Caitriona O’Leary’s Enthralling Arrangement of The Wexford Carols
Christmas music evokes the spirit and sublime essence of the season, and Caitriona O’Leary has captured all that is meaningful about the Yuletide in her new CD, “The Wexford Carols,” by restoring original tunes to the 17th century poems and singing them in her glorious voice.
Caitriona, the Donegal born singer known for her ethereal voice and for her group DULRA, became captivated by The Wexford Carols 25 years ago when she first heard Noirin Ni Riain singing them on her album, “The Darkest Midnight.” The story behind the carols is part of Ireland’s dark history: Written as poems in 1684 by Luke Waddinge, Bishop of Ferns, County Wexford, they were published in “A Smale Garland of Pious & Godly Songs.” They were an expression of the politics of the time, and specifically Oliver Cromwell’s 1649 Sack of Wexford, which left the Irish Catholic gentry disenfranchised. The people found solace in this poetry, and began singing them to popular melodies of the era. In 1728, Father William Devereux composed his own version of the carols, titled “A New Garland Containing Songs for Christmas.” There were originally 22 songs, but only 12 are still sung annually in Wexford as part of the 12 days of Christmas. They were passed down as all traditional Irish songs have been—from “mouth to ear to mouth, through the generations.”
“Indeed, it is fascinating how songs are kept alive like that,” Caitriona said. “And how they develop and change, even if only tiny bit by tiny bit over the centuries. You can sometimes see this in songs that have been passed down orally in other regions—they may have started off the same but through the inevitable personal nuances of different singers end up quite different indeed. Look at how ‘Barbara Allen’ is sung in England versus Appalachia versus how it was written down in 18th century Scotland!”
Caitriona’s captivation with the carols led to her 25 year journey researching the history, and then thoroughly and meticulously recreating the original melodies to the songs.
“I listened to recordings of the traditional carolers in Kilmore (as well as hearing them live) and I read every scrap of history I could find. I was very fortunate to be able to hold in my hands and peruse an original 1728 edition of Waddinge’s ‘Garland’ (the second edition) in The National Library (Ireland) and had access to the treasure trove that is the Irish Traditional Music Archives,” Caitriona explained.
Some tunes were easier than others to restore to the poems.
“In the case of ‘An Angel This Night’ it wasn’t so hard at all; Waddinge intended for all of his poems to be sung and beneath the title of each is the instruction ‘To the tune of…’ In this case the tune in question was ‘Neen Major Neel.’ While the tune with that title is no longer known, two other Waddinge poems (‘On St. Stephen’s Day’ and ‘Song of the Circumcision, New Year’s Day’) are also to be sung to ‘Neen Major Neel’ and are both still sung traditionally. I have made the assumption that this is the original tune. In other cases, the prescribed tunes have been a little harder to hunt down. But by trawling through old ballad books and dance books from the 17th and 18th centuries, I did find some that I think are right. Like, for example, ‘This is Our Christmass Day’ which is supposed to be sung to the tune of ‘Bonny-brooe.’ I reckon that Waddinge probably meant ‘The Bonny Broom,’ a popular 17th century Scottish song.
“I really love these texts, the wonderful contrast between the humble and the lavish expressed in fabulously rich, yet accessible language. The tunes are beautiful, too, and the fact that so much of the tradition has been kept alive by the folk is really wonderful. Apart from ‘The Ennisworthy Carol’ (which is quite well known, generally by the name ‘The Wexford Carol’), these songs are almost unknown outside the parish in which they are still sung. And there is not a huge amount of traditional Irish Christmas music in the general repertoire. That fact also made these songs all the more precious to me. Also, I lived in New York for many years, and while there Irish culture took on a whole new meaning for me. Sometimes it takes exile to strengthen ties (the old ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’)!”
And how did her three co-vocalists come to be involved in the project?
“The producer of this record, the lovely Joe Henry, suggested Tom Jones and Rosanne Cash and also Rhiannon Giddens—whose star is rising very fast; she is a member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops and the New Basement Tapes (a ‘supergroup’ that also includes Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford). He had worked with all three in the past and thought they would be a good fit for the project—I think he was right! These three singers, along with the band of brilliant players, gathered in a circle around Joe and me in a former stable (that is now the Grouse Lodge Recording Studio) and gave their individual and collective artistic responses to the tunes as I sang them, and together we made this beautiful music.”
Beautiful. Stunning. Sublime. It takes more than one adjective to describe “The Wexford Carols.”
Watch the video of “The Angell Said to Joseph Mild:”
When the Philadelphia Rose Centre was established in 2002, in order to give “young Irish American women from the Philadelphia region the chance to participate in one of Ireland’s most beloved traditions,” little did they know that in 2014 they would see one of their own become the International Rose.
So this year’s Christmas party was an extra special holiday celebration. With Maria Walsh and Santa (who sometimes goes by the name Seamus Bonner) in attendance, the Saturday Club in Wayne was rocking the season’s spirit last Sunday. There was food, music provided by Karen Boyce McCollum and the Lads (Pat Close and Pat Kildea), dancing, face painting, crafts, raffles, Newbridge jewelry for sale by Kathleen Regan and just a whole lot of fun.
The Conaghan family—Tom, Mary and daughters Sarah, Mary and Karen Conaghan Race—are the driving force behind the phenomenal success of the Philadelphia Rose program, and are supported by a devoted committee (Margaret King, Beth Keeley and Elizabeth Spellman) and volunteers who work throughout the year to bring events and activities to the Rose community.
She’s already traveled all over the world as the 2014 Rose, but on Sunday, Maria belonged to Philadelphia. She posed for pictures, danced and made the room come alive. And as she thanked everyone for attending the party, especially those with young kids, she noted “If we didn’t have young rosebuds, petals, future escorts, we wouldn’t have a future. And it’s so important that parents and teachers and aunts and uncles and grandparents bring kids here. This is how the Irish have survived for so long—we always re-invest and keep the cycle sustainable and going.”
Janice Pietrowicz and Charlie Lord, owners of CelticClothing.com, in their Chaddsford home, in front of a painting of The Odessa, a ship that carried Irish immigrants from Queenstown, Cork to America in the 1800’s.
Spend an afternoon with Charlie Lord and Janice Pietrowicz, owners of CelticClothing.com, and it doesn’t take long to see why their online business has not only succeeded over the past 20 years, but is now flourishing. And there is no end to the possibilities for their future growth.
For starters there is their company motto, “American First, Irish Always,” which they have trademarked into one of their most popular selling t-shirts.
But more than that is the hard work and dedication that the Belfast born Charlie put into building his own American dream. He wanted to bring quality Irish products to the United States, and from the beginning knew nothing was going to stop him.
After having spent some time in Boston in the late 1980’s, Charlie decided to pursue a degree in Business Studies at Derby University in England. As part of his program, he had to come up with a plan for starting a business. He directly created his own future.
When he returned to the United States through the Donnelly Visa program in the early 90’s, finding a job as an immigrant wasn’t easy. “I came back to America with a business degree and a green card. I had been in Boston initially, and a couple of the guys who were up there said they were going to Wildwood, NJ, and I thought I was going to stay in Boston on my own and try and play on a soccer team. But the guys were leaving, so I really thought about it and decided to go with them for the summer in Wildwood—one of my friends had been there before and said ‘All right, lads, there’s plenty of work in Wildwood, it’s the beach and it’s summertime.’ And we get there and I got a job for $5 an hour chopping potatoes through this big thing for the french fry machine.”
At summer’s end, Charlie headed to Philadelphia, the nearest big city, where he met Janice and decided it was time to put his business plan into action. As an immigrant with a green card, it wasn’t easy to get a loan. “Banks weren’t interested,” Janice explained. “So I co-signed a loan for him, not a big one, just enough to buy an old van, his first round of t-shirts, some tables and entry into an Irish event. Within two weeks he had the loan paid off.”
“If you want to do something, you’ll get it done,” Charlie added.
And it was Charlie’s idea to make it an online venture, even in the early days when the internet was in its infancy. “We started when mail order was definitely still the thing. So it would always be a kick, we’d be eating dinner and get an online order and go fill it,” Janice said. At that time, their warehouse was their garage.
“It just continued to get bigger and bigger, and the more I adapted to the internet, it was like turning a ship. We made a conscious decision some years ago that we were going to turn things into an e-commerce company primarily. In those early days, people kept throwing money at internet companies, but we just kept going along. So when there was a big implosion, we got through the smoke. We were still going and still going, and we’re still there. Visitors to the site are up 32% from November 2013 to November of 2014. That’s 33,000 visitors to CelticClothing.com,” Charlie explained.
In the meantime, Charlie got a Masters Degree in Business Education from Temple University and began teaching Web Design and Internet Marketing at Haverford High School, where he is now also Department Chair of the Business Faculty. Janice has always worked as a school psychologist for the past 25 years. And they had two children. Oh, and they still travel during the summer to all the big festivals, using at least a 10 x 20 truck to haul their inventory to the shows, and bringing a staff of workers with them.
And the business finally outgrew their garage. About three years ago, they rented a warehouse in Toughkenamon in Chester County and hired staff to answer phones and fill orders. Danna and Maggie are the two women who keep things going so Charlie and Janice can focus on expanding the business. “For years, it was clothing and caps,” Janice said. “Since then we’ve gotten into glassware, scarves, perfumes, jewelry, some food products. We have wine corks—they’re great for hostess gifts. We’ve added children’s clothes. And we have Aran sweaters, plus a lot of different designs of men’s flat caps. We started carrying the women’s caps this year, which are great—Downton Abbey style hats. And they look so nice on women. Sometimes a woman will say, ‘I’m not a hat person’ and I tell them to try it on. The purple one in particular looks good on everyone; it brings everybody’s eyes out. We also carry food items, from Barry’s Tea to Guinness Chocolate Truffle cups. Charlie makes sure we order the candies he likes,” Janice laughed. “That way, if they don’t sell, he can bring them home. But every Christmas we’ll do a breakfast basket and that is a really cool thing. It has Irish sausage, bacon, O’Hara’s Soda Bread, the puddings, the whole deal. It comes frozen and stays insulated.”
In order to find new products, Janice explained, they go to different trade shows, and to Ireland once a year “to see if there are any unique products. We have some people we’ve been dealing with for years. All our stuff is either bought from Irish companies or local based American companies. All our hats and sweaters, they’re made in Ireland. There aren’t many manufacturers still doing it, but it’s the old-timers, the families, people who have had them for generations are still doing them. With that the costs are higher, but you can’t beat the quality.
“Everything we buy is licensed from the company. All the t-shirts are good quality. We have a 100% return policy. And we have the girls here if you need to call us. Some people still don’t like to order online. Sometimes people want an opinion—‘which one do you like better?’ They may have seen it online, or they may have seen it at an event. We’re always adding new designs, we have a lot of new t-shirts. There’s really something for everybody. Every shirt has a life expectancy, so we keep them in and then try to come up with some new designs, whether they’re our own or somebody else’s. If you don’t come up with your own designs, you basically have what everyone else has. And we don’t carry anything derogatory—none of the drunken stuff. We really want to portray ourselves as a quality product company. We’ve got something for all ages, and we also do gift certificates online—that’s helpful because sometimes you’ve got last minute shoppers who don’t know quite what to get or what size someone is.
“Our customers are really faithful. They’ll come up to us at the shows and remember what they’ve gotten, and say ‘Oh, that’s a new one.’
“Customer service is very important to us. We send coupons with every order so the customer will get a discount the next time they buy something from the website. If you’re unhappy with something or something doesn’t fit the way you want, you just return it. It’s not a big deal. If there’s an issue, if we’re out of a particular size, the customer can call and we can say, ‘Do you want to wait a week for our next shipment, or do you want to try a similar style?’ It gives them an option what to do. We’ve definitely gotten bigger, but I still like keeping it small. I like keeping the personal touch and the personal sense. I just really want that customer to be a happy person. That’s important to us. Our customers are faithful, good people; they come from all over the country.
“And we like having the business where it is, because we support the local business community. We use the little post office around the corner; today we shipped 350 orders through them. We hire local girls who work for us, and we pay benefits to our full-time employees.”
And all the time, Charlie has his eye focused on the future and where online commerce is heading. “We have an extensive digital footprint. We have over 30,000 fans on Facebook, we’re on Pinterest, we’re on Twitter. We engage in email marketing, we have our website, we sell on other platforms. We explore Amazon, we explore eBay—we have stores on those sites. Amazon is the benchmark of e-commerce; so many people use it, you kind of have to be there. Any of these places, like Facebook, it comes back into what I teach and do everyday. If you’ve got all of those people on Facebook, you’ve got to have a presence there. You’ve got all these internet communities, you have to have some kind of presence.
“On the downside of all that, it’s very time-consuming. You have to think about the time concern and the return on the investment. For any small business, you survive on the sales and revenue that come in. That’s the bottom line. Whatever activities you’re doing, you have to see a return on them. You have to see money coming in. Otherwise, you’re not going to be in business very long. You have to pay staff, you have to pay electric bills, and rent, and hosting and festival fees. The money for that comes from sales. But social media is a form of advertising, and unless you have an advertising budget, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve got 500 fans or 5,000 fans.”
I asked Charlie if he were to come to the U.S. now, as a young man, if he thought he’d be able to accomplish all that he has in the past 20 years. His answer was “Yes” with a but: “The problem for the Irish kids who are leaving the Island now is that they can’t get into the United States. They’re going to Australia. And that’s a missed opportunity for both the young Irish people and for the Americans because you have a highly educated workforce that can’t get into the U.S. They’re willing to work and they want to work, but the immigration laws don’t let them in. So, Australia will benefit.
“It’s not a coincidence that Celtic Clothing is owned by an Irishman. It’s just something that when I came over at first, and I created my own job and I’m working in the Irish community, with the Irish people, it still gave me that connection with home. That was a big part of it because for me it was that cultural kind of need. Back then, you would have lots of Irish immigrants in Upper Darby and the Northeast. They’d come to Wildwood and then meet their cousins in the city. And there was a community. And that’s done now, that’s gone. Those people cannot get in anymore. It’s unfortunate because businesses grew up from that, but there’s no new Irish immigrants coming in anymore to keep these things alive and start these things up.
“At the heart of it, you have to love the business you create. You have to be enthusiastic, it has to be something you enjoy because in any business, that has to be there. You have to be answering the phone from Ireland in the middle of a conversation in the kitchen. Otherwise, it’s going to be too much like work, and you’re not going to want to do it.”
According to Janice, “There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by in 20 years where the words ‘Celtic Clothing’ have not come up in a conversation at our house.”
But at the end of the day, Charlie said, “What’s most important to Janice and me with our own kids is to make them aware of their family back in Ireland, so the kids know that story and that history that came across the ocean. I want them to understand their family background.” And Janice added, “We both work hard, and we want to teach that to our kids. We don’t just give them everything.”
American First, Irish Always.
To receive a special 10% discount for Irish Philadelphia readers, go to CelticClothing.com and enter the coupon code “PHILLY” at the checkout.
Check out the photos from my behind-the-scenes tour of CelticClothing.com’s warehouse:
Last month, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person, at age 17, to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her devoted advocacy in her mission to ensure that all females around the world have the right to an education. Her story has become a rallying cry and she is known around the globe. Born in Pakistan, her town was taken over by the Taliban, and the school founded by her father, Ziaudden Yousafzai, was threatened because girls were allowed to attend. Malala became targeted personally for her passionate stance, and was shot in the head in an assassination attempt as she rode the bus home from school. Not only did she survive the attack, but she has taken her fight against the Taliban’s position worldwide. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif commended her as the pride of Pakistan and encouraged: “Girls and boys of the world should take lead from her struggle and commitment.”
And that’s exactly what the girls at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, commonly referred to as “The Mount,” in Flourtown, PA, did. “You’re never going to hear a teacher here who tells you your ideas are too big. Nothing’s ever too big. And that’s just what you get in every single class…they say ‘I support you. Go for it,'” explained senior Jess Tyrrell.
So when the 16 students in the 20/20 club (an organization that’s committed to solving 20 global problems over a span of 20 years) at the all-female Catholic high school read Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” last spring, it was the club’s advisor Kate Shevlin who encouraged the girls to reach out to Malala.
Colleen McBride, one of the members of the club, had just been elected student body president for the 2014-2015 school year. With the theme of “Bring a Whole New Spirit to the Mount” in mind, Colleen knew this was a big idea and she ran with it.
“Reading her book, and realizing that she was our own age, and that even though she’s across the world we can still connect to her, I knew there was something to this, that this is happening for a reason. Our mission at The Mount is ‘On the education of women largely lies the future of society,’ Colleen said. “Then we realized she was coming to Philadelphia and it became real, it became an attainable goal.
“We decided we wanted to ask Malala to come to The Mount, and when we found out she was going to be receiving the Liberty Medal here, we began brainstorming. Even though this was in June, we knew October 21st was going to be here before we knew it. We decided to make a video, and we spent the whole week of July 4th filming and putting it together.”
Katie Mars, another student in the group, came up with the video’s tag line, “Malala is…” and all the girls then took it from there.
“We were talking about it, and I went home and decided to write a reflection. I write poems and reflections when I have spare time and feel inspired, and it all just sort of happened,” Katie explained.
With the video finished and on YouTube, they began an ardent twitter campaign at https://twitter.com/mountformalala to get their message to Malala. “We tweeted directly to Malala, and everyday we would have a tweet dedicated to her—like a picture of her, or a quote, and then throughout the day we would post the video saying ‘We made this video for Malala, we stand in solidarity with her, education first.’ And then we would do small stuff; for her birthday, July 12th, I made her cupcakes that said ‘Mount for Malala’ on them and posted the photo, and that was the first favorite [on their twitter account] we got directly from her,” Colleen said.
“Eason Jordan, the director of operations and communications of the Malala Fund, he reached out to my account and the Mount for Malala account,” Colleen relayed. “First they said thank you for this inspirational video, so we knew they had actually seen the video. And then he tweeted to me and said, ‘Would you be able to have a phone chat tomorrow regarding Malala’s Philadelphia visit?’ so the next day I was sitting here in this room and Eason said ‘Malala and the Malala Fund are so impressed with your efforts.’ We had worked so hard, and it was a huge group effort and then to hear that they’re impressed—and they’re inspired by US–when we’re so inspired by THEM, it was just an incredible thing.”
Although due to time constraints and security issues, Malala wouldn’t be able to schedule a visit to The Mount, the 16 girls all got an invitation to attend the Liberty Medal Ceremony.
Colleen was further blown away when Eason told her, “Five girls will be onstage at the ceremony to read blogs and then greet Malala, and the Malala Fund has chosen you to be one of those girls.”
“That was such an honor for me,” Colleen said. “Because it wasn’t just for me. I was representing the whole school on that stage, and I wore my uniform. And I know Malala loves her uniform, so I was really proud to be up there representing The Mount. I sat right behind her onstage. We stood and greeted her, and that was the first time we made eye contact. I was just beaming and it was just an overwhelming experience. I read her excerpt about when the Taliban first came to her village, and the artillery fire she and her friend heard as they were doing their homework. They thought it was a normal day, and weren’t really focused on it. Then it talked about her blog, and how no one could know it was written by her.”
Although the other girls weren’t onstage, they did meet Malala as part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit before the actual ceremony. As they waited for Malala to meet them, “the energy was just amazing,” Jess said. “The room went completely silent the second she walked in. I’m pretty sure everyone was just staring because she just walks in and she’s this larger than life figure.” Katie further described the moment, “She took the entire presence of the room, and everyone was focused on her. Though she’s very small in stature, she has such a big presence. And she’s just so humble as well. She’s accomplished so much but she just came in and shook hands with every single person in the room.”
“We met her dad as well,” Jess went on. “He’s much more talkative than she was. He said, ‘Yes, my daughter has this opportunity to go and spread her message, but it’s left to people like you to spread it around.’ He’s saying that every single girl is inspirational, and to hear that from someone whose daughter is the biggest inspiration in the world was so encouraging. He believes we can be like her without having the kind of situation she’s suffered. It just takes the courage to stand up and go for it.”
For Katie, Ziaudden Yousafzai’s message was just as powerful. “He said, ‘Every girl is special.’ A Nobel Peace Prize winner’s father is telling me I’m special. Sometimes you forget that. It’s not about me personally being special, but everyone, even the girls who feel forgotten, they ARE special. It really brought new light to my eyes.”
The experience has been a life changing one for all the girls.
Colleen explained, “I went home that night thinking, okay, Malala came here to Philadelphia and she inspired us so much. Now she has left and she’s going on to other countries, but we have the obligation to carry out her message here in the United States. We’re a developed country—and she works to help girls in countries that aren’t developed—but we still have those problems here. We want to continue her mission. I envision all teen-age girls coming together and really being supportive of one another, and being able to create a network where we can be there for one another.”
“We want to start a new initiative here in the schools in Philadelphia,” Jess said. “Malala’s focused on the big picture, so if we start working towards doing little things and make a difference on a local level, hopefully that will spread all over the country. The Philadelphia school system is the perfect example because it’s just in crisis right now. But every single voice that stands with us for the Philadelphia schools counts. Malala said, ‘When the whole world’s silent, one voice becomes powerful’ and you can imagine how many voices we can raise for the schools here.”
“We’re brainstorming right now,” Colleen revealed. “We’re an all-girls school, and there are many like us in our area and we’d like to come together, including girls in co-ed schools that share the same message. By coming together, and starting an organization, we can have an impact in Philadelphia and help here. And then if other schools around the country do this, and they can focus locally, it’s really a national impact. We’re thinking, start local, think global.”
And they all have plans to continue their mission beyond their 2015 graduation.
“I’ve completely transitioned,” Colleen said. “I was always into science, and last year I thought I wanted to be a nutritionist. That was my goal, and I still love science, but being elected president, and then being in this initiative, I’ve really embraced my leadership skills and my creativity. I now see myself focusing on an emphasis on education, and the whole planning process within the community and carrying out a mission of women’s education.”
With Jess, the experience solidified her plans for the future. “I’ve always wanted to major in foreign affairs, with a minor in communication. So, what I’ve realized now is that I want to be an advocate for countries like Pakistan, for these countries that don’t have nearly the rights we have.”
And Katie is still up in the air, but is “looking into public policy and political science, maybe even going into the government realm or the non-profit realm—an area where I can help girls in this country who are struggling for an education…I would even love to be President one day—set your hopes and standards high! I’ve got a few years.”
Wherever they end up individually, they all see themselves coming together again in the future to continue their mission. Colleen summed it up: “I think it’s exciting because we all took this initiative and we’re running with it now with our futures. And I feel like we’re all going to go our separate directions, but say, Katie’s in politics, and I’m staying here in America helping, and Jess is in Pakistan, and we can all come together. Because it all started at The Mount, and that’s what’s wonderful here. They say we create founders here, and the sisterhood is just so strong here. I came in as a freshman not knowing anyone and I’ve transformed. I think it goes to show that at The Mount it doesn’t matter who you are, we all come together. We all grow into leaders and founders.”
With this determination and drive, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see these women accepting their own Nobel Peace Prizes one day in the not so distant future.
Matt Patterson, Walt Hunter, Bill Daly, Pat McDade, Anna McGillicuddy, Bill Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and Frank Watson
They’ve been called the “forgotten souls” of Duffy’s Cut, but the 57 Irish railroad workers whose deaths in 1832 remained a mystery for nearly 180 years are now well on their way to achieving immortality.
The story of the immigrant laborers hired by Philip Duffy to work Mile 59 of the Pennsylvania-Columbia Railroad in Malvern, PA, but who died within six weeks of their arrival and were buried in a mass grave alongside the tracks, has captured the interest of the news media since it first came to light through the efforts of the Duffy’s Cut Project, led by Bill and Frank Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and the late John Ahtes.
But the story is far from finished (there is still much excavation work to be done, DNA testing, historical and genealogical research), and the impact of the discovery of the Duffy’s Cut site has significance that demands an audience far beyond the one it’s already found.
Irish Network Philadelphia President Bethanne Killian, who is also deeply involved with Duffy’s Cut, realized that the project has established a voice in the Arts. To promote awareness of the presence it’s found in film, music, theater, painting and literature, as well as to raise funds for the continuation of the work, she organized “Duffy’s Cut & the Arts: A Symposium.” Held at Immaculata University, where Bill Watson is both a professor and the History Department Chair (and it’s also the home of The Duffy’s Cut Museum as well as the center of the project), the Symposium was a daylong event that focused on the artistic achievements that are bringing Duffy’s Cut into greater public awareness.
“I’m still amazed at the number of people from the Philadelphia area who are completely unaware of Duffy’s Cut,” Bethanne explained. “Anyone I’ve shared the story with who hears it for the first time is fascinated and appalled. We need to get the word out there—this isn’t just for history buffs. This is a human story—and given its reach into the art world—the humanities as well.”
With an appearance by Irish Vice-Consul Anna McGillicuddy, who braved the trip down from New York for the occasion, the Symposium officially was underway.
Throughout the day, there was music provided by Vince Gallagher and his Band, Marian Makins (who sang Wally Page’s haunting song “Duffy’s Cut”), Pat Kenneally (who sang her original song “Duffy’s Cut” that won first place in the 2013 Pennsylvania Heritage Song Writing Competition), Karen Boyce McCollum, Rosaleen McGill, the band Irish Mist and Bill and Frank Watson on the bagpipes.
There were readings by poet John Bohannon who recited three poems from his collection, “The Barmaids of Tir na Nog,” writer Kelly Clark who has a forthcoming book called “Duffy’s Cut—A Novel” and writer Kristin Walker whose forthcoming book is titled “Between Darkness and the Tide.”
Maria Krivda Poxon performed scenes from her play “Ghost Stories of Duffy’s Cut” with actor Mal Whyte, there were showings of the documentaries “Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut” and “Death on the Railroad” and the presentation of the music video “57” from Kilmaine Saints.
A lot of interest was generated by the panel discussions. The first was “Duffy’s Cut and The Pennsylvania Railroad” with Bill and Frank Watson and Earl Schandelmeier. The second was titled “Duffy’s Cut: Why It Matters” featuring CBS3 news reporter Walt Hunter, film producer and director Bill Daly and actor and Drexel University Film Studies Professor Pat McDade. Daly and McDade have partnered to form their own production company, Duffy’s Cut Films. They have three feature films in development, and first up is a movie based on Duffy’s Cut. They have the script written, and filming is scheduled to begin in Ireland in April of 2015.
Walt Hunter, who was the first Philadelphia area reporter to cover the Duffy’s Cut discovery explained why the story resonated with him from the beginning. “This was a no-brainer for me. My grandfather was a railroad engineer. He came over from Ballina in County Mayo…it is a very captivating story…at it’s most basic level it is a deeply human story of people with a hope, a dream…and everybody dead within six weeks.”
It was Pat McDade who summed up the the motivation behind the upcoming film he and Bill Daly are developing. “These guys who died, these 57 men, they’re the real Irish story, and we never hear that…here is the beginning of it. Because there are 8,000 other stories out there, about these hardworking, honest people that come to try and find America and don’t find it. And then some of them do. And we’ve got to make sure to get the story told.”
A CD titled “Songs of Duffy’s Cut” was introduced at the Symposium, with all proceeds going to raise money for the Duffy’s Cut Project. It will be available at future Duffy’s Cut events and may also become available for purchase online.
Sean McMenamin & Kathleen Murtagh Sharing a Laugh at the Irish Center Senior Luncheon
They call it the “Senior Luncheon,” but organizer Sean McMenamin thinks they need to come up with a more dynamic moniker to characterize the monthly lunches at The Irish Center in Mt. Airy.
And anyone who has attended one of these social gatherings would agree that there is nothing “senior” about the energy and camaraderie that fill the room.
Co-sponsored by The Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia and The Commodore Barry Irish Center, and subsidized by the Irish government, the lunches take place at noon one Monday each month, and there is no cost to attend. There are also volunteers who coordinate a transportation schedule for those who want to attend, but don’t have a way of getting there.
The Immigration Center has held weekly luncheons for seniors for years at their home in Upper Darby, but Sean reached out to Siobhan Lyons, the Center’s Executive Director, to arrange an additional lunch at The Irish Center. “We started about 4 years ago, with 36 people attending the first one, and now that it’s been established, we get a regular crowd of about 100 people coming,” Sean explained.
So popular has the luncheon become, that in addition to the newsletters from the Immigration Center, there are also informal pipelines in place to make sure everyone knows the date of the upcoming lunch. Mary Cannon, of Hatboro, has a regular group of 10-18 people she brings with her. She calls her friends after she confirms the date with Leslie Alcock, the Director of Community Programs at the Immigration Center, and they get there about an hour early to make sure they can get their two tables. “I’ve been coming since they started the lunches. It’s really marvelous. They do a great job, the food is marvelous and I get to have lunch with all my friends,” she said.
Mary Jane Rogers and her husband Ted (a former president of the Mayo Society), are also devoted attendees. “We come pretty much every month. It’s a wonderful thing. I don’t know how they do it—and they don’t charge. There is always an abundance of good food. And they do a 50/50 raffle every month, with different prizes.” They usually share a table with their friends from the Irish Community: Betty and Tom Broderick, Arline and Wayne McKeever, Mike Lyons and Jim McDonald.
Talk to anyone at the luncheon, and the reaction is the unanimously the same: It’s a great time. Tom Staunton, who was among those who were at the very first event at The Irish Center, the Mayo Ball in November of 1958, expressed it this way, “It’s a social gathering. You get together with people you don’t see all the time, people you’ve known for a long time in a nice setting.”
Chickie Harvey (real first name Helen), is another regular. “I’ve been coming here for years. My husband Charles was a manager here for 2 years about 25-30 years ago, before he got sick. Now I come to these luncheons, and it’s a real good time. I’ve met a lot of nice people.”
Because the luncheons aren’t just for folks who have been lifetime members of the Irish Center; among the group that Mary Cannon brings with her are friends who were initially unfamiliar with the Mt. Airy home to the Irish community. But once they started to attend the luncheons, they’ve been coming back ever since. “It’s a welcoming place,” one of them said. “I just enjoy everything about it.”
For more information on which Monday of the month the luncheon will be held, or for assistance with transportation, contact Leslie Alcock at The Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia at 610-789-6355.
The Philadelphia Ceili Group hosted two of Irish music’s greats at The Irish Center last Saturday night: fiddle player Matt Cranitch and accordion player Jackie Daly. Their forte: the Sliabh Luachre style of playing that’s unique to the region of northwest Cork and east Kerry, and they’re considered to be among the preeminent interpreters of this music. And not only that, but they’re funny, too.
The two are on an October tour of the U.S. with their new CD, “Rolling On.” For more information on their tour dates, check out their website.
We captured a few of their tunes on video, but as Matt said at the end of the evening, “These concerts are only successful if there’s an audience…The world’s infested by disco culture, so let’s fight back and support live music. Make live music where it’s happening.”
Next up for the Ceili Group concerts: James Keane & Michael Tubridy at 8PM on Friday, October 24th and Rose Flanagan & Laura Byrne at 8PM on Saturday, November 15th. Come out and make live music where it’s happening!
This past Sunday, close to 500 people gathered at the Irish Center to show their support for Kathy Meehan-Guilin. The daughter of Donegal native Jimmy Meehan, one of the most beloved members of Philadelphia’s Irish Community, Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2014, and it’s been a long road. From April to July, the mother of three children (Jimmy, 18; Moira, 14 and Anna, 13) underwent chemotherapy treatment, in early September she had a mastectomy and she’s about to begin six weeks of radiation. And in the midst of all of this, her husband of 19 years, Dave, was laid off from his job.
Among the Irish, there is a particularly strong tradition of community, and when someone in the extended family is in trouble, people come together. So when word got out last spring about Kathy’s diagnosis, the Irish in Philadelphia mobilized. Calls were made, a committee was formed and Jim Boyle and Liam Hegarty took on the role of co-chairing a fund-raising effort.
“Tom Boyle called me and said, ‘Jimmy Meehan’s daughter needs help,'” Liam explained. “That was all it took. Thirty people showed up at the first meeting. Historically, you start out with a large group of volunteers, and people fall away. Not with this group. You couldn’t go wrong with this group. Everyone pitched in immediately, everyone took on a job.”
The fundraising initially began by reaching out with a leaflet that members of the group took to local parishes and grocery stores, telling Kathy’s story. Volunteers spent untold hours collecting money and selling raffle tickets. Vince Gallagher and Marianne MacDonald talked about Kathy’s story on their Sunday Irish radio shows. Leslie Alcock, who is the Director of Community Programs at the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia, was appointed the group’s Public Relations person, and set up a Facebook page and sent out newsletters. In June, the planning began for Sunday’s big event—a culmination that brought out everything that is wonderful about a community that knows how to pull together.
The Irish Center donated the space, Paddy Rooney’s Catering in Havertown donated the food, local musicians donated their time and talents, raffle donations poured in from local pubs and restaurants and individuals who donated baskets of goods as well as larger items that included a bicycle, a signed Donegal Jersey and tickets to an Eagles game.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Kathy said. “I’m amazed at how many people showed up. The way these people have been so generous, it’s a source of strength. It’s really lifted my spirits—people just want to help. Strangers, people I don’t even know. I don’t know how to thank everybody. People come up to me and say, ‘You’re Kathy, Jimmy’s daughter, I know your father.’ People have been so good. I feel cocooned, wrapped in so much love.”
Jimmy Meehan understands: “It’s the Irish Community. With this community, you can’t lose. We’ve been a very active and close-knit family for years. It’s how you were raised. You take care of family and neighbors and anybody close to you. If a time arises when someone needs help, we’ll take care of each other.”
And Leslie Alcock understands why so many people want to help the Meehan-Guilin family: “Everyone knows how much Jimmy has done for the community over the years. He always looks out for his friends, he’s always so kind, the first to volunteer and do anything to help out; he’s never just sitting back.You ask him to do something and he always says yes.”
The community isn’t finished helping yet. As Kathy begins her radiation treatment, a “Take Them a Meal” program has been set up. The schedule can be accessed by going to the website: TakeThemAMeal.com and typing in the name “Meehan-Guilin” and password “4829.”
As Leslie summed it up, ” All the work that went into this, all the time and energy, it warms your heart. There’s so much good in the world.”