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Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

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Wren Party 2018

The Philadelphia-Delaware Valley chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (translation: Gathering of Musicians in Ireland) carried on a long tradition Wednesday night, holding its 19th annual Wren Party.

The event commemorates the Irish custom of the Wren Boys—ragtag bands of townsmen in motley attire who went door to door playing tunes, dancing and singing songs, all in hopes of collecting money for a community party or dance.

In the early days, they mounted a dead wren on a stick. December 26 is the feast of early Christian martyr St. Stephen, whose hiding place in a bush was given away by the chattering of a wren. Or so legend has it. Hence, the sacrifice of one of those small birds.

That grisly last part of the tradition faded away—thank goodness—a long time ago.

The local Comhaltas chapter commemorated the feast of St. Stephen with a big party at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Glenside, with lots of traditional Irish music, dance, holiday treats—and a wren hat parade.

We have pictures from the night’s merriment. Check them out.

Dance, Music

Come to the Wren Party!

Legend has it that it was the chattering of a wren who gave away St. Stephen’s hiding place in a bush, leading to his murder and martyrdom.

Fast forward several centuries to the Emerald Isle, where the so-called “wren boys” commemorated the feast day of St. Stephen—December 26—singing, playing music and dancing in exchange for applause and money to be collected for a party or dance for their village. They performed in colorful clothing and masks.

In the early days, they actually hunted for a wren, killed it and mounted it atop a stick. Thankfully, these days, the tradition continues, but with no avian casualties—a fake wren will do. Continue Reading

Music

Help Three Talented Kids Get to Ireland

Haley Richardson isn't shy about performing.

Haley Richardson isn't shy about performing.

Saturday probably won’t be much of a beach day. The weather man predicts thunderstorms.

Looking for a way to salvage the first half of your all-too-short weekend? Head on over to the MacSwiney Club in Jenkintown, slip into your dancing shoes and create a little thunder of your own.

The Irish music and culture group Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (just say COAL-tus for short, and you’ll be close enough) is going to pound out Irish tunes from 7 to 11 at its Summer Social Evening, and you can dance till your feet cry “uncle.” Best of all, your ten bucks will also help support three of CCE’s youngest and most talented members as they prepare to compete in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil (music festival) in County Cavan in August.

CCE’s Cass Tinney, who is helping to organize the night of music, dance, food and fun, says two of the kids—fiddlers Haley Richardson and Alexander Weir—will be in North Carolina at a kind of fiddle camp as a tune-up for the Fleadh, so they won’t be able to attend. Haley won for solo fiddle and Alexander, for slow airs, in the 6- to 12-year-old group at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Fleadh in Pearl River, N.Y. However, harper Emily Safko—who won solo harp in the 6-12 group—will be there to pluck out some tunes.

“We usually have our social in the spring,” says Tinney. “But every date we picked out, something else came up. So we decided to do it in the summer, and then we thought: Why not do it for the kids?”

Why not, indeed. John Shields will be spinning the tunes (do we say “spin” anymore?) and presiding over the dancing. If John Shields can’t get you off your tush, no one can. CCE will also be providing snacks, but is asking folks to bring some of their own. You can also sidle up to the bar, or teetotal along with coffee and tea.

Tinney recognizes that a summer night can hold many other attractions. And lately, the weather has been challenging. But she hopes that people won’t pass up the opportunity to help out three nice kids.

“It can be a bad time of year,” she says. “It’s ungodly hot. People are on vacation. We’re just going to hold it and hope for the best.”

The MacSwiney Club is at Greenwood Avenue and Walnut Street in Jenkintown. Come and dance, Tinney says. Or sing, if you’ve a mind to. But by all means, come out and support the future of Irish music in the Delaware Valley.

News, People

Fly to the Wren Party

OK, so St. Stephen is hiding in a bush, trying to elude early Christian haters. Suddenly, a tiny wren alights on the bush and immediately begins making an enormous birdy racket. Thanks to the wren, the Christian haters figure out where St. Stephen is hiding. They yank him out from the bush and stone him to death.

Fast forward hundreds of years to the Emerald Isle. Every year, on the feast of St. Stephen (the day after Christmas), local guys track down and kill a wren and mount him on a stick, parading his poor carcass about town. The wren boys, they’re called, and you can tell they’re wren boys because they’re dressed in funny costumes, and they sing and they dance. They beg for drinks, food and spare change. This becomes a happy little tradition.

The idea of the wren boys still exists in Ireland, although—thankfully—no one slaughters little birds any more. And a variation on the legend lives on locally in a fun-filled and completely avian-free evening at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Limekiln Pike in Glenside.

It’s the 10th annual Wren Party, and it is sponsored by the Delaware Valley chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (translation: Gathering of Musicians in Ireland). Comhaltas (pronounced coal-tuss) is dedicated to the perpetuation of Irish music, dance and culture. It’s a party worthy of the Comhaltas mission, featuring live traditional Irish music, set and ceili dance—even a contest for best wren boy hat.

“We’re asking people to put together a hat and join our wren boys parade,” says Jackie Kelly, the local Comhaltas public relations officer who, with Cass Tinney, runs the post-Christmas event. “Every child who enters the parade gets a prize.”

The hat parade is just one of the many activities geared for children. There’s also a puppet show.

But at its core, the Wren Party is about music and dance. Well-known local musician Kevin McGillian and friends set a lively pace, and they do it all for free. There will also be a performance by Haley Richardson, a young New Jersey fiddler who at 6 years old placed first in the 12-and-under category at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil (music festival) at Pearl River, N.Y., last spring. She’ll knock your socks off.

If you love dance, you’ll stay on your feet most of the night. Wear comfy shoes.

And if you like to watch dance, you’ll get to do that, too, as the Timoney and Gibson schools put on a great exhibition.

“Its a nice night of fun and good craic,” says Kelly. “It’s our biggest event all year. We get a great turnout. People just love it. We first started at the MacSwiney Club in Jenkintown, but we outgrew it. The Knights of Columbus Hall is a much larger venue.”

For Kelly (nee Marano), it’s a great way to pass tradition along to the younger generation. “My last name is Kelly, but I’m a hundred percent Italian. But I’ve become totally immersed in this culture. I’ve been to Ireland 19 times. We keep the old tradition alive and that’s a good thing for young kids to see.”

The party starts on Saturday night, December 26, at 7 p.m. The Knights of Columbus Hall is at 235 Limekiln Pike in Glenside. It costs $10 per person. Bring a dessert, too.

People

2008 Wren Party

Patrick Glennan, 8, concentrates intently on his fiddle playing.

Patrick Glennan, 8, concentrates intently on his fiddle playing.

Some of you probably already know how the Irish traditionally celebrated the feast of St. Stephen—December 26. Roving groups of boys would chase and kill a wren, said to be symbolic of the old year, and parade its tiny feathery corpse through the streets on a stick. They’d stop at houses along the way and beg for “a penny to bury the wren.” (A bit of food and drink, too? Sure, they wouldn’t turn that down, either.)

This was thought to be great fun. No one asked the wren.

Well, thankfully, this bloodthirsty little tradition today is observed only symbolically—as with the annual Wren Party sponsored by the local branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, an Irish music and cultural organization, The event was held at the Glenside Knights of Columbus Hall, with much music, dance, food and fellowship.

Music

You Know How to Learn Irish Music, Don’t You?

You’ve gone to the local traditional Irish music sessions and you’ve watched all the musicians plucking away on guitar or tootling on a whistle or flute. And you’ve surely said to yourself: “I really wanna do that!” 

Hey … now you can!

The Delaware Valley Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann will be sponsoring a 10-week series of classes in traditional Irish music at the Philadelphia Irish Center starting Wednesday, September 17.

Here’s the class schedule:

6:30 p.m. – Beginner/intermediate tin whistle and flute
7:15 p.m.- Intermediate/advanced tin whistle and flute
8:00 p.m.- DADGAD (a kind of tuning) guitar accompaniment of traditional Irish dance tunes

Don’t have a whistle? You can buy one at the first class.

The class costs $70 if you’re a member of CCE, and $110 if you aren’t. If two family members hold membership in CCE-DV and are taking classes, the cost is $60 each. If three or more family members are taking classes, the cost is $50 each.

If two or more classes are taken, the cost is $60 per class for CCE members.)

Please bring completed registration forms with you. Forms are available for printing at:

http://www.cce-dv.org/cce/registration.htm

Membership to Comhaltas (or renewal) will be accepted at time of registration. For additional information, please contact Dennis Gormley at (856) 795-7637, or e-mail: gormley@hslc.org

CCE-DV also will be sponsoring classes in the Irish language. Contact Poilin Ni Dhuill at (215) 233-2450. Also, Terry Kane will teach Irish singing. Contact Terry at (215) 541-0282).