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Kin emerge as best new act in NJ

POSTED ON May 2nd  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Tom Johnston and Deirdre Forrest performed at 67 live shows in 2011.

Tom Johnston had never heard his niece, 22-year-old Deirdre Forrest, sing a single note until she asked him if they could perform together at a New Jersey open mic night a little over two years ago. Tom was pleasantly surprised to hear that his niece had a hidden talent – perfect pitch without any vocal training, and a knack for writing poetry that she would later put to music.  Tom, an accountant/musician who hadn’t performed for an audience in 25 years, and Deirdre, a teacher who had kept quiet about her talent and her dream of performing, have been making music together and gaining recognition for it ever since that open mic night in 2009. When I asked Tom to describe the experience thus far, he exuded joy as he said “the past two years have been filled with one surreal moment after another,” and that’s why they call themselves Beannacht, the Irish word for blessing.

Tom and Deirdre’s blessings have come in the form of the 67 live shows they performed in 2011, the release of their first album, “Gra na Firinne” (Love of Truth), and being named the best new act at the New Jersey Acoustic Music Awards in Asbury Park last year. Add to the list their growing bond as niece and uncle, and their journey as two songwriters honing their craft and cranking out some sweet melodies and powerful lyrics, and you’ll see why the two have been feeling very blessed lately.

While Beannacht’s sound spans a few genres including rock, folk, and blues, Tom said that “Irish Music is the foundation.” Their album doesn’t feature any traditional songs, but you’ll pick up on the Irish influence as soon as you hear Tom’s bodrhan and tin whistle on a few of the tracks. When I asked Tom about the duo’s musical influences he gave credit to Cherish the Ladies and Clannad as well as Deirdre’s upbringing in the world of competitive Irish step dancing. Like most bands, Beannacht’s sound is always evolving, and as they continue to write songs and perform together Tom and Deirdre are growing even closer to the traditional sounds of their Irish heritage. Fans can expect a more prominent Irish sound on their next album, due out in the Fall.

The duo have accomplished more than most acts in their first two years of performing, from the revelation that niece and uncle had a shared musical bond, to the six award nominations they received for the 2012 New Jersey Acoustic Music Awards. Throughout the whirlwind of their quickly blossoming musical career one very special moment stands out for Tom. He had sent Beannacht’s album to relatives in Belfast, where his grandfather grew up and became a well known singer. His Irish relatives buzzed about the similarities between Tom’s voice and his grandfather’s. Tom had never met his grandfather, but to know that he had a place in the music of Beannacht “was a very special compliment” said Tom, a blessing indeed.

Folks in New Jersey will have two chances to check out Beannacht this week, on 5/2 at the Cambridge Inn in Spotswood and at Grover’s Mill Coffee House in West Windsor on 5/4.

New York City welcomes some Irish acts to town this week with Julie Feeney at The Irish Arts Center in NYC from 5/2 – 5/6, the  Cranberries at Terminal 5 in NYC on 5/2 and 5/4, and Mary Courtney at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in The Bronx on 5/4.


Sensational Julie Feeney hits New York

POSTED ON April 25th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Julie Feeney on stage.

A truly brilliant artist will be in New York City for ten nights at the Irish Arts Center, beginning April 25. She’s the Galway born, award-winning composer, singer, and music producer, Julie Feeney.

I’ve spent all week with her latest album “Pages,” admiring the charming lyrics, captivated by her flawless voice, and completely amazed by the amount of talent that one person can have. Julie wrote all of the words and music, produced, sang, and conducted the orchestra for the entire album. I’d say she deserves a very warm welcome in the Big Apple.

Although Julie’s musical history consists of a stint with the Irish choral group, Anuna, the sound that she has created throughout her solo career is described as chamber-pop – a genre

that fuses pop and classical music, featuring lush instrumentation and elaborate melodies.

While her albums are award winning, the buzz is really about Julie’s stage presence and the magic of her live shows. After seeing her perform at Joe’s Pub last year, executive director of the Irish

Arts Center, Aidan Connolly, simply described her show as “a knock-out.”

And if you think that an unconventional, theatrical, costume-wearing artist accompanied by an ensemble of singers, strings, pianos and trumpets is out of place at the Irish Arts Center, then you’ve got the wrong idea about the center and the innovative opportunities Connolly and his crew are offering audiences.

When it comes to live music at the Irish Arts center Connolly says, “The world is our oyster, we are looking to provide audiences with special, intimate live music experiences … contemporary music is an important part of the picture.”

Although he admits that new endeavors come with their fair share of obstacles and hard work, he exudes excitement when he speaks about creating a musical residency for a contemporary artist and allowing New York City to be a “creative home” for an Irish musician. For Julie Feeney, the Irish Arts Center will be a great home. It’s an intimate environment cultivated by creative staff, loyal supporters, audiences that are passionate about all kinds of music coming out of Ireland, and an executive director dedicated to providing truly memorable musical experiences.

Julie Feeney’s Irish Arts Center residency is running from April 25 – May 6, with performances Wednesday-Sunday evenings at 8pm. Visit for details and tickets.

For other Irish sounds around town this weekend you’ll have to choose from Susan McKeown at the New York Irish Center in Queens on 4/28, or Eileen Ivers & Immigrant Soul at Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington, LI, on 4/28. You can also catch Brian Conway playing the music of Turlough O’Carolan at An Beal Bocht Café in the Bronx on 4/29.



John Cusack looks on the dark side

POSTED ON April 25th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

John Cusack and Brendan Gleeson in a scene from "The Raven."

Irish-American actor John Cusack says he leapt at the chance to play 19th century poet and author Edgar Allen Poe in “The Raven,” a moody mystery about a string of murders inspired by the works of the master of macabre himself.

Known for his likable every-man roles in films like “Sixteen Candles,” “Say Anything,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Con Air,” “Pushing Tin,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” “High Fidelity,” “America’s Sweethearts,” “Runaway Jury” and “2012,” the 45-year-old Evanston, Ill., native offers perhaps his most daring performance to date as Poe, the Boston-born literary icon Cusack described as the “godfather of goth.”

Among Poe’s works are the poems “The Raven,” “The Bells” and “Annabel Lee,” and short stories “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders at the Rue Morgue,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Premature Burial” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” An alcoholic who experienced staggering personal losses throughout his short life, he died from unknown causes in 1849 at the age of 40.

Helmed by “V for Vendetta” director James McTiegue, “The Raven” is a fictionalized thriller in which Poe teams up with a Baltimore detective, played by Luke Evans, to pursue a serial killer. British actress Alice Eve plays Poe’s love interest Emily, while Irish film star Brendan Gleeson plays her father, Col. Hamilton.

“I just thought, as an actor, playing Poe and getting under the skin of this very complex genius … I think any actor would want to play him, and think it was a great challenge and opportunity,” Cusack told reporters at a recent Los Angeles press conference. “I was just up for it 100 percent.”

To prepare to play the famously troubled scribe, Cusack said he immersed himself in his real-life writing.

“I think the script was terrific and then James and I went through it with the writers and some people and tried to pull as much of Poe’s own dialogue as we could from his letters and novels, so we put that cadence and idiom into the structure of this genre story, which is basically kind of a Poe story where Poe becomes a character in one of his own stories.

So, you have Poe deconstructing Poe,” Cusack explained. “So, even though it is a fantasy, I was probably a little bit obsessive and drove James crazy. I was like, ‘Poe said this and Poe said that.’ I was always trying to use his own vernacular and his own words as much as I could in a fictional setting. So, we were trying to square that circle in a way.”

So, what did the actor learn about Poe through his experience of making “The Raven?”

“I think his feelings of abandonment and loneliness from losing his mother, then his stepmother and then his wife, I think he felt like he was sort of this orphan of the world,” Cusack observed. “And he was this genius and kind of a bastard. He was a rogue and he was all the things you think of him naturally like inward-looking and melancholy and soulful and all those things. But I think he was kind of this blasted soul. He was kind of a wanderer and I think everybody can relate to that.

He’s become a sort of a shadow archetype of the culture. He was like a pioneer into the underworld. I think he was a fascinating figure.”

The actor admitted shooting the film in Hungary and Serbia during the winter and largely at night took its toll on him and it was weeks after production wrapped before he was able to shake off the gloomy character.

“I just sort of felt like I became a vampire and I would sort of cling to Alice and I don’t know if I was disagreeable, but I might have been,” Cusack confessed. “It felt like a bender, but in a good way; kind of a cool bender. I know when I finished we were at the airport in London and James said, ‘You’ve got to go home, man!’ And I went back home and I did scare my family. They said, ‘What the [expletive] happened to you?’ I was pretty strung out … It’s the kind of thing where you have to go all in. I think whether you like the film or not, I think we all went all in … It seemed like the only way to go.”

“The Raven” opens nationwide

Friday. It is rated R.



Augusta’s thirty-year tradition of excellence

POSTED ON April 25th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

A session in full swing at Augusta.

“With traditional music it takes a generation,” Billy McComiskey recently told me. “You don’t realize what you’ve done until you look back on it.” While it’s been well more than a generation for the Augusta Irish/Celtic Week, the first program to celebrate traditional Irish music and heritage in the United States, and now marking its 30th anniversary, when we look back at its history we find one of this country’s – and this music’s – most enduring and important cultural and educational institutions.

It all started out fairly innocuously. In the late 1970s, the Irish repertoire was fast becoming part of the burgeoning American new-folk scene and Mick Moloney was one of a very small number of Irish musicians performing off traditional music’s beaten track, places largely dominated by old time and bluegrass music.

He made quite an impression with these audiences, particularly at the weekend festivals that were part of the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops that had been held on the campus of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia since 1972.

There was a buzz about Moloney’s performances, so when the Augusta program was overhauled and renamed “Augusta Heritage Center” in 1981, the program’s director, Margo Blevin, contacted Moloney about organizing a one-off Irish music teaching week – something in the spirit of the infamous Willie Clancy Week in Miltown Malbay, County Clare. Moloney thought it was a great idea, so the following summer he came down with Billy McComiskey and Liz Carroll to an eager group of 45 students.

McComiskey remembers his class being a potpourri of instruments, everything from autoharps to flutes. Carroll took the fiddles while Moloney taught those with stringed instruments not played with a bow.

“The important thing about those first couple of years was that Mick was astute,” McComiskey told me.

“Right from the very beginning he presented the music as a bunch of different instruments cooperating – students and teachers alike.” This group established a spirit of camaraderie between instructor and learner, an important dynamic that over the years has become the hallmark of the Augusta week.

The success of the first year guaranteed a second, with Tim Britton (uilleann pipes) and Donny Golden (dance) invited to teach. Then year after year, as the student body grew, so did the number of instructors and course offerings – classes in dancing, storytelling and crafts as well as lectures on Irish history and culture complemented an already rich environment of singing and music.

“We watched the Irish-American scene grow before our eyes,” Moloney told me, nostalgically. “It became kind of like a graduate seminar for Irish and Irish American culture.”

While the week’s numbers have consistently increased, the intimacy remains. “It was our family,” Moloney told me. “We got to know each other there.” This, in part, due to the small, walkable campus, but also because of an environment lined with top players. “We had the very best, always,” Moloney mused.

“You came and met the best from this side of the Atlantic, but also the homeland.” This has included people like James Kelly, Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham, Seamus Connolly, Jerry O’Sullivan, the Mulcahy Family, John Skelton, Jack Coen, Robbie O’Connell, Jerry Holland, Zan McCleod, Albert Alfonso, Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers and Joanie Madden (who was the artistic director for the last five years).

One of Augusta’s most enduring and best-loved characters was the truly legendary singer Frank Harte, who was a fixture there for 15 years.

“Frank held court, but also understood the need that students had to be heard and to be appreciated, because he had the same need,” the Augusta Heritage Center’s current director Joyce Rossbach told me.

Out of this environment came some of today’s best and brightest players. For example, uilleann piper master Benedict Kohler (who many feel makes the world’s finest chanters and reeds) was there. Beverly Buchanan of the group Liam’s Fancy started out there as well. In fact, a modern generation of top younger players – people like Cleek Schrey, Jim Egan, Sean McComiskey, Elliot Grasso, Matt Mulqueen, Brendan Callahan, Caitlin Finley and Patrick Armstrong – all passed through Elkins.

Augusta’s tradition of excellence and intimate dedicated study continues this year with a staff that includes Patrick Ourceau, Mick Conneely, Cillian Vallely, Ivan Goff, Brían Ó hAirt, Niall O’Leary, Donna Long, Marla Fibish, Dennis Cahill, and many more. Imitated but never duplicated, it is a special place that after 30 years has proven its mettle in the history of Irish America, and done so in a very fundamental way.

To learn more, visit:



Belfast experience hastened Callow’s career

POSTED ON April 18th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

In town with his one-man hit show “Being Shakespeare,” British actor Simon Callow took time out recently to recall his days at Queen’s University Belfast.

“I didn’t finish,” Callow told the Echo at the show’s opening-night party at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. “After a year, I ran away to become an actor.

“I was studying English, but the idea was to do acting. I got scared when I saw how good people were, and I ran away.”

First, he did a stint in his student days as Micheál Mac Liammóir’s dresser, when the legendary actor was touring Ireland with his solo show “The Importance of Being Oscar.”

Callow, a prominent gay-rights advocate, later played that very role and went on to write a book about Oscar Wilde, one of several to his credit.

Although very well known in the UK for his theater and television roles, Callow is probably best known in the U.S. for his appearances in movies such as “Amadeus” (1984), “A Room With a View” (1985) and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994).

The Catholic-raised and -educated actor jokingly referred to finally treading the boards at BAM, America’s oldest performing arts center, as “a benediction.” (He is a long-time patron of the choir at his alma mater, the London Oratory School.)

Callow’s critically acclaimed show ended its brief BAM run at the weekend after a long national tour and West End run in the UK.

The one thing “Being Shakespeare” does not get into is the possibility of him not being Shakespeare, that is the bard from Stratford-upon-Avon. The controversy over Shakespeare’s authenticity was ignited afresh with the release of the movie “Anonymous” last year.

Asked if the show’s creators had factored in revisionist theories, Callow gave a dismissive wave of his hand and said flatly, “We didn’t.”

He added: “Weirdly enough, I believe William Shakespeare was William Shakespeare.

“Jonathan Bate who wrote the play wrote a book called ‘The Genius of Shakespeare’ and he is an expert on Shakespeare,” he said.

The play shows how Shakespeare’s writing reflects events that occurred during his lifetime (1564-1616).

“People say: ‘we know so little about Shakespeare’ and we thought, well, let’s look at what we do know,” the 62-year-old Callow said. (This includes fun trivia, such as that Shakespeare invented the word “puking” and was one of the early contributors to the lawyer-joke genre.)

The fact that Shakespeare’s wife and children were illiterate doesn’t say much, Callow said, since, “most women and girls at the time were illiterate [his one son died young].

“His father certainly wasn’t illiterate. He was the mayor of Stratford,” he said, “and there are lots of documents that he wrote.”


Dad’s memoir is still alive, alive o

POSTED ON April 18th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Honor Molloy’s novel “Smarty Girl” is also available in cake and audio formats.

The members and friends of the Irish American Writers & Artists were witness to a stirring presentation by Guenevere Donohue at the recent Irish-American Writers & Artists’ Salon at the Thalia Cafe. As she read from her play, “Killer is My Name,” Guen’s audience sat spellbound as she weaved storytelling, keening – a form of vocal lament – and the Irish language into performance art of the highest order.

Honor Molloy followed, reading from her father’s memoir, “Alive, Alive O.”  In the scene Honor chose to read, John Molloy, a well-known Dublin television actor, is on the road with Percy the guinea pig tucked under his gansey. “ON TOUR with Ireland’s Fit-Up People. Fit up a curtain, put on a show.” Honor, as only Honor can do Honor.  (Gansey? I had to look that one up: … also known as guerney, or a seaman’s knitted sweater.)

During the intermission I had a chance to speak with Ed Farrell who read from his memoir, “A Mild Cognitive Impairment: An Unexpected Memoir.” Ed said, “This whole process, our time together here at the salon, including the intermission and lingering around after the event, is so important. I’m able to share my thoughts with other writers and they with me. We need to reinforce each other.”  Well said and exactly what the salon is intended to be.

Patricia Goldstone, a first time reader at a salon, exposed the first few pages of a brand-new, yet to be named play. Jim Callahan and John Moss ably assisted Patricia and couldn’t have been better. Patricia said: “The highly sophisticated audience gave me incredibly positive feedback. When people tell me they want to hear more, that’s the best news I can get!” Perfect.

Malachy McCourt, whose idea it was to create the salon, an evening in which artists share their work in an informal and convivial setting, ended a grand evening with a heartfelt rendition of the Irish folk tune, “Carrickfergus.”

Salon Notes: Maura Mulligan reported her memoir “Call of the Lark” is forthcoming from Greenpoint Press next month.  John Kearns announced that his play “In the Wilderness” at Upstairs Theatre, 45 Bleecker St., would begin a one-month run on May 31.


My granny and Che

POSTED ON April 18th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

My aunt turned 18 the year RFK was murdered. She loved Bobby. She is the least political of my family, but she was a child of the Sixties, and so she also liked that guy who was executed by the Bolivian military the previous fall.

She had the poster, and one of Jimi Hendrix and various others, including some for productions of an avant garde theatre group in Dublin, which was more her cup of tea anyway.

My grandmother, a widow, didn’t like it much when her youngest later went off to train to be a nurse in England and she kept her room in their Dublin flat much the same for years afterwards.

Once, my granny took to her bed with the flu – actually what had been my aunt’s bed because it was out of the way of drafts.  The doctor that made the house call was shocked to see a small, fully gray-haired, bespectacled woman in her 60s with a large poster of Ernesto “Che” Guevara on the wall behind her.

“You’re not a fan of that man, are you?” said the MD, who was known to be a person of firmly conservative views.

“Oh, yes! I am,” my granny replied.

All of this was brought back to mind by the hullabaloo over the plan to commemorate with a statue the Argentinean-born revolutionary, himself a medical doctor, in his ancestral Galway (of course, he had several other ancestral places).

It’s easy, perhaps, at the distance of several thousand miles and four or five decades to take a misty-eyed view of revolution. Having said that, some of the critiques have been somewhat over the top, with people laying everything they don’t like about Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and much more, at the door of Che Guevara.

It’s certainly true that Guevara came from the you-can’t-make-an-omelet-without-breaking-a-few-eggs school of revolution. Castro’s government executed several hundred people in its early years. Che oversaw 100 or more of the executions and some say there was little due process. His American biographer Jon Lee Anderson, on the other hand, said that he never heard anybody say that any of the dead was innocent of their alleged crimes.

The second more general criticism of Guevara was that he simplistically believed that the Cuban model of attaining power could be applied elsewhere. He gave up the trappings of power – it’s part of his great appeal – and in the process, critics say, became a pied piper that led thousands of naïve and idealistic young people, many of them from middle-class backgrounds like himself, to their doom – which was to be cut down by ruthless dictatorships in countries such as his own Argentina.

Outside of Latin America, though, and in Europe in particular, it was different. Che, in life a doctrinaire Marxist, was in death almost a generic symbol of defiance and a not very threatening one at that. His image became, as time went on, a bland statement on behalf of social justice and equality – but obviously a statement nonetheless.

My grandmother ran her own small business and was a political moderate, unlike my left-wing grandfather. However, once in a while she liked to stir things up and certainly, in the above-mentioned incident, she welcomed the opportunity to put a member of the professional classes in his place.

It’s that generic Che – the symbol of the fight against oppression and endemic poverty – that people in Galway would like to commemorate. They don’t mean to upset anyone whose family has suffered at the hands of a police state; but nor, I suspect, are they going to be told what they can or can’t do.



Recently departed never forgot mentoring roles

POSTED ON April 18th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Barney McKenna was a household name from the 1960s on as the Dubliners’ banjoist.

Recently, the Irish traditional musical community lost several important and cherished musicians in rapid succession, including Boston-based mandolin and guitar player John McGann, Dublin-based banjoist Barney McKenna, and Bronx-based flute player Jack Coen.  Individually, each passing is remarkable and together they’re overwhelming, but this unfortunate confluence offers us a moment to briefly step back and reflect on how these losses affect some from the younger generations.

A brilliant mandolin and guitar player, John McGann passed away on April 6.  Although his talent spanned several different musical genres, McGann was best known in Irish music circles for his magnificent work with accordionist Joe Derrane.  A teacher at Berklee College of Music, McGann inspired an entire generation of musicians, but it was his work with Celtic Fiddle Festival that first inspired Flynn Cohen, a Boston-based guitarist with whom he would forge a special bond.  In McGann, Cohen found a mentor, someone who trusted him with the music and showed it by recommending him for gig after gig (including with John Whelan’s and Cathy Ryan’s bands).  To Cohen and many others, McGann was an example of music done right with a character to match.

Barney McKenna passed away quietly over a cup of tea and a sandwich on April 5.  For decades, Barney was one of the music’s household names, both for his work with the Dubliners and for bringing respectability to the tenor banjo in Irish music.  Hoeing the rocky row for the likes of Mick Moloney and Mick O’Connor, it took time for Barney to prove the instrument’s mettle.  James Keane, for example, remembers Barney standing down Dublin Piper’s Club managers Jim Seery and Paddy McElvaney at the Club’s door one rainy night in the very, very early days.  Because Seery and McElvaney thought the long-necked instrument Barney had was a guitar, they’d taken him for a rock-n-roller.  It wasn’t until he’d lilted reel after reel at their insistence that they granted him – and his banjo –  entry into the Club.

While people have celebrated the musical legend that grew over the years, Dublin-based banjo player Pádraig Drew – Barney’s longtime personal assistant – told me that there were few who knew him outside the Dubliners bubble.  Drew (whose family was long close with the McKennas) recognized the privilege and reveled in Barney’s company, listening carefully to the humor and the stories and had unusual perspective on the “lovely touches” in his music.  The musical guidance he received was canny and always pure “Barney”: “The plectrum was like a little bird.” Barney once told him. “If you hold it too tight, you’ll kill it, but if you don’t have it tight enough, it will fly away.”   After Barney, banjo technique developed in many directions and there are few who carry on Barney’s playing style nowadays, but you can still hear his memory right there in Drew’s playing.

It was a shock to wake up on Easter morning to the news that Jack Coen had died.  A proponent of the east Galway style, and member both of the seminal New York Ceili Band in the 1960s and of Green Fields of America in the 1970s-80s, he was one of the last of the old guard and was rightly named a National Heritage Fellow in 1991.

Coen was a brilliant musician – in many ways the conscience of the scene in New York City – but he may be best remembered for the generosity with which he shared his music, as there is scarcely a NYC-based musician that he did not somehow touch (including Cherish the Ladies’s Joanie Madden and Chulrua’s Patrick Ourceau, to name but two).  He trusted his students to steward both his abiding respect for the music and his commitment to tune version and tempo.  It is no surprise, then, that his students nourished the New York scene for decades, helping the music grow and thrive.

While we must bid farewell to these legendary musicians, we know their music lives on in the students with whom they entrusted the tradition.

Friends recall idyllic summers in East Durham

POSTED ON April 18th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Shilelagh Law performing at the East Durham Irish Festival in 2008.

As a kid growing up half a block away from one of Long Island’s beautiful beaches I thought I had it all – evening dips in the Atlantic, long bike rides on the boardwalk and a summer job at a beach club where I hung out with life guards and made more cash tips than I knew what to do with. It wasn’t until my college years when I met Irish-American kids from the Catskills that I realized that although they didn’t have sand and surf, their summers were full of a different kind of fun – a two-month long celebration of their heritage that kicked off each year with the Memorial Day Weekend East Durham Irish Festival.

The festival is held at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre’s festival grounds and features two days of live music, dance, and an array of activities for children.  Those who travel to East Durham for the festival weekend are treated to a taste of the hospitality of the people, the natural beauty of the landscape, and the abundance of Irish entertainment that makes the town so special. The residents and business owners welcome festival goers and the excitement they bring with open arms

Though I’ve visited East Durham a handful of times, I wanted to make sure I captured the true heart and soul of the place. So I checked in with two friends of mine who lived, worked, studied, partied, sang, and danced in East Durham for most of their childhood and teenage years. Tara Doohan Thompson and Maggie Kellegher van der Leeuw – two long-time friends who are walking encyclopedias of Irish songs, can jive with the best of them, and attribute their love for their heritage to their upbringing in East Durham.

They spoke of summer weekends filled with Irish dance lessons.  Late nights listening to Peter McKiernan, Buddy Connolly, Jimmy Kelly, Celtic Cross and the Whole Shebang were followed by early mornings serving breakfast to vacationing families at the resorts that lined Route 145 where they worked as waitresses. They spoke about the excitement of Memorial Day Weekend, when a sleepy town awoke from a quiet winter to the sounds of bagpipes, step dancers, and energized Irish music fans on a weekend getaway.

For Maggie, the excitement began with the yearly task of painting shamrocks in the middle of Route 145 with her dad to welcome visitors to East Durham. Tara recalled counting the days until Memorial Day weekend with more anticipation than for Christmas.  During the festival the girls ran back and forth from their jobs to the stage, quickly changing out of their work clothes into their Irish dance garb, serving sausages and slip jigging five minutes later. I can picture them running down the road, hard shoes in hand, exhausted but happy as could be. After talking with the girls I got the sense that the “work hard, play hard” mentality was a recipe for making good memories growing up in East Durham.

Tara and Maggie have grown up and moved on from their summer jobs in East Durham, but their appreciation for their community remains the same. It’s one that is deeply invested in keeping Irish traditions alive and showing visitors a good time. So consider trading in the sand and the surf this Memorial Day weekend for a Catskills weekend filled with music by Searson, Shilelagh Law, Hair of the Dog, Andy Cooney, Kitty Kelly Band, Jameson’s Revenge and more. For more information about the

festival and lodging in

East Durham visit

For a preview of East Durham Memorial Day Weekend music check out Shilelagh Law at the Saloon in NYC on 4/20 and Andy Cooney at the Glenrowan in Yonkers on 4/22.


Speakers to look at wealth, poverty, upward mobility

POSTED ON April 11th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

The phenomenon of chain immigration from Ireland is one subject up for discussion at a one-day symposium at New York University on Saturday, April 21.

The third annual “Who Do We Think We Are?” at Glucksman Ireland House will focus on the theme of “Economics Family-Style.”

Prof. Maureen Murphy of Hofstra University will speak about how Irish women, including nuns, financed family members’ transatlantic passage; in the same session, Prof. Janet Nolan of Loyola University in Chicago will talk about mother-to-daughter upward mobility.

Bestselling novelist Mary Higgins Clark will give a keynote address on her family’s experience and its influence on her life and writing.

Professors Breandán Mac Suibhne and Prof. Kerby Miller will be the speakers in a session entitled “Wealth, Poverty, and Emigration.”

Prof. Miriam Nyhan and Prof. Linda Dowling Almeida, co-directors of Glucksman Ireland House NYU’s Oral History of Irish America Project, will address the session called “Sharing Communities: Family Life Across the Atlantic.”

Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny, Bruce Morrison, the former congressman from Connecticut, and Judith McGuire, the president of Glucksman Ireland House Advisory Board, will also address the event.

Members of Glucksman Ireland House should email ireland. or call (212) 998-3950 for a discount code. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling SmartTix at (212) 868-4444.


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