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Festive doubleheader of performance and readings

POSTED ON April 30th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

A History of Irish Music cover
By Karen Daly

The Irish American Writers & Artists salon followed last week’s launch party for IAW&A President Larry Kirwan’s new book, “A History of Irish Music” at the Cell Theatre. After Malachy McCourt’s introduction, Larry enchanted the standing-room-only audience with a passage about the iconic blues guitarist Rory Gallagher.

Salon producer John Kearns hosted topnotch presentations that included music, memoir, poetry, fiction and humor.

In the fiction department, actress Mary Tierney read from an untitled novel-in-progress by Joseph Davidson. In this chapter set in 1966, a young woman hitchhikes from Kansas to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury in search of love and peace. In Christy Kelly’s novel-in-progress called “Nobody Said,” two cops cruise the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx in the 1970s, when, Christy says, “The sky was pink with arson.” Stephanie Silber’s powerful first novel, “Other People’s Houses,” is a coming of age story set in the early 1970’s.

Poet Bernadette Cullen read “Ruminations While Standing on the Edge of the Precipice,” which she describes as a longish poem on uncomfortable “truths.”

Also for poetry lovers, Brendan Costello Jr. read the opening of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” He reworked that section as a Buzzfeed lifestyle article, proving that April may still be the “cruellest month,” but at least it’s user friendly:

“What I’ve found in this handful of dust might just haunt you for years to come!”

Among the true stories, Sean Carlson read a travel piece “Notes from Cambodia,” scheduled for publication this summer in Nowhere Magazine. Maura Mulligan, accompanied by the fiddler Marie Reilly, presented an excerpt from her memoir, “Call of the Lark.”

In the music department, Karl Scully, one of the Irish Tenors, graced us with a song, “My Lagan Love,” while singer/songwriter John Munnelly sang some of his original compositions. His new song about love, from a distance, was inspired by the title of Theresa Lennon Blunt’s memoir, “I Sailed the Sky in A Silver Ship.”

Malachy McCourt brought the night to a rollicking close delivering,
verse after verse of the Noël Coward (a salon first?) song about British officers in India, “I Wonder What Happened to Him?”

The next salon is on Tuesday, May 5, at Bar Thalia (Broadway at West 95th Street) beginning at 6 p.m. On Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. at the Cell Theatre, IAW&A presents “The Amazing Library Variety Show” to benefit Urban Librarians Unite ($25 contribution); reservations should be made by emailing amazinglibraryshow@hotmail.com

Fresh or Frozen, Peas Rise to the Occasion

POSTED ON April 29th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Burdocks
Burdock’s, an iconic Dublin chipper.
PHOTO: MARGARET M. JOHNSON

By Margaret M. Johnson

As a food writer, I generally recommend using fresh ingredients — spices, herbs, vegetables, lemon juice — but when it comes to peas, I think frozen work pretty well in most recipes. They are, in fact, the only frozen vegetable I keep on hand for mushy peas to serve with fish ‘n chips, or as a side dish to accompany lamb, poultry, or salmon. Grab a bag and try one of these springtime recipes.

Pea and Parmesan Crostini
Makes 16
This simple topping for classic crostini will win rave reviews for its originality and taste.
1 loaf Italian or French bread, cut into 16 slices
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bag (14.4 oz.) frozen baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
1 tbsp. sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Shredded Parmesan cheese
1. Place bread slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly brush with 2 tbsp. of the olive oil. Broil, turning once, for 2-3 minutes, or until the bread is golden and crisp. Arrange the crostini on serving platter.
2. Combine the peas, remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil, sour cream, basil, and lemon peel in a bowl. With a potato masher, lightly mash. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Spread pea mixture onto bread slices and garnish each with the cheese. (Recipe courtesy of Birdseye Foods)

Fish ’n Chips with Mushy Peas
Serves 4-6
It’s safe to say that you can find traditional fish ’n chips in nearly every pub and casual dining restaurant in Ireland, to say nothing of the ubiquitous “chippers” dedicated solely to serving this national treasure. Mushy peas are an important accompaniment to this food favorite and are typically made with dried marrowfat peas, which require overnight soaking. Most home cooks will favor a simpler recipe that uses frozen or fresh peas. This recipe was first published in my Irish Pub Cookbook.

Mushy Peas
1 bag (14.4 oz.) frozen baby sweet peas
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Chips
2 lbs. russet potatoes
Canola oil for frying
Fish
2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 cup ice water
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 cup cold Irish ale, such as Smithwick’s
2 lbs. cod or haddock fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Malt vinegar for serving (optional)
1. To make the peas, cook according to package directions, reserving 3 tbsp. of the cooking water. Drain and then return to the pan. Add the butter, lemon zest, and reserved cooking water. With a potato masher, lightly mash. Season to taste with salt and pepper; cover and set aside.
2. To make the chips, peel and cut the potatoes into 1/2-in-thick wedges and leave in a pot of cold water. Pour enough oil into a large heavy pot to reach a depth of 3 in., or fill an electric deep fryer 3/4 full with oil. Heat until a deep-fat frying thermometer registers 300° F.
3. Drain the potatoes and dry with paper towels. Working in batches, add the potatoes to the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes a batch, or until potatoes are just tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet (a brown bag also works well).
4. Heat the same oil to 350° F. Working in batches, re-fry the potatoes for 2 minutes a batch, or until golden brown. Transfer to another paper towel-lined baking sheet (or brown bag) to drain. Sprinkle with salt and keep warm. Maintain temperature.
5. To make the fish, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and pepper. Stir in the water, vinegar, and beer to form a batter. Do not overwork.
6. Working in batches, dredge 2-3 pieces of fish in the batter and gently drop into the oil. Fry fish, turning frequently, for 4-5 minutes, or until golden. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet (or brown bag) to drain.
7. To serve, season fish and chips with salt and pepper and serve immediately with the mushy peas.

Braised Baby Lettuce with Peas and Bacon
Serves 4-6
Use gem lettuce, a miniature variety of romaine, for this recipe. This small lettuce, originally native to France and Spain, has an oblong head of loosely furled leaves that makes it perfect for quick braising or grilling. It’s delicious as a side dish for poultry or lamb.
3 slices bacon, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. chopped shallots
1 bag (14.4 oz.) baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
4 heads gem lettuce, quartered lengthways
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. celery seed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until nearly crisp. Add the shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the shallots are soft but not brown.
2. Stir in the peas and lettuce and braise, turning once or twice, for 5 minutes, or until the lettuce is wilted. Stir in the lemon juice and zest, celery seed, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.

Minted Pea Purée
Serves 4-6
Frozen peas are also terrific in this side dish that has an extra kick from a bit of white wine and a creamy texture from half and half. The purée is delicious with scallops, grilled or smoked salmon.
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup half and half
1 bag (14.4 oz.) baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
1 tbsp. minced fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the wine and cook for about 5 minutes, or until most of the wine evaporates. Add the peas and half and half. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the peas are tender; drain, reserving the liquid.
2. Transfer the peas mixture to a food processor and pulse 8-10 times, or until nearly smooth. Add some of the reserved liquid, if necessary, to thin. Add the mint and pulse 2-3 times.
3. Return the purée to the skillet to heat and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Margaret M. Johnson, the author of 10 Irish cookbooks, is the Echo’s “Recipes” correspondent. She will be leading her second tour to Ireland in May 2016. For details, see the ad in the print edition of the newspaper.

Lamy gets help from trad’s finest

POSTED ON April 28th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

cd cover

By Daniel Neely
letters@irishecho.com

Last week I visited NYC’s Irish Arts Center and saw the group This Is How We Fly perform. It was a wonderful evening of powerful chamber-trad music from one of the most innovative and intriguing groups in Irish music. Fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and clarinetist Seán Mac Erlaine both performed brilliantly (as did the evening’s guest, fiddler Cleek Schrey) and set a deeply creative, timbrally rich and wonderfully rewarding tone with their onstage musical conversation. I was particularly taken by the interplay between dancer Nic Gareiss and percussionist Petter Berndalen, whose fluid and dynamic interplay was as melodic as it was percussive. Should you ever have the opportunity, take advantage and see This Is How We Fly – they’re a special group that puts on a superb, engrossing show.

Speaking of clarinetists, “The New Blackthorn Stick” is the new album from clarinetist Andy Lamy. It is surely the world’s first album of traditional music solely devoted to the clarinet and one for people looking for something rooted in a familiar approach with a different sort of musical edge.

Lamy is perhaps best known in the world of orchestral music, where he is well accomplished and carries a sterling reputation both as a performer and a teacher. He plays for example, with the New Jersey Symphony and is a founding member of the Halcyon Trio, but he’s collaborated widely with organizations like the Metropolitan Opera and with groups like the Artis Quartet of Vienna, and he has taught at the Juilliard School, among other places.

In recent years he’s become involved with the world of traditional Irish music and in that time, he’s encountered and befriended some of the world’s finest musicians, many of whom appear here. The list of distinguished notables includes, among others, Dylan Foley and Pat Mangan (fiddle); John Nolan and John Whelan (button accordions); Kevin Crawford (flute and whistle); Jerry O’Sullivan (pipes); Gabriel Donohue (bouzouki and piano); and Greg Anderson and John Walsh (guitars). Each of these players complement Lamy’s playing well and add a feel for the music that trad fans will find familiar.

“The New Blackthorn Stick” offers much to take in and enjoy. “Gallagher’s Frolics / …,” for example, is a lovely set of three jigs that features Mary Bergin (whistle) and Lamy playing together in tight formation. Another great track is the hornpipe set “Caisleán an Óir / …,” on which Brian Conway appears. There, the timbres of the fiddle and clarinet blend beautifully and project a gravitas which does the tunes proper justice.

I particularly liked Lamy’s pastoral whistle and clarinet-based take on the song “Come By The Hills” on which the great Corkman Donie Carroll sings. Carroll is excellent here and his voice fits well with Lamy’s arrangement on what is the album’s only vocal track.

Perhaps the album’s most compelling moment, however, is “An Tiarna Mhaigh Eo (Lord Mayo),” a slow air Lamy took from the playing of the great Donegal fiddler Néilidh Boyle. There, he’s joined by Dermot Byrne (button accordion), Haley Richardson (fiddle), Mike Stewart (viola), Florian Blancke (harp) and Jonathan Storck (bass), who come together to create a lush, dreamlike musical texture that is easy to get lost in.

“The New Blackthorn Stick” is a provocative take on the music that showcases Lamy’s virtuosic talents admirably. His passion for the music is completely apparent throughout the album’s whopping 17 tracks, and a high level of musicianship is maintained throughout. While the clarinet may not end up taking the world of trad by storm, this record (not to mention its use in groups like This Is How We Fly) shows well what the instrument is capable of. “The New Blackthorn Stick” is available through CD Baby, for more information about Lamy, visit www.andrewlamy.com.

Daniel Neely is the Echo’s traditional music columnist

Two songwriters rapidly rising

POSTED ON April 27th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

roisin
“If You Got Love,” the latest from Róisín O, goes in a different direction to her debut “Secret Life of Blue.”

 By Colleen Taylor

The Irish music scene seems to have an endless supply of new talent. No matter how many bands I encounter, I always find five more to add to my “listen to” list. There must something instinctive in the Irish cultural spirit that induces this impetus for musical productivity. Whatever that special impulse might be, one thing is for sure: it keeps new musicians mustering courage to make it in the music world, and it keeps the already established artists daring to try new styles. This week, my latest discoveries were an artist named Ian O’Doherty, and a brand new single release from one of my absolute favorite young Irish singers, Róisín O.

Kerry singer Ian O’Doherty is something of a computer scientist when it comes music. This songwriter doesn’t just sing: he plays with vocal potential from inside the recording studio, distorting, altering, layering the sounds of his voice with synthesizers and other electronic instruments. The result is something unique, even galactic. His song “Woven,” for instance, creates an otherworldly feel that gives deeper emotional profundity to his dark lyrics. In this technical age we live in, O’Doherty is letting art and machine collide, exploring the potentials between sheet music and electric piano chords.

O’Doherty made his debut in 2013 with the EP “Never In Colour,” which he followed with two more singles in 2014. His most recent “Heatbeats Shifting” is arguably his best song, as it effects his most elegant blend of vocal and electro synthesization to date. Some of his earlier songs tend to over-emphasize the electronic influence, but “Heartbeats Shifting” does not let the techno style drown out O’Doherty’s interesting, raspy singing voice. Clearly this Kerry singer is on the rise with his style, maturing into a signature sound that is very innovative. O’Doherty has been busy of late, touring across Ireland, selling out gigs from Kerry to Galway to Armagh, revamping his live act, and most importantly, getting back to the studio to record his debut album. As he has hinted on his website, the singer will be involving some older, dated synthesizers in his latest original work to explore the potential in outmoded musical forms. He’ll be touring across Cork in May, treating audiences to some selections from his upcoming full debut album.

Released on April 3, “If You Got Love” is the latest from Róisín O. I’ve been in love with O’s debut album “Secret Life of Blue” (2012) for well over a year now. Her vocals represent that perfect “go-to sound,” that kind of music you know will always engage your ears and lift your spirit. Her voice is polished, mature, fresh, and electric. To top it off, her style is vigorously inquisitive, seeking out influences from pop, rock, Americana, new age, even Afro genres to set her folk music songwriting on fire. It must be in the genes: she is the daughter of Mary Black, after all.

This latest single, not even a month old, “If You Got Love” is a new adventure for Róisín O. Unlike her last album, which was earthy and folksy, “If You Got Love” takes off in another direction altogether. It starts with electro beats, matched with a distorted intro featuring O’s distinctive vocals. And then, like all O’s best songs, the slow intro suddenly breaks into a perfect, upbeat blend of her soulful voice and backing percussion. “If You Got Love” is more modern, more electro-rock in fashion than we might expect from the singer-songwriter. The chorus even feels a bit like a pop song. But these unexpected stylistic moves prove O’s versatility, bravery, and once again, her talent and vision. Róisín O knows what she’s about, and she’s not willing to make the same album twice. “If You Got Love” is a signpost of something entirely innovative and new to come from this Dublin artist, and frankly, I can’t wait to hear what’s up next.

Find out more information about these two songwriters at: ianodoherty.com and roisino.com

Colleen Taylor is the Echo’s “Music Notes” columnist.

When A-listers joined the fray

POSTED ON April 24th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

pw posters 1
A door into the past on Warren Street.
PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT

Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott

The novelist Norman Mailer said of Senator Robert Kennedy, “[I]t was incredible to think him of him as President, and yet marvelous, as if only a marvelous country would finally dare have him.”

He only met him once. It was in 1968, during the hectic last weeks of the former attorney general’s life when he was locked in primary combat with Senator Eugene McCarthy. Thinking back, Mailer felt it hadn’t gone well, for he’d suggested that a Kennedy-McCarthy ticket would be very effective in the general election. His reasoning was in part, that “if there were conservative Irishmen who could vote against one of them, where was the Irish Catholic in America who could vote against two?”Kennedy replied he didn’t want to get votes that way. In any case, the two senators loathed each other.

Mailer was in a minority among the liberal intelligentsia in favoring RFK. McCarthy was their anti-war hero. He took on LBJ, and in the New Hampshire Democratic primary of March 12, 1968, damaged the president with a very strong showing. Kennedy announced his candidacy on March 16, and the president ended his reelection bid on the last day of the month.

It’s amazing when we think of those who’ve, in the decades since, considered and dithered about making a challenge for a nomination that seemed theirs for the taking: such as Gov. Mario Cuomo, General Colin Powell and Gov. Chris Christie.

Kennedy, in contrast, seized the moment, ignoring the advice of his brother Ted, who argued that the party would fall into his lap in 1972, and upsetting his parents, who felt he was risking his life. (George McGovern, a liberal whom RFK had liked and promoted, and who’d worked in JFK’s administration, won the party’s nomination in 1972.)

Recently, I spotted a remarkable artifact from those weeks in America’s history at Philip Williams Posters, 52 Warren St., just a short walk west of City Hall in Manhattan. If you visit, be prepared to take a trip into the past in that large, remarkable store, which also has an entrance also on the parallel Chambers Street. It doesn’t just have big, often huge, posters and framed images from many lands, going as far back as the 19th century. Its plastic-wrapped Life magazines each provide its own portal into history. (Life would cease publication as a weekly at the end of 1972, when it still had millions of subscribers.)

The Life cover of May 10, 1968, featured Hollywood superstar Paul Newman sporting a McCarthy campaign button. “The Stars Leap Into Politics,” the magazine said.

The issue of that week had plenty about the tumult of the era: for instance, a photographic feature on the student revolt at Columbia University, a lengthy profile of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, commentary on the MLK Jr. assassination and a column from Loudon Wainwright (a Life editor and father of the folksinger) on the RFK train in Nebraska.

paul newman-life-cover

The cover story, inside labeled “The Star-spangled ’68 campaign,” declared it a presidential race “full of theater – surprising twists in plot, dramatic exits and entrances, and in supporting roles, a spectacular cast of showbiz stars.”

Richard Nixon had Ginger Rogers and Rudy Vallée (whose mother’s parents were Irish immigrants) in his corner, while it was suggested that many Hollywood Republicans were waiting in the wings ready to back either Governor Reagan or Governor Rockefeller. On the Democratic side, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante indicated support for Vice President Humphrey, and RFK and McCarthy were reportedly vying for Marlon Brando’s nod of approval.

Lauren Becall, a Bobby Kennedy supporter, was quoted saying: “When I came out for Stevenson 16 years ago I was told to shut up, honey.” The magazine added: “Nobody tells the stars that today.”

Life said. “There has never been anything like it.

EugeneMcCarthy Senator Eugene McCarthy.

RFK Senator Robert Kennedy.

“So far most of them,” it continued “are involved in the Kennedy-McCarthy battle.” Indeed, all of the stars named below were pictured actively campaigning for or otherwise promoting their guy.

In the RFK camp were: the chairman of First-time Voters for Kennedy Lesley Gore (who’d become famous with the hit “It’s My Party”; she died this past February), Sonny & Cher (one of whom was later a Republican member of Congress), Rod Steiger, Shirely MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Darin and the candidate’s brother-in-law Peter Lawford.

In addition to Newman, Senator McCarthy had on his side Tony Randall, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson (who were married 66 years at the time of his death last year), Dustin Hoffman, Robert Ryan, Elaine May, Hal Halbrook and Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors.

There were quotes of 50 or more words from each explaining their choice. Darin said that the other Bobby “has a spiritual understanding of what it means to be poor,” while Davis offered: “No one relates to the black man like Bobby.”

Randall said of McCarthy: “He has the guts to lay things on the line.” Time and again, the Minnesotan’s moral courage was cited.

But for many, just standing up and being counted was the important thing.

“If you don’t participate, you’re not entitled to anything,” said Paul Newman. “Get serious, that’s the keynote. Why McCarthy? Because it was time.”

That was Kennedy’s thinking, too.

 

Helping the peace with Piece

POSTED ON April 23rd  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

mcmeekins by c heaney
Piece wants to present the new face of Northern Ireland: youthful, fun and creative. The photo by Christopher Heaney is of Patrick and Tom McMeekin of Downpatrick, Co. Down.

By Jenny Holland
letters@irishecho.com

Some of my fondest memories are of the comfort of Belfast food. On visits from New York, where I lived, I remember going to sleep at night relishing the prospect of breakfast delivered from the bread van, a sweet sticky coconut bun with jam at the centre, and a pot of strong sweet tea made for me by my father. My granny’s stew, which seemed to be constantly bubbling on the stove, was served with crusty white baps generously slathered with creamy butter.

That was the 1980s, and normal life in Northern Ireland was circumscribed by men with guns. Food was a respite, but it was not the story.

That story has changed radically. Twenty years after the peace process took root, Northern Ireland food culture – a phrase that would have raised eyebrows in the past – is having a moment.

The reality now is that there is a small but energetic market in food production, service and tourism that is not being addressed in the wider story about Northern Ireland. The growers, makers, cooks and vendors here in Northern Ireland realize their worth, as do some of the top chefs in bigger, more prestigious markets like London or Dublin, but their story is not being told in a comprehensive way. The quality here is worthy of greater attention.

This is both a market opportunity and a journalistic one. Piece aims to promote both. Howard Hastings, whose family owns landmark Northern Irish hotels like the Europa in Belfast and the Slieve Donard in Newcastle, Co. Down, said “We are underselling what we are good at.”

The consensus on the ground here is that it is time for a new story. Piece hopes to provide it, in the form of an online magazine that will promote a new Northern Ireland to the rest of the world; a place where small scale agriculture, vibrant cultural events and beautiful natural landscapes provide visitors and residents with truly memorable experiences.

In keeping with the do-it-yourself maker attitude we find among diverse walks of life here, we are fundraising for Piece through crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The response has been positive and has ranged from £5 contributions from budding local photographers to £1,500 from donors who see Piece as an exciting and viable business opportunity. We have until May 2 to hit our target of £7,500. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/707208858/piece-ni)

Piece will tell the story of Northern Ireland and the three Republic of Ireland counties that made up the original Ulster, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan. This is not a decision made to promote a nationalist or republican agenda, because Piece wants to transcend the old narratives of unity, be they with the Republic or the United Kingdom. The decision to base our coverage on a 9 county Ulster stems from a simple market calculation: including them allows us to tell more stories about the good people who work and live and make, regardless of which side of the border they reside. That is emblematic of the Piece mission.

Of course, Irish and British food have been the butt of jokes for many a year. But an interesting case study is that of Scandinavia, which had no food culture to speak of. By scaling back to basics, promoting ingredients found in the landscape, created one of the most prestigious food movements in the world, led by Rene Redzepi of Noma.

In Northern Ireland we are starting from a far stronger position. Methods of animal rearing that are considered boutique or highly special elsewhere, such as grass fed beef, are just the norm here. Before “farm to table” became trendy in Brooklyn, it was simply a way of life in Broughshane, Co. Antrim.

Of course divisions still exist. Sometimes those divisions dominate. The community tensions that simmer below the surface cannot be wished away, but unless we start telling a different story, one that binds us together over the universal bonds of food and hospitality, how will we ever truly move forward?

Orsi recalled by kin, friends

POSTED ON April 22nd  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

lisa kathleen
Bartender Lisa Loughery and Irish Cottage owner Kathleen McNulty.
PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT

By Peter McDermott
pmcdermott@irishecho.com

The death last month of a 22-year-old Irish woman working in Asia made headlines on both sides of the border, but the tragedy has also been the cause of heartbreak in a corner of Queens.

 

Donegal-born Derry resident Lisa Orsi contracted altitude sickness on a short trekking vacation with friends to a volcano in Indonesia. She never recovered after collapsing in her hotel room, and two weeks later was pronounced dead in a hospital in Singapore, where she’d been working as a physiotherapist. Her funeral took place in Derry on March 13 and the burial was in her maternal grandparents’ home village of Fanad, Co. Donegal.

 

She was recalled lovingly by a relative, Kathleen McNulty, long-time proprietor of the Irish Cottage, on 72nd Street, Forest Hills. The young Orsi and her friend Eve also from Donegal, worked in the Forest Hills bar-restaurant for the summer of 2013.

 

“They’d been friends since they were babies. They went everywhere together,” McNulty recalled.  “And everybody here loved them. They are still talking about them.”

 

The young women, she added, enjoyed shopping in Austin Street in Forest Hills and in Manhattan, and socializing in Woodside.

 

Soon after her young cousin, who’d turned 21 in New York, went home to resume her studies in physiotherapy, McNulty bought her a plane ticket, treating her to a week’s holiday back in New York in the fall of 2013.

 

McNulty wasn’t surprised that the young woman was such good company and so beloved by Irish Cottage customers. On trips back to Donegal she’d seen her grow up as part of the extended McAteer family, which included her maternal grandparents Rosemary and John Orsi. “They were full of life,” she said. “Lisa was so like them. She was full of fun.”

 

“As you all know, Lisa has moved on, but not without leaving a massive footprint on all our lives,” said the family in a statement after her death. “Lisa loved life, she wanted to see what was round the next corner and, if there was someone standing round the corner, she would stop.”

 

Lisa Orsi, an enthusiastic Gaelic footballer, was the first ever Western organ donor in Singapore, the Belfast Telegraph reported. Nine of her organs were used in transplants.

 

Family members and friends, including a doctor, had flown out to Singapore to be at the gravely ill woman’s bedside. “Her father’s business had to close in Derry,” McNulty said of Dennis Orsi.

 

“I’d love to help the family,” she said, adding that she has hopes that Orsi’s friends, as well as Derry and Donegal people and women in the GAA, will organize a fundraiser in coming months.

 

McNulty was always close to her cousins the McAteers — Fr. Francis, Alice and Rosemary.

 

“I always stayed with Alice,” she said of trips home over the decades. “I’m glad she didn’t live to see this. She’d be heartbroken.”

 

Rosemary, who was somewhat younger than her siblings, married another local, John Orsi (like many in Donegal, they had close links to Scotland, which is where their Italian antecedent joins the family tree).

 

She remembers further back those halcyon days of summer of the 1950s before she emigrated. The late Fr.  Francis played the accordion and they partied until dawn. “He was a great singer,” she said.

 

“No drinking or anything like that,” she remembered. “Tea and scones.”

lisa orsiLisa Orsi

McNulty was to spend a career, however, in the hospitality trade in Queens, after she’d raised her family.

 

Danny McNulty established the bar-restaurant back in 1960. He took a wrong turn one night out for a few drinks and got into a business discussion with a stranger. He told Kathleen: “I think I bought a bar last night.”

 

His friends questioned the wisdom of an Irish saloon in what was, and largely remains, a Jewish neighborhood. But Danny McNulty ran it for the 26 years until his death and it has continued to thrive with Kathleen McNulty at the helm in the 29 years since.

 

Part of the appeal has been the friendly Irish staff, she believes.

 

Jay Wanczyk, a resident of New Jersey, agrees. He happened upon the place on a visit to Austin Street and saw that it wasn’t “fake Irish.”

 

Wanczyk said: “I liked it and everyone there. It’s an extended family. That’s the type place it is.”

 

Of Orsi, he said. “I knew her only briefly, but will always remember what a wonderful loving person she was. Full of energy, the essence of life itself. And I remember that great goodbye hug that warms me to this day whenever I think of it.”

 

He added: “Her friends and I were heartbroken at this tragic news. And as one said, ‘God bless her family.’”

 

Current bartender Lisa Loughery, from Derry, remembered her friend as “always smiling, very outgoing.”

 

She recalled that during the vacation paid for by McNulty, she took a trip upstate with Orsi.  An Irish Cottage regular, Pete, was the driver and Loughery’s boxer mix Ranger was with them, too. During their adventure they found the Bridge Creek Café, a pet-friendly place in New Paltz, N.Y., with outside seating. Loughery smiled at a happy memory – Ranger sitting with them, a napkin secured in his collar

 

And then, shaking her head, she thought of the other Lisa, climbing up the highest mountain in the region. “She had so much energy,” she said.

All roads lead to Parsippany

POSTED ON April 21st  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Dylan Foley
Dylan Foley was a North American winner at last year’s Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.

Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely

Two of the events that loom large on the traditional music calendar in the United States are on the horizon, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Mid-Atlantic Fleadh and its meeting of the North American Province. The former is one of two fleadhs in North America that decide who travels to Ireland to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (the “All-Ireland”) and the latter is a convening of all the Province’s officers to discuss the issues and ideas that affect and shape the organization. When held separately, both events attract throngs of people from all over, but this year, once again, they’re being held together in Parsippany, N.J. A robust turnout of the musically minded is anticipated and good craic is expected.

The Convention begins on Thursday, May 7, and the Fleadh competitions get underway on Friday, the 8th. Attendees can expect a wide range of events over the course of the weekend, including competitions; instrumental, singing, Irish language, set dance, ceili, and sean nós dance workshops; Ceilithe; Concerts; and a gala banquet. The festivities continue all weekend – morning, noon and night, all night – and will come to a close on Sunday the 10th.

The theme of year’s event will be Sligo, which is fitting as Sligo was where last year’s Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was held and where it will once again be held in 2015. To commemorate this, the “Sligo Masters” documentary I reviewed back in February will be shown. In addition, the Sligo fiddle masters Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran and James “Lad” O’Beirne will be inducted posthumously into the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Hall of Fame (www.cce-ma-hof.com).

Also being inducted to the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Hall of Fame will be banjo player Frankie McCormick and drummer Brendan Fahey. Originally from County Armagh, McCormack is a well-known teacher and is a member of the popular group Celtic Cross. He also has a long track record of service with Comhaltas. Fahey comes from Clare, Galway and Mayo stock, is the founder of the popular Ceol na gCroí Céilí Band and plays with other groups, including the Green Gates Céilí Band and the Doonbeg Society of New York). Induction is a great honor, and it will be nice to see this group join the long list of previous honorees.

Another of the weekend’s great highlights will be feature performances by the Moylurg Ceili Band from County Roscommon. The Moylurg earned senior All-Ireland champion honors at the historic Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Derry in 2013. The group’s members are Ronan Greene, Shane Meehan, Enda McGreevey (fiddles); Mick Mulvey, Aidan Shannon, Lorraine Sweeney (flutes); Breda Shannon (concertina); Brian Mostyn (accordian); Mick Blake (piano); and Damien McGuinness (drums). The group will play for the dances and select members will lead instrument workshops on the Friday. (Other workshop instructors include Eimear Arkins [singing], Maire ni Chatsaigh [harp], Mick Mulkerrin [set dance], and Shannon Dunne [sean nós dance].)

Readers should know that musicians from North America have represented admirably over the years with last year’s showing being especially memorable. Strong showings were given by Dylan Foley (1st, Fiddle, over 18), Patrick Hutchinson (1st, Uilleann Pipes Slow Airs, over 18), Molly O’Riordan (1st, Songs in English [Ladies], 15-18), Bridget O’Donnell (2nd place, Fiddle 12-15), Haley Richardson (2nd place, Fiddle Slow Airs, under 12), Jake James (2nd place, Fiddle Slow Airs 15-18), Annmarie Acosta (3rd place, Piano Accordion, over 18), Alex Weir (3rd place, Fiddle Slow Airs, 12-15), Kieran Flanagan (3rd place, accompaniment, 12-15), and Bram Pomplas (3rd place, Bodhrán, under 12) in the solo competitions. In the group competitions, Keegan Loesel, Haley Richardson, Alex Weir (3rd place, Trios, 12-15) distinguished themselves well.

Can’t make the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh but still want a chance to compete in Ireland? The Midwest Fleadh, which is the other All-Ireland qualifier, takes place in Cincinnati, from May 15-17. See midwestfleadh.org for details.

The 2015 Convention & Fleadh promises to be a great weekend of music, camaraderie, and spirit. Not to be missed! For information about competing in or simply attending the Fleadh, visit www.nyfleadh.com. For information about Comhaltas and the Mid-Atlantic Region, visit www.cce-ma.com.

Half Irish, half American, all writer

POSTED ON April 17th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Rose jpg

By Christine Breen
letters@irishecho.com

Everybody’s life is a story.
Mine begins in New York but ends up in the West of Ireland in a place called Kiltumper, County Clare, named for a chieftain who is buried on the hilltop.
Being an Irish American was not an integral part of my identity as a child.
I was too busy being a kid in Westchester County with five younger siblings.
It wasn’t until I went to Ireland for the first time with my father and my grandmother, Kitty McTigue, that something in me was triggered, some Irish feeling.
It’s somewhat indefinable in words. Imagine a sweet scent that you follow even though you can’t name it. It’s like honeysuckle and mown-hay and turf smoke and wet, freshly dug earth.
My father’s parents were from County Clare, although they first met at a dance in New York City.
They’d left Ireland in their teens, in the 1910s, and lived the rest of their lives in Elmhurst.
Kitty was a beauty in her youth but what I remember about her was her tea-breath and fruit cake and black rosary beads twined around her freckled hands.
She sang Irish songs and taught me how to jig. My grandfather was a career soldier and survived WWI.
By the time I knew him Pop-Pop stayed mostly in the basement, smoking and reading newspapers. Sometimes we’d walk to the railroad tracks together. I don’t remember him speaking to me of Ireland but perhaps it was something in the way he held my hand that connected me to his birthplace.
The Irish feeling stayed with me. I took my junior year in college abroad in Dublin, studying with great Irish writers like Ben Kiely and Evan Boland and Mary Lavin.
Dublin of the mid ‘70s was a kind of magical place to an American college student. It was as oldie-worldy a place as I’d ever seen. Coal smoke on dark nights. The scent of the sea at Sandymount. Guinness. Irish music.
But after that green wonder year I came back to the U.S., graduated and worked in publishing in Boston and then New York City.
But being of a rather melancholic nature, probably a bit like my grandfather, I wasn’t happy working in the city and that Irish feeling was deep in me. I quit my job and enrolled in the University College, Dublin for a master’s degree in Anglo-Irish Literature.
There are things you do in life that you can’t quite explain. It’s like a whisper that speaks to an unconscious part of you. In UCD I met my Dublin-born husband, Niall Williams.
We met over his plate of chips and my yogurt and apple in UCD’s café. We fell in love, got our degrees, moved to New York, got married, and worked in New York City.
But within five years we knew we weren’t cut out for the life we were living. We wanted to write and to live a more creative life, and we wanted to start a family.
In 1985 we moved lock stock and barrel to an empty, stark-white, two-hundred-year old cottage — the one my grandfather Breen had left in 1910 — with my father’s blessings. (He had bought the cottage and its 60 acres a few years earlier).
Thirty years ago, on April 1st, we travelled west along the boreen that brings you into the townland of Kiltumper, and here we settled into our cottage, with no furniture and some long resident jackdaws in the chimney.
Since then we’ve written four non-fiction books about living in the West of Ireland, making a life from scratch in a 200 year old stone-walled cottage with a south facing, then neglected, garden.
The first, “O Come Ye Back to Ireland,” sold widely in the U.S. and recounted our challenges and struggles as we learned how to rear cows and calves, sow potatoes, cut turf, and survive the rain.
The second one, “When Summer’s in the Meadow,” continued our tales of Irish country living but with the added storyline of adopting our first child. She arrived as a 9-week-old gorgeous baby with blueberry-grey eyes at the end of June, 1987.
Our second child, a boy, also with beautiful blue eyes, arrived in June, 1991. We had a family, a home, a garden and were living on our wits and talent. It was for me as organic as life could be. And except for the rain, we all thrived. (The rain is a constant companion and I’ve yet to befriend it. But there is still time).
Curiously, as I return to New York for the publication of my debut novel, “Her Name is Rose,” I realize I am truly half Irish and half American, having lived an equal amount of time in both countries.
And I can say that Niall and I have achieved what we had set out to do, something that was not always easy, to live a creative life and rear a family in the West of Ireland.
He’s written stage plays and novels. (His most recent long-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize.) I trained as a homeopath, co-founded an artists’ co-op where I sold my paintings, became a gardener, wrote a travel memoir, and reared my children.
Our life is centered here, in this cottage where my grandfather was born, with its 12-foot wide, open hearth inside and its large south-facing garden outside.
The children attended a two-room schoolhouse with only six others in their class. During break times when the wind blew from the Northeast I could hear them in the schoolyard across the fields.
And now, with my daughter working for a high-end fashion company in New York, and my son finishing a master’s degree in law in London, it’s clear that the rural Irish upbringing they had has helped them flourish.
Ireland has been right for me. It’s been good for me. It has given me everything in a way, and in a way it adopted me.
From the moment our daughter came into our lives I knew I was always meant to be in Kiltumper. That’s how she found me. That’s how my son found me. That’s how this story went. They wouldn’t have found me in New York.
Being an adoptive mother is central to who I am. So when I finally got around to writing that novel I always dreamed of, the inspiration was quite simply: a mother’s love for her child and what she would do if anything unforeseen were to happen.
In “Her Name is Rose,” Iris Bowen, a gardener and a widow, is also an adoptive mother. When she gets a health scare, she honors the promise she made to her husband before he died: to find their daughter’s birth mother.
It’s a journey that takes her from the West of Ireland to Boston and back with unexpected results.
It is a story of facing your fears, of fate and luck, of mothers and daughters, and the invisible ties that bind two countries looking at each other across the Atlantic.
It is, naturally, a love story. An Irish-American love story.
As mine has been.

On Wednesday, April 22 at 7 p.m., Christine Breen will be reading from and discussing “Her Name is Rose” at Barnes & Noble on 82nd & Broadway in Manhattan. She will be joined by two very special musical guests, her sister in law, Carlene Carter, and Joseph Breen. All are welcome to attend. “Her Name is Rose” is published by St. Martin’s Press.

Kirwan & Turner ride again

POSTED ON April 16th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views

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Larry Kirwan.

STACEY MCCARTHY PHOTOGRAPHY

By Peter McDermott
Pierce Turner will be joined by his former singing partner Larry Kirwan for one special number tomorrow night (Friday, April 17) at the Donaghy Theatre, Irish Arts Center in Manhattan.

Turner will also be on stage at the venue on Saturday night for a show he calls “Why use two words when 10 will do,” which is also the tentative title of a memoir he’s currently writing.

His story-telling will inevitably bring in the tale of two boys of Wexford who set out for fame and fortune in New York City in the 1970s. They evolved into the Major Thinkers and, among other achievements, came out with an album called “Absolutely and Completely.”

“It’s actually very emotional to finally sit and listen to the music of Turner & Kirwan of Wexford,” Kirwan told the Echo. “Pierce and I were total idealists. We only wrote and played whatever we thought was really good – no concessions to commerciality. That’s what makes some of these songs timeless.”

Kirwan added: “It will be a blast to be onstage at the Irish Arts Center Friday night revisiting the title track of our album, ‘Absolutely and Completely’.”

He has been busier than ever since the fall retirement of Black 47, the extremely popular band he’d fronted since its formation in 1989. Today, (Thursday, April 16), he will perform his one-man show “Foster in the Five Points,” Bergen Community College, Paramus, N.J. at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Tickets and information at tickets.bergen.edu.)

And next week, Kirwan will officially launch his “A History of Irish Music,” which promises to tell that extraordinary story “from Medieval Wexford to Midtown Manhattan.”

Meantime, Turner will be joined for this weekend’s shows by Fred Parcells, a Black 47 alumnus, and the singers of Avon Faire.

Turner will take the story from the time he was a Catholic schoolboy and classically-trained musician in Wexford Town to his New York adventures with Kirwan, which included being taken under the wing of folk giant Pete Seeger. When they branched out to separate careers, Turner worked with one of America’s leading composers, Philip Glass, who produced his first solo album. He has also shared the stage with Regina Spektor, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop.

His music has won critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, with for instance, New York Magazine calling him “one of this city’s great gems.”

For information about Larry Kirwan, go to www.black47.com. Pierce Turner’s website is www.pierceturner.com. For tickets to the Irish Arts Center shows: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/942466.

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