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People, Religion

Documentary Shines a Bright New Light on the “Heart of Camden”

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. Continue Reading

History, News, People

SJU Program Explores John Hume and the Northern Irish Peace Process

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. Continue Reading

Music, People

Musical Duo Mines Century-Old Irish Traditional Recordings for Modern-Day Gold

You might call Philly-native fiddler Caitlin Finley and uilleann piper/flutist Will Woodson a little old-fashioned.

Well, maybe a lot old-fashioned.

Now residing in Portland, Maine, the traditional Irish music duo has a deep affection for the tunes of Irish traditional music pioneers—from a century ago—and they want to share their fondness with other Irish musicians.

It’s called the Phonograph Project, an effort to dissect the playing of musicians such as famed fiddlers Michael Coleman, John McKenna and James Morrison. Much of their music was released on 78 RPM albums for the first time in the 1920s—and it is highly distinctive, dating back to when they themselves learned the tunes decades before in Ireland.

Finley, a medical physics assistant in radiation oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, is—like so many of us—now working remotely.

She and Woodson first got to know each other when both were living in New York City and playing in local pubs. “We really enjoyed playing music together and then lost touch for a couple of years,” says Finley. “Will, in the meantime, had moved up to Portland and I had moved up to Boston, and then we just wound up reconnecting through the music scene and started playing a bunch of music together again.”

Finley, for one, first became interested in the old recordings when she took lessons from the famed Brian Conway in New York. She was about 15 at the time. Conway and his sister Rose introduced her to a lot of the old tunes. “At that point,” she says, “I was pretty much hooked.” Continue Reading

Dance, Music, People

Keeping the Tradition Alive: The (Virtual) Ceili Group Festival

Devotees of traditional Irish music and culture look forward to the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival every year. It’s an exhaustive three-day affair, with concerts by world-class musicians, workshops, dance, crafts, and much more.

The festival always falls in early September, filling the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center (the Irish Center) in Mount Airy with eager and enthusiastic fans.

The coronavirus pandemic renders it impossible to converge on the Irish Center this year, of course. The center has been closed since March. All of which left the Ceili Group Festival in a state of flux. How could the festival possibly go on?

Easy—or perhaps not so easily—the festival will happen as planned, but virtually. And in some ways, this might be the biggest and most vibrant festival ever. Continue Reading

History, People

New Author Probes the Hidden Stories Behind “The Troubles”

Ryan Conner

Twentieth century Irish history is marked by political turmoil, starting with the birth of the Republic right on through to the long, violent period known simply as “The Troubles.”

Throughout his years at Council Rock High School, Ryan Conner, a recent graduate of William & Mary, absorbed a good deal of United States and world history—but the island’s turbulent recent history never showed up in the high school curriculum. So now, he is writing the book he wishes he had been given to study.

The book has a tentative title, subject to change to something more user-friendly before publication—“One Man, One Vote: Northern Ireland’s Civil Rights Movement 1963 to 1972”—and it is currently undergoing additional research and revisions.

Conner’s book traces its origins to an initiative called the Book Creators Program, run through the Creator Institute, and overseen by a professor at Georgetown University. He learned about it from a friend.

“It’s a very, very popular program,” Conner says. “I started the program and the first five or six months were dedicated to doing the research and creating a roughly 25,000-word draft. In my case, that required getting the first draft done by mid-June, which I did successfully. One of the benefits of the program is that the professor has a relationship with a publishing house called New Degree Press. Assuming the authors meet their checkpoints and deadlines, produce enough words of quality material, and take the standard amount of time for revision and editing, then there’s a path to publishing (through New Degree).” Continue Reading

News, People

For Irish Ex-Pats Unable to Return Home, the Next Best Thing to Being There

Above: chocolates from Marlene’s Chocolate Haven in Westport, County Mayo

Suppose for a moment that you are an Irish ex-pat living in Delaware County. Your mom and dad and all your other relatives and friends still live in Ireland. Because of coronavirus travel restrictions, you aren’t able to make it back home for a birthday, an anniversary, a wedding—or just your annual visit.

For all too many, it’s a heartbreak. Nothing completely makes up for that, but now you can let all those folks back home know you’re thinking of them—and you can help Irish businesses survive the pandemic as well.

It’s called the Ireland E-Commerce Diaspora Directory, put together by the Philadelphia-based consulting firm Littus—Latin for “seashore.”

“Littus is a company that developed out of work that I’d been doing in our accounting firm Maguire Hegarty, and another chap, Rob Rae, had been doing with his company, Columbus Business Partners,” says Paul Maguire, managing director of Littus. “The idea was to work with Irish companies that were looking to enter the U.S. marketplace. Our target companies are small- and medium-sized enterprises that we can provide ground coverage for in the United States. So we decided to formalize our informal arrangement into this company, Littus.” Continue Reading

Genealogy, History, People

In Memoriam: William Brennan

Above: William Brennan, left, and Sean McMenamin, point out some items of interest in the Irish Center’s library to Irish Ambassador Michael Collins.

Frank Hollingsworth, a board member of the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center, recalls a time when William Brennan was a guest at Villanova for a ceremony celebrating the digitization of the Commodore John Barry papers.

About 25 people were there, including the chairman of the board of Ireland’s County Wexford, Lori Dillard Rech, president of Independence Seaport Museum, and Villanova President Father Peter M. Donohue.

One by one, guests were invited up to the dais to give a brief talk about the historic event. When Brennan was asked to say a few words, Hollingsworth recalls, he stood up and offered these comments: “I think just about everything that can be said has been said. I don’t have anything additional.”

And then, Hollingsworth recalls with a chuckle, Brennan sat down.

Ironically, there was probably no one in the room who knew more about Barry than William “Billy” Brennan. His knowledge of Irish history, and in particular, the story of the Irish in Philadelphia, was encyclopedic, rivaling that of the late Dennis Clark. He was a keeper of the flame.

Brennan passed away July 28 at the age of 83. Continue Reading

News, People

Remembering Muriel Prickitt

Irish dancers and musicians will have no trouble remembering Muriel Prickitt, who passed away at age 87 on June 7 at Samaritan Hospice in Voorhees, N.J ., following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. She was simply everywhere and had a hand in virtually everything relating to Irish music and dance.

An exquisite set dancer and legendarily fast accordion player, this force of nature was known by all. She is mourned—and celebrated—by friends and relations almost past counting.

One of those who honors her memory is Gerry Buckley, of Ardagh in County Limerick, Ireland. Buckley was a founding member of the Delaware Valley chapter of Irish music, dance and cultural organization Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. In 1989, the newly wed Gerry and wife Fiona moved to Voorhees, N.J., where they met Muriel Prickitt through the set dance community.

“My wife was a set dancer before she moved over,” Buckley recalls. “She was looking for someplace where she could go set dancing, and she met Muriel and (Prickitt’s companion) Tom Quinn. I forget where they actually met, but they got to talking and Muriel mentioned that she was going for set dance lessons in Jenkintown. She said, ‘Why don’t you come along?’ and that was it.” Continue Reading