Before Halloween meant going from house to house in costume demanding candy, it was Samhain (Sah-win), a Celtic festival that marked the end of the year and, most important, a time when the curtain between the living and the dead, the flesh and the spirit, grew thin enough to permit passage between them. Ancient Celts left food for their dead ancestors and participated in rituals to honor the dead and any protective spirits hovering nearby.
How to Be Irish in Philly
It’s the beginning of Ball season in Philadelphia, an Irish tradition started by the various county societies to raise money for causes at “home” dear to the immigrants’ hearts. This Saturday, the Cavan Society starts it off with music and dancing at the Irish Center. You might see the Philly Rose of Tralee, Mairead Comaskey, there. She traces some of her roots to Cavan.
The Cavan event is followed by the Mayo Association Ball on November 7—which includes the selection of Miss Mayo—and the 129th Donegal Ball on November 28, which incorporates the crowning of the next Mary from Dungloe who will compete for the international title in Dungloe, Donegal next summer.
If you’d like to compete in the Miss Mayo Pageant, open to young women 17-27, contact Eileen Barrilli at 215-205-3221. The Mary from Dungloe pageant is open to women of Irish descent 18-29. For more information, contact Meghan Davis—herself a former Philly and International Mary from Dungloe—at 570-574-7966.
Kevin McGillian, the heart and soul and accordion player of most ceili bands in the Philadelphia region, will be honored with a lifetime achievement award on Saturday night by the Delaware Valley Division of the Comhaltas (Coal-tus) Ceoltoiri Eireann, an international organization that promotes Irish music and culture.
McGillian, a native of Legfordrum, County Tyrone, who has lived in the Philadelphia area for about six decades, was previously inducted in the Mid-Atlantic CCE Hall of Fame. A shy, soft-spoken man, McGillian moved to Philadelphia at the age of 26 where he met and married Mary Boyce. The two raised six children, all of whom play instruments.
The Philadelphia Irish Center wants you … to visit!
It’s time for the annual Irish Center Gathering on Sunday. If you have difficulty knowing how to be Irish—frankly that’s hard to believe, given these handy weekly instructions—consider the Gathering a one-day total immersion class. Not the school kind of class, with Sister Frances Joseph slapping you on the hand with a ruler and calling you a brazen article—this is the fun kind.
By “fun”we mean lots of music, including an appearance by incredible local songstress Leanne McGrory, Irish dance, tunes from the Philadelphia Emerald Pipe Band, a live broadcast of Vince Gallagher’s Sunday Irish radio show, plenty of activities for the kiddies, vendors, food and drink, and more.
Had you heard? The Pope is coming to Philly this week. Welcome to the City of Brotherly Love, Pope Francis! And the AOH Irish Fall Festival starts on Thursday. And Bethlehem’s Celtic Fest starts on Friday. So, if you were hoping for a nice, quiet Fall week, you are so out of luck.
Blackthorn will be rocking Norwood Community Day and Music Festival on Saturday, September. The day starts at 8 AM with the Ed Snyder 5K Run. There’s a craft fair, moon counces, rock climbing, pony and horse rides for the kids, a food court serving everything from mini-stromboli to crabcake sandwiches, a beer garden, and cow pie bingo—ewww—to round out the day. Blackthorn will be preceded by many other bands. The lads take the stage from 7 PM to 10 PM. BYO lawn chairs and sunscreen.
It’s been sold out for weeks, but we need to mention that the John Byrne Band is holding its CD release party at World Café Live on Saturday night. Their newest offering is “The Immigrant and the Orphan,” and features “Dirty, Used Up, Chewed Up, Screwed Up Love,” which is getting airplay on WXPN. Check out the video below.
On Wednesday, Father Ed Brady of St. Anne’s Catholic Church on Lehigh Street in Philadelphia will be concelebrating an “Irish Peoples Mass” at the church where he’s the pastor with various priests from around the region and visitors from the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference in the city for the World Meeting of Families. This is the organization meeting in Philadelphia that drew the attention of Pope Francis, who will be in the city to address them.
On Thursday, enjoy a private concert by young musicians Haley Richardson, Dylan Richardson, and Keegan Loesel in the privacy of your home thanks to Concert Window. You pay what you want, but what you contribute will help defray the costs of 13-year-old Haley’s trip to Ireland in October to compete in the Fiddler of Dooney competition. Haley, who lives in New Jersey, has won an All-Ireland for her fiddle playing. Go to the Concert Window link to have a look and listen starting at 8 PM.
Also on Thursday, the AOH Fall Irish Festival kicks off with a round of golf, followed by three days of nonstop music, vendors, parades, a pipe band competition, a 5K and Mass on Sunday. It’s billed as the largest Irish festival on the east coast, and the interest in this AOH fundraiser never seems to lag. Along with the musicians on the bill, including Cathy Maguire, Haley and Dylan Richardson with Keegan Loesel playing as the new trio, Meara Meara, Ballina, the Birmingham Six, the Broken Shillelaghs, and Galway Guild, most of Philly’s Irish musicians are booked into the pubs that line the route. If you hate Irish music, this is not the place to be.
On Friday through the weekend, find out if your haggis-eating skills are primo by entering the contest at Bethlehem’s annual Celtic Fest. You can also learn how to do the perfect pour of Guinness, watch big men throwing big objects (those are highland games) and thrill to border collies herding sheep.
There’s also a fantastic array of musical entertainment (I’ve heard most of them and can vouch for them) including Timlin and Kane, Seamus Kennedy, Killen Clark, Blackwater, Matt and Shannon Heaton, Emish, Celtic Spirit, the Mudmen, Tempest, Burning Bridget Cleary. Poor Man’s Gambit, Jamison, McPeake, Kilmaine Saints, Bastard Bearded Irishmen, the Gothard Sisters, Glengarry Bhoys, Archie Fisher, No Irish Need Apply, and many more. The Celtic Cultural Alliance doesn’t do anything by halves. I didn’t even mention the pipe bands, fiddle contest, Irish dancers, Highland dancers, crafts, vendors, and workshops. This is worth a trip. There’s almost too much to do and see.
Got festival fever? We do! There are a bunch of them this month, including the Philadelphia Ceili Group’s annual Irish traditional music event at the Irish Center in Philadelphia, which started on Thursday with singers’ night and ends on Saturday with music, workshops, kids’ activities, and a concert in the evening by the all-girl band, Girsa.
And that’s not all. There’s the Northeast Philly Irish Festival on Saturday featuring Irish country singer Deirdre Reilly, the Bogside Rogues, Timlin and Kane, the Hooligans, Celtic Connection, Belfast Connection and Oliver McElhone, all at Canstatters in the Northeast.
Here’s what’s what for the coming week as we head into a big month for local Irish (and Celts of all stripes).
Let’s start with Brittingham’s Irish Festival, Sunday starting at noon at Brittingham’s (of course) , 640 East Germantown Pike in Lafayette Hill. Be prepared for the long haul. After 7:30, the party continues inside and continues on into the night. Look for Jamison, Oliver McElhone, Five Quid and Bare Knuckled Boxers. Food, drink, dance, and fun for the kiddies, too.
Wednesday at 7:30, two Irish musical stars, piper Cillian Vallely (of Lunasa) and his concertina-playing brother Niall, perform in a house concert sponsored by the Barn Star Concert Series. It’s a cozy little space on Bainbridge Street in Philly, and tickets are limited. Contact the organizer to reserve a space: firstname.lastname@example.org. More details on Barn Star’s Facebook page. Tickets are 20 bucks. You can bring drinks or goodies to share. You don’t have to, but it really adds to the fun.
We’re rich! We’re rich!
Rich in Irish entertainment that is. It all starts this weekend when Blackthorn, Galway Guild and the Shanty’s perform on the same stage—Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino in Chester—on Saturday night. They’re calling it “Irish Paradise,” and it sure sounds that way to me.
If you’re in Upper Darby on Saturday, stop in at Cawley’s Irish Pub at 9 PM and show your support for the Young Irelands Gaelic Football Club–regional champs!–by eating some beef and drinking some beer. Cawley’s is at 7919W. Chester Pike. Music will be provided by John Lefty Kelly. Proceeds from the benefit will help the Young Irelands get to Chicago for the national championships in which they’ll face Vancouver in the first round on Friday, September 4.