A standing room only crowd packed St. Malachy’s Church in North Philadelphia last Sunday for the annual concert by Mick Moloney and Friends concert to benefit to the exemplary church school.
That the church was so jammed should come as no surprise. This year’s concert, a memorial to longtime Moloney friend and accompanist, musical icon and dancer Eugene O’Donnell, featured an all-star cast, including Donie Carroll, Billy McComiskey, Haley Richardson, John Roberts, Jerry O’Sullivan, Niall O’Leary, Gerry Timlin, Seagda Coyle and Clare Horgan.
Moloney quipped that much of the show comes together at the last minute, sometimes without a lot in the way of rehearsal, but with such seasoned pros up on the altar stage, you’d never know it, as the group seamlessly transitioned from one set of tunes to the next.
We were there to take it all in. Check out our photo essay.
It’s a late Saturday afternoon at Paddy Whack’s Irish Sports Club, tucked away in a strip shopping center off Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philly.
Inside, fiddler C.J. Mills and frequent partner, singer-guitarist Seamus McGroary, are blazing away at a set of reels, playing for two little girls in sparkly dresses who are performing that day for Celtic Flame School of Irish Dance.
Suddenly, Mills leaps from the stage and climbs atop two high-top bar chairs, and plays away as if fiddling while poised inches away from the ceiling tiles is something he does all the time.
In fact, it is what he does all the time. He’s also renowned for jumping up and down while he plays on stage, as if he can’t contain the energy of the tune he’s cranking out. And he’s also known for playing with his electric fiddle propped behind his neck, which he does while he’s performing the balancing act on the chairs in Paddy Whack’s.
It took a while for him to learn how to play the fiddle version of a high wire act, but he loves doing it—and the audience loves that he does it.
The 2019 Philadelphia Ceili Group Irish Traditional Music & Dance Festival is over, but what a packed, fun-filled festival it was.
We showed you the Thursday night singers night last week, but that was just the beginning of a long weekend of tunes, high stepping, and workshops on how to do everything from play tin whistle to learn a bit of the Irish language to plumb the depths of your Irish heritage.
There was a dance exhibition by the Temple University Dance Team (go Owls!), along with a small orchestra of musicians from the area’s many traditional Irish music sessions, and a superb, intimate concert by piper Ivan Goff and fiddler Katie Linnane. There was a children’s story time, St. Brigid’s cross making, face painting, a hall full of Celtic and Irish vendors, and the kitchen kept on cranking out chow that had people going back for more.
If you were up for a pint or two, that was there, too.
Then, of course, there was the Saturday night finale concert in the ballroom, featuring singer Donie Carroll and Tony DeMarco and his band, the Atlantic Wave.
We have plenty of pictures, courtesy of Denise Foley and Jeff Meade.
The Philadelphia Ceili Group kicked off the 45th Annual Festival with its time-honored tradition of Singers Night. Hosted by Terry Kane (one half of the popular Jameson Sisters) and dedicated to the late Frank Malley, who was a driving force behind both Singers Night and the Festival itself, last night also brought poignant tributes to other beloved Irish Philadelphia musicians who have recently passed away.
The late Eugene O’Donnell, Kitty Kelly-Albrecht and Eugenia Brennan were all at the forefront throughout the evening, remembered in favorite songs and personal stories. Among the performers who took the stage were Ellen Tepper (the other half of the Jameson sisters) on the harp, Matt Ward, Rosaleen McGill, Jim McGill, Steve Stanislaw, John Handy, Kathleen Warren, Don Simon, Seamus Carmichael, Don Gill, Trish Callahan and Mike Albrecht.
Jeff took some photos and I got some videos. So, if you couldn’t be there in person, enjoy! And join us for the rest of the weekend; tonight’s Rambling House hosted by the River Drivers and the Ceili Dance with the McGillians & Friends starts at 8 p.m., and tomorrow’s day of concerts and activities begins at 11 a.m. and continues throughout the day and evening. For more information, check out the Philadelphia Ceili Group website.
Rosaleen McGill has been volunteering for the Philadelphia Ceili Group Traditional Music & Dance Festival since she was 8 or 9 years old. “It was a great tradition in which to grow up. It felt like being raised by a village. And people were always excited to tell me about their instrument or try to teach me a few words of Gaelic or how to make a St. Brigid’s Cross. There was always so much to get involved in and a beautiful range of ages.”
Now, here she is in her early 30s, and it never gets tired. Obviously not, because she’s on the board of the Ceili Group.
Just as obviously, the festival holds an incredible amount of appeal for her—and, she suggests, that’s as it should be, not just for her, but for anyone even the least bit interested in their Irish heritage and culture.
This year’s festival is certainly no exception.
“It’s a unique showcase of Irish culture,” McGill says. “It’s nice to have a culture all your own to dive deep into and examine the traditions and language and stories and the instruments that we have created, and not just celebrate the history, but all facets.”
Tony DeMarco’s family story isn’t unusual for New York and other big Northeastern cities. He’s the offspring of that classic “Gaelic and garlic” heritage, a DeMarco on one side, and, on his mother’s side, Dempseys.
“I’m in a book that was all about the Irish-Italian condition in New York, called ‘An Unlikely Union’, written by Paul Moses,” says DeMarco. “He goes into the whole story about Italians and Irish in New York, and how they did and didn’t get along. My whole family consists of those kinds of relations and marriages.”
In many, if not most cases, the Catholic church was the common denominator. Italians and Irish were both Catholic, and they settled in the same neighborhoods. “So the dominant nationalities were Italian and Irish and they married a lot, and I’m a product of that,” DeMarco says. “So we had Irish music and good Italian food.” In DeMarco’s estimation, it was the best of both worlds.
The musicians of Jamison are motoring noisily through sound check at Curran’s Tacony on a steamy Friday night, getting ready to begin their show. Off in a corner that is only marginally quieter than the rest of the area around the bar is the band’s fiddler Alice Marie Quirk, the humidity making her long curly hair even curlier.
She has just arrived from a 4thof July gig at a retirement community—a pretty fair indication of how busy and versatile she is. Her sound check is just a few minutes away, but for now she is taking a few moments to tell her story—how she made the transition from classical viola to fiddle in a Celtic rock band.
It’s an incomplete transition because classical music remains an important part of her life, but for some time she has been a fixture on the Philly paddy rock scene.
Quirk—who just goes by the name “Alice Marie” because people tended to mistake “Quirk” for names like “Kirk” and unfailingly mispronounce it—has come a long way from her Bachelor of Arts degree in music, with a minor in theology, from Immaculata University and her teaching certification from Eastern. (She also taught music for a time in the Philadelphia School District.)
The world of Irish music and dance is mourning the passing of the supremely gifted fiddler Eugene O’Donnell. News of his death came Friday, June 28, from his longtime musical partner, multi-instrumentalist and folklorist Mick Moloney.
In the Philadelphia area, he is best known for that partnership. He was also a founding member of the Philadelphia Ceili Group.
As a fiddler, he was renowned for his mastery of slow airs—although he certainly had a broad repertoire—but for many in this region, he was also known as one of the greatest step dancers ever to have taken to the floor.
According to Compass Records, for which he recorded, O’Donnell “began Irish dancing at the age of three and was the first Irish dancer ever to dance on television in London at the age of 12, all the while playing and perfecting Derry-style Irish fiddling. As a teen, O’Donnell won an unprecedented five consecutive All-Ireland dancing championships.”
O’Donnell arrived in Philadelphia from Derry in 1957. From there, it didn’t take long for him to begin sharing his many gifts.
Many recall him for his superb musical skills, but they also remember him as one of the finest, most inventive, and occasionally the most exacting of dance instructors.