The round tower over the burial site of Glasnevin Cemetery founder Daniel O’Connell.
By Michael Gray
Media vita in morte sumus: in the midst of life we are in death. It’s a sobering thought that in any municipality of significant size and enduring history there are more departed residents of the city interred beneath its soil than there are living and breathing above its surface. Dublin is no different in this respect, and the city’s live population of a million and a quarter is far outnumbered by the combined totals of the dead and buried in its two main cemeteries, Glasnevin, on the north side of the city, and Mount Jerome on the south.
The larger and more celebrated of the two, Glasnevin Cemetery, has hosted a million and half burials since it was established more than 180 years ago. Its status as Ireland’s necropolis and last resting place of the nation’s heroes has made it the subject of a fascinating new documentary, by Irish filmmaker Aoife Kelleher. Kelleher’s film, “One Million Dubliners,” presents a refreshing approach to its subject by examining Glasnevin in the here and now, treating its storied history with a light touch, and eschewing the use of archival footage to focus instead on interviews with the people who run the cemetery, from the CEO, to the florists and gravediggers.
Glasnevin Cemetery was founded in 1832 by Daniel O’Connell, revered Irish patriot and emancipator, at a time when the Catholic population of Ireland did not have its own designated burial ground. A plot of nine acres was consecrated for the interment of departed Catholics at what was then the edge of the city, a location so remote from the center that for decades it was underutilized. As time passed, the city grew around the cemetery, many notable persons were buried there (including O’Connell himself – his memorial tower at a height of 168 feet, dominates the graveyard), and Glasnevin became fashionable with Dubliners of all classes. The cemetery was gradually extended to its current size of 150 acres, and became the preferred place of final repose of Ireland’s leaders in politics, music and the arts. Interred in its grounds are the remains of Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins, Countess Markievicz, and Maud Gonne. The tombs of O’Donovan Rossa, Roger Casement, James Larkin, Brendan Behan and Luke Kelly can also be found among its acres.
Kelleher’s camera lovingly caresses the ornate stone forest, resplendent in autumn foliage, to visit the graves of all of these remarkable Irish men and women. As a poignant counterweight to the cult of celebrity surrounding these heroes, Kelleher visits the Angels’ Plot, where the unbaptized remains of stillborn babies and miscarriages were interred, when the harsh rules of the past denied them a place among their relatives in consecrated ground.
“One Million Dubliners” is ably steered on this journey by the documentary’s real star, the resident historian of the cemetery, Shane MacThomáis. MacThomáis, a charismatic tour guide in the cemetery for decades, projects such a genuine affection for his native city and its remarkable cemetery, the history and the legacy, that the viewer will crave more of his wit and charm, and less of the interviewees in stiff suits higher up the ranks in Glasnevin. Alas, there will be no more of him. MacThomáis died tragically last year at the young age of 46, before the film was released. He is now buried in the graveyard, like his father and grandparents before him.
This month “One Million Dubliners” became available on DVD and Video on Demand. It is distributed by Kino Lorber. Visit the distributor’s website http://www.kinolorber.com for more information.
Michael Gray is the Irish Echo’s film reviewer.
Whistle player Allison Haugh in silhouette at the Fleadh.
PHOTO: MARIANNE MANGAN
By Daniel Neely
Last weekend, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s North American Province and Mid-Atlantic Region held their annual joint Convention and Fleadh at the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany, N.J. It was a terrific weekend full of workshops, concerts, language events, ceilithe and sessions – truly something for everyone. The music and camaraderie that abounded reflected well the spirit and enthusiasm the Irish and Irish-American communities have for our traditional music.
The weekend was chock full of activities. In addition to the regional and provincial meetings on Friday, there was a full array of music workshops led by members of the Moylurg Ceili Band (the 2013 All-Ireland Senior Ceili Band champions), dance workshops led by Mick Mulkerrin, Maureen Mulvey and Shannon Dunne, the Grupai Cheoil Competition and a Ceili.
The bulk of the Fleadh competitions took place on Saturday. Hundreds of young people from all over the country came to compete and compete they did. If the myriad sessions in the hotel lobby throughout the weekend were any indication, the musical standard was very high all around. It was clear from the competitions I watched myself that these young folks put in a tremendous amount of work and could go home full of pride that they did the music proud. Congratulations to the select few who qualified to compete for the All-Ireland in Sligo from Aug. 9-16, it should be a great adventure. Best of luck over there! (See www.fleadhcheoil.ie for more information.)
Saturday evening featured an invitation-only cocktail reception sponsored by the Irish Consulate of New York to celebrate the weekend. In attendances were several members of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Hall of Fame, numerous branch officers from branches all over the country, representatives from Sligo and guest of honor Jimmy Deenihan, T.D., Minister for Diaspora Affairs.
Later that evening, the region’s Hall of Fame gala banquet took place. Brendan Fahey, Frankie McCormick and “The Sligo Masters” (Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran and James “Lad” O’Beirne”) were the honorees, rightly recognized for their contribution to the music. Congratulations to all the inductees and to their families as well for the support they’ve given as well!
The Small Group and Ceili Band competitions both took place on Sunday. These are great competitive events that not only speak to the talent of those competing, but to their sense of teamwork as well.
Overall it was a lovely, successful Comhaltas weekend! Truly, it was truly a thing to see so many young people represent the music so well, but it was great, also, to see the tremendous pride in the eyes of the parents and teachers who know (maybe all too well) how much work goes into a weekend such as this. A rich and rewarding experience!
Visit www.nyfleadh.com to learn more about the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh. For those interested in learning more about the region, go to www.cce-ma.com or www.facebook.com/groups/MidAtlanticCCE.
Many of the young folks who compete in the Fleadh have teachers who are local to them, but a very large number of them also attend the music camps that take place throughout the country. One of the most interesting such weeks in the Mid-Atlantic region is the Musical Arts and Dance Week – known to most as “MAD Week” – which is sponsored by the O’Neill-Malcom Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and will take place July 6-10 at the Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Md.
MAD Week is a day-oriented “commuter” camp for locals directed by fiddler Mitch Fanning. Under Fanning, the week has developed a stellar reputation and attracts some of the music’s best teachers.
This year’s MAD Week staff will feature one of it’s best lineups to day. On staff, they will have John Carty, MacDara Ó Raghaillagh, Brendan Mulvihill, Rose Flanagan, Sean Cleland, Kevin Crawford, Linda Hickman, Jerry O’Sullivan, Zan McLeod, Donna Long, Billy McComiskey, Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, the Devane brothers and many more. It should be quite a week.
A hearty congratulations is due to MAD Week for two reasons. First is that this summer the camp will celebrate its 10th anniversary. What a milestone! Secondly, they recently received word that they were awarded a substantial grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s very important that Irish music continues to get federal arts funding and it’s great to see it going to the right place. Congratulations, MAD Week – keep up the excellent work!
If you live in the area, MAD Week definitely worth checking out. For more information, visit www.ccepotomac.org.
Daniel Neely is the Irish Echo’s traditional music correspondent.
Mick Flannery is not a country singer, but his style sometimes reflects his Nashville start.
By Colleen Taylor
Cork singer Mick Flannery found his sound in Tennessee. Like many of his countrymen, Flannery traveled to the U.S. as a young 20-something looking for a break from college. However, unlike the typical Irish J1 tourist, what Flannery found in the States was the beginnings of a music career. In Nashville, he entered a songwriting competition and won several awards—a turning point he now marks as the launch of his music career. Today, Flannery is considered one of Ireland’s best and most innovative singer-songwriters. Although he might not be getting as much airplay or international attention as Hozier, his work is just as pensive, probing, and melancholy. Flannery’s most recent album, “By the Rule”—released in 2014—is part beatnik, part soul, and a truly original, authentic piece of musical craftsmanship.
Flannery divides his influences between Ireland and America, Cork and Nashville. Born in Blarney, Flannery now lives in Ennis, Co. Clare. His Irish identity finds musical expression in his poetic lyrics, and in his tender, emotive melodies. Otherwise, however, Flannery’s musical style can be more directly traced to the American folk music scene, and specifically his time spent in Nashville, where he honed his craft and his songwriting abilities. He definitely isn’t a country singer, but Flannery’s style seems to honor his start in Nashville, and every now and again a country-esque flare emerges from his melodies. There’s something Dylan-like about his acoustic stylings as well, but he sings from the heart like an Irish balladeer.
The Cork man released a self-titled EP in 2002. His first full album, “Evening Train,” came in 2005, followed by “White Lies” in 2009. “Red to Blue” in 2012 marks an important moment in the singer’s development: with this album you can hear his maturation into both songwriting and a sophisticated sense of genre, influence and arrangement. Still, his latest album reflects the real moment of formation for the artist.
Flannery’s “By the Rule” is versatile and resists categorization. Some songs sound like they were meant to be played in a piano bar venue off Broadway, while others belong at a folk festival, or even a Cathedral concert. Some even sound from another era—“Out to Sea” strikes me appropriate background music for a tragic moment in a period film. Amidst all this variety, Flannery’s deep, soulful vocals and scaled-back guitar chords create a thematic tie between the songs. “By the Rule” is about Flannery’s voice on its own in its pure, acoustic authenticity. There’s no doubt that his voice’s range, its ability to reach to the deepest pit of the human heart, justifies the simplicity of his acapella arrangements.
The album was written in Berlin, which is fitting. The collection’s darkness, intrigue and sometimes avant-garde inspiration speak to the city’s atmosphere. For me, the real standouts on the album are “The Small Fire” and “Even Now” because they are the most unique—they sound the most like Mick Flannery and no one else. In particular, “Even Now” is something special: it’s so rare and so powerful nowadays to hear the simple combination of soft vocals and a few piano chords.
“By the Rule” is quieter, more mournful than his previous work, such as the upbeat hit track “Gone Forever” off his 2012 album, “Red to Blue.” I wouldn’t recommend a “By the Rule” playlist if you’re looking for a pick-me-up. But like all good art, this album is probing and beautiful. It has an effect. All in all, it affirms the respect Flannery has earned among the music critics and even warrants more far-reaching international buzz for this solo artist.
What Flannery claims to love most about his vocation as a musician is the “creation.” More so than gigging, even recording, for Mick Flannery, it’s about himself, his instruments, and the pen. No doubt about it, “By the Rule” is the work of a creation—a melding of sound and emotion that makes its listener feel.
Mick Flannery is playing all over Ireland this summer. He’ll be at the Doolin Folk Festival and the Killarney Festival in June. For those of us spending summer in the States, however, you can get a taste of Flannery’s work and watch his music videos on mickflannery.ie.
Colleen Taylor writes the “Music Notes” column for the Irish Echo.
The Gene Siskel Film Center on Sept. 25-27 expects to see some of
the same ethnic swagger that made James Cagney famous.
By Mike Houlihan
I auditioned for the Clifford Odets play “Awake and Sing” back in the late 1970s when I was a young actor in New York. After I finished reading for the part, the director, Ken Frankel, asked me to sit down. Oh boy, I felt like I had just nailed it. He looked at me strangely and said, “What the hell are you doing here?”
In retrospect of course it was a good question. I was a young Irish kid trying to play a Jewish guy named Ralph Berger. Hey, but I’m an actor, I can do anything, right?
“No,” he said. He went on to explain that it didn’t make a bit of difference how good an actor I was, there was no way I was going to be cast as a young Jewish fella, especially in New York city where there were millions of young Jewish actors. “Are you nuts?”
Of course, I’ve been hearing that question my whole life. But Frankel’s advice was to stick with who I was already, at that place and time. And for me that was a narrowback Irish kid, albeit a shockingly handsome Irish-American lad!
It wasn’t long after that I was cast as Captain Brennan in Sean O’Casey’s classic “The Plough and the Stars.” This was more like it. I did some research and discovered that my grandfather, Denis Cusack, was a member of the Irish Citizen Army back in the day.
Now I was awakened to my own Irish heritage and I went at it with a vengeance. But it was tough to “stick with your own”; there weren’t many films or plays that featured Irish-American stories in those days. It wasn’t like that golden age of Irish American cinema in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s that launched giants like Jimmy Cagney, Pat O’Brien or Spencer Tracy, or directors like John Huston, John Ford, or Preston Sturges.
Now the gangsters were all Italian and audiences relished the anti-hero genius of De Niro, Pacino, and Joe Pesci.
But the Italian-American mafiosos I would never play, and the Jewish American scruffy idealists I should never be allowed to portray, shared their origins with those Irish-American giants in film history.
Spencer Tracy was nominated for nine Oscars in the Best Actor category (a record he shares with Laurence Olivier) and won twice. Mike Houlihan hopes to hear from the next generation of Irish-American actors.
Children of immigrants all, their stories were forged in the ethnic tenements of New York, Chicago, or Boston. The pinching poverty and bare-knuckled brawling was salted heavily with religion and romance. That stew produced storytellers. I say the best storytellers in this world.
Does talent like that skip generations? No. The ancient myths and romantic tales created by Irish-Americans over just the last two centuries in America are passed on in our DNA. We need to encourage it, and nurture the future of Irish-American cinema. It’s time for a new generation of Irish storytellers to “awake and sing.”
I’ve played tons of Irish-American cops, bartenders and priests in my 40 years since that “Awake and Sing” audition. And I want to keep doing it. But we need to discover the next wave of Irish-American storytellers who can bring their ethnic swagger to the screen.
That’s why we’re now calling for entries for our first annual “Irish American Movie Hooley.” We’re looking to discover the next John Ford or Grace Kelly or maybe you, Eamonn McGillicuddy. So if you’re an Irish-American indie filmmaker, or you’re related to one, call and tell them to submit to our festival before July 31.
We’ll be screening the best three Irish-American film premieres on Sept. 25-27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. So tell us your story, show ‘em what you got, and join us in Chicago next September.
And if you need an older fat guy to play an Irish American cop or priest in your film, get in touch!
You can learn more about the first annual Irish American Movie Hooley by visiting hiberniantransmedia.org/movie-hooley.
By Tom Fleming
What is the most important argument in American history? The quarrel between North and South that led to the million dead of the Civil War?
The struggle for the civil rights of black Americans? The perpetual conflict between the haves and have-nots?
All these things have roiled the nation. Some of them are still disturbing our political equilibrium.
But there is one conflict that most people do not recognize, partly because it began so early and partly because it can take – and has taken – several forms. It is the clash that first divided – and then made enemies – of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Surprised? So was I when I read in a congressman’s diary that he visited Mount Vernon after Washington died. Martha Washington told him the two worst days of her life were the day George died and the day Jefferson came to pay his condolences. That is when I started digging into this forgotten feud. I soon decided it was our most important argument because it involves the basic structure of the American government.
Thomas Jefferson was in France, serving as America’s ambassador when George Washington, James Madison and other gifted men created and ratified the Constitution. At the heart of the document was a new office, the presidency, with powers co-equal to Congress.
Washington was the chief advocate of this innovation; he had seen how poorly the Continental Congress performed during the Revolutionary War, without a strong leader to unify their policies.
Thomas Jefferson disliked the Constitution. He was even less enthusiastic about the presidency.
He thought they were both too strong.
Together they represented a threat to American liberty. He made it clear that this was his primary value. He did not expect the Constitution or the union to endure very long. He saw nothing wrong with western states seceding and forming a separate nation. At one point he argued that every generation should write a new constitution. James Madison talked him out of that wild idea.
When Jefferson returned to America and became Washington’s secretary of state, the two men clashed repeatedly over their differing opinions. For Jefferson the dangers were spelled out in Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s policies.
He sought to unify the nation’s economy around a government controlled central bank that would pay off the Revolutionary War’s debts and encourage commerce and manufacturing.
He argued there were “implied powers” not stated explicitly in the Constitution that enabled the federal government to do such things. Washington agreed with him. Jefferson saw these policies as ominous steps toward a tyrannized nation, probably ruled by a king.
Author Thomas Fleming.
Complicating matters was Jefferson’s hatred of Great Britain and his enthusiasm for the French Revolution. Washington did not share either sentiment.
After peace and independence were secured, he was ready to deal with Britain as he would with any other foreign country. When the French revolution fell into the hands of radicals who beheaded King Louis XVI and began massacring thousands of innocent people, Washington saw France as a menace to freedom everywhere.
After several tense face to face encounters, Jefferson realized he could not change Washington’s mind and resigned from the government.
But he remained the active leader of a political party that opposed the Washington administration’s foreign and domestic policies. He persuaded Madison, once Washington’s closest advisor, to act as his right hand man in Congress.
When Jefferson became our third president, he was determined to undo Washington’s presidency. He called his administration “The Revolution of 1800.”
He praised Washington as “our first and greatest revolutionary character,” but ignored his presidency.
Jefferson was determined to make Congress the dominant voice in the federal government. He accomplished this in several ways. He abandoned Washington’s annual speeches to Congress, reporting on the government’s problems and successes. Instead, Jefferson’s reports were read by a clerk.
Even more important was the way Jefferson worked behind the scenes with congressional leaders to get his polices accepted. He soon created the illusion that Congress was running the country.
He was tremendously helped by a stroke of good fortune – France’s decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States – thus adding a third of the continent to the nation. Thereafter Jefferson’s reputation rivaled, and even exceeded, Washington’s.
In times of crisis, however, some presidents invoked Washington’s tradition of strong presidential leadership.
In 1833, Andrew Jackson crushed South Carolina’s attempt to secede from the Union by invoking the presidency’s implied powers.
The Civil War made Abraham Lincoln the strongest president since Washington. The man from Illinois had no hesitation about wielding unprecedented power to deal to rescue the Union. He suspended habeas corpus and other rights, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and dozens of executive orders, without consulting Congress.
When an assassin killed Lincoln, Congress, already resentful at his assertion of the presidency’s implied powers, seized control of the federal government.
It abandoned Lincoln’s policy of reconciliation and set about punishing the South for the Civil War. For the next forty years, weak presidents and an emboldened Congress became the rule.
The old adage, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, came into play. Congress became the home of political bosses whose chief interest was their own enrichment.
Not until Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901 did the strength and leadership Washington and Lincoln brought to the office reappear.
By that time, America was on the brink of a revolution. A wealthy upper class and an impoverished lower class were regarding each other with growing hatred.
Roosevelt began condemning “malefactors of great wealth.” He instituted anti-trust lawsuits against several businesses that had become brutal monopolies. He created national parks and national forests, reassuring people that some of America’s most attractive landscapes would always belong to everyone. He declared that his administration guaranteed a “square deal” to every working man and woman.
Someone asked President Roosevelt where he got the authority to act and speak so independently of Congress. He cited “the Jackson-Lincoln” theory of the presidency.
There was no mention of George Washington. It was mournful evidence that Thomas Jefferson’s determination to obliterate Washington’s presidency had been all too successful.
A few years after Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson became president. He had written a book, “Congressional Government,” which severely criticized this distortion of the founders’ Constitution.
Wilson restored one of President Washington’s most important innovations, his annual speech to Congress. A superb orator, Wilson was soon persuading Congress to pass badly needed legislation, such as the creation of the Federal Reserve banking system, which returned control of the nation’s finances to the government.
Another strong president who invoked the presidency’s powers was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Confronting the crisis of the Great Depression, he relied on the veto to force Congress to follow his leadership, invoking this power 641 times, more often than all his predecessors combined.
The wars and recessions of the rest of the Twentieth Century added enormously to the presidency’s power. By the 1960s, presidents asserted the right to block or “impound” Congress’s attempt to spend money for dozens of federal programs.
President Richard Nixon carried this policy to an extreme that infuriated Congress. Exacerbating his relationship to the lawmakers was Nixon’s determination to win the war in Vietnam – a policy that the Democratic majority in Congress opposed.
In 1972, Nixon won reelection in one of the greatest landslides in American history. It was graphic evidence of the presidency’s awesome power.
The whirlpool of extreme emotions swirling around Nixon exploded when a political burglary in the Watergate apartments revealed a president who was all too ready to lie and conceal evidence.
Nixon’s resignation to avoid impeachment led directly to another era of congressional government. Congress passed the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act, which made the lawmakers the sole judge of how much they could spend.
It was the beginning of unchecked deficit government that may yet imperil the financial stability of the nation and the world.
The presidents who have succeeded Richard Nixon have repeatedly found themselves challenged by an aggressive Congress. America has the only legislature in the world that claims the right to interfere in their country’s foreign policy. Again and again we have seen recent presidents confronted by the central issue that divided Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
There is no easy solution to this dilemma. Both sides must work out a balance that will enable the federal government to function. Until recently, President Barack Obama and the Republican majority in Congress have been disinclined to make any concessions. Perhaps there is an answer in a little known aspect of the Great Divide.
Toward the end of James Madison’s life, he had a profound change of mind and heart. He repudiated Jefferson’s approach to government. He addressed Congress directly, urging them to create a trained army and navy.
Lack of both had almost cost us our independence in the War of 1812. He urged the creation of a central bank. He recommended Washington’s Farewell Address as important reading, even though it contained a fierce criticism of Thomas Jefferson’s worship of the French Revolution.
He called on all Americans to regard the Union as the crucial value of their government.
One might say that Madison had abandoned the divisive ideology of Monticello, and returned to the sunny porch of Mount Vernon as George Washington’s friend and admirer.
It is a journey that all Americans can and should take now and in the uncertain future. Never have we had a greater need for a new appreciation of George Washington’s approach to the presidency.
Author and historian Thomas Fleming’s new book, “The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson That Defined A Nation” is published by Da Capo Press, Boston.
By Áine Ní Shionnaigh
Chatting to Emmet Cahill earlier this week is like catching up with a long lost friend. He has a hint of an accent which I strongly suspect is from the Midlands. As Emmet describes it himself, ‘I’m from the middle of the country”, which technically has two meanings: he lives in a rural area which happens to be located in the Midlands of Ireland outside Mullingar, County Westmeath. I ponder on what it is about the Midlands that has an affinity for producing world-renowned tenors: Count John McCormack, Frank Patterson and now my interviewee, Emmet Cahill. Perhaps it’s the peat? Just as peat is a natural resource generously given to us by nature in this part of Ireland, nature has also given an amazing gift to Emmet which he has cherished and nurtured with the help and support of his amazing parents. Emmet continually refers to his parents during our chat and attributes his success to them. All I can think is that they have done a beyond amazing job, raising someone who has nurtured and developed his talent and who also manages to be the nicest, most down to earth person one could chat to.
Emmet Cahill is currently one of Ireland’s most recognized tenors who sweeps listeners away with the emotion of his singing. He is natural and relaxed, two words that consistently come up during our conversation. He is very unassuming, his life on stage is simply a progression of what he has always done growing up: singing and playing music. Emmet displays that typical Irish trait: on the surface, an extremely laid back attitude which totally belies the tremendous talent and courage he has. Emmet is well known for his renditions of John McCormack, another name that comes often during our chat. In 2010 when Emmet was attending the Royal Irish Academy of Music studying opera and theater, he was awarded the ‘John McCormack Bursary’ for the most promising young tenor. He was also named the most promising young singer at the Academy. He has been a multiple prize winner at the National Feis Ceoil singing competition. In 2013, the Irish American Music Association awarded him with the title “Tenor of the Year’ in recognition of his work on stage here in the United States.
That is where our paths first crossed. The first time I heard Emmet perform was in the Beacon Theatre on Broadway in 2011 where he was lead singer with the renowned Irish Music Show; ‘Celtic Thunder’. The opulent Beacon Theatre was very fitting for Emmet’s first US appearance on stage as he seemed to be following in the footsteps of the most renowned tenor in the history of our time, Count John McCormack who himself had performed on Broadway almost a century earlier and who also hailed from County Westmeath. On first hearing the pureness of his mellow tones, I was struck by his depth of feeling. I sat entranced as he sang the beautiful haunting melody; “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears”. Observing the emotion etched deeply into his handsome face, I was never so proud to be Irish, Emmet is as his performances: eloquent, charming with an underlying depth and a maturity that totally belies his young age. I had an image of him growing up, with perhaps a grandfather who enjoyed playing dusty 65”s of John McCormack on a wind-up gramophone. I was pretty close, he was raised listening to some of his Dad’s John McCormack vinyl’s on an old record player. Perhaps the mellow tones of McCormack somehow diffused into his young soul and created this depth of expression and feeling that now speaks to souls all around the world.
During our chat I am amazed at what Emmet has achieved in the past 4 years, from being chosen at the age of 20 to join world renowned ‘Celtic Thunder’ where he became an immediate hit with the fans. Becoming the lead singer on this show put him in the spotlight and almost immediately he found himself touring many continents and countries including America, Canada and Australia. Now four years later he is just about to launch his first American tour of his solo career.
When did Emmet first start singing and playing music? For Emmet there was no start date, it was simply a natural progression from growing up in a home surrounded by music and singing. His Dad is a music teacher and his Mom is a singer. Therefore music and singing is as intrinsic to the family home as the concrete walls that sustain it. From the age of four, Emmet began to play the piano, guitar and violin and sing. He and his siblings were all classically trained and often accompanied their Mom to local weddings where she was the professional singer. His siblings all play and sing also. Perhaps that’s why Emmet keeps coming back to the fact that he wants his new solo show to be natural, he wants people when they come to his show to feel like they are dropping over to his home for an impromptu sing song and music session. He wants it to be more about an experience rather than listening and watching a performance.
The success and recognition that Emmet has enjoyed as lead singer of Celtic Thunder over the past four years would be enough to absorb for most, but Emmet knew deep down he had to keep going, to be truly authentic to his own original talents he had to do it solo and that is what he is preparing to do right now. In less than two weeks, he will hit the shores of the US and is doing a whirlwind solo show that will take him cross country from St Louis, Missouri, across the plains to Indiana, Ohio back to what he charmingly refers to ‘as a little circle around New York’ which will take in cities from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Cleveland to Chicago and many many more. The full itinerary is outlined at the end of the article with website details.
I finish with one of my favorite topics, the issue of being Irish in America, Again Emmet has an interesting insight: “In Ireland you are just yourself, you don’t think about it. Americans are more invested in the idea of being Irish and all that that entails”, he says. This is fascinating as Emmet already has a huge fan base here in the US who have no Irish connections but when they hear him sing, it resonates with something deep within. If being Irish is connected with listening to this amazing tenor Emmet Cahill, I strongly recommend everyone should become Irish at least for one night. Book your tickets for a memorable night, enjoy the show and I will keep you updated on the album which will be out later in the year! For New York fans, see you all in Rory Dolans on June 6th.
Tour Dates: http://www.emmetcahill.com/tour-dates/
Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
PHOTO BY MARTINA KENJI
Last year, Mary Costello joined the ranks of Irish writers who’ve made an immediate impact with a first novel. Indeed, “Academy Street” was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award (open to writers based in Britain and Ireland), with the judges calling it a “remarkable debut with a transcendent, quiet power.”
A previous Costa winner, Maggie O’Farrell, said: “I read ‘Academy Street’ cover to cover in one night, unable to stop. It is a short novel about a long life, stretching from rural Ireland to post-9/11 New York, and brings to mind the elegance of Colm Toíbín and the insight of Alice Munro.”
Munro’s fellow Nobel Prize-winner J.M. Coetzee said: “With extraordinary devotion, Mary Costello brings to life a woman who would otherwise have faded into oblivion amid the legions of the meek and the unobtrusive.”
Its author summarized “Academy Street” thus: “It’s the story of one ordinary woman’s life in New York played out over the second half of the 20th century. It opens in 1944 in a big old house in the west of Ireland called Easterfield. Tess Lohan is 7 when her life is suddenly ruptured by the death of her mother.
“Later, Tess trains as a nurse in Dublin and, in the early ’Sixties, emigrates to New York. She lives in an apartment on a street in Inwood, Academy Street. She has a brief calamitous love affair which results in a son, Theo. The novel follows her life as a nurse and mother over the next four decades. It’s a life that is touched by joy and marked by fate and by Tess’s perpetual ache for home and belonging.”
Costello added about the novel that has just been published in this country: “There’s a family resonance to this story. My mother grew up in a big old house in Galway, and I modeled Easterfield on that house. When she was 3, her mother died suddenly. My mother never emigrated, but her sister Carmel did. She nursed in Manhattan in the early ’Sixties and lived in a flat on Academy Street. While I borrow details from her life, my character Tess is a fictional creation and her interior life is entirely her own.”
Mary Costello was a teacher up until 2011 when her first book, “The China Factory,” was published.
“I started writing short stories way back – in my early 20s,” she recalled. “Two of them were published, but then I didn’t really persist in sending work out after that. I’d gotten married and was teaching fulltime and gradually writing slipped to the margins of my life.
“But stories would still brim up and I’d write them. I didn’t welcome writing – I felt it as an interruption, a burden, a secret even, and I tried to give it up. I just wanted to be normal like my sisters and friends. But it wouldn’t go away,” Costello said. “I didn’t know any writers and wasn’t part of any writing community, so I was writing in isolation. My marriage broke up after 10 years, but I kept writing – and I was teaching fulltime. Then, into my 40s, I sent some stories out to the Stinging Fly, a literary magazine and publisher in Dublin, and they liked them and wanted to publish them – which is how my first book came about.”
Place of birth: Galway
Published works: “Academy Street,” “The China Factory” – a collection of short stories.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I work best in the mornings, typically from about 9-1 p.m., and if the work is going well I’ll return to it in the afternoons. When I’m rewriting I work at night too. I always have notebooks on the go so, in a way, a writer is never not working.
Ideally I need a quiet familiar place, with my books nearby. Stability is important. I like to know I have a block time ahead– months preferably – free of travel or work commitments.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read your favorite writers closely. Trust your own voice. Be patient.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
”Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson; “Elizabeth Costello” by J.M. Coetzee; “Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offhill.
What book are you currently reading?
“With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires,” a memoir by Willis Barnstone.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
“Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
Ben Lerner’s latest novel, “10:04.”
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
What book changed your life?
No book ever changed my life but all of J.M. Coetzee’s rocked my world.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
My childhood bedroom in east Galway.
Best-selling author and former IAW&A President T.J. English will read at the event supporting urban librarians.
PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT
By Karen Daly
Irish American Artists & Writers will hold its first fundraising, “special edition” salon, entitled “The Amazing Library Variety Show, with Readings, Music, Performance and More!” on Tuesday, May 19 at The Cell Theatre.
As part of its mission to encourage full participation in and access to the arts and education, IAW&A has selected the New York City-based grassroots advocacy group, Urban Librarians Unite to benefit from a night showcasing many of IAW&A’s talented members and special guests.
The show’s producer Mark Butler, who has recruited a stellar group of artists and musicians to donate their time and talent says, “We’re calling it the ‘Amazing Library Variety Show’ because the lineup is amazing and so is this organization. ULU works tirelessly to help libraries thrive and survive.”
Hammerstep, the innovative dance troupe which combines Irish and contemporary dance into an explosive new style is scheduled to make its first IAW&A appearance. Among the headliners scheduled to appear are raconteur and salon founder Malachy McCourt; Black 47 founder and IAW&A president Larry Kirwan; Irish tenor Karl Scully; singers Cathy Maguire and Maxine Linehan; and traditional musicians Tony DeMarco and Don Meade.
Best-selling authors T.J. English and Mary Pat Kelly will read from their work. More fan favorites include jazz saxophonist Jon Gordon; actor and writer Honor Molloy; accordionist and singer Marni Rice; novelist/poet John Kearns; off-Broadway star Richard Butler, and comedic performer Sarah Fearon.
IAW&A will give all proceeds from the show to support the work of Urban Librarians Unite. Among its initiatives, the group operates a Save NYC Libraries Campaign and Volunteer Library Brigade that brings books, maps, Wi-Fi and free eBooks to city sidewalks and parks. Their Hurricane Sandy Children’s Book Campaign distributed over 20,000 books through free mini-libraries in areas of Brooklyn and Queens where libraries were damaged by the storm.
Urban Librarians Unite’s popular “24 Hour Read In” celebrates the written word and the role of the public library in New York City. This year’s Read In will be held at City Hall on June 9 at 4 p.m. to June 10 at 4 p.m.
Irish American Writers & Artists Board Member and Treasurer, John Kearns says, “We’re very proud to mark the 4th anniversary of IAW&A Salons with this very special event that will benefit a dynamic organization that is focused on helping the community.”
“The Amazing Library Variety Show with Readings, Music, Performance and More!” will take place on next Tuesday, May 19 at 7 p.m. The Cell Theatre, 338 West 23rd St., Manhattan. $25 Suggested Donation. Reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org
Celtic Cross on Stone Street.
By Colleen Taylor
It feels like “New York Irish” should be its own category on iTunes, have its own section in the record store. This subset of the Irish-American musical diaspora is arguably the most vibrant, most prolific today, so much so that it certainly qualifies as its own subgenre. Whenever I feel nostalgic and find myself missing New York City’s Irish network, I turn to Celtic Cross and Shilelagh Law and songs like “Those Were the Days” and “Meet Me On McLean.” But what defines the New York Irish subgenre? Where does its history begin, what are its enduring themes and styles? The New York Irish rock folk song is its own art form, distinctive and proud, loyal to two cultures. Mainstreamed since the 1980s, its anthology today is extensive.
Musicians have, of course, been writing Irish music about New York since the earliest eras of immigration. NYU folklorist Mick Moloney of is one of the most renowned local New York historians on this score, having collected and re-recorded a number of 19th and early 20th century street ballads on his album “McNally’s Row of Flats” (2006). However, since Black 47 burst onto the music scene much later in the 20th century, “New York Irish” began to be cultivated as a separate musical identity outside of Irish folk. Today, the “New York Irish” label elicits a sound far more modern and forward-thinking—it’s distinctly rock and traditional at once, with ballads that present New York’s map as written in green.
Shilelagh Law and Celtic Cross are no doubt the frontrunners of this musical subgenre. Some of their songs might be said to comprise the canon of the modern-day New York Irish rock ballad. Shilelagh Law has re-recorded Terence Winch’s 1987 folk song “When New York Was Irish” with a fresher, grungier flare, and even added their own original 21st century epilogue of a song, “Meet Me on McLean.” Both songs evoke and memorialize the Irish-American cultural atmosphere of places like Woodlawn, the local culture of going to sessions, sharing transatlantic pints and anecdotes.
Celtic Cross rehearses Irish-American cultural history with each note they play. Formed in 1990, the family band has been memorializing modern-day Irish immigration and the succeeding Irish-American experience with songs like “Those Were the Days,” which asserts the viewpoint of the New York American born of Irish parents. This folk rock song is a timeline and a cultural map both, a chart of Irish New York’s cultural trends. But while they have spent the majority of their career playing carousing Irish rock and evoking life on McLean Avenue like Shilelagh Law, the band’s latest rock album “Saoirse’s Heart” takes the New York Irish genre to more sober levels of nostalgia as well as more intricate, new-age rock styles. Still, as the personal immigrant history of the title track evinces, this album is distinctly of two identities: Irish émigré and New Yorker.
A number of younger, less established bands are carving out their space in this New York subgenre today, pulling from the cultural capital of Irish folk and rock music at once. The Griffin brothers formed The Ruffians out of New York City in 1998, and they approach the genre more like the Pogues, with a flare for the punk as well as the rock of Irishness. The Narrowbacks distinguish themselves in this subgenre group with their hard rock. This young band is a group of Irish-Americans who clearly grew up on the New York Irish rock song. Their tagline displays self-conscious identification with the genre: “Irish first. American always.” Name alone qualifies the McLean Avenue Band mention on this list. Although perhaps a bit stronger in their folk/bluegrass/country influences, McLean Avenue does not shy away from mixing some rock cords into their Irish songs, and they have become a fixed presence in New York City’s Irish musical network. Finally, the very new Broken Banjo Strings don’t have an album yet, but they seem to be taking “New York Irish” into the next decade with even more melting pot tendencies, adding every genre they encounter, from reggae to bluegrass, to an Irish base.
The New York Irish subculture is currently approaching its biggest annual gathering: the East Durham Irish Festival, which will take place this year from May 23rd-24th. Celtic Cross will headline, as well as the Narrowbacks, McLean Avenue Band, Broken Banjo Strings, and Girsa among others. This is the place to see this genre at its richest and most patriotic. And luckily, the New York pride doesn’t end there: the following weekend marks the Rockaway Beach Irish Festival on March 30th and 31st, featuring the Narrowbacks and McLean Ave. once again, as well as Shilelagh Law.
Qualifying as “New York Irish” is about more than being an Irish band who plays in New York, or a New York band who dabbles in Irish folk. The New York Irish rock ballad and its various composers create a vivid sense of the city’s Irish subculture. In fact, they relish it. The New York Irish song knows its city, its transatlantic heritage, and much like “Ulysses” and Joyce’s Dublin, you could use its lyrics and chords to find your way through Woodlawn and the rest of the Bronx.
Colleen Taylor is the Irish Echo’s “Music Notes” columnist.
Norah Rendell’s “Spinning Yarns” is comprised of Irish, Scottish and English songs collected decades ago in Canada.
By Daniel Neely
New York City’s Irish Arts Center is known for staging the best and finest in Irish music and I’m happy to report their most recent production exceeded expectation. On Saturday, May 2, IAC hosted Ghost Trio (ghosttrio.com), an Irish music powerhouse that features Iarla Ó Lionáird (vocals and harmonium), Ivan Goff (uilleann pipes, flute and whistles) and Cleek Schrey (the hardanger-inspired 5+5 fiddle) and they were absolutely brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed this band and its live show and I urge you to see them if you ever have the chance.
The groundwork for this group was first laid in 2011 at the Irish Arts Center when Ó Lionáird (a member of the critically acclaimed group the Gloaming) and Goff (who tours widely with several top groups) were paired as part its Masters in Collaboration series. It was an outstanding pairing that in turn attracted Schrey, a musician with a kindred sense for the group’s direction, and whose instrument, which has drone strings and sounds wonderfully with the pipes and echoes the depth of the sean nós style, added an important dimension to the group’s overall sound. Since they formed, they’ve performed around the U.S. and Europe, including a shows at Princeton University and the prestigious Masters of Tradition festival at Bantry House in County Cork.
On May 2, Ghost Trio hypnotized with a lush and engrossing mix of instrumental tracks and evocative songs in both the English and Irish languages. Through the rich overlap of acoustic timbres, textures and sounds, the group managed to evoke the solitude of Ireland’s windswept west as well as the sanguine comfort of good friends and heady conversation, and pushed at the traditional boundaries of Irish music. I truly look forward to hearing what this exciting group will do next – we shall see what the future holds.
In my media player this week is Norah Rendell’s newest album, “Spinning Yarns.” Rendell is an award-winning singer, flute player and whistle player from Canada who now lives in Minnesota. In addition to being the executive director of the Center for Irish Music in St. Paul (www.centerforirishmusic.org), she has worked with groups including the Two Tap Trio and the Máirtín de Cógáin Project, she’s been a featured soloist at the Celtic Connections festival in Cape Breton, and was a longtime member of the group The Outside Track. This, her first truly solo album, is an enchanting project filled with carefully curated and sensitively delivered songs that music lovers will doubtless want to check out.
“Spinning Yarns” is dedicated to Rendell’s passion for the song tradition of Canada. Inspired by her husband Brian Miller’s research into northwoods song (www.evergreentrad.com), Rendell conducted her own intensive research and uncovered a number of pieces – 12 of which she presents here – that were collected decades ago from singers of Irish, Scottish and English heritage living in the great country to our north.
And in impressive body of songs it is. The albums starts with “Letty Lee,” a breezy love song that revels in the pursuit of a woman who, after enduring a barrage of platitudes, finally relents. Rendell sings beautifully here and sets a great tone for what’s to come.
“Lost Jimmy Whalen” is one of the album’s standouts. The interplay between the harp (Ailie Robertson), mandola (Randy Gosa), and bouzouki (Brian Miller) creates a texture that is almost like that of a music box come to life. The introduction of the harmonium adds an additional layer of interest which creates a nuanced and harmonically satisfying whole. Over this, of course, is Rendell who sings with great sensitivity
“Forty Fisherman,” collected in Newfoundland in 1951, is another standout. A tragic tale about the loss of life in the course of maritime duty, Rendell does a truly admirable job not only with her voice but on flute. Joining her here is Dáithí Sproule, who adds lively fingerstyle guitar playing that projects a sense of poignancy that goes so nicely with Rendell’s voice.
The standout track for me is “Sir Neil and Glengyle.” This song about Scottish knights and ladies collected in Nova Scotia in 1909 puts Rendell in spectacular light. The arrangement, driven by percussive harmonics on the guitar and a seething harmonium, articulate well with the way Rendell has chosen to phrase the lyrics. As the song become more involved, the harmonium introduces a bit of dissonance that destabilizes the harmony but brings a special sort of intensity that matches well with what Rendell sings. Lovely stuff, indeed.
“Spinning Yarns” is a thoughtful, intimate exploration of Canada’s song tradition. The songs she’s uncovered are unusual and thoroughly enjoyable, and the arrangements smartly conceived and well executed. There’s a warbling pastorality in Rendell’s voice that enriches the whole and helps make this a splendid homage to the song tradition of Canada. Highly recommended! To learn more about Rendell, this album and her work in general, visit norahrendell.com.
Daniel Neely is the Irish Echo’s traditional music correspondent.