Pearse Kerr has all the qualities of a great storyteller: pace and timing; a skill for voices and dialects; a ready laugh that shakes a room.
But most of all, he has stories.
They’re the stories of a young boy who witnessed his first violent death when he was 12 and living in Belfast. He and his family were leaving his grandmother’s house when they saw a British Army foot patrol approaching up the road. In Belfast in the 1970s, it wasn’t an unusual sight. “We were watching them,” he says, “when someone jumped out at them with a handgun and shot one in the back of the head.”
This was life during “The Troubles.”
Known fondly to many as the “dancing nun,” Sister James Anne, IHM, born Nancy Feerick, is the daughter of Irish immigrants Anne (Caulfield) and James Feerick. She started Irish dancing when she was 7, studying with Sean Lavery School of Irish Dance in West Philadelphia for more than 10 years. She also played the violin, performing on the Will Regan’s Irish Hours, a long-running radio show that debuted before World War II on Philadelphia’s WDAS station. She also served as secretary of the old Irish Musicians Union in Southwest Philadelphia for two years.
Her home was always filled with music, recalls Helen DeGrand, who first convinced Sister James Anne to join the Mayo Association of Philadelphia, where Sister James Anne has served as chaplain for 20 years. “When I first came to this country from Ireland in 1968, some of the first people I met were the Feericks” says Mrs. DeGrand. “They were the party people. She was in the convent then, but [her brother] Jim would be playing the piano and [her brother] Mike would be playing the fiddle. We used to go to the Shamrock Club every weekend and we always saw them at some point.”
Sister Frances Kirk, SSJ, third from right
On Sunday, November 18, 2018, when Sister Frances Kirk, SSJ, is honored by the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, it will be for a lifetime devoted to education and service. But it was as chairperson and organizer of Project Children for over 30 years that she was able to make an extraordinary impact on the lives of thousands of children in both the United States and Ireland.
Born in 1932 in Northeast Philadelphia to parents Frank Joseph Kirk and Elizabeth Rose “Lizzie” Falls, who had come over from County Tyrone in the early 1920s, Sister Frances has always embraced her Irish heritage. Nine of the 14 siblings in her mother’s family left their village of Glenelly Valley to make Philadelphia their home, but they kept in close touch with the ones who stayed behind. “Letters, letters, letters,” Sister Frances explained. “And money, money, money. Every letter had to have a five pound note in it. There was no money at home.”
The oldest of the five siblings in her own family, Sister Frances came to the convent at age 19. Though she took a year off after graduating high school to work, she had no doubt that her life would be devoted to the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Those were words spoken to Denise Foley—in a good way!—back in 2015 in the middle of her dedicated campaign on the Irish Philadelphia Facebook page to raise money for the Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center in Mount Airy. The Irish Center was looking at thousands of dollars in repairs and back taxes, and as part of the group that had come together to make sure the doors of the center didn’t close, Denise was going to make sure they succeeded.
And succeed they did, raising over $83,000. For Denise, the triumph was as much in how they did it as in the fact that they did it. “This was another case where it was just a great group of people. Everybody did everything they could, everybody was 100 percent behind raising this money. And this was hundreds of people giving $10, $20 … all these people working together for something.”
Chris Brennan Hagy is one of the area’s best-known Irish fiddlers. She is devoted to teaching, retaining and sharing the tradition, and a longtime fixture at area Irish music sessions—including the Mermaid Inn in Chestnut Hill, where she is the leader.
You might think she came by her love of Irish fiddling naturally.
On the one hand, it seems like it was preordained. Music has always played a part in her life, dating back to her childhood on Long Island.
The Eagles are squaring off against the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London this Sunday. Here’s hoping the Birds warm to the challenge.
If you’re planning on watching the game in Delaware County when it airs at 9:30 a.m., you can catch the game, snag a great breakfast, and help keep some of the county’s neediest stay warm this winter in the process.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians Dennis Kelly Division No. 1 of Havertown is hosting a benefit for their home heating program at Hanrahan’s Irish Pub, 690 Burmont Road in Drexel Hill. Doors open at 8 a.m. There’s no charge to get into the pub, but there is a great breakfast buffet to be had for just $12, which includes your first Mimosa or Bloody Mary. The division gets a cut, which will be devoted to the home heating program, according to organizer and division board member Jim McCusker. Tickets for the buffet can be bought at the door.
The Donegal Ball has its Mary from Dungloe.
The Mayo Ball has its Miss Mayo.
Philadelphia’s Sons and Daughters of Derry just might have their Frankenstein. Or Dracula. Or any number of attendees in full Halloween regalia.
It’s no coincidence that the Derry Society has chosen to have a Halloween Ball and Costume Contest, scheduled for October 27 at 8 p.m. at the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center—aka the Irish Center.
Author, journalist and broadcaster Jude Collins visited the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center in Philadelphia Sunday to give a talk on his new book, Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew (Mercier Press).
The book is a collection of interviews with prominent figures in recent Northern Irish history, all reflecting on the late Martin McGuinness, prominent Irish republican Sinn Féin politician, a warrior turned peacemaker, who became deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
McGuiness died in 2017.
Among those interviewed are prominent unionists, including Eileen Paisley (widow of Ian Paisley), Michael McGimpsey and John McAllister, peace talks chairman U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, and friends and allies such as Gerry Adams and Martina Anderson.
Was McGuinness, as some thought, a terrorist who somehow became a different man? Or was he, as others believed, always the same man—a man who never wavered in his pursuit of the same goal but who, when the time came, simply embraced a new approach?
Collins digs deep to find the answers to this and many other questions. He sat with us for a brief interview preceding his talk.
Here’s what he had to say.