Arts, Music

Local Drummer on a Roll With a Pandemic-Inspired Musical Project

When the great covid-19 shutdown began, percussionist Sean J. Kennedy went back to school.

Way back.

A Lower Gwynedd resident and band director at Sandy Run Middle School in the Upper Dublin School District, Kennedy is also an award-winning author of percussion texts whose work has been performed at Carnegie Hall and a working musician who has performed with many orchestras over the years.

One of the first tunes he learned as a kid was “Downfall of Paris,” dating back to the 1700s, said to be one of Ben Franklin’s favorites. It’s taught to young drummers everywhere because it blends many, if not most, of the basic drum rudiments that form the building blocks of percussion. Rudimental drum exercises like the paradiddle—right left right right-left right left left—and rolls. Continue Reading

Food & Drink

Summer Cake: It’s Very Berry

Long before gluten-free was a food phenomenon, a friend gave me this recipe for an unusual, flourless—thus gluten-free—cornmeal cake that became my go-to summer dessert.

The original recipe suggested a fruity wine syrup topping, but I also love it as an upside-down cake with the fruit on the bottom.

Serve it for dessert or at teatime with whipped cream, a dollop of tangy crème fraiche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

You’ll find more teatime recipes in my new cookbook Teatime in Ireland.

To order a signed copy—buy one get one free with a CHRISTMAS IN JULY special offer—visit irishcook.com. Continue Reading

Genealogy, History

Who’s Your Granny: The Story of Irish Bridget

“Through their personal interaction with the Irish Bridget, native-born Americans came to see the Irish less as ‘others,’ and more as fellow humans. Credit is due to the Irish Bridget for pioneering the way for the Irish to become accepted by native-born Americans and for helping the Irish, as a group, move into the American middle class.” ~ Margaret Lynch-Brennan ~ The Irish Bridget: Irish Immigrant Women in Domestic Service in America, 1840-1930

Just to be clear, the term Irish Bridget, coined sometime in the mid nineteenth century, was not meant to be in any way complimentary. Beginning around 1840 and continuing in increasing numbers through the years of An Gorta Mór and beyond, young Irish women immigrated to the United States. What made these women different from the ones who had come before them was their ages (some as young as 13), their single status, they often traveled unaccompanied, and they arrived determined to work hard, save money and eventually marry and have families of their own. Their best path to realizing these dreams, they discovered, was to obtain employment as live-in domestic servants in the homes of middle and upper-class families.

As the numbers of young Irish women employed in domestic service in the U.S. grew, a stereotypical representation of the Irish maid developed; she was characterized as inept, ill-mannered, and incompetent. She was seen as something of a buffoon. The name Bridget stuck to this version of the girl who arrived from Ireland and found herself willing and eager to work, but untrained for the duties and responsibilities she would face in the American household. While the exact number of Irish born women who worked in domestic service from the second half of the 19th century to the first third of the 20th century will never be known, it’s been estimated that in East Coast cities in the 1850s, they made up the largest single group among servants. And by 1900, 54 percent of women who had been born in Ireland and were living in the U.S. were employed as domestic servants, and another 6.5 percent worked as laundresses. Continue Reading

How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

As the Philly area goes green, beginning to emerge from statewide pandemic restrictions, the very good news is that your favorite watering hole or restaurant might have opened already, at least on a limited basis, and even begun to expand from the outdoors to the indoors. Same as the good old pre-Covid days? Nope, but we’ll bet it’s going to be plenty good enough for those of us who have missed our normal routines … and our favorite dish or brew.

All of them are taking the state-mandated precautions—for example, requiring masks of patrons while waiting and when not at the table; taking the temperatures of staffers before each shift; requiring staffers to wear masks at all times; and spacing tables six feet apart. Some require reservations; some don’t. A few place time limits on how long you can stay, or restrictions on how many people can be seated at a table. And you’ll find more variations on that theme, all designed to keep staff and patrons safe. Hours may be subject to change.

Some of these places have entertainment lined up. You might even find happy hour, karaoke, quizzo, or a guy with a guitar.

What follows is by no means an exhaustive list. We’d advise you to check with your local pub, bar or restaurant to find out their status. Those that haven’t opened up yet often have pickup and delivery available. For that matter, even if the following are now offering street or patio dining, they’re usually also offering pickup and delivery, as they have for weeks.

For now, here’s what we’ve got: Continue Reading

News, People

Remembering Muriel Prickitt

Irish dancers and musicians will have no trouble remembering Muriel Prickitt, who passed away at age 87 on June 7 at Samaritan Hospice in Voorhees, N.J ., following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. She was simply everywhere and had a hand in virtually everything relating to Irish music and dance.

An exquisite set dancer and legendarily fast accordion player, this force of nature was known by all. She is mourned—and celebrated—by friends and relations almost past counting.

One of those who honors her memory is Gerry Buckley, of Ardagh in County Limerick, Ireland. Buckley was a founding member of the Delaware Valley chapter of Irish music, dance and cultural organization Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. In 1989, the newly wed Gerry and wife Fiona moved to Voorhees, N.J., where they met Muriel Prickitt through the set dance community.

“My wife was a set dancer before she moved over,” Buckley recalls. “She was looking for someplace where she could go set dancing, and she met Muriel and (Prickitt’s companion) Tom Quinn. I forget where they actually met, but they got to talking and Muriel mentioned that she was going for set dance lessons in Jenkintown. She said, ‘Why don’t you come along?’ and that was it.” Continue Reading

Genealogy, History

Who’s Your Granny: Finding Your Irish Ancestors (And Their Cousins) in Pennsylvania

In the search for our sometimes elusive ancestors, we all hit the proverbial brick wall. It’s incredibly frustrating when we get stuck on a particular line and can’t seem to find any new information. Sometimes, in order to find our own ancestors, we have to expand our tree to include not just our lines, but those of the other families in the neighborhood.

This is very true in researching Irish genealogy, where many families emigrated over multiple generations. It’s not unusual to discover the same surnames popping up in a town or region in Pennsylvania, and it can be a real challenge to figure out which Thomas Ryan or Bridget McGee is the one you’re looking for.

The coal mining regions of the north central parts of Pennsylvania in particular drew many immigrants from Ireland, and names associated with County Donegal families show up quite frequently. Which is why you see the counties of Lackawanna, Luzerne, Carbon, Schuylkill, Columbia and Northumberland filled with O’Donnells, Boyles, Gallaghers, Dohertys, McGees and McGills.

It’s a daunting task to sit down and try to sort out your line, but if your ancestors came to Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there are two resources in particular that can be invaluable. Both are accessible only through subscription databases, but if you’re serious about finding your roots, they’re worth at least a short time membership. It’s going to take some dedication, and I definitely recommend taking a lot of notes and doing a lot of printing. Continue Reading

Food & Drink

Celebrate the Season with a Berry Salad

It’s strawberry season in Ireland, especially in County Wicklow, where the luscious berries are grown in great number at places like Green’s Berry Farm in Gorey.

Delicious in shortcakes, jams, and quick beads, of course, but for a change of pace toss them in a salad with cheese and nuts and top it with honey-mustard vinaigrette, creamy poppy seed or blue cheese dressing.

Buy your favorite salad greens loose or in convenient 10-ounce bags; add baby spinach and arugula, if you like.

STRAWBERRY-BLUEBERRY SALAD WITH HONEY-MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE

SERVES 4

For the salad

  • Mixed lettuce, spinach, arugula
  • 1 cup whole strawberries
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced (optional)
  • Crumbled blue cheese (optional)

For the vinaigrette

  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Make salad. Combine mixed greens, strawberries, blueberries, pine nuts, onion (if using), and blue cheese (if using) in a large bowl.
  2. Make vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, honey, vanilla and almond extracts, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in oil until blended; whisk in vinegar.
  3. Pour dressing over salad; toss gently. Arrange on salad places, sprinkle with pepper, and serve.

Continue Reading

Music

Pandemic Put the Kibosh on his Band’s Jobs, But John Byrne Gains New Fan Appreciation Online

Play it, and they will come, if only online.

For John Byrne, a Dublin-born crooner, fan appreciation is pivotal, especially when grappling with a pandemic.

Since suspending all concert venues of his eponymously-named band in March, follower outpouring for his regular Facebook “quarantunes” concerts has been the ultimate covid antidote.

“I have lost track of the amount of cards and notes of support I’ve gotten. I’m moved beyond belief by them – I don’t know what we did to deserve it,” enthuses Byrne, a Philadelphia resident. “I’ve done multiple shows on Facebook Live and the fans have been wonderful. People have tuned in, shared them, supported them, and used them to connect with fellow admirers all over the country and even the world.” Continue Reading