Frank Daly and his band Jamison Celtic Rock were on tour in Florida when the novel coronavirus first began to hit home.
“We had done the Cape Coral Festival the first weekend in March, and then a few of the guys flew back home,” Daly recalls. “Alice Marie (the band’s fiddler), Kyle Walter (drummer) and I stayed the week, and then we were going to play the St. Augustine festival the following weekend. The other three guys were going to fly back down for that weekend. And we were hearing stuff from people back in Philly that things were going to get bad and they might shut things down—and there might be a quarantine. And you know, we’re down there in Florida and on the beaches and playing gigs in Fort Lauderdale, where there was literally no mention of it at all.”
Then came word that the St. Augustine festival was off. That, Daly says, was a blow because it would have been the first time Jamison had performed there, and they were really looking forward to it. “It was kind of a smack in the face,” he says. “Like, this was real.”
The coronavirus pandemic has cost a lot of people their jobs and, therefore, their income. That’s had an impact on everything from mortgage and rent payments, utilities and loans to one extremely essential item: food.
People who never before needed to take advantage of the help of others suddenly find themselves struggling to keep their families fed.
Locally, the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick has long been known for its charitable endeavors. Now, they’ve established a Covid-19 relief fund, available to local Irish and Irish-American families fighting to keep body and soul together.
Friendly Sons President Ryan M. Heenan explains.
“Typically, our benevolence budget includes a lot of scholarships to local universities to help students travel to Ireland and things like that,” Heenan says, “but it became pretty apparent that a lot of those travel plans are going to be pretty restricted or canceled this year. So we made a conscious effort to dedicate those funds and continue to fund-raise toward the goal of food assistance.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but nurses and other health care professionals are working hard, often to the point of mental and physical exhaustion, putting their own health at risk, as they do battle on the front lines of a coronavirus war.
There’s probably not a person who doesn’t appreciate their sacrifice and professionalism, but Lorilee Stearn, events manager for Paddy Whacks in Northeast Philly, is putting her appreciation into action.
Together with her family members—her husband, brother and three kids—she is putting together care packages for area nurses. Stearn, a local representative for a national health and wellness products firm, Arbonne, is putting together the ingredients for a refreshing respite, including energy and electrolyte hydration powders, packaged in little tubes, along with protein powder packs and protein bars. They seal them up in gallon-sized plastic bags, and they make them available to nurses from the surrounding area. Institutions so far include Pennsylvania Hospital, Jefferson-Torresdale, Cooper Echo Lab, Jefferson-Bucks, and the Philadelphia Industrial Correction Center.
Health care providers everywhere face a shortage of personal protective equipment—including masks.
A lot of people are stepping in to fill the breach with homemade masks, including Laurie McGarrity of Havertown, owner of The Hearth, a popular Irish eatery opened only six months ago.
She became aware of the dire need through contacts on social media, including a lot of nurses. McGarrity is a longtime crafter, so responding to the need was right up her alley.
“A lot of my nurse friends said on social media that they are reusing their masks, or they were running low,” McGarrity says. “So for me it was one of those things where, if you’re able to do it and you’re home anyway, you might as well help. I had all the supplies here, so I just figured I’d chip in and do whatever I could.”
Using patterns she found on the internet, McGarrity began sewing the masks early this week in a variety of brightly colored cotton re-washable fabric. The patterns were published by a health organization. Some masks are big enough to cover the preferred N95 masks, and others are smaller to fit the faces of nurses and other providers who have no masks at all.
Celtic Woman was scheduled to perform in Philadelphia toward the end of this month, but then—well, you know what happened. With the onset of the novel coronavirus, the tour was canceled, and so went our latest chance to take in one of the biggest and longest-lasting groups in world Irish entertainment.
Fortunately, we now have a new CW album: “Celebration: 15 Years of Music & Magic,” featuring the 15 performers who have comprised Celtic Woman over the years.
We recently interviewed Máiréad Carlin, a seven-year member of Celtic Woman from Northern Ireland, about the abrupt end to the tour, but—more to the point—the new album’s capacity for comfort in trying times.
Irish Philly: We were looking forward to seeing you in Philadelphia. Quite a disappointment, but understandable circumstances, I’m sure.
Máiréad: Absolutely. I mean, my goodness, I think it was a shock for everybody. The news trickled through the world. I think over the few weeks that we were out there and we genuinely didn’t realize the magnitude of what was about to come. And we really only find out ourselves the day before we announced that we were going to go home and have to postpone the tour. It was such a disappointment because for us, this is a celebration.
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.”
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.
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.