It’s where to go when Derek Warfield & The Young Wolfe Tones host a live online concert, where local Irish musicians publicize upcoming gigs—or post their availability for new ones—and where you can hear a vintage recording of the Chieftains playing “The Foggy Dew.”
And a whole lot more.
It’s The Great Irish Songbook, a group page on Facebook, and if you want to join in the fun, you can.
The page is the brainchild of Bill Donahue, Jr., front man for The Shantys—and who better? He’s been playing Irish music since 1999. He grew up in a household heavily influenced by the musical preferences of his Derry-born grandfather and his mother, from Dublin. He’s been hearing rebel tunes practically from the cradle.
He’s been a musician since 1999, starting in a Pogues cover band. At an early age, he started taking tin whistle lessons. They didn’t take at the time—he wasn’t very good at it, he admits—but later on in life he picked it up again, and now it’s one of his principal musical instruments.
When The Shantys take to the stage Sunday afternoon for a show at the Fainting Goat in Glenolden, Delaware County, they’ll be missing a longtime friend who tapped out the rhythm for all their tunes.
William E. “Bill” Whitman, Jr., of Ridley Park, who played a mean bodhrán—the traditional Irish frame drum—died at the age of 70 on Good Friday, sending shock waves throughout the Delaware Valley’s Irish community. Local musicians knew him. He sat in with all the bands. He made frequent appearances at traditional Irish music sessions. He was well-known throughout the pubs and clubs where that music was played, from Northeast Philly to the Jersey Shore.
But his influence and friendship extended well beyond the musical community. He was a longtime marshal for the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade, a member of Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 87 in Port Richmond, a volunteer for Irish festivals and many other events, a member of The Mayo Association of Philadelphia, and a frequent visitor to the Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center (the Irish Center). In 2020, Whitman was named a member of the parade’s Ring of Honor—and quite the honor it was for a truly humble man.
Whitman grew up in the Swampoodle neighborhood, at one time an Irish hotbed in the city of North Philadelphia, and around here you can hardly be more pedigreed than that. He was a proud graduate of Roman Catholic High School.
Seamus Kelleher, the multitalented guitarist-singer-songwriter and alum of the celebrated band Blackthorn, has struggled with depression and anxiety for decades. When he was 20, he spent five weeks in a psychiatric hospital.
During that time, when he was living in his hometown of Galway, he recalls going into his kitchen, pulling out a bread knife and holding it to his wrist.
“This is a very clear memory,” he says, “I was incredibly depressed. I was suicidal. I had no intention of doing it then, right? None. But that was my insurance policy. If it didn’t get better, I could end it. And that was at 20 years of age. I had my whole life ahead of me, great rock and roll bands. On the surface, I had everything. But for me, if the pain got any worse, that was my exit strategy.”
Kelleher says he entertained thoughts of suicide again, about seven or eight years ago, but he was extremely fortunate to have been surrounded by people who recognized that he was in bad shape and steered him in the direction of the help he so badly needed.
Paddy McStravog, 26, a member of Na Toraidhe Hurling Club and the Kevin Barry Gaelic Football Club, is awaiting a third surgery on his badly injured left leg following a motor vehicle accident on Kelly Drive near Falls Bridge on December 30. McStravog, who resides in Manayunk, is from Dungannon, County Tyrone. He arrived in the United States in March 2019.
Driver Paul Young, 35, of Mitchelstown, County Cork, and passenger Scott Ball, 36, did not survive the crash.
McStravog, a bricklayer by trade, is in Penn Presbyterian Hospital. He underwent 10 hours of surgery to repair injuries to his ankle and lower leg immediately following the accident. “He had gone in for a second surgery, but they didn’t complete that because his leg was too swollen,” says Katrina Terry, club secretary for Na Toraidhe.
With COVID-19 still very much an issue and a city moratorium on large gatherings in effect, the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day 250th parade is postponed until next March.
But fear not—you’ll probably be able to get your parade fix, at least in a little way.
The Philly parade was the first major event to be canceled in the city last year when the pandemic first started to take root. It was a major disappointment, but completely understandable. Making the same call this year also made sense, says Michael J. Bradley, Jr., a member of the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association’s executive committee and parade director from 2002 to 2019.
Grange, County Armagh, native Sean Hughes is in a medically induced coma in a Delaware hospital after suffering a severe head injury in a job site accident.
Hughes, a resident of Drexel Hill for the past five years, is a member and player of the Young Irelands Gaelic Football Club. Now, members of that tightknit community—and for that matter, hundreds of people from literally everywhere—are coming to the aid of Hughes, his wife Emily O’Neill and son Sean, 2 years old.
An online fund drive sponsored by the Young Irelands thus far has raised close to $70,000 in financial assistance for the family in just a few days.
No one expected the campaign to have a global reach.
The beloved community organizer, poet and peacemaker Monsignor Michael Doyle, native of Rossduff, County Longford, Ireland, is regarded by many as a living saint, though he would dispute such a thing.
To those admirers, Doyle is the life force behind “Heart of Camden,” the multifaceted nonprofit launched in 1984 and responsible for resurrecting the Waterfront South neighborhood in the beleaguered New Jersey city across the Delaware from Philadelphia.
Retired recently after 40 years as pastor of Sacred Heart Church on Ferry Avenue, Doyle’s contributions to that community are manifold, including rehabilitating well over 200 abandoned homes sold to low-income families. He is also the driving force behind the acclaimed Sacred Heart School, which brings hope to children throughout the neighborhood. He established a free clinic—and, really, all of that is just scratching the surface of a life filled with and motivated by a passionate desire for justice and a longstanding commitment to the fight against the cancer of racism.
Now, a recently released 42-minute documentary shines a new light on Doyle’s life and legacy. Taking its cue from Doyle’s creation, it is called “The Heart of Camden: The Story of Father Michael Doyle,” produced by filmmaker Doug Clayton and narrated by acclaimed actor Martin Sheen, a longtime admirer.
Former President Bill Clinton described the late John Hume as “the Irish conflict’s Martin Luther King.”
A native of Derry, a founder of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and co-recipient with David Trimble of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, Hume is remembered as a determined driving force behind the Northern Ireland peace process, leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.
Hume died August 3. His contribution to the cause of peace in Northern Ireland will be commemorated October 22 in a Zoom-based event sponsored by St. Joseph’s University’s Irish Studies and the English Department. The presentation features a screening of “John Hume in America,” followed by a Q and A with the film’s director, Maurice Fitzpatrick, with an introductory lecture by Nicole McClure, Ph.D. of Kutztown University, “Visualizing Truth, Seeing Empathy: Documentary Films, the Troubles and the Peace Process.”
The first official event for the fledgling Irish Studies program, it was scheduled to take place in early April. Then the pandemic hit and the event was canceled, necessitating the move to online later on.