Before Halloween meant going from house to house in costume demanding candy, it was Samhain (Sah-win), a Celtic festival that marked the end of the year and, most important, a time when the curtain between the living and the dead, the flesh and the spirit, grew thin enough to permit passage between them. Ancient Celts left food for their dead ancestors and participated in rituals to honor the dead and any protective spirits hovering nearby.
It’s the beginning of Ball season in Philadelphia, an Irish tradition started by the various county societies to raise money for causes at “home” dear to the immigrants’ hearts. This Saturday, the Cavan Society starts it off with music and dancing at the Irish Center. You might see the Philly Rose of Tralee, Mairead Comaskey, there. She traces some of her roots to Cavan.
The Cavan event is followed by the Mayo Association Ball on November 7—which includes the selection of Miss Mayo—and the 129th Donegal Ball on November 28, which incorporates the crowning of the next Mary from Dungloe who will compete for the international title in Dungloe, Donegal next summer.
If you’d like to compete in the Miss Mayo Pageant, open to young women 17-27, contact Eileen Barrilli at 215-205-3221. The Mary from Dungloe pageant is open to women of Irish descent 18-29. For more information, contact Meghan Davis—herself a former Philly and International Mary from Dungloe—at 570-574-7966.
Dozens of people crammed into the tiny MacSwiney Club last Saturday night to pay tribute to Kevin McGillian, who has been playing Irish music on his button accordion at ceilis far and wide since he arrived from Tyrone in the 1950s.
The Comhaltas Ceoltiori Eireann Philadelphia-Delaware Valley Division gave McGillian its lifetime achievement award, appropriately during a break in a ceili at the Jenkintown club. Playing button accordion in the ceili band was Billy McComiskey, a four-time all-Ireland champion who drive up from Baltimore to be part of the event. Later in the evening, he gave McGillian his accordion to hold and the octogenarian, who has been battling cancer, coaxed a tune out of it. McGillians sons, Jimmy and John, also joined in the music making.
There was a cozy fire crackling in the fireplace, music coming from everywhere, dancing, a pipe band, step dancers, and Irish comfort food involving several different kinds of much-talked-about potatoes from the Irish Center kitchen and the Irish Coffee Shop in Upper Darby.
No wonder no one wanted to leave the Irish Center on Sunday for the third Annual “The Gathering.” Billed as a fundraiser, it was far more. “It was a good day, a happy one,” said organizer Frank Hollingsworth, who is on the board of the Commodore Barry Club, aka The Irish Center. “We’ve wanted to bring back the people who haven’t been to the Irish Center and those who haven’t been there. I spoke to and gave mini-tours to three families who had never been there. They came for the Irish breakfast and just stayed.”
By Kathy McGee Burns
Musician Mick Moloney will be returning to St. Malachy’s Church in Philadelphia for his annual concert on Sunday, November 1. The event raises money for the operating costs of St. Malachy’s School, a mission school and “beacon of hope” in North Philadelphia that serves mainly low-income children.
But this year, something is different. Sr. Cecile Reiley, SSJ, will not be there, physically, to guide us. She passed away on April 24, 2015. She and Mick worked on this event for 28 years and, as Mick said, “Sister Cecile was one of the loveliest people I have ever known. A living Saint, really. The most gentle of souls but with a calm inner strength that was extraordinary.”
Sister Cecile, a native of Pottsville, joined the Sisters of St. Joseph as a young woman in 1957. She double majored in music and art at Chestnut Hill College and later got an MS in pastoral counseling. She was a teacher and an immigration counselor in the Diocese of Allentown and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She was a member of the Catholic Peace Fellowship which has met at St. Malachy’s—her ministry up until her death—for more than 30 years.
Kevin McGillian, the heart and soul and accordion player of most ceili bands in the Philadelphia region, will be honored with a lifetime achievement award on Saturday night by the Delaware Valley Division of the Comhaltas (Coal-tus) Ceoltoiri Eireann, an international organization that promotes Irish music and culture.
McGillian, a native of Legfordrum, County Tyrone, who has lived in the Philadelphia area for about six decades, was previously inducted in the Mid-Atlantic CCE Hall of Fame. A shy, soft-spoken man, McGillian moved to Philadelphia at the age of 26 where he met and married Mary Boyce. The two raised six children, all of whom play instruments.
By Kathy McGee Burns
When I think of Mary Frances Fogg, whom I dearly love and respect, I think of the phrase “indomitable spirit.” If you look up this term you would see that it is defined as “a spirit that cannot be subdued or overcome; unconquerable, impossible to defeat”. Some synonyms would be virtuous, upright, decent, and honorable.
Now, she would be kicking and screaming at me for saying this but I’m not the only who does. Her son, Jason, said, “She has the strength of 10 lions, is forthright in her ideologies and will fight for the cause she believes in.”
Mary Fogg or Frassee (as she’s known) is being honored at the 15th Annual Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame award dinner. She is the daughter of Helen McCann (Port Richmond) and William Fogg (Kensington).Helen, who attended Moore College of Art was a musician (violin and piano) and an artist. Her Dad played AAA professional baseball (Phillies, Red Sox).
Sharon Shannon is talking on the phone from her home in Galway and she is surrounded by cats. “I have 11 of them,” she says, “and one is a kitten who’s very playful making the rest of them play.”
She also has eight dogs, all of which live in the house. “You can imagine there is a lot of cleaning,” she says.
But she’s waiting for the arrival of her animal minder who will be staying with her menagerie while Shannon, a legendary accordion player, heads off on her US tour that will bring her to the Tin Angel in Philadelphia on Wednesday, October 7. Opening for her is the John Byrne Band, which is fronted by a Dublin-born singer-songwriter who now calls Philadelphia home.