Browsing Category

People

People

Behind the Bar: The Black Taxi’s Neil Mac Thiarnáin

There’s a lot to know.

First off, his last name is pronounced “McKernan,” and he’s from Ardboe, County Tyrone.

Second, he’s been working in the bar business for a long while.

“When I was 13, 14 years old, my dad had a bar, Duff’s Corner,” he says. “That was in Ardboe. I’m 30 now.”

He actually started tending bar when he was 15 or 16 years old. “Straight into the fire, man,” he says. “I was helping out at first, but I started pulling shifts on my own when I was maybe 16.”

Third, he’s an accomplished musician.

“I’ve been playing in bands since I was 14,” Mac Thiarnáin says. “I used to play drums with Ray Coleman. He was the singer. He and I used to play in bands with my two cousins, and we played in the student bar in Belfast, The Hatfield. We used to play there on a Wednesday night. Then he moved here (Philadelphia). I was at university in Belfast at the time, and I learned guitar. Then I formed a band with a friend of mine and three young girls. We had fiddle, tin whistle, guitar and bodhrán. We used to back some of the bigger bands at home. We played the student bars.” Continue Reading

People

Center Stage at Villanova: President Rev. Peter M. Donohue

The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, never had any burning desire to become president of Villanova University. Formerly head of the university’s theater department and an award-winning director, he now says with a laugh, “I like to say they found me backstage and brought me out on stage to be president. It’s been the biggest acting job I’ve ever had.”

Father Donohue has been the university president since 2006. Since then, he has overseen a period of remarkable growth and transformation on the Lancaster Avenue campus in the heart of the Main Line, the product of two sweeping strategic plans. And he’s left his mark not just in the form of brick and mortar, but also on the curriculum, which places a solid emphasis on service learning.

Impressive for a reluctant aspirant to the topmost leadership position of one of the nation’s most prestigious Catholic universities.

Looking back on his ascent to the presidency, he recalls his initial response.

“Run. Run in the other direction,” he says, with characteristic wry, self-deprecating humor. “I was not really thinking about it at the time. I liked what I was doing. I enjoyed my work. I missed teaching a lot, and I still do, to this day. But my predecessor decided after 18 years to step out of the job, and it was advertised throughout the Augustinians that they were looking for a new president. Our superior, our provincial, was requesting names.”

Initially, Father Donohue’s was not one of those names. But one day an Augustinian friend asked him whether he had applied. The answer: No. But the friend persisted. Continue Reading

Dance, People

Soul Sisters, With a History of Accomplishment

Regan Sweeney and Olivia Lisowski finish each other’s sentences. They’re a font of shared experiences, with a deep love of Irish dance, music and culture.

And one more thing: family.

“Our families are very close, ever since we were little,” says Regan. “We’ve done everything together—more siblings than cousins. And we’re lucky to have that because she (Olivia) lives in Havertown, I live in Malvern, and we just do a lot of the same things together. Since our moms (Sheila McGrory Sweeney and Maureen Heather Lisowski) are sisters, they’ve really instilled in us the idea that family is important.”

They also share each other’s victories. For Regan, a member of the McDade-Cara School of Irish Dance, it was a 1st place finish for her Loyola University Maryland Irish dance team at the Southern Region Oireachtas in the college ceili competition. The week before, she finished 17th in her solo competition at the Mid-Atlantic Oireachtas in Philadelphia.

For Olivia, a sophomore at West Chester University, it was being crowned Mary from Dungloe by the Donegal Association of Philadelphia. The college ceili competition and Mary from Dungloe happened on the same night in early December. Continue Reading

Dance, People

A Dream Come True for Riverdance Lead Anna Mai Fitzpatrick

You might say Anna Mai Fitzpatrick’s role as a lead dancer in the U.S. touring company of Riverdance was preordained.

When Anna Mai was 3, her mother Sharon saw Riverdance on television in one of the show’s earlier incarnations and signed her up for Irish dance lessons in her local primary school.

Not everyone who begins Irish dance carries it much beyond adolescence, but for Fitzpatrick all those jigs and reels evolved into a passion that carries on today into her 20s.

Along the way, she won a third place in the under-19 category at the World Irish Dancing Championships—no mean feat—and came out on top in the Great Britain Championships and the British Nationals, among other honors. Continue Reading

People

Bringing People Together One Event at a Time

Proud Irish-American Ray Sheehan is something of a party animal, and yes, it’s fun, but it’s also a serious business.

Sheehan is a partner at UpcomingEvents.com, a Philadelphia-based event company. The company is responsible for producing and promoting a wide variety of events in the Delaware Valley area and beyond. Some examples: the recent Taste of Philly culinary sampling experience in the Wanamaker Building’s Crystal Tea Room, and upcoming events like the New Year’s Eve Buffet & Fireworks Family Celebration at the Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing.

The company has also produced some very large-scale events throughout the nation, including big-ticket items at Major League ballparks.

UpcomingEvents.com also publicizes other, smaller-scale events, such as the recent Celtic Christmas in Bensalem.

Sheehan’s interest in event promotion all started about 20 years ago, when he was going to school at Temple’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.

“I was just a promoter,” he says. “We were doing events in bars and restaurants. I was a D.J. We were just getting the attention of these bars and restaurants by just throwing parties.” Continue Reading

People

“I Want to Show People That I’m Proud to be from Mayo”

Tara Regan is a remarkable young woman.

Start with her course of study at Bloomsburg University: social work, with minors in political science and American Sign Language (ASL). She’s always wanted to be in a helping profession. The ASL makes her valuable to a particular client population and the political side of things, she believes, will make her more effective in dealing with the policy side of being a social worker. Too, her cousin is Second District U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle. “On the 4th of July and such, we would always talk politics,” she says. “I would be 12 years old, telling him what I think.”

Look back, too, on her time playing the rough and tumble Irish sports of hurling and camogie with the Glenside Gaelic Club and the Philadelphia Shamrocks. She’s also played field hockey since she was 9—and she continues to play intramural field hockey at Bloomsburg. She also performed in plays at Bishop McDevitt High School. “I always loved acting and theater. I’m really big into Broadway. I love Broadway shows.”

Finally, though, catch a glimpse of the small round white sensor on her arm, and when you hear the story behind it, you’ll understand one reason why Tara Regan, 19, of Glenside, is the new Miss Mayo. Continue Reading

News, People, Photo Essays, Photos

A Look Back at the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame Dinner 2019

The Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame held its 2019 Dinner this past Sunday night, honoring four well-respected representatives of the local Irish community. They included: Judge Patrick Dugan and Sister Marguerite O’Beirne, OSF, with a Commodore John Barry Award presented to Russell W. Wylie. The beloved Liam Hegarty, of Gaelic Athletic Association Fame—and so much more—was honored posthumously.

About 400 friends and relatives of the honorees filled the Philadelphia Irish Center ballroom wall to wall. All told, one of the best DVIHOF celebrations ever. Standing O’s all-round. Continue Reading

Music, People

No Strings Attached: An Outpouring of Generosity for John Byrne Band Cellist Maura Dwyer

It was the first of November, the night the John Byrne Band hosted a release party for Byrne’s new CD, “A Shiver in the Sky,” at World Café Live.

Maura Dwyer, who plays both fiddle and cello for the band, had just gone offstage to the green room to warm up the violin. Before she did that, she had propped the cello up in a corner, which, she says, is usually a stable position. Suddenly, she heard the sound of guitarist Andy Keenan crying out in alarm onstage. That was followed by a resounding bang.

Long story short: Dwyer’s cello had tumbled off stage, breaking in two pieces.

John Byrne, who was also offstage, has a pretty fair idea how it happened.

“We were sound checking the drums,” Byrne explains. “I guess the vibrations from the kick drum (the bass drum) somehow did it. The cello went right off the stage. Nobody was even near it. None of us could believe it.” Continue Reading