The Donegal Ball has its Mary from Dungloe.
The Mayo Ball has its Miss Mayo.
Philadelphia’s Sons and Daughters of Derry just might have their Frankenstein. Or Dracula. Or any number of attendees in full Halloween regalia.
It’s no coincidence that the Derry Society has chosen to have a Halloween Ball and Costume Contest, scheduled for October 27 at 8 p.m. at the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center—aka the Irish Center.
The ancient Celtic harvest feast called Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year. It’s celebrated on October 31-November 1, which is nearly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
It was suggested in the late nineteenth century that it was the “Celtic New Year,” and over time, Samhain and All Saints’/All Souls’ Days merged to create our modern celebration of Halloween.
Several foods are traditionally eaten in Ireland at this time, especially Barmbrack, a yeast fruit bread. According to tradition, hidden in the Halloween Barmbrack were tokens to foretell the future — a ring for the bride-to- be, a thimble for the one who would never marry, and a small piece of cloth indicating the one who would be poor.
Author, journalist and broadcaster Jude Collins visited the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center in Philadelphia Sunday to give a talk on his new book, Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew (Mercier Press).
The book is a collection of interviews with prominent figures in recent Northern Irish history, all reflecting on the late Martin McGuinness, prominent Irish republican Sinn Féin politician, a warrior turned peacemaker, who became deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
McGuiness died in 2017.
Among those interviewed are prominent unionists, including Eileen Paisley (widow of Ian Paisley), Michael McGimpsey and John McAllister, peace talks chairman U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, and friends and allies such as Gerry Adams and Martina Anderson.
Was McGuinness, as some thought, a terrorist who somehow became a different man? Or was he, as others believed, always the same man—a man who never wavered in his pursuit of the same goal but who, when the time came, simply embraced a new approach?
Collins digs deep to find the answers to this and many other questions. He sat with us for a brief interview preceding his talk.
Here’s what he had to say.
Everyone who is anyone in the Philadelphia area traditional Irish music scene knows of, has met, or been influenced or encouraged by the late accordion player Kevin McGillian.
McGillian, born in County Tyrone, passed away April 1 at the age of 90. To say he is deeply missed is a vast understatement.
However, his music lives on this Saturday night as Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann’s Delaware Valley Chapter hosts its Kevin McGillian Ceili at the MacSwiney Club, 510 Greenwood Avenue in Jenkintown, Pa.
The 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which ultimately led to the liberation of Ireland after centuries of British rule—in all but six counties, of course—has been celebrated proudly in Philadelphia with parades and speeches. That historic event is about to be observed again in another way, through the words of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey—and through the eyes of the Dublin underclass.
From May 26 through June 11 at Plays and Players Theatre, the Irish Heritage Theatre is presenting O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars,” the final episode in O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy. (Details and tickets here.)
IHT presented “The Shadow of a Gunman” two years ago, and “Juno and the Paycock” last year. It’s no accident that “The Plough and the Stars” is being presented in this, the centennial year. According to director Peggy Mecham, that was always part of the plan. The last two acts of the four-act play take place during the Rising, as experienced by Dublin tenement dwellers.
Mecham took a break during rehearsal to have a chat about O’Casey in general and “The Plough and Stars” in particular.
Don’t let a little chance of rain spook you. Hey, what does Hurricane Schwartz know? Tomorrow is a great day to head out to Cherokee Day Camp and Festival Grounds in Bensalem for the Philadelphia Fleadh. There’s fabulous music on five stages from Jamison, No Irish Need Apply, The John Byrne Band, the Bogside Rogues, the Shantys, the Paul Moore Band, the Kilmaine Saints and more. There’s a feis open to all dance schools, a ceili sponsored by Comhaltas, and loads of kids’ activities and kids under 12 get in free! It’s a great family outing.
The group Glengesh is at the Dubliner on the Delaware on Saturday night. They were asked to sing the National Anthem at Irish Heritage Night at the Phillies a couple of weeks ago.
The Sharpie-written notes on the “Banner of Hope” offered the answer to the question, “Why did you get up at 3 in the morning to do a 5K in the rain?”
“In loving memory of my dear Lori. Love you. This one’s for you.”
“In memory of Paddy, Love, Brigid.”
“Missing you always!” This tiny message appeared under a drawing of a yellow butterfly whose artist added a smudge of orange and two tiny antennae with care.
Some left lists of names; Sinead. Johnny. Keiran. Wee Pat. Eddie.
All of them, messages to people who died by their own hand.
More than 250 people gathered outside Lloyd Hall on Kelly Drive at the top of Boathouse Row starting at 3 AM last Saturday to participate in the “Darkness Into Light” 5K to benefit Pieta House, an Irish organization that provides free counseling to those considering suicide or self-harm. Fox29’s Bob Kelly hosted the opening ceremonies and helped rally the runners and walkers who were already soaked by the persistent drizzle.
Tomorrow morning at 4:15, a group of runners and walkers will brave the rain, the chill, and the dark to do a 5K course, all to raise money for an Irish organization that helps those who are considering suicide.
The “Darkness Into Light” 5K will be duplicated around the world, from Canada to Ireland to Australia, anywhere Ireland’s diaspora live. It’s a major fundraiser for Pieta House, which offers free counseling for those in the depths of despair. Pieta House opened its first North American branch last August in New York. Local supporters hope to open a Pieta House in the Philadelphia area. Read more about it here.
The event start at Lloyd Hall on Kelly Drive, along the Schuykill River, and will end on the Art Museum steps at the head of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Latecomers are welcome.