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Sending Their Love To Jane

Colleen, Tessa, and Caroline Crossed

Colleen, Tessa, and Caroline Crossed

It was 2 PM on Sunday at the Marple Sports Center, the air was filled with slip jig tunes, and there were so many girls in their sparkling feis dresses you almost needed sunglasses indoors. But the most popular spot at the annual Four Provinces Feis, which drew 1,000 competitors from the east coast, wasn’t around the dance arenas. It was a table where kids could write a get-well card for Jane.

“Except for the really little ones,” said Marg King, who was overseeing the card-signing, all the dancers knew about 7-year-old Jane Richard, the little Irish dancer from Milton, MA, who lost a leg in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. Jane’s brother, Martin, 8, was killed in the blast as they stood at the finish line with their parents and another brother, who was uninjured. Their mother, Denise, was also hurt.

On Sunday, the dancers and their parents were buying so many of the Philadelphia Loves Boston t-shirts, hastily made up for the occasion, that there were no more small and medium sizes to be had. “They’re gone, sold out,” said King, obviously happy.

They were snapped up by people like Colleen Crossed of West Chester, whose two daughters, Tessa and Caroline, were competing. “I ran the Boston Marathon three times and remember it well,” Crossed said. “My kids were there at the finish line, just like those kids. It’s hard to imagine.” She shook her head. “But this is so nice,” she said, nodding toward the t-shirt table. “Really nice. You feel like you can do something.”

More than 100 individuals and organizations apparently feel the same way. They’ve signed on to support the “Philadelphia Loves Boston” campaign, founded by McDade Cara School of Irish Dance owner Sheila McGrory Sweeney, along with St. Patrick’s Day Parade Director Michael Bradley and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 business manager John Dougherty. The proceeds from the sale of the t-shirts will go to the Richard Family Fund, as will the entry fees from Sunday’s Charity Treble Reel Competition (which was won by McDade Cara dancers, wearing their Jane t-shirts).

“I sent out an email last week to everyone on my list and within 24 hours we had more than 100 respond to say they wanted to support this,” said Bradley, who hustled the t-shirts into production within 24 hours too.

One of the first to respond “in about 3 seconds.” said Bradley, was Ken Casey, front man for Boston’s premier Celtic rock band, the Dropkick Murphy’s, and founder of The Claddagh Fund, which raises money for under-funded nonprofits in Boston and Philadelphia, where the DKMs have a huge fan base. The band has already raised more than $100,000 for the Richard Family Fund, to help defray their medical costs. “He got back to me and said, we’’ll do whatever you need,” said Bradley.

While the t-shirts aren’t available by mail, you can pick yours up on June 2 at the Irish Festival at Penn’s Landing, where dancers from all the Irish dancing schools will be there to perform en masse as a tribute to Jane. You can also donate to the Richard Family Fund. Checks made out to the Richard Family Fund can be sent to PO Box 477, Paoli, PA 19301.

Dance, News

Act 2: Dancing Like a Star

Dance-Like-a-StarA father of four from County Cavan and a mother of five (including eight-year-old quadruplets!) were the winning couple in the Delco Gael’s “Dancing Like a Star” fundraiser on Friday, February 22.

Eight amateur couples competed in this second annual event, which drew 700 people—a sellout crowd—to the ballroom of the Springfield Country Club in Springfield, Delaware County. Martin Fay of Havertown, whose daughters play with the Delco Gaels, and Geana Morris of South Philadelphia, whose dancing was influenced, she said, by movie musicals and 12 years with the Mummers, were named the winners at the end of the evening, after a comical star turn as the Blues Brothers.

The judges, who included Wayne Saint David, jazz department head at the University of the Arts; Carole Orlandi Barr, of the Orlandi School of Dance, and Barr’s granddaughter, Jenna Rose Pepe, who teaches at Orlandi and competes herself as a dancer, chose Sean Brady and Kathy Konieczny as their top dancers of the night.

It was a tough call. The couples, who performed two Latin dances and whose individual dances called to mind everything from “The Honeymooners” (Mary Patrick and Joe Roan, who many of the dancers thought were the biggest competition going into the evening) to the ‘50s Beatnik era (Cecelia Quarino and John Kildea) to the Sinatra years (Mary Kay Bowden and Hank Clinton), learned their lessons well from choreographers Jennifer Cleary and Lisa Oster. They also practiced for more than 6 weeks.

One competitor, Sinead Bourke, a 21-year-old psychology major at West Chester University, followed her father, Pat, into the dance contest—he was a crowd hit last year. Her partner was Brian Anderson, a roofer from Ridley Township whose personal note in the program read, “Where the hell am I and how did I get here?

There was at least one experienced dancer in the group: Maureen Heather Lisowski, the daugher of the late Maureen McDade McGrory, founder of the McDade School of Irish Dance, is a teacher at McDade and also instructs the Second Street Irish Society dancers. Her partner was Stevie Robinson, formerly of County Derry, who plays Gaelic football for the St. Patrick’s team in Philadelphia.

And Fred Rigsby, a manager at Market Intelligence and Corporate Research, got to mimic his idol, Michael Jackson, in the number he did with his partner, Eileen Reavy, from Havertown, a math teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom.

The Delco Gaels is the largest and longest established Gaelic youth club in Pennsylvania. Hundreds of children ages 4 to 17 participate in Gaelic football, hurling, and camogie both indoors and outdoors throughout the year. They regularly compete in the Feile Peil na nOg, or Feile, a national festival of Gaelic football for boys and girls under 14, held annually in a host county in Ireland. The proceeds from “Dancing Like a Star” helps fund that trip and other things the club needs.

The organizing committee comprises Carmel Bradley, Una McDaid, Fionnuala McBrearty, Lorna Corr, Leigh Anne McCabe, Trish Daly, Anne Bourke, Aisling Travers, Anna Bonner, and Ethel McGarvey. Louie Bradley is the chairperson of the Delco Gaels.

This year’s host for the evening was Fox TV’s Jennaphr Frederick.

Dance, News

Act 2: Dancing Like a Star

Dance Like a Star
A father of four from County Cavan and a mother of five (including eight-year-old quadruplets!) were the winning couple in the Delco Gael’s “Dancing Like a Star” fundraiser on Friday, February 22.

Eight amateur couples competed in this second annual event, which drew 700 people—a sellout crowd—to the ballroom of the Springfield Country Club in Springfield, Delaware County. Martin Fay of Havertown, whose daughters play with the Delco Gaels, and Geana Morris of South Philadelphia, whose dancing was influenced, she said, by movie musicals and 12 years with the Mummers, were named the winners at the end of the evening, after a comical star turn as the Blues Brothers.

The judges, who included Wayne Saint David, jazz department head at the University of the Arts; Carole Orlandi Barr, of the Orlandi School of Dance, and Barr’s granddaughter, Jenna Rose Pepe, who teaches at Orlandi and competes herself as a dancer, chose Sean Brady and Kathy Konieczny as their top dancers of the night.

It was a tough call. The couples, who performed two Latin dances and whose individual dances called to mind everything from “The Honeymooners” (Mary Patrick and Joe Roan, who many of the dancers thought were the biggest competition going into the evening) to the ‘50s Beatnik era (Cecelia Quarino and John Kildea) to the Sinatra years (Mary Kay Bowden and Hank Clinton), learned their lessons well from choreographers Jennifer Cleary and Lisa Oster. They also practiced for more than 6 weeks.

One competitor, Sinead Bourke, a 21-year-old psychology major at West Chester University, followed her father, Pat, into the dance contest—he was a crowd hit last year. Her partner was Brian Anderson, a roofer from Ridley Township whose personal note in the program read, “Where the hell am I and how did I get here?

There was at least one experienced dancer in the group: Maureen Heather Lisowski, the daugher of the late Maureen McDade McGrory, founder of the McDade School of Irish Dance, is a teacher at McDade and also instructs the Second Street Irish Society dancers. Her partner was Stevie Robinson, formerly of County Derry, who plays Gaelic football for the St. Patrick’s team in Philadelphia.

And Fred Rigsby, a manager at Market Intelligence and Corporate Research, got to mimic his idol, Michael Jackson, in the number he did with his partner, Eileen Reavy, from Havertown, a math teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom.

The Delco Gaels is the largest and longest established Gaelic youth club in Pennsylvania. Hundreds of children ages 4 to 17 participate in Gaelic football, hurling, and camogie both indoors and outdoors throughout the year. They regularly compete in the Feile Peil na nOg, or Feile, a national festival of Gaelic football for boys and girls under 14, held annually in a host county in Ireland. The proceeds from “Dancing Like a Star” helps fund that trip and other things the club needs.

The organizing committee comprises Carmel Bradley, Una McDaid, Fionnuala McBrearty, Lorna Corr, Leigh Anne McCabe, Trish Daly, Anne Bourke, Aisling Travers, Anna Bonner, and Ethel McGarvey. Louie Bradley is the chairperson of the Delco Gaels.

This year’s host for the evening was Fox TV’s Jennaphr Frederick.

Dance, People

Dancing to the Spirit of Christmas

Colleen and Noreen soak up the applause after their duet.

Before the show started, Kathleen Madigan, dressed in her dark green velvet Irish dance costume, made the announcement. The audience had to be patient. Some of the dancers needed a little extra time to get into place.

The audience was more than patient as the Divine Providence Village Rainbow Irish Dancers, a group of developmentally disabled women at the Catholic Charities-supported community, joined with the Irish Stars Parker School of Irish Dance from Hellertown for their first Christmas recital. They were enthralled–and maybe, at some points, a little bit teary eyed.

The dancers performed a dozen numbers, this little group that started less than two years ago, the offshoot of an every-other-Saturday Irish dance class that Madigan was teaching. The troupe was born when Madigan, former nutritionist at Divine Providence and a student at the Parker School, realized that some of the women were pretty good dancers–and terrific performers.  Their first recital followed their first-ever appearance at the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade last March, where they earned the Mary Theresa Dougherty Award for the outstanding organization dedicated to serving God’s people in the community. The women also performed on the field during  Irish Heritage Night at the Phillies in June. They’ve learned many more dances since then, says Madigan. Enough to have a holiday recital.

The Christmas Show was held at the Cardinal Krol Center in Springfield, Montgomery County, on Sunday, December 2. Proceeds from the show will go toward buying the dancers logo jackets to wear at the parade.

Dance, News, People

They Danced the Night Away

Recognize this dance? It's the Siege of Ennis.

Mary Lou Schnell McGurk was five years old when she took her first Irish dance lesson with Maureen McDade. Like most kids, she sampled just about everything else life had to offer, from ballet and tap to sports. But in the end, she settled on a single activity. Irish dancing won.

“It was the only thing I was really good at and liked,” laughed McGurk, who was one of hundreds of people who filled the ballroom at the Springfield Country Club on Sunday, September 30, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the McDade School of Irish Dance by a young Philadelphia woman, the granddaughter of Irish and Scottish immigrants.

But when she was 18, McDade, then Maureen McGrory, gave McGurk a gift. “She told me that I was getting to be too old to be taking lessons with her and that I should go to the Irish Center where I would be with other people my own age,” says McGurk, who is president of the Philadelphia Ceili Group, the organization that ran those dances at the Irish Center that McGurk attended. “So I went to the Irish Center,” she said, “and I never left. To the people who like me, that’s why. To the people that don’t, Maureen’s to blame.”

There were plenty of stories, punctuated by dancing, throughout the night as Irish group after Irish group presented awards to Maureen McDade McGrory’s family. That included daughters Sheila McGrory Sweeney and Maureen Heather Lisowski who, as teenagers, took over their mother’s school with friend, Bridget O’Connell, after Maureen McGrory’s tragic death from cancer. O’Connell, frequently tearful, remembered the early days. “Maureen turned my life upside down and inside out,” she said to laughter. To allow the school’s students to continue to compete, O’Connell got her certification as an Irish dance instructor. Sheila, the oldest McGrory daughter, was only 18, and instructors had to be 21 to become accredited.

At one point, O’Connell looked at the two McGrory sisters and smiled. “Thank you both for being the sisters I never had,” she said. She then directed her attention at the two McGrory boys, John, the oldest, and Jim. “And thank you for going to dances with us when we didn’t have a date!”

Barney McEnroe, an old family friend, took the microphone from event host Tom Farrelly and recalled taking Maureen McDade to her first Irish dancing lesson with noted teacher Sean Lavery, who had a school in West Philadelphia. “She came to me and said she wanted to take Irish dance lessons but she was wondering how she could get to Lavery’s school. I told her I’d take her though I didn’t know where he lived. I dropped her off.” He paused slightly. “I don’t know how she got home,” he said, as the crowd started to laugh. He paused again, until it got quieter. “But there’s no good worrying about it today,” he continued, to renewed laughter. He looked up and smiled. “But I think she was a success,” he said.

That’s abundantly clear. McDade dancers regularly qualify for both national and world competitions. In fact, there are so many students that the McDade School merged with the Cara School of Irish Dance to accommodate the crowds. And, 50 years later, students from year one gathered with current students—some, their grandchildren—to say thank you. And happy birthday.

Dance, People

McDade School of Irish Dance Celebrates the Big 5-0

Maureen McDade McGrory and her family, including daughters Sheila, right, and Maureen, left, who took over her school after her death.

Maureen McDade McGrory used to tag along when her dad’s band, The All-Ireland Orchestra, played at all the dances and Irish events in the Philadelphia. That was back in the day when the dances were where the newly arrived Irish would meet to start new friendships and  where countless marriages were made.

She’d listen to the music but mostly she would dance. She begged her parents for lessons. Both Philadelphia-born but with roots in Donegal and Scotland, they agreed. She learned the proper steps with the late Sean Lavery, a Donegal native and one of the leading Irish dance teachers in the area (for 50 cents a lesson!) in the ‘50s.

When Lavery died, his student decided to start a school of her own, right in her own home. She taught Irish dancing for the next three decades, training champion after champion, until her untimely death in 1993 of cancer at the age of 54. She left behind four children—and a legacy they refused to let die.

Her daughters, Sheila, then 18, and Maureen, then 14, along with one of her mother’s McDade School dancers, Bridget O’Connell, decided to keep the school going. Immediately.

“It was a crazy time,” remembers Sheila McGrory Sweeney, now a 37-year-old mother of three. “Mom passed away, we had the funeral, and Bridget was like, ‘Let’s go,’ and we had class the following Tuesday.”

To keep the school certified so its students could compete, Bridget had to get her certification as an Irish dance instructor. “You have to be 21 to be certified and we weren’t old enough,” says Sheila.

The three women (Maureen is now a Lisowski) have not only kept the school going, they’ve made it thrive. Today, the McDade School of Irish Dance is also the McDade-Cara School of Irish Dance, a merger that provided more times, locations and instructors to handle hundreds of students, from tiny beginners to top champions (there were nine world qualifiers from the combined schools his year).

McDade is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a reunion dinner of sorts, inviting back all those young men and women who learned their moves from Maureen McDade—and the grandchildren whose recitals they now attend. It’s scheduled for Sunday, September 30, at the Springfield Country Club in Springfield.

“We’re going to have people there from the first generation of my mom’s dancers,” says Sheila. “The minute we posted the event on Facebook we started hearing from people. My dad, John, who is a year in recovery from a stroke, told me that one lady stopped by the house—he still lives in the same house—and brought four of her old dancing costumes and a CD of pictures from 1962 to 1970. And she stayed for an hour and a half, talking about how her parents had come out from Ireland, didn’t know anyone, got involved in dancing and the people they met then are who are their friends today.”

That’s part of what’s kept up in the interest in Irish dance in the Philadelphia area long after the “Riverdance effect” wore off, says Sheila. Dancers become part of a community that persists even after everyone has sold their performance dresses and boxed up their wigs.

When she and her sister were growing up, dancing wasn’t just part of their world, it created their world. “It was a nice, tightknit group of girls who all had something in common. Our mothers were all friends, and we built weekends away around the dancing. But it was more than just about the dancing. All of my friends now are people I danced with.”

It’s been the same for her daughters, Regan, 11, and Darcy, 8. (Son Brendan, 14, “danced until kindergarten and then told us he was officially retired,” she laughs. “But he’s a musician. He plays piano.”)

“We just had a group of families go up to the Catskills, a trip built around a feis (an Irish dance competition). They all camped out and that’s all the kids can talk about,” says Sheila. “The kids love to dance, but they also love the opportunity to travel and love being on stage. My daughter, at 11, has already been to Scotland, England, and Ireland, for dancing. My husband says she has more stamps on her passport than he does! And they like to wear pretty dresses. But, really, it’s the friendships.”

That camaraderie is one of the reasons Sheila Sweeney has been teaching Irish dancing for the past 19 years. The same goes for her sister and their partner, Bridget, as well as their brothers, Jim and John McGrory, who have become accomplished musicians (and feis musicians too).

“I love it. I can’t imagine not having it as a big part of my life,” she says. And, she says, it makes her feel closer to her mother. “Of course, sometimes I shake my head and say, ‘Mom, what did you get me into?’ But it’s amazing to have that connection, to be able to carry on her tradition. If she was looking down, I think she’d think that she’d left it in good hands, between me, Maureen and Bridget. I think she’d be pretty darn proud.”

For a look back at the McDade School, check out the photos here.

Dance, Music

A Look Back at the 2012 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

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Constance the Butterfly

From singers’ night last Thursday to Saturday’s smashing finale, a concert by the legendary Dé Danann, the 2012 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival was far and away one of the most popular and best attended ever.

Probably the best sign of success was the Saturday Dé Danann show, with opener, the uillean piper Paddy Keenan accompanied by Dé Danann bouzouki player Alec Finn. The Irish Center ballroom was as packed as it’s ever been, with a lot of late-arriving concert-goers going chairless. They didn’t seem to mind. Dé Danann, with the luminescent singer Eleanor Shanley belting out tunes, was incredibly sharp for a band that was formed at about the time the Pleistocene era was ending. OK, maybe not that long ago, but there sure was a lot of gray hair up onstage.

Earlier in the day, festival-goers had their choice of things to do, from face-painting with the kids to dancing lessons to musical workshops with the likes of Dé Danann iconic bodhran player Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh.

Sean Tyrrell’s one-man show, “Who Killed James Joyce,” was likewise well attended on Friday night.

We were there for most of it, and we have the pictures to prove it.

Check them out:

Dance, Music, News, People

Having a Blast at Brittingham’s

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Whoo--hoo! I'm having a good time!

There were three–count them–three lovely Irish pageant winners at the fourth annual Brittingham’s Irish Fest in Lafayette Hill on Sunday, September 2. There were also hundreds of happy folks who braved a spritzing of rain to attend the parking lot-sized festival that kicks off festival month in the region.

There was music–Jamison, the Paul Moore Band, and No Irish Need Apply (which features 2012 International Mary from Dungloe, Meghan Davis)–as well as vendors and some kick-butt barbecue. And dancing? There’s always dancing at this event, by those who know what they’re doing and those who don’t. It’s always a happy time.

If you don’t believe us or that adorable baby to the right, check out our pictures.

September 7, 2012 by