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The Wild Geese

Wild geese. Photo from iStockphoto

By Tom Finnigan

On a business trip to Savannah in Georgia, I showed some pictures of Malin Town to my American supplier.

“That’s a real pretty place ya have there,” Dozier Cook said. “D’yall have ya own mayor and sheriff?”

I pondered this driving over Malin Bridge on my way home from Dublin Airport. Slowing down for horse riders near Rose Cotage, I imagined John Henry McLaughlin, the chairman of our Tidy Town committee, raising a posse to chase the boy-racers of Carndonagh. Star glinting in his lapel, I saw him on a white stallion leaping ditches of red fuchsia to head off a souped-up Toyota that roared along the Lagg Road.

Back home in Goorey, looking into Trawbreaga, I watched a cormorant patrol the bay dam-buster style, wings flicking the water. I heard curlews cry and smelt salt. I was home from a distant place. Not like those Earls – The O’Donnell and The O’Neill – whose flight from Rathmullan ended in exile four hundred years ago. More like the wild geese that come and go with the seasons.

In Manchester, my parents belonged to The Wild Geese club. We were a family of emigrants who celebrated a romantic Ireland that existed only as a myth to expunge the bitter memories of Mayo poverty. As my father’s business grew, we explored Kerry and Sligo, even came to Donegal. Aer Lingus offered a car-carrying service and once we flew with a car from Speke to Dublin.

Today everyone travels. If O’Neill and O’Donnell were still here, they could fly to Spain or Italy in a couple of hours with Ryanair, instead of waiting for wind off Fanad Head.

A week later on a visit to my sick father, I arrive in Manchester four hours after passing Slieve Snacht. “It took us three days to get to England,” he recalls. “And now they fly from Knock to do their Christmas shopping in New York…”

Stomach cancer makes it hard for him to eat. His flight is ending, wheels are down, seat-belt fastened. “I’m as week as a traneen,” he whispers over breakfast, mouth smeared with porridge. “D’ye know what a traneen is?” I shake my head. “It’s a small bladeen o’ grass – and not a very good one at that…”

When I return to Malin, white water jumps in Trawbreaga. Smoke drifts on the Isle of Doagh, and a breeze carries the smell of burning turf. I carry sods in a basket – the same fuel they carried to keep O’Neill warm on his last night in Rathmullan, the same sods my father dug in the bog below Killinaugher.

They sold Guinness in the Kevin Barry Pub in Savannah. There was bacon and cabbage on the menu and someone sang ‘Danny Boy’. The place reeked of tobacco and sweat. In a corner by a rocking chair, I noticed a basket of turf.

“Do they burn it?” I asked my friend Dozier Cook.

“Whatever for?” he replied.

The geese have returned to Inishowen for winter. On their evening passage from feeding by the Swilly, they honk and swoop in an arc towards Glashedy. I watch them swing towards a blood-red sun.

O’Donnell and O’Neill never returned to Ireland. Nor will my father.

I raise a glass of iced gin to toast all who pass from one place to another. Slainte!

“We are like grass which springs up in the morning,” the psalmist sings. “In the morning it springs up and flowers: by evening it withers and fades.”

Like a traneen.











Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish in Philly This Week

Where’s CBS3’s Bob Kelly when you need him? The city’s on-air traffic controller needs to keep an eye out this week for the various buses shuttling revelers from pub to pub on a motorized version of a pub crawl. There are two of them going on in Philly on Saturday—the Center City-bound Erin Express (which has a second run the following weekend) and the Shamrock Shuttle, which will give you a tour of Northeast Philly’s bars. Fortunately, they’re not taking the same routes so we don’t expect any unfortunate pub crawl accident. At least, not involving the vehicles.

The third pub shuttle is the Running of the Micks (oh yeah, and we’ve taken grief because we call our e-newsletter Mick Mail) which starts out with a footrace before the drinking begins at Finnigan’s Wake at Third and Spring Garden. That’s next Saturday.

There’s so much else going on in this run up to the parades and St. Paddy’s Day we’re just giving you a list:


As usual, the Mt. Holly, NJ, parade is the first to step off the curb on Saturday, March 5. Pearse Kerr, a former Northern Irish political prisoner and president of AOH Div. 25 in Philadelphia, is grand marshal.

Queen of Peace Parish in Ardsley is having its annual Irish Night with Jamison providing the music, the Timoney Dancers doing what they do best, and DJ John Purshock. This is a major fundraiser for the parish.

Pick up your kilt from the drycleaners. It’s Celtic Kilt Night at Temperance House in Newtown, sponsored by AOH Bucks Division 2, to benefit the Hibernian Hunger Project.

Team Ratty Shoes, a group of Blackthorn fans who walk every year to raise money for multiple sclerosis research, is having its big fundraiser at North Penn VFW Post 676 in Glenside with music, fun, door prizes, and an auction. When they’re not walking, this group is a party to be around, so you’ll have a good time.

The Shanachie’s genial host, Gerry Timlin, will be performing solo at the Yardley Community Center.

The play, “Brendan,” by Ronan Noone, continues its run at McCoole’s Arts and Events Place in Quakertown. Likewise, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” is still at Plays and Players Theatre in Philadelphia.

This is also Gael Scoil weekend—an Irish language and culture immersion for kids 7 to 17, now in its fourth year at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, NJ.


A busy day for Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade Director Michael Bradley: In the morning, he’s picking up a “Spirit of O’Hara” award at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield. In the afternoon, he’s presiding over the last and biggest of the parade fundraisers at Springfield Country Club, featuring Blackthorn. Expect to spend the day in Springfield. Lucky for us, O’Hara and the country club are on the same street.

In the afternoon, Father John McNamee, the poet-priest, will be reading from his latest book of poetry, “From Derrybeg and Back.” At the MacSwiney Club in Jenkintown.


The Dropkick Murphy’s will be playing the first of two shows at The Electric Factory. Count on them performing their St. Patrick’s Day singalong, “Kiss Me, I’m —-faced.” The second show is Wednesday.


Duo Gabriel Donohue (he’s from Galway) and Marian Makins (she’s from DC) return to the Shanachie in Ambler after their popular debut performance last month. Donohue is a remarkable musician and Makins has the voice of an angel. We really like them around here.


The day starts with the annual wreath-laying at the plaque honoring the Irish who served in the American Revolution on the west side of Philadelphia’s city hall, followed by Mayor Nutter’s proclamation of March as Irish Month in the city. At noon, the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade Association holds its annual luncheon to introduce the parade Grand Marshal—this year, Sister James Anne Feerick, IHM—and the Ring of Honor. Association president Kathy McGee Burns this year has selected a group of eight women to form the Ring, including her daughter Kelly Wall, a judge in Montgomery County.

AOH Notre Dame Division 1 in Swedesburg is hosting its annual Irish Coffee Contest, featuring concoctions from restaurants and pubs in the Conshy area. This is a lead-up to the Conshy parade next weekend.

Dublin-based singer Paudy Timoney is on tap to do some foot-stomping ballads at The Plough and Stars on Second Street in Philadelphia. If you’ve never been the The Plough, whatever is wrong with you? On cold nights there’s a wood and peat fire in the fireplace and, despite the ceiling that reaches to the sky, it’s one of the coziest pubs around. Both real and plastic Paddys love it.

Irish Tenor Michael Londra, whose “Danny Boy” rendition is breaking all YouTube records for views, will be performing at Sellersville Theatre.

Catch Jerry and Shaun of the Broken Shillelaghs at The Blue Monkey Tavern in Merchantville, NJ.


The John Byrne Band will be performing at The Shanachie in Ambler. If you haven’t caught this group yet, here’s a chance to hear some wonderful Irish and folk music from some top-notch musicians. It’s debut album, “After the Wake,” has gotten lots of air time and critical acclaim. We’re expecting an Amos Lee-like breakout any minute now. (And not just because Byrne Band member Andy Keenan also plays with Lee.)

The Sellersville Theatre is presenting the first—as far as we know—performance in the area of a Canadian group called The Town Pants which mixes Irish trad with acoustic pop, American, and a little Australian and Mexican sounds tossed in. Sounds like stone soup to us. This group sells out quick.

Next weekend

All parades, all the time, including Philadelphia, Bucks County, Springfield (Delco), and Conshohocken. But we’ll cross that particular bridge next week. It’s all on the calendar however, so you can scoop us by taking a look.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish In Philly This Week

You know what this means: St. Paddy's month is about to start!

Hope the words “busy week ahead” don’t scare you because you’re going to be hearing it for the next month. This weekend alone is jam-packed with Irish-themed events, including a visit from Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones (at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Glenside on Saturday) and the John Byrne Band, fresh from their appearance this week on The 10! Show, appearing at World Café Live on Saturday night – in the big room downstairs!

AOH Division 51 is having its pre-St. Patrick’s Day party at the Holy Name of Jesus Hall on Saturday night, with live music by Jamie and the Quietmen (why do we think they’re probably not all that quiet?).

The Second Street Irish Society is throwing a fund-raising bash for the benefit of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday night. This is the second to the last fundraiser before the parade on March 13 (the last one will by at the Springfield Country Club, featuring Blackthorn).

St. Denis parish of Havetown is holding its annual St. Denis Irish Night on Saturday too, with entertainment by Misty Isle, a group that will get you up and dancing whether you like it or not.

The Broken Shillelaghs will be at McMichael’s Pub and Grill in Gloucester City, one of New Jersey’s most Irish towns, right on the river.

It gets serious on Sunday: A group of Irish community activists are gathering at Spencer Gifts at the Franklin Mills Mall to protest the derogatory Irish merchandise the store carries. (You’re welcome to join them at noon.) Expect to see more of this—we heard recently that a local supermarket agreed to pull its collection of Irish t-shirts after customers of Irish descent complained. What do the products say? Usually drinking and fighting are involved. We’re waiting to see what happens at the festivals—including the AOH festival in Wildwood—where you can see the same t-shirts and paraphernalia. Will ethnic pride triumph over capitalism? In a recession? We’ll see.

On Sunday afternoon, head to The Shanachie Pub and Restaurant in Ambler for the afternoon-long Sunday Irish Radio Shows benefit, featuring many great local musicians (including the aforementioned John Byrne), raffle prizes and auction items (and the stand-up auctioneering comedy routine of Publican Gerry Timlin).

If you’re in Lehigh County, Jack Callaghan’s Ale House on Tilgman Street is the headquarters for the Allentown St. Patrick’s Day parade fundraiser that features a Chinese auction, a DJ, and Jello shots (hey, sign me up).

Like to play the flute or tin whistle? There’s a free workshop at West Chester University’s Phillips Autograph Library by one of our favorite librarians and musicians Dennis Gormley. He’ll have a limited number of tin whistles for sale if you’ve been thinking of taking it up. Follow it up with am Irish session with Dennis and his wife, Kathy DeAngelo (a harper), at Kildare’s Irish Pub in West Chester.

On Tuesday, the Celtic folk group DeDannan, with founding members Alec Finn and Johnny “Ringo” Mcdonagh will be on stage at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington with special guest Eleanor Shanley. Mention Green Willow for a ticket discount—this is a Green Willow production.

We’re sorry we won’t be getting to those one – a fundraiser for the York St. Patrick’s Day parade for which a dozen York restaurants are creating a menu item containing Guinness. It’s called “There’s Guinness In It,” and we think it’s a great idea! This happens next Friday, March 4.

In Bucks County, the Bucks County St. Patrick’s Day group is honoring its grand marshal, John T. Galloway, at the Irish Ball at Kings Caterers in Bristol on Friday night, March 4.

That same night: Catch Solas in concert at the Sellersville Theatre or the play, “Brendan,” by Ronan Noone, about an Irish immigrant in Boston who is visited by the ghost of his mammy, at McCoole’s Arts and Events Place in Quakertown.

On stage all week is The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Plays and Players Theatre in Philadelphia.

There’s loads going on next week, including Gael Scoil—and immersion weekend in Irish—in Lawrenceville, NJ, the Erin Express has a warm-up voyage, Queen of Peace Parish in Ardsley is holding its annual Irish night, Celtic Kilt night kicks off at the Temperance House in Newtown,  the Gloucester County AOH is throwing its St. Paddy’s Party, and Blackthorn is rocking it for the Philly parade.

Plenty more where that came from—on our calendar, as well as details on all these events.

Columns, People, Travel

Return of the Wild Geese

Tom Finnigan: Son of Irish immigrants who moved to England, he's emigrated to Ireland.

Editor’s Note: Tom Finnigan is the son of Irish immigrants who moved to England, where he was born. This is the first of a series of essays he wrote about being an immigrant of a different sort: an Englishman of Irish descent who emigrated to Ireland–to the country’s northern most point, Malin, County Donegal.

We came to Malin and built a house in Goorey, on rocks above Trawbreaga Bay. My neighbor Connel Byrne calls it Ard na Si and tells us that Niall – king of all the fairies of Inishowen – holds court here. Barney Doherty used to come for gooseberries. Enid Stewart remembers it as a place full of hazel bushes, where fishermen came for wands to make lobster pots. She came for nuts when she was a child.

‘You’re nuts!’ shouted my father in Manchester when we announced our plans.

He remembers the poverty of Mayo in 1930; how De Valera suggested that he dance at the crossroads; how Doctor Walshe demanded a pound note before he would mount a trap in Ballyhaunis and visit my sick grandmother. Donegal, insisted my father, is full of rain and wind. The women wear shawls and fishermen drown.

“If ye go back and show an English number plate, some eejit from Derry will shoot ye.”

He couldn’t conceive of anyone choosing to live here.

And there’s the point. We have chosen. My father’s generation did not have choice. The Inishowen of holiday homes and art studios is inconceivable to the mind of my mother-in-law, the eldest of 13 children from Ballygorman in Malin Head. She has lived in Manchester for 70 years. When she comes to visit us, she doesn’t watch light stream through cloud. She has nothing to say about how mist hovers. She marvels at lights on the Isle of Doagh, the spread of houses in Carndonagh. Her memory is of blackness at night, the lighthouse at Inistrahull flashing, oil lamps smelling of kerosene. Her talk is of neighbours and where they went–to the tunnels in Glasgow, the towers of Boston.

And we?

We observe the light. We read John McGahern or something by Seamus Heaney. We identify birds–herons rigid on the shore, wood pigeons flapping, oystercatchers piping. We wonder if we shall cook scallops from Malin Head or some pasta from Sainsbury’s. We listen to Lyric FM or watch a DVD, put a bottle of Frascati in the fridge and rustle the business pages of the Irish Times. We are anxious about our SSIs. We lobby for broadband and sing in church. We e-mail Holland and Singapore, sell in Ballsbridge and Cork. We book a flight to Stanstead, then walk on Five Fingers strand, amazed at the light.

The children of the Wild Geese are back. We have sold our English property and returned to claim our heritage. We talk of Colmcille, visit Gartan and Derry, discuss the peace process. In Malin, once the demesne of the Harveys, Gaels with broad English vowels oust Planters with rich Irish consanants. Our Jeeps climb Knockamany and frighten the goats. We learn Irish, join writing groups, take up water colours.

On Five Fingers strand, wind lashes the Atlantic. Gulls scream. I raise my binoculars and scan the Bar Mouth. A sail billows, then another. Oars flash. Steel glints.

The Vikings are back.

Editor’s note: Who are the Wild Geese? Read more about them here.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish In Philly This Week

Double proof that you don’t have to be Irish to be an Irish musician: Isaac Alderson and Jonas Fromseier.

Isaac Alderson was 11 or 12 when he discovered Irish music. A friend of his mother’s gave him a set of practice pipes and he was hooked. By the time he was 17, he was being paid to anchor Irish sessions in his native Chicago. At the 2002 Fleadh Cheoil in Ireland—the Superbowl of traditional musicians—Alderson was named the All-Ireland Senior Champion in three instruments, uilleann pipes, flute and whistle, becoming the first American ever to perform that particular hat trick.

Alderson will be on stage at the Irish Center this Saturday, bringing with him Fromseier, the Danish-born bouzouki and banjo player who, with a grant from the Danish government, wound up in Galway studying Irish music after a stint with a Danish Irish trad group called “The Trad Lads.” (The Danes, while not Celtic, do have an Irish connection: They conquered the little island long ago when they were members of the well known group, the Vikings.)

Before the Vikings land here, check out “Cherish the Ladies,” Joanie Madden’s fabulous girl group, performing at the Sellersville Theatre on Friday night. Band members change, but the quality of these amazing musicians never dims. Plus, Madden is a hoot.

Another unusual sighting this week: Belfast-born indie musician Henry Cluney from the group Stiff Little Fingers will be performing at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Sunday is also the second in a series of fundraisers for the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, this one at AOH 39 on Tulip Street in Philly. On board for this one: Winners of the “best Irish band” in the US battle of the bands sponsored by Strangford Lough Brewing Company in Northern Ireland, Jamison Celtic Rock.

For Valentine’s Day, the Irish Immigration Center is hosting a luncheon and party at the Irish Center, 6815 Emlen Street, in Philadelphia on Monday at noonish. Great food, music, dancing—and love, they promise, will be in the air.

This week, two great Irish plays debut as part of the Philadelphia Irish Theater Festival. The Abbey Theatre of Dublin’s “Terminus,” a playing serial killers, avenging angels, and love-sick demons (of course, you’ll laugh), is at the Zellerbach Theatre. On February 16 and 17, Father David Cregan, OSA, PhD, associate professor of theatre and English, will host a post-show question and answer session with the cast. On February 17, catch the opening of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, one of the Martin McDonagh’s wildly dark and comic plays about a soldier who returns home to find that his only friend. Wee Thomas, the cat, has been assassinated. Bad things ensue. This one is at Plays and Players Theatre on Delancey Street in Philadelphia.

On Friday, Boston’s Matt and Shannon Heaton (with new baby, Nigel!) will be performing at Trinity Episcopal Church in Swarthmore. Shannon, whose newest CD is “The Blue Dress,” was named Live Ireland’s Female Musician of the year two years running (2010 and 2011).

Friday night is also the kick-off concert for the Mid-Winter Scottish-Irish Festival in Valley Forge, now in its 19th year of making winter bearable for fans of Celtic everything. There’s music, drink, food, dancing, and Irish tchotchkes for sale. Always fun.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish In Philly This Week

She's ready for the St. Patrick's Day parade! First fundraiser this weekend!

Had enough snow? Too bad—more is on the way. But you’re so experienced at navigating streets that look like the South Pole that it probably won’t stop you from heading out this week for a hit of Irish.

Like tomorrow. The first of several fundraisers for the Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is happening at Paddy Whack’s on the Roosevelt Boulevard, sponsored by AOH Division 25. Slainte will be providing the music and AOH 25 President Pearse Kerr will be celebrity bartender (and a real celebrity he is—Kerr, who grew up in Belfast, is grand marshal of the Burlington County St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New Jersey).

Also on the agenda for Saturday is the installation of the statue of Our Lady of Knock at the Irish Center by the Mayo Association. The group will place the statue, sculpted in Knock, County Mayo, in the Irish Center dining room. There will be a party afterwards.

If you’re in Bethlehem or heading to the Christmas city, Tony McAuley, author of “The Paperboy,” set in 1970s Belfast, will be speaking at Granny McCarthy’s Restaurant and Tea Room at a breakfast event.

Interested in your family history? Head on down to the Irish Immigration Center on Thursday, February 10, and genealogy expert John McDevitt will help you unearth your ancestors (on paper, that is—no shovels required).

And get your tickets now for next Saturday’s big concert at the Irish Center. Danish banjo and bouzouki player Jonas Fromseier and American piper and flute player Isaac Alderson will be joining forces on the stage as part of their two-week US tour. Don’t let those names fool you. This is a Philadelphia Ceili Group concert so the music will be Irish.

Looking ahead: The Abbey Theatre of Dublin’s production of the play, “Terminus,” is coming on February 16 to the Zellerbach Theater in Philadelphia as part of the Philadelphia Irish Theater Festival. Remember, you can get 20 percent off ticket prices by getting tickets to two or more plays through the Theatre Alliancec of Greater Philadelphia. So while you’re at it, buy tickets for Martin McDonagh’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Plays and Players Theater (Theatre Exile) which debuts February 17. Order tickets here.

Arts, Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly, Music, People

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Blackthorn once again puts its Celtic rock power behind a fundraiser, this Saturday for Archbishop Ryan’s Alumni Association. It’s normally a sell-out crowd, so check our calendar for contact info and make those calls now.

Also on Saturday, Enter the Haggis will be at the World Café Live. Extremely popular Celtic rock band from Canada, so again, make those calls now.

Spring Hill House Concerts is hosting multi-talented Grey Larsen (fiddle, tin whistle, concertina, and flute) and songwriter-guitarist Cindy Kallet in this intimate venue. You may have heard the duo on National Public Radio—now you can hear them in someone’s livingroom.

On Sunday, a real treat: piper Jerry O’Sullivan, one of the masters, will be performing at the Coatesville Cultural Society. He was recently in town with Mick Moloney for the annual concert to benefit St. Malachy’s School in North Philadelphia.

On Sunday afternoon, join Philadelphia’s Derry Society at a mass of remembrance for those who lost their lives on January 30, 1972, in Derry during the incident now called “Bloody Sunday” when British paratroopers fired on a largely peaceful crowd of protesters. The killings sparked years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland.

If you’re looking for a little music with your lunch on Wednesday, stop by the Irish Immigration Center in Upper Darby: the remarkable accordian player Kevin McGillian will be entertaining with his son John. You’ll have to RSVP because space is limited, so check our calendar for info.

On Friday, get ready to laugh your kilt off with The Irish Comedy Tour, coming to the Sellersville Theatre, and featuring Detroit native Derek Richards, Boston’s own Mike McCarthy, and Dubliner Keith Aherne. We saw another combination of comics when the tour came here last year and they were a hoot.

The Martin McDonagh play, “A Skull in Connemara,” continues its run this week at St. Stephen’s Theatre in Philadelphia. The run has been extended to February 13.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Two thirds of the Clancys here--Aoife and Robbie O'Connell, far right--will be in Ambler this week. The extra Clancy is Donal.

Round up the usual suspects—there’s a Blackthorn concert this weekend! The popular local Celtic rock group is playing a benefit for AOH Black Jack Kehoe Division 4 on Saturday night at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Springfield.

And that’s just one of many enticing events this weekend. For example, they’ll be kicking up their heels at the AOH Notre Dame Hall in Swedesburg Saturday night at their annual ceili. And multi-talented trad performer Gabriel Donohue and singer Marian Makins will be performing the same night at the Shanachie Pub and Restaurant in Ambler.

On Sunday, fiddler Brian Conway will be holding a traditional fiddle workshop at West Chester University and you can catch him later that night at a special session at Kildare’s Pub in West Chester.

More big doings at Shanachie: Robbie O’Connell and his cousin, Aoife Clancy, will be celebrating the Clancy legacy (he’s a former Clancy Brother though his mom was a Clancy sister, and her dad was one of the Clancy Brothers) at the Ambler pub on Thursday, January 27.

On Friday, a freebie from Jamison—a thank-you show (they were voted best Irish band in the US in the Strangford Lough Brewing Company’s annual battle of the bands) at the AOH Div. 39 Hall on Tulip Street in Philadelphia.

And all this week—“Pumpgirl,” Abbie Spallen’s play about dark deeds in a Northern Irish border town and Martin McDonagh’s darkly funny “A Skull in Connemara” are on stage. “Pumpgirl” is produced by the Inis Nua Theatre Company and is at the Adrienne at Sansom and 20th, while “Skull” is at the Lantern Theater Company’s location at St. Stephen’s Church at 11th and Ludlow Streets in Philadelphia. We’ve reviewed them both.

Check out our calendar for all the details.