in the community,” said Kennedy, a past grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City.

Toal, who was widowed in 1967, was still living independently in her own apartment at age 100 and residing part of the year in Boynton Beach, Fla. “She gets around,” her son said in 2010.

In more recent times, the centenarian had been confined mostly to a wheelchair, though Kennedy reported that she takes a walk around twice a day at United Hebrew with staff assistance.

“They look after the residents extremely well,” he said, adding that Toal’s son and her friends are regular visitors.

“To think that she came over to this country and did so well and survived is incredible,” Kennedy said about the grandmother to eight and great-grandmother to 12. “She is a fine example of the kind of woman Ireland produced and still does.”

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