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That’s All, Folks … For Now, Anyway

With the exception of a relatively brief break a few years back, we’ve been publishing since 2006. Hard for us to believe, too.

That amounts to hundreds upon hundreds of stories about Irish and Irish-American culture in the Philadelphia area, including more than 500 dispatches of our weekly column, How to Be Irish in Philly This Week. We’ve tallied up an incredible 22,126 photos, including hundreds of pictures from the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade and several other St. Pat’s parades throughout the area. In fact, pictures from the 2006 Mount Holly St. Patrick’s Day parade led off this long parade of photos. There are 327 videos, too.

In our time, we’ve shed light on everything from Gaelic athletics to festivals to ceremonies honoring the local heroes of the Irish revolution. We’ve taken in Irish dance competitions, county association banquets, traditional Irish music sessions, the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, the Rose of Tralee, Mick Moloney’s annual fund-raiser for St. Malachy’s School, the poetry of Camden priest Michael Doyle, the Hibernian Hunger Project’s Irish stew cook-off, the senior luncheon, the Delco Gaels Dance Like a Star, and so much more. If it was Irish, we were there.

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Yet Another Reason Philly Isn’t Like New York

Our babies may also be cuter. This one's with Second Street Irish Society.

Our babies may also be cuter. This one’s with Second Street Irish Society.

Just recently, published a slide show of the top 10 controversies surrounding the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, including the ban, until 1989, of a woman being grand marshal and the refusal to allow Bernadette Devlin, the Berrigan Brothers, writer Brendan Behan, and gay groups to march in the parade.

I found myself wondering if I could come up with 10 controversies about the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I got stumped after, “the city made us put up the money for our own port-a-potties a few years ago.” We are a seriously boring people. And if that’s bad, I don’t want to be good.

There’s never been a ban, to my knowledge, against women as grand marshals. There just haven’t been that many—four, counting this year’s honoree, Kathy McGee Burns, president or former president of [fill in just about any Irish organization in Philly here}.

While we’ve had Sinn Fein members marching in the parade, the truth is, most people wouldn’t know it. Or care. We don’t usually get anyone famous, unless you count the CBS3 crew and WMMR’s Preston and Steve. The modern-day equivalents of Devlin, the Berrigans, and Behan are not clamoring to march up the Parkway for their 10 seconds of fame live on local TV. Even the delegate from the Irish government, which always sends someone to visit this time of year, isn’t marching in the parade. Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Joan Burton is leaving the city the night before. Was it something we said? We are a humble people; most of our floats were being handmade in someone’s neighborhood last week.

I don’t know that any gay groups have applied to march, but I would like to think they would not be turned down, that it wouldn’t become a controversy. We live in a city where we have an official “gayborhood” marked by rainbow flags and one of our sweetest, loveliest and most famous Irish pageant winners is openly gay. I like to think we’re more than tolerant here. I like to think we’re party people whose attitude is, “Ahh, sure, the more the merrier.” We have been not asking, not telling, and not caring longer than most people. I’m not naïve. I know that there are bigots in our community. I hear things. But I’d like to believe that their small voices would be drowned out by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of the right-thinking people who live in this city.

We do like to party. Some of us party hard. Some of us throw up in the streets; most of us do not wrestle there. There have never been any serious incidents associated with the parade to my knowledge. I did once see a silly string fight at 17th and Arch, but no one was seriously injured in the mele. I once interviewed two guys having beers and laughing together at Tir na Nog and asked them how long they’d known one another. They turned and looked at each other. “Oh, I don’t know,” said one. “About 20 minutes?” Chill. We are chill.

I was a member of the St. Patrick’s Ring of Honor one year, and marched in the parade with about 10 other women, including two nuns and two judges. We heard a lot of calling and cheering from the crowd as we went by. I wondered whom they’d recognized from the group until it suddenly dawned on me—they were former students yelling to the Sisters of Mercy who were marching behind us. We are a people who cheer their nuns.

In fact, when I started thinking about our noncontroversial St. Patrick’s Day Parade, I was only able to come up with a handful of questions that really didn’t lend themselves much to a click-bait slideshow. Here’s what I’m wondering (see photos below):

Will the lady who wears the cabbage and potato necklace be hanging around 16th and Arch? And will she be wearing the leprechaun shoes?

Now that traffic guy Bob Kelly is at Fox29, who will be bouncing around the streets doing random interviews for CBS3 and CW Philly?

What is with the folks in the full-body suits? A couple of years it was a green man, one year a shamrock person. I use those descriptors deliberately. These are skin-tight suits. I knew one was a guy. The other. . .hmmmm.

Will Murphy the Irish wolfhound be on the Parkway or has he gone to the great dog park in the sky? Wolfhounds, alas, are not long-lived animals and we didn’t see Murphy last year.

What will make Parade Director Michael Bradley smile during the parade? It certainly won’t be seeing a camera.

How many city blocks will the Second Street Irish Society contingent take up when standing still? That has to be the largest group in the parade. No complaints. They have music, adorable kids, and they dress really well. But why aren’t they the Two Street Irish Society? Everyone knows that in Philly, that’s what we call that stretch of road in South Philadelphia. You know, because we’re quirky like that.

Can I crash the McSweeney-Sears party that’s been in the same spot on the Parkway since 1993? They always have liquid refreshments. In New York, is it possible to know spectators along the parade route because you see the same people year after year? I will be missing some familiar faces, people who are no longer with us, including Mary Walters, who I met 9 years ago during my first parade; the AOH’s Joe Montgomery, always the best-dressed man on the Parkway; the guy with the beard who was the best St. Patrick ever; and always, Knute Bonner and Paul Phillips, two parade veterans.

And finally, what shall I wear? Some years, the weather for St. Patrick’s Day Parade is as warm and balmy as a Caribbean night. Other years, this rain-or-shine parade lives up to its name. One year, my hands were so cold that the photo IDs I took down looked like they were written by someone with tremors. Like everyone else in the city, I blame the weather on the local meteorologists because, of course, they control it. We once drove a guy out of town for overhyping a snowstorm. That’s the kind of people we are here.

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How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Musicians of all ages at the Plough and Stars

Musicians of all ages at the Plough and Stars

After the long holiday hoohah, it looks like Philly’s Irish are taking a break.

The main event this week is a meeting Monday night to discuss Senate Bill 1983, which would allow Irish professionals to live and work in the United States on E3 work visas. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Finnigan’s Wake at 2nd and Spring Garden in Philadelphia.

If you’re a fan of the prolific Irish author Edna O’Brien, you’ll definitely want to take in “She Moved Through the Fair,” a comitragedy about the life and loves of an Irish countrywoman. The play, based on the works of O’Brien, is performed by actress Polly MacIntyre. It’s on stage at the Centre Theatre Montgomery County Cultural

Center, 202 DeKalb Street in Norristown. Show time are Saturday the 14th at 8 p.m. and Sunday the 15th at 2 p.m. For details, visit the website.

Other than that, there is something of a lull in the proceedings. (Don’t worry; it won’t last. It never does.) So it seems like a good time to draw your attention to the wonderful Irish music that happens all around us most days of the week. We’re talking about the traditional Irish music session, an often hours-long total immersion experience that draws in many of our best Irish fiddlers, pipers, whistlers and what-all. They circle up on their chairs and stools and they slam through reels, barn dances and jigs, and many other tunes whose names they can’t remember. The tunes are free, but because sessions usually are held in a bar or restaurant, you’ll have to order food and/or drinks. (We presume beer and fish and chips is not a hardship.)

One or more of these rollicking affairs takes place most days of every week, but if you really want to see what we’re talking about, let’s look at Sunday. We’re lousy with sessions on that day, including:

Traditional Irish Music Brunch
McCarthy’s Tea Room
534 Main Street
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Molly Maguire’s Irish Restaurant and Pub
329 W. Main St.
3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Supper and Session
Molly Maguire’s Restaurant and Pub
197 Bridge St.
4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Plough and Stars
2nd Street, between Market and Chestnut


5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Check out any one of them this weekend. Note well: Session times shift from time to time. At this time of year, that usually depends on the start time of the Eagles game. No more worries on that score.

Columns, Music, News, People

Aon Sceal?

Emmett Ruane will be at WTMR on Sunday to reminisce about Emmett's Place.

Last weekend, Hurricane Irene washed out the planned Emmett’s On-Air Reunion and Pledge Drive for “Come West Along the Road,” Marianne MacDonald’s Sunday Irish radio show on WTMR 800 AM. The waters have receded (well, here at least) and the electricity is on (well, here at least), so the show is going on this Sunday at noon. Special co-host is Emmett Ruane, former owner of Emmett’s Place in Philadelphia, a which was a popular watering hole and music venue for the city’s Irish set and ceili dancers.

Sunday’s show will feature local music, a few trips back in time, and live, in-studio performances. If you were a fan of Emmett’s, call or email Marianne at 856-236-2717 or to join the crowd in the studio.

If It’s Tuesday, I Must Be with Amos Lee

Andrew Jay Keenan, possibly the workingest musician in Philly, plays with The John Byrne Band (Irish folk), Citizens Band Radio (country-rock), and Amos Lee (folk, rock, and soul). If you’re a fan of any of those bands, you’ve seen Keenan at World Café Live. Or maybe the Ellen Show, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. That’s with the Amos Lee band. You can catch Keenan (to the right of Amos) in this clip from their recent Jimmy Kimmel appearance. You can catch him live wherever those three bands are playing in Philly (try September 25 at the Philly F/M Fest at World Café Live with The John Byrne Band).

Happy Birthday, Baby!

One of the things we like best about Facebook is that it reminds us of birthdays. So we’re going to steal a page from Mark Zuckerberg and wish a happy September birthday to our Irish Philly peeps.

Happy Birthday to Patti Byrd (9/4), Cara Anderson Boiler (9/4), Oliver Mcelhone (9/6), Helen Henry Degrand (9/8), Kathleen Trainor (9/9), Maria Gallagher (9/13), Paddy O’Brien (9/13), Trish O’Donnell Jenkins (9/15), Thomas Staunton (9/18), Patricia Burke (9/19), Carol Swanson (9/20), Frances O’Donnell Duffy (9/20), Michael Callahan (9/20), John Egan (9/23), John Boyce (9/25), Kiera McDonagh (9/26), Fil Campbell (9/27), and Mairead Timoney Wink (9/28).

Good Luck to the Mairead Farrells

Our own Mairead Farrell Ladies Gaelic Football Club is headed to San Francisco this weekend to defend their title as national senior champs. Keep the cup, ladies!


Aon Sceal means “what’s the story?” in Irish. If you have a story you want us to tell, email Don’t make me come after you.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Piping hot

Piping hot

Well, I can tell you for certain how one local Irish group will celebrate the 4th of July.

The Philadelphia Emerald Society Pipe Band is marching in the 114th Riverton, N.J., 4th of July Parade, one of the truly great local small-town Independence Day traditions. I know this because I will be joining the drum line for the day. Why? Because there’s nothing that says “Ain’t that America?” to me more than wrapping a heavy woolen blanket around my hips, strapping on a 14-pound drum and marching a couple of miles in extreme heat and humidity.

Join me in praying for a cooling breeze off the Delaware.

So what are you doing over the holiday weekend and beyond? Well, judging by our calendar, a lot of you have your own plans.

Sure, the South Jersey Irish Society is holding its big picnic Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Yardville. And that promises to be a great day, with Irish music and dance, swimming, grilling and lots of outdoor activities for everybody. Details here.

As for the rest of the week, there are Irish traditional music sessions all over the landscape. I’m always amazed at the folks who have never taken in an Irish music session. Local Irish musicians—it can be a few, or it can be well over a dozen—get together and play every tune they ever knew (even if they don’t always remember the names of those tunes). Sessions take place at pubs all over the place, and the music is free. (The food and drinks aren’t.) Your being there also helps support local Irish businesses, and in a down economy that’s always a good thing. So take a look at our calendar and by all means, go.

We want to draw your attention to something brand new, if a bit off the beaten track, toward the end of this week.

If you’re up for a road trip, trek on down to Anne Arundel, Maryland, for the Annapolis Irish Festival on Saturday (July 9). It’s a bit of a hike, but on the plus side you get to experience the unbridled joy of driving on I-95. Seriously, we’ve been to the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds many times over the years, and it’s a beautiful rural venue, a terrific place for a summer Irish festival.

This is the first Annapolis Irish Festival, as I say, so you can be in on the ground floor. One of our favorite local bands, Burning Bridget Cleary, is on the bill, as are many other Irish musical groups and performers, including the irrepressible Seamus Kennedy (if you haven’t seen him, do), Screaming Orphans, The Rovers, the Shamrogues, and more. The Chesapeake Caledonian Pipes and Drums will circle up and play from time to time. There are Gaelic games, tons of food and drink, vendors galore, and kiddy activities (pony rides!). Don’t worry about the heat. The festival organizers promise there will be a “misting tent.” (I want one of those.) The whole deal runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Details and directions here.

There’s more coming up this month, including the Celtic Heritage Festival in Graeme Park, Horsham, on the 16th, and a great concert at the Coatesville Traditional Irish Music Series—Irish Fiddle & Flute Music: Maeve Donnelly & Conal Ó Gráda—on the 20th. Keep checking our calendar for more. New events pop up all the time.

And if you are holding an Irish event and it ain’t on our calendar, then it just ain’t happenin’. Submit your event here.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Direct from Ireland, Michael Black will be at the Penn-Mar Irish Festival this weekend.

Here’s a few things Dad might like this weekend, as we celebrate the joys of fatherhood.

The 11th annual Penn-Mar Irish Festival in Glen Rock, PA, is this weekend. Always an incredible lineup of musicians, and this year you’ll see Michael Black (of Ireland’s famous Black family) and a special tribute performance to Patrick Halloran of the band Ceann, who died last February in a car accident. Also on stage: Amhranai Na Gaeilge, Irish Blessing, Martin Family Band, Nua (formerly Rossnareen), and The Spalpeens.

Proceeds from the event benefit Penn-Mar Human Services, a nonprofit agency that provides support services to disabled people and their families.

“Gibraltar,” an adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses (Bloomsday was Thursday) is at the Plays & Players Theatre in Delancey Place in Philadelphia on Saturday.

There’s a session Saturday at the AOH Notre Dame Div. 1 Club House in Swedesburg and Belfast Connection, who have been known to show up at these sessions, will be otherwise engaged playing a gig at Brittinghams in Lafayette Hill. If you miss them Saturday night, they’ll be at the Burlap and Bean Coffee House in Newtown Square on Friday, June 24. Local trad musicians Mary Malone (fiddle) and Den Vykopal (pipes) will be joining them.

Later in the week, you might want to head down to Delaware (hey, it’s not that far away) for a performance by The Outside Track, a Celtic group whose members—and music–hail from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and Vancouver. They’ll be at the Lower Brandywine Church on Thursday.

The ever energetic AOH Notre Dame Division 1 is hosting a “Last Friday,” this one with Oliver taking the stage from 7:30-10:30 PM.

Seems like every sports team wants to cash in on Philly’s Irish roots by sponsoring an Irish theme night, and the Philadelphia Soul arena football team is no exception. They’ll be serving green beer (uh-oh, plastic paddy faux pas!) and live Irish bands and dancers throughout the evening Saturday, June 25, at the Wells Fargo Center. And they’ll also be playing the Arizona Rattlers. Maybe Bon Jovi will come out and do a hornpipe. Stranger things have happened.

If you’re down the shore, particularly if you’re in North Wildwood, check into Caseys on Third where the band, Jamison, will be jamming.

And next Sunday, jig on down to the waterfront in Bristol Borough for its 15th annual Celtic Day celebration featuring bands No Irish Need Apply, the Martin Family Band, and the Bogside Rogues. The McCoy and Fitzpatrick Schools of Irish Dance will be performing too. Bring a lawn chair.

And check our calendar for all the details.

Columns, News

Aon Sceal?

Jamesie Johnston of Albannach

Albannach drummer Jamesie Johnston of Glasgow, Scotland, is recovering in the University of Louisville Hospital after being stabbed in the liver and thigh by an intoxicated fan after the Glasgow, KY, Highland Games on June 5. He’s expected to fully recover.

Johnston, his band mates, and members of several other bands were relaxing post-Games at a cabin at the Barren River Lake State Resort Park. According to published reports, a fan, James E. Null, 42, of Glasgow, KY, had been hanging out with the band and started to become belligerent. Johnston attempted to force the man to leave, which is when, reports say, Johnston was stabbed. Albannach drummer Colin Walker also was scraped by the knife. Null was arrested and charged.

The popular Scottish percussive group appears every year at the Mid-Winter Scottish-Irish Festival in Valley Forge and performed on May 22 at a street fair at Molly Maguire’s in Lansdale. They’re managed by Bill and Karen Reid of East of the Hebrides Entertainments in Plymouth Meeting.

“Jamesie is on the mend,” Bill Reid assured us this week. “It will take some time but he’s physically fit so that will speed things up. If it was me I’d be in bed for years.”

The band has gigs in the US through mid-July, including the annual Celtic Fling at Mount Hope Winery in Manheim, PA, June 24-26, Camping Weekend Festival in Barto, PA, July 1-3. They plan to keep those commitments, though Jamesie will sit out the first few. “”The others can do the job and from the fan reaction, the vibe is good and the shows will have that high energy everyone loves,” says Reid, who joined the band at its gigs in Rhode Island this week.

Our Rose Moves Up!

Philadelphia’s Rose of Tralee, Beth Keeley, is heading to the finals in Tralee this August! Keeley, a 25-year-old writer, competed last week in the International Rose of Tralee Regional Finals in Portlaoise and was one of 23 Roses from around the world chosen to compete in the main event in August. Congratulations to Beth!

John Byrne and the Blind Pig

Like many musicians, John Byrne (The John Byrne Band) has a secret “other” life. Until recently, the popular local Irish musician was an English teacher and a part-time bartender (at Kelliann’s on Spring Garden Street). Soon, he’s about to be part-owner of his own pub, along with Debra Ciasullo (another tap-meister from Kelliann’s) and David Hentz.

The Blind Pig is scheduled to open soon at 702 N. Second Street in the young and trendy Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. The menu will be “pork-centric” and the atmosphere, “neighborhood bar.”

“I’ll be working there a bit and playing music fulltime, and putting the teaching on hold for at least a year,” Bryne told us.

Know Someone Who Should be Honored?

The Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame (DVIHOF) is looking for a few good Irish people. For the eleventh year, the Hall of Fame will be honoring people from the Delaware Valley region who have contributed to the preservation of Irish culture.

Last year’s honorees include Vince Gallagher, Donegal-born and president of the Irish Center and founder of DVIHOF; Msgr. Joseph C. McLoone, son of Irish immigrants and chaplain of several Irish organizations including DVIHOF, the Donegal Association, and the Danny Browne AOH Div. 80.; and Kathleen Sullivan, vice president for government and community affairs at Comcast and vice chairperson of the Irish Memorial.

Send your letter of nomination by June 24 to The Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, c/o Kathy McGee Burns, 2291 Mulberry Lane, Lafayette Hill, PA 19444, or call 215-872-1305.

The Hall of Fame Event Dinner is scheduled for Sunday, November 13, at the Irish Center, 6815 Emlen Street, Philadelphia.

The Irish and Their Horses

Irish native Kevin Babington of Gwynedd Valley captured first place in the Grand Prix at the Devon Horse Show last week. He was riding Mark Q, a horse owned by a friend in Ireland.

Babington is the principal in Kevin Babington LLC, a large equestrian facility in Gwynedd Valley that provides training, boarding, and sales.

Babington, born and raised in Carrick en Suir in County Tipperary, has represented Ireland more than 30 times on National Cup teams, came in fourth as an individual in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, and contributed to a team gold medal in the 2001 European Championships. Recently, he placed first in the $25,000 Ted Grant Welcome Grand Prix and second in the $40,000 Essex Troop Grand Prix on Mark Q.

Babington came to the US in 1987 to work as a riding instructor at a Vermont summer camp. He met his wife, Dianna, at a horse show in Pennsylvania. They have two children.

Aon sceal means “what’s the story?” in Irish. If you have a story you’d like us to tell, email

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish In Philly This Week

James Joyce Himself.

It’s Bloomsday week—the annual event celebrating the day (June 16) in the life of Leopold Bloom, chronicled in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” The Rosenbach Museum on Delancey Street in Philadelphia has a copy of Joyce’s manuscript so it’s the perfect venue for a day of readings by local actors, celebrities, and ordinary Joyceans. You can also go inside and take a peek at the manuscript.

Before that—on Monday, June 13—you can spend an evening with Irish author Jamie O’Neill. His stream-of-consciousness style novel, “At Swim, Two Boys,’ tells the story of two 16-year-olds caught up in the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and owes something to Joyce, O’Neill admits.

Quick, get your reading done! Fergie’s Pub is holding a Bloomsday 101 Quiz with James Joyce experts Melanie Micir and Lance Wahlbert on Tuesday, June 14. Not your usual Quizzo, but we happen to know that owner Fergus Carey is a serious literature fan and is usually one of the readers on June 16.

Speaking of literature, this is also the week to catch “Stoker’s Dracula,” a play adapted and performed by Philadelphia actor Josh Hitchens at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Philadelphia. Setting: a dark, candle-lit room, perfect for this tale of horror. And there’s another Rosenbach connection. This wonderful little museum-library also owns a copy of the Dublin-born Stoker’s handwritten notes to Dracula, his best known work.

There’s plenty more going on this week that doesn’t require any extensive reading:

Sunday, June 12. An Evening at the Races at the Philadelphia Irish Center will benefit the family of Lori Kiely, who died last August leaving four small children. Kiely was involved in kids’ sports, particularly Gaelic sports, so many of her friends from the fields are sponsoring this event to help out her young family.

Thursday, June 16. After a day of Joyce, drop by the Camden Riversharks stadium. It’s Irish Heritage Night there, with Irish music, dancers, and probably a few surprises. (Order tickets for as little as $5 in advance by using the secret discount code: IRISH. Oops, guess it’s not a secret anymore.)

You can also hear Shaun and Jerry of the Broken Shillelaghs at the Blue Monkey Tavern in Merchantville, NJ, that night. Why do we know this? Because Shaun and Jerry wisely put this on our calendar themselves, knowing we would mention it here, in our most-read feature. You can do this too. Simply go to the orange bar at the top of the page, click on Irish events listing and you’ll see the words, “Submit Your Irish Event.” Fill in the blanks and submit! See, it’s so easy, even Shaun and Jerry can do it.

Check said calendar for all the details and, if people put addresses in correctly, even a map!