Archive : Category

Day-Lewis channels 16th prez in ‘Lincoln’

POSTED ON December 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Silver Screen /

By Karen Butler

Double Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis has admitted that playing America’s 16th president in “Lincoln” was initially a daunting prospect, but he insisted he found the courage to do so after he discovered through the man’s own words how accessible he was.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner, the film is an adaptation of the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It follows the president through the tumultuous four months leading up to his 1865 assassination at the age of 56 and co-stars Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens and David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward.

“It’s the man himself that invites you because he was so open and that was one of the most beautiful surprises about getting to know him,” Day-Lewis said of playing Lincoln.

“How insanely accessible that man was in a time that was physically dangerous, in his case, to be accessible,” the 55-year-old actor laughed. “The White House had an ever-open door. People could come and go. I think it was Seward that probably finally said, ‘Enough already!’ Because his open houses were just bedlam. He was accessible. Some part of him was. That became an opening, in a way. One almost felt welcome, so really he put me at my ease, strangely. Having first made me very uneasy, it was him that put me at my ease and gave me the thought, ‘Maybe I could try to do this.’”

The London-born actor, who has held dual British-Irish citizenship since 1993, is the son of celebrated poet Cecil Day-Lewis, husband of writer-director Rebecca Miller and father of three sons. Famously selective about his roles, he has starred in a string of critical darlings including “My Left Foot,” “Last of the Mohicans,” “In the Name of the Father,” “The Boxer,” “Gangs of New York,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Nine.”

Talking about how helpful the Irish-American Goodwin’s tome was as he prepared to play Lincoln, Day-Lewis noted, “I loved everything about that book, so that was a great beginning.

“But reading objective accounts about the life take you so far,” he added. “Most of what becomes more interesting to me at a certain moment is to try and grow towards a subjective understanding of that man’s experience, whoever he may be. In that case, the legacy of his writing was hugely important. You get such as sense of him through his wonderful… not just his speeches, but also stories he told and there are many contemporary accounts of those stories, which seem fairly accurate, give or take. But to get a sense of his thought and the movement through his thought towards a conclusion… that is a unique treasure, to have that available.”

Day-Lewis also praised Kushner’s screenplay for capturing the spirit of such a famous American icon.

“In such a rich way, Tony had already suggested the man through his intellect, through his humor and through his melancholy, both domestically and in public office, the contrast between those two things, which is always something that is like food and drink to me,” he said. “To see someone whose life is lived at one in the same time in that strange paradox of public and private.”

So, what was it like to share the screen with Field?

“The best thing I can say is that it was easy,” Day-Lewis recalled. “It was what it needed to be in the very best sense. I enjoyed every moment that I spent in her company. Even when we were tearing each other’s eyes out, I enjoyed every moment of that because she was real to me.”

The actor confessed it is sometimes difficult to walk away from such a larger-than-life character when the cameras stop rolling.

“You’re not quite sure what to do with yourself when it’s finished,” he said. “The investment is usually — for most of us — if not a total, then close to total, investment of that period of our lives in the process of telling that particular story, so it’s very hard to conceive any kind of life after it. Of course, there is one waiting, usually impatiently. In this particular case, I felt two things at one and the same time. One was a sense of immeasurable privilege at having been able to explore that man’s life and the other directly as a result of that was a sense of great sadness and loss that the time allowed me was now over. There’s never been a human being that I never met that I loved as much as him. Ever. And I doubt there ever will be.”


“Lincoln” is in theaters now.

Recalling simpler time in idyllic neighborhood

POSTED ON December 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Between the LInes /

By Peter McDermott

In a 1998 Newsday article about a Queens neighborhood, a local said: “We’re not Utopia, but we’re the closest thing to it.”

He and several others talked up its finer points: “95 percent graduate high school and go on to college, and some of them the best schools in the country,” the man said.

“This is the kind of place where people sit down together for Sunday dinner. Breezy Point is a village within the city,” he added.

It was a different world three years before 9/11 (the neighborhood lost 29 people in that catastrophe) and before Hurricane Irene of 2011 and the tornadoes of this September and the calamitous Hurricane Sandy, which hit on Oct. 29. That last event precipitated a fire that destroyed more than 100 homes in the neighborhood.

If, though, in some ways 1998 seems like yesterday to you and me, consider that a first-time voter who just made the age requirement to vote in this month’s general election was then a 4-year-old.

Only 10 percent of American households had access to the Internet at that time. Most people still didn’t have cell phones in the dying days of the 20th century (in contrast to Ireland where everybody seemed to have one). Freelancers pitched Newsday by U.S. Mail or fax and then followed up with a phone call. I wrote about 20 features in those years for a page that was called “Queens Neighborhoods.” The Breezy Point piece cited above was among them, but the only one for which they called me. Calvin Lawrence (a great editor who has since moved to, another sign of the times) said he had read that, according to 1990 census projections, Breezy Point’s zip code had the highest proportion of people claiming Irish ancestry in the country – 63 percent.

Lawrence, who is African American, knew nothing about the place, which is off the beaten track even by Queens standards, but he was curious and so sent an Irish guy to find out about it.  There were actually very few Irish-born people living there, I recall; the neighborhood, however, defined tight-knit Irish American.

It had been long associated with what one woman described as the “civil service middle-class,” employees in the police and fire departments and the utilities. “But the children of the people who founded the cooperative in the 1960s are professionals,” she said for the piece reprinted in the Irish Echo later in the year.

At least half of all homes flew both the Stars and Stripes and the Irish national flag. A small group of enthusiasts meeting in someone’s house developed an annual arts festival that featured “music, soliloquies, poetry and recitation,” including readings from Yeats and Joyce. Most civic groups had an annual Irish night; the biggest was organized by the 2,800-home Breezy Point cooperative itself.

I heard about its fascinating history, which it shared to an extent with other parts of Rockaway. It began with vacationing Manhattan residents pitching tents at first and then in subsequent years building cottages or bungalows. One man told me that his grandparents built the ninth summer home in Breezy Point back in the 1920s. He remembered barefoot summers in the neighborhood in the 1960s, but in early middle age was living there year-round with his wife and three young children.

Let’s be clear about one thing, however: the near Utopia did not flip over to the other extreme on Oct. 29. Dystopia, at least according to movies and novels, suggests a war of all against all. Instead, we’ve seen people in the city, many of them Irish or Irish American, step up to help their neighbors.

City Harvest executive director Jilly Stephens traveled to Rockaway with a truckload of food supplies last week and reported that the “scope of the storm’s impact is staggering,” but she spoke generally of New Yorkers’ “resilience, spirit and camaraderie” in response to Sandy.

She added: “People’s lives have been turned upside down and their homes turned inside out, and yet they continue to find ways to take care of themselves and others.”

Smith’s collaborations set high standard

POSTED ON December 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Traditional Music /

By Daniel Neely


Jesse Smith has been a part of a lot of great albums.  There’s “Think Before You Think” with Danú (2000), his solo album “Jigs and Reels” (2002), the one with the Tap Room Trio (2003), and “Ewe With the Crooked Horn” with Colm Gannon (2010).  Each one of these is a cracker and absolutely worth having, but we can add couple more to the list, “The Rookery” with uilleann piper Emmett Gill and “At My Grandmother’s Knee” with fiddler Mick O’Grady and John Blake.

Both are excellent albums and will have great appeal to fans of traditional music. Smith’s consistent quality shouldn’t be a surprise, as he is perhaps one of the most important and best playing young fiddlers on the scene today.  He grew up in Baltimore, born into both a strong musical community (he learned fiddle from the great Brendan Mulvihill) and a strong musical household (his mother is piano colossus Donna Long and his father John is both a singer and guitar player).  And not only did he have a who’s-who of Irish music passing through his house growing up, he cut his teeth at the fleadhs in the early 1990s, alongside the likes of Tina Lech, Marie Reilly and Matt Mancuso, formidable players all.

Being rooting in some of the most fertile musical soil Irish America has to offer, Smith moved to Ireland in 1998 and joined Danú soon after arriving.  Although his tenure in the band was relatively brief, he was a member when they won their first BBC Radio 2 Folk Award in 2001.  Then, over the next decade and change, he grew into the scene, earned a Master of Arts degree in 2008 from Dundalk Institute of Technology (his thesis was on Michael Coleman) and found a place for himself in “The Music” with some of the brightest players in Ireland.  It’s a terrific story.

“The Rookery,” which builds on this story, is the new album of instrumental music Smith has made with Emmett Gill.  Gill, who was born in London, came through the Pipers Club in Camden, recorded a solo CD “Mountain Groves” in 2007 and is one of two folks (the other being Gerry Clarke) behind Oldtime Records, an intriguing-looking label that reissues music from the 78rpm era.  He is an outstanding player all together and his playing balances with Smith’s wonderfully.  Throughout this album he’s playing a set of C-pitched uilleann pipes (a Koehler and Quinn set if you’re keeping track at home) and I imagine Smith has tuned his fiddle down to suit, which gives this album a rich, dark sound that compliments the duo’s fabulous tempos and swing. This album is consistently good from start to finish.  The playing is tight and the duo presents on it a lovely selection of interesting tune settings.  Their version of “Lillie’s in the Field,” for example, taken from the Francis O’Neill cylinders in the Dunne Family Collection at the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee, has some lovely, unusual touches that sets it apart from more common versions.  All of the album’s other tunes are curated in a similarly tasteful and informed way.  Both players are featured on their own – Smith on “Yellow Tinker / …” and Gill on the “Kilfenane Jig / …” and each plays brilliantly.

To learn more, visit “At My Grandmother’s Knee,” the other recent album on which Smith features, sets a similarly high musical standard.  There, Smith is playing beside Mick O’Grady and John Blake, two of Smith’s longtime co-conspirators.

Blake, a London native now based in Ireland, is widely considered one of Irish music’s finest accompanists.  Over the years he and Smith have played and recorded extensively together, but the list of artists with whom Blake’s worked with is long and impressive.

His playing adds to this album immeasurably.  O’Grady, however, is the real star of this show.

The Leitrim-born fiddler grew up in County Mayo, and he learned from many of the players there and in Sligo, where Fred Finn and Peter Horan had a particular influence.

However, he left Ireland when he was young to follow work, a move which took him first to England in the 1960s and then the US (Pittsburg and New York) in the 1980s.  He now lives in Dublin, where he hosts (often with Smith) a weekly session at the Cobblestone.

O’Grady’s playing is top-shelf.  He was a featured player on the seminal “Music at Matt Molloy’s” album, and until his 2009 solo song debut “The Long Distance Kid” it was the only way people outside Ireland might have known about his music.

This album changes that.  Comprising mostly instrumental dance music, the album mostly features the trio together.  Tracks like “Humors of Ballyconnell / …” and “Jerry’s Beaver Hat / …” have a rough-hewn drive that will remind many of great house sessions of bygone days.  Other tracks, like O’Grady and Smith’s duet on “Willie Duffy’s Mazurka” and O’Grady’s feature on “Gillian’s Apples” are outstanding and showcase O’Grady’s playing more directly.  O’Grady gets the spotlight on three songs, “Leaving Mayo,” “Castlebar” and “The Philadelphia Lawyer.”  Each is thoughtfully delivered and conveyed with a wisdom appropriate to each song’s subject. For more about “The Rookery,” go to  For information on how to buy “At My Grandmother’s Knee,” contact

Holland is at once hip and traditional

POSTED ON November 23rd  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Traditional Music /

By Daniel Neely


I came across an album in my apartment last week that I really should have gotten to months ago, Gráinne Holland’s “Teanga na nGael” (which translates to the “Language of the Gael”).  I was going through a few things on a bookshelf and BOOM, there it was, so, I had a listen and was really pleasantly surprised – it’s a wonderful vocal album in the Irish language that showcases a fresh and forward looking approach to traditional song. Holland grew up speaking both English and Irish in west Belfast, a largely Irish-speaking area that was recently designated the city’s “Gaeltacht Quarter.”  She fell in love with Irish music at an early age and attended the first Irish-language primary school in Belfast, Bunscoil Phobail Feirst.  This album is very clearly an expression of how and where she grew up, both as a musician and as an Irish speaker in Belfast.

Holland’s voice is charming, and she approaches her repertory with great confidence and conviction.  There’s also a hipness in her music that never seems to overwhelm her traditional outlook.  On a track like “An tSeanbhean Bhocht,” for example, a upbeat musical arrangement and a Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin translation sheds new light on Liam Clancy’s well-known version of “Sean Bhean Bhocht.” In contrast, “Uiseag Bheag Ruaidh” casts a darker tone.  A lullaby from the Isle of Man likely first published in 1896, Holland’s approach here (which features a plaintive clarinet) projects a delicacy that impels her listener’s favor.  A similarly dark and almost strident tone is set on “Báta An tSíl,” a track on which Holland is joined (as she is elsewhere on the album) by uilleann piper John McSherry.  Here, McSherry provides a haunting, ethereal background that communicates the acute heartbreak in this song from the Isle of Barra, Scotland. “Teanga na nGael” was produced by Dónal O’Connor, the son of fiddler Gerry O’Connor.   O’Connor’s imprint here is substantial.  In addition to arranging much of the album’s music, he also features on fiddle, viola, bouzouki, keyboards and tenor guitar.  O’Connor’s steady musical and creative hand is a major reason for this album’s success. Indeed, some of the album’s finest tracks feature both O’Connor and McSherry, a pair with a long-lived musical association.  Among other projects, the duo released their CD “Tripswitch” in 2006, collaborated on guitarist Bob Brozman’s album “Six Days in Down” in 2010 and are currently members of the group “At First Light.”   I point in particular to the album’s opening track, the traditional “A Bhean Údaí Thall” where I think the duo’s talents articulate best with Holland’s.  O’Connor’s punchy arrangement creates an intimate space in which Holland’s voice shines.  He does this by writing spaciously with a punchy McSherry riff at its core.  The lovely vocal harmony that creeps in at song’s end is bracingly unexpected and rounds off what is surely one of the album’s finest tracks. There is much to recommend here, however.  I expect listeners will be very attracted to Holland’s take on Joseph Campbell’s “The Blue Hills Of Antrim / Méilte Cheann Dubhrann.”  Similarly, I think folks will also enjoy “Seanduine Dóite” for its cheery bounce and “Iníon An Bhaoilligh” for its drama. Ultimately, “Teanga na nGael” is an outstanding album from a talented young singer and will interest anyone who loves traditional song.  In addition to her fine musical work, Holland is to be commended for her excellent website, which compliments her CD perfectly.  It includes links to videos, photo galleries, downloadable high-resolution press photos (which is an extremely smart move because it helps people doing the kind of work I’m doing right now), PDF lyrics for all her songs, information about upcoming gigs, project news and, of course, information about how to buy her music.  It’s comprehensive and well put together.



To learn more, visit

Envoy’s memoirs tell of U.S.-Irish tension

POSTED ON November 21st  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed David Gray, a member both of the WASP elite and his own family circle, to be ambassador to Ireland. Officially the U.S. envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, Gray’s relationship with the host country and Taoiseach Eamon de Valera famously soured early on, though he would remain in the post until the early days of the Cold War in 1947.

“Gray has always been deeply unloved by Irish nationalists. My introduction makes it clear that he became very bitter about Ireland and reached exaggerated conclusions,” Professor Paul Bew said of the Royal Irish Academy’s edition of Gray’s memoirs. “However, it points out that he loved Ireland and had a serious intellectual engagement with it before his appointment. He raises real issues based on documentation in the German archives about Irish foreign policy when the fate of the democratic world was at stake in 1940.”

Editor Bew’s introductory essay to “A Yankee in de Valera’s Ireland” is the latest in a very long, illustrious bibliography that begins with “Land and the National Question in Ireland 1858-1882.” That revisionist 1978 work concentrated as much on the clash of interests between better-off and poorer tenants as on the struggle against landlords.

He teamed up with fellow left-wing academics Henry Patterson and Peter Gibbon to write “Northern Ireland 1921 -1972″ (published in 1979, with several updates and editions since), which was critical of the state, but not from a nationalist perspective.

He was, like Patterson, an early civil rights marcher with Peoples’ Democracy, and was later sometimes identified with the Workers Party, of which Patterson was an active member.

A Guardian profile of Bew in 2004 suggested that with his ability and his Cambridge PhD, he could have had his choice of academic positions, but chose in the mid-1970s to go home to Belfast to teach at Queens University, where he is professor of politics.

He has acted as an informal advisor to former Unionist Party leader David Trimble, but told the Guardian in that profile: “I don’t write as a unionist.” Indeed, the paper also noted that he has written sympathetic biographies of three nationalist leaders: Charles Stewart Parnell, John Redmond and Sean Lemass. The one constant in Bew’s approach, the profile argued, has been his sympathy for those who have sought reconciliation between the two traditions.

Professor Bew, who acted as an historical advisor to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal, was appointed a life peer to the House of Lords in 2007 and sits as a (non-party) crossbencher.

Paul Bew

Date of Birth: Jan. 22, 1950

Place of Birth: Belfast

Spouse: Professor Greta Jones

Children: Dr. John Bew

Residence: Jordanstown, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim.

Selected Works: “C.S. Parnell,”  1980; “Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland 1890-1910. Parnellites and Radical Agrarians,” 1987; “Ideology and the Irish Question; Ulster Unionism and Irish Nationalism, 1912-16,”(1994);  “John Redmond” (1996);  “Ireland. The Politics of Enmity,”  (2007);  “The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement,” 2007; “Enigma; A New Life of Charles Stewart Parnell” (2011); Co-Authored with Henry Patterson, “The State in Northern Ireland,” 1921-72  (1979, with Peter Gibbon); “Sean Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland Dublin,” 1982;  “The British State and the Ulster Crisis,” ; The Dynamics of Irish Politics London (1989, with Ellen Hazelkorn); “Northern Ireland: Between War and Peace  (1997, (with Paul Teague); Co-authored with Gordon Gillespie: “Northern Ireland. A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1993; “The Northern Ireland Peace Process,” 1996; “Passion and Prejudice: Nationalist/Unionist Conflict in Ulster in the 1930s and the Origins of the Irish Association Belfast,” (1993, with Kenneth Darwin); “A Journey in Ireland 1921″ by Wilford Ewart (with Patrick Maume).

What is your writing routine?

I write everything longhand and then pay someone to type it.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be obsessive.

What book are you currently reading?

Peter Jay Conradi’s  “A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson.” This is a biography of the brother of the historian E.P. Thompson. Frank Thompson was a man interesting in his own right. In the SOE, he died in Bulgaria in 1944, tortured by the Fascists after a special operation went wrong.

Is there any book you wish you had written?

Marianne Elliott’s “Wolfe Tone.”

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by?

Regis Debray’s “Praise be our Lord. The Autobiography.”

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

Edmund Burke.

What book changed your life?

Raymond Williams’s  “Culture and Society.”

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

The Oval, home of Glentoran Football Club.

Your Irish if…

As Thackeray says: Once you find an Irishman, you will find another not very far away.  I am Irish in that sense.


Yet another ‘great night!’ at Thalia Café

POSTED ON November 21st  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

By Charles Hale

One of the outgrowths and benefits of the Irish American Writers & Artists’ salons has been the increasing number of collaborations among its members.  There were many wonderful presentations before a standing-room-only crowd at the Thalia Cafe, but two fine performances highlighted the collaborative talents of four members – two writers and two singers.

Inspired by a New York Times story about the Brooklyn apartment where she grew up, Karen Daly presented an evocative tribute to her grandmother titled, “Mama’s Window.” Karen pictured her grandmother keeping watch on her from a building on Lincoln Place, and showed how the little girl would come to resemble her grandmother in so many ways.

Karen movingly described her grandparents’ marriage and her grandmother’s desolation at her husband’s death.    The emotion was perfectly expressed when singer Jack Di Monte joined Karen and sang a beautiful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “When I Lost You.” This seamless collaboration resulted from an offhand chat at a prior salon.

Maura Mulligan has read a number of passages from her engaging memoir, “Call of the Lark,” but Maura showed her true roots as a storyteller when she recounted the night she left her home in County Mayo for America, evoking the Ireland of her childhood with images of the turf fire, the boxty and butter-making. Singer Vera Wrenn joined Maura, enhancing the story with a beautiful rendition of “Moonlight in Mayo” and “The Bold Fenian Men.”

Sarah Fearon work-shopped some new comedy material. Some of her ideas included dealing with the beginning of the end of the world, and getting old.  Sarah also riffed on thinking outside the box before we wind up inside the box, and a new discovery revealed from Jesus’ shroud, which suggests that God was originally from New York. And my favorite: Sarah wondered why doctors ask us “What are we doing here today?” From the crowd’s response, a good percentage of Sarah’s material is worth developing.

Our thoughts went to the victims of hurricane Sandy when Maureen Hossbacher read a poignant excerpt from her novel-in-progress, “The Grand March.”  The excerpt, set in Rockaway Beach of the 1950s, introduced us to Nance Moran, a young girl wrangling with the dissonance between sexuality and Catholicism. No doubt many in the captivated audience could relate to similar childhood awakenings and dilemmas.

Malachy McCourt closed the evening with a song, “Isn’t it Grand Boys to be Bloody Well Dead.” After the applause and cheers subsided, Malachy called out “Great night!” Indeed it was.

For more about the Irish American Artists and Writers contact Charles R. Hale at


Doolan’s new passion is Galway venue

POSTED ON November 21st  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure


At the opening night of the Irish Film New York last month, Lelia Doolan was a hard woman to catch. But, eventually she had some time to sit with the Irish Echo in the basement of Glucksman Ireland House where the celebration was taking place, and we talked for 15 minutes before she had to get a taxi uptown to another do.

Doolan was a guest of honor at Irish Film New York, where her documentary “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey” was a key attraction. Her visit to the U.S. had a dual purpose, though, since she was also raising funds for an art-house movie theatre in Galway.

“We’ve been trying to make this happen for almost 10 years now,” she explained of the project. “We’ve got almost all the funding, we are shy by about a million euros. We think we can make that up and we would love if the public would give us a hand.”

Doolan, now age 78, is a respected public figure in Ireland, and as a young woman was a pioneering element in the nation’s creative scene. Described as “mad, bad and dangerous,” by Dublin’s Catholic archbishop, John Charles McQuaid, she was never afraid to dispute authority.

She won a scholarship to study Brecht at the Free University in Berlin, and worked for almost a decade at Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, until she resigned in protest at their political and commercial policies. (She later wrote a book about the experience with two colleagues called “Sit Down and Be Counted.”) Doolan also spent two years as artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, and she holds a PhD in anthropology from Queens University, Belfast.

She spoke about her current passion – the role that indie film could play in the city of Galway. For more than 45 years the city has sustained a film society whose members meet every Sunday night to watch something out of the ordinary. “It’s like having a great meal,” she said. “It’s full of riches, it’s full of nutrition. And it’s provocative, interesting, awkward, something to enable people to be fully human.”

The project ( – which she hopes will gain support from members of the Irish American community – will include three screens, a café, a bar and a bookshop. Doolan said that artists and creative people have not disappointed the country, unlike some other groups. “Of all the people who have let cultures down and societies down, they are mostly economists and bankers and business people,” she said. “Funnily enough in Ireland at least, the artists have not left the country down. They’ve continued to be vibrant and vivid and interesting and fascinating and intriguing.”

Her own most recent production is a film that achieves just that. “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey” explores the provocative and often inspiring activities of Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin), a young woman who acquired prominence during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. At the time, Devlin was just 22. In an image from the film showing her with long hair wearing a short dress and coat, with buckled shoes, she looks even younger.

Doolan said the film was not meant to be about McAliskey’s experiences but about her ideas. “She is, like all human beings, multifaceted,” Doolan suggested. “But one of the great qualities of her is she has a great mind. She is very direct; she is very eloquent. She’s got a wonderful sense of humor, and madness, in fact. She is intellectually alive and awake all the time and she’s just a remarkable iconic figure.”

The documentary is a testament both to McAliskey’s actions and Doolan’s determination to record them. She described the film as something of a teaching aid – a reminder, for young people, that some ideas are worth fighting for, and a nudge to reject blander versions of life. “One of the reasons for my making the film, I suppose, was to say, ‘Have courage.’ She had a strong courage,” Doolan said of Bernadette. “But it doesn’t take a lot to stand up for something that you actually believe in.”

By now, it was time for the filmmaker to travel to her next appointment, and she was probably running late.

When it comes to film, art, Ireland and history, Doolan doesn’t keep her eye on the clock. “I could keep talking forever,” she said.

Rian’ showcases Ó Maonlaí’s musical passion

POSTED ON November 7th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

This past summer Irish rocker Joe Hurley, curated OurLand, a dynamic outdoor celebration of Irish heritage at Lincoln center. Now it’s Liam Ó Maonlaí’s turn to dazzle the big apple with a modern interpretation of his Celtic Roots. Ó Maonlaí, the Dublin born front man for the rock group Hothouse Flowers, has teamed up with choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan and Ireland’s renowned dance theater company, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, to create “Rian” – a show where contemporary dance and traditional Irish music meet. “Rian” will make its New York City debut as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, a month long celebration of artistic expression, with performances at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on Nov. 8, 9, and 10 at 7:30 p.m. Ó Maonlaí will also perform an intimate hour-long concert as part of the White Light Festival at 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Lincoln Center’s Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse.

A man of great musical versatility, Ó Maonlaí is an All-Ireland Bodhran player, an accomplished pianist, he plays guitar, harp, tin whistle, and is one of Ireland’s best Sean Nos Singers. His first solo album, “Rian,” serves as the soundtrack to his latest project with the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre. The Irish word for “imprint” or “trace,” “Rian” is a beautiful showcase of Ó Maonlaí’s passion for playing and singing traditional Irish music. While the sounds of Rian are quite traditional, the sights are far from the costumes and movements normally associated with Irish music.

Ó Maonlaí’s partner in crime on the project is fellow Dublin native, Michael Keegan-Dolan – the artistic director for Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, a group that is gaining international recognition for its creative and controversial productions. Sharing the stage with five of Ireland’s top musicians is a multicultural crew of eight dancers who set exciting and contemporary movement to the sounds of harps, bodhrans, fiddles and flutes.

Talent and innovation, Irish music and contemporary dance, it’s a recipe for a memorable evening in New York City.

Get your tickets to Rian at or call 212-721-6500, and as Liam Ó Maonlaí sings in a popular Hothouse Flowers Song “dance for all your worth. Just let that rhythm take you home.”

My picks for the best Irish sounds around town this week: Declan O’Rourke at Stage One in Fairfield, CT on 11/2, Mary Black with Roisin O at City Winery in NYC on 11/6, and The Screaming Orphans at on 11/6 at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC.

TradConnect is resource for fans, musicians

POSTED ON November 7th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Last week, I spoke with Tony Lawless, a fiddle and guitar player from Dublin who runs, a very impressive (and free!) website whose mission is to connect musicians and promote trad music “across the world.”  It’s an extremely compelling and well-executed idea that deserves the attention of anyone who loves trad music.

Struggling to find musicians for a session in Dublin, Lawless was motivated to start TradConnect when he found that there was no online outlet that easily put together trad musicians; there seemed to be a clear need.  He unveiled the site in April 2011, and within two weeks there were 400 members. With the member base now approaching 3,000, the site receives over 10,000 unique visits a month, a number Lawless thinks will rise as more people sign up and content increases.

TradConnect is based on (and indeed, shares it’s software DNA with), an extremely successful website that covers Americana and Roots music.  Started in 1995 as a print magazine, NoDepression went fully digital in 2008.  Today, it has a membership of 21,400, comprising journalists, videographers, artists, labels, PR folks, venue owners, DJs, festival promoters, podcasters, and fans.  There, users have access to discussion forums, blog entries, CD/DVD and live show reviews, contests, music videos and photos.  (This content is typically user generated, much like Facebook.)  There is also a chat function.  NoDepression receives 130,000 unique readers a month, making it Americana and Roots music’s most important hub, both online and off.

By adapting NoDepression’s very successful model, Lawless hopes to create a similarly vibrant place for the world of Irish traditional music.  It is already doing the job of connecting musicians and helping them communicate with one another, and it is becoming an increasingly important PR resource for professional musicians (especially since it is one of the few places that provides review content, which is so important for recording and touring artists).

If you’re a musician or a fan, check out Lawless’s site – it looks like a very interesting way of keeping up with what’s happening in the world of trad music.  To sign up, visit  (And if you do, friend me – I recently signed up!)

Speaking of reviews, I recently got ahold of Kathleen Conneely’s new CD “The Coming of the Spring” and I absolutely love it.  It is an album of shimmering, unpretentious tin whistle playing, executed with perfect swing and masterful pacing.  If you like tin whistle, this album is a must have.  If you’re not sure about tin whistle, this album will absolutely win you over.

“The Coming of the Spring” is made up entirely of jigs, reels and hornpipes, straight dance music, played with minimal arrangement  Conneely is joined by some top players, including her brother Mick (bouzouki), Brian McGrath (piano) and Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh (bodhrán), each of whom enhances Conneely’s already warm, relaxed style.

One of the album’s many strengths is its extremely tasteful tune selection.  Conneely includes a number of very interesting but less common tunes to go with the ones that are more familiar.  “Dermot Grogan’s / …” is a wonderful set of jigs; “The Gneevgullia Reel / …” is a great set as well.  Conneely is joined by her father Mick Sr. (also a whistle player) on “The Primrose Vale / The Lark in the Morning (#1),” a set of tunes “he would have played regularly when we were growing up.”  They’re backed brilliantly by Mick Jr. and is perhaps album’s most poignant moment.

Beside the music, I love how this album evokes the kind of stripped down “free-range” sound Micheál Ó Raghallaigh and Danny O’Mahony took with their recent CD “As It Happened”.  Like that album, there’s nothing “slick” about Conneely’s music.  It is just elegantly performed and clearly presented, just the kind of thing you’d want to hear in something people might call “pure drop.”


To learn more about “The Coming of the Spring,” visit

Leitrim’s Hyland strikes a chord in NYC

POSTED ON October 24th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Niamh Hyland may not always have been sure what path her life would take, but she knew that it would involve music. Tall, with short-cut auburn hair, Hyland is an accomplished performer and songwriter, who wowed a crowd at the OurLand Festival in the Lincoln Center earlier this year. She sang “Hard Times Come Again No More” without accompaniment, and her performance struck a chord.

“It was a combination of Irish traditional and then soul and fusing both of those together,” Hyland said when I met her a few weeks later. “For me that’s what a lot of people hear when I sing. It’s this combination of being very true to Irish traditional music but also bringing in other influences.”

Hyland grew up in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, and music ran in her family. Her grandfather had played tin whistle and accordion, and she first learned to sing from her mother around the family table. “When we would finish dinner, she would sing a verse and go round the table and everyone would sing a verse. That’s how we learned all the old Irish ballads; that’s what I think trained my ear because there was no music, you had to hear it,” she explained.

There is something chameleon-like about Hyland’s vocal abilities, which span traditional sean nós Irish song, as well as rock and soul. She is the lead singer in Lily Sparks, a rock band with an assertive attitude, fond of glittery guitars and skin-tight denim. (A comment on the band’s website suggests that “Lily Sparks creates music that makes you want to crank the volume all the way up and sing along.”). By contrast when we met over a coffee at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan, she was understated and elegant, wearing jeans and a simple black top.

Her early trajectory pointed towards a career in classical opera. After starring in some high school musicals, she won a scholarship from the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, her parents regularly taking her on the three-hour drive from Leitrim. She studied there for a year under a teacher from Russia. “He was strict,” she recalled, “and strict is what you need, as you weren’t going there to have a party.”

The teacher was excited by her range and thought she would become a successful opera singer. Instead though, the 17-year-old found herself drawn towards other genres. “I felt like there was a part of what I loved about my voice that was getting a little lost in the training because you have to train in a certain way,” Hyland said. “I liked some of the things that weren’t necessarily correct.”

After that, Hyland turned away from music temporarily to study business and law at University College Dublin. Her parents were shocked, but then got used to the idea that their daughter might not be a musician after all, and for a few years Hyland focused on gaining her academic degree. It was when she finished her studies that she decided to return to music and come to New York. She has U.S. citizenship, since her parents had met and married here.

With its flourishing music scene, New York seemed like the best place to be. “Everybody wants to live here; everybody wants the opportunities that are here,” Hyland said. “It’s a number of years that I’ve been here now – and I pinch myself and think, ‘Wow, I actually live in New York.’ I’ve dreamt about it for so long. I grew up in the country on a farm and now I live in one of the biggest cities in the world.”

New York is also a good place to be Irish. Hyland lives in Floral Park, which she described as Ireland’s 33rd county, so packed is it with people from the old country. The first time she visited the area, she saw an older gentleman on a bicycle, wearing a cap and cycling the wrong way down the street.

She has kept her more practical options open, sitting (and passing) the notoriously difficult New York State bar exam and obtaining a job at a management consulting firm in the city. This has allowed her to avoid a penniless artist’s fate. “You have to pay your bills,” she pointed out. “It’s ridiculously expensive here.”

Right now is a time of transition for Hyland and she has gone part-time in her day job to focus on music. She wants to record Irish songs and is working on two albums, one with Lily Sparks and the other a solo project. “Life is so short,” she said.

“You get to go round once and you don’t get a second go at it. Good, bad or indifferent, you might as well do something that you really love.”

Back to Top