Rosaleen McGill has been volunteering for the Philadelphia Ceili Group Traditional Music & Dance Festival since she was 8 or 9 years old. “It was a great tradition in which to grow up. It felt like being raised by a village. And people were always excited to tell me about their instrument or try to teach me a few words of Gaelic or how to make a St. Brigid’s Cross. There was always so much to get involved in and a beautiful range of ages.”
Now, here she is in her early 30s, and it never gets tired. Obviously not, because she’s on the board of the Ceili Group.
Just as obviously, the festival holds an incredible amount of appeal for her—and, she suggests, that’s as it should be, not just for her, but for anyone even the least bit interested in their Irish heritage and culture.
This year’s festival is certainly no exception.
“It’s a unique showcase of Irish culture,” McGill says. “It’s nice to have a culture all your own to dive deep into and examine the traditions and language and stories and the instruments that we have created, and not just celebrate the history, but all facets.”
Yes, there are kilts—in at least one case, obligatory. Sure, there’s ax throwing, bagpipes, a kilted fun run, and highland games. But Kilt Fest, coming to Bucks County June 7 and 8, is really a mishmash of all Celtic culture.
Kilt Fest on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware is an offshoot of a festival by the same name held in New Jersey. This will be the first year here in the Philadelphia suburbs, at the Trifecta Sporting Club, 4666 East Bristol Road, Feasterville-Trevose.
“Ours is more of a Celtic festival. We have Irish and Scots,” says organizer Chris Beyer, owner of American Highlander Kilts. “A lot of it is Irish. It’s easier to get Irish involved in these things. We try to keep it where it’s a little more all-inclusive.”
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Constance the Butterfly
From singers’ night last Thursday to Saturday’s smashing finale, a concert by the legendary Dé Danann, the 2012 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival was far and away one of the most popular and best attended ever.
Probably the best sign of success was the Saturday Dé Danann show, with opener, the uillean piper Paddy Keenan accompanied by Dé Danann bouzouki player Alec Finn. The Irish Center ballroom was as packed as it’s ever been, with a lot of late-arriving concert-goers going chairless. They didn’t seem to mind. Dé Danann, with the luminescent singer Eleanor Shanley belting out tunes, was incredibly sharp for a band that was formed at about the time the Pleistocene era was ending. OK, maybe not that long ago, but there sure was a lot of gray hair up onstage.
Earlier in the day, festival-goers had their choice of things to do, from face-painting with the kids to dancing lessons to musical workshops with the likes of Dé Danann iconic bodhran player Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh.
Sean Tyrrell’s one-man show, “Who Killed James Joyce,” was likewise well attended on Friday night.
We were there for most of it, and we have the pictures to prove it.
Check them out:
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Courtney Malley, with a portrait of her late father Frank
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since Dé Danann last graced the stage at the Philadelphia Ceili Group’s annual festival. Twenty-five years and a few personnel changes, to be exact.
But have no doubt that the version of Dé Danann that takes to the Philadelphia Irish Center stage Saturday night, September 8, at the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival is the genuine article. Founding members Alec Finn and Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh will be joined by past members Brian McGrath, Derek Hickey, Eleanor Shanley, and Mick Conneely.
Anne McNiff, secretary of the Philadelphia Ceili Group, expects an amazing night of music from the band, and from the opener, acclaimed uilleann piper Paddy Keenan, as well.
McNiff says Dé Danann’s appearance culminates the Ceili Group’s year-long series featuring music from the west of Ireland. “The band originally came from the Galway area, and that’s where they currently list themselves as being from,” McNiff says. “Also we wanted to pick a band that would be a grand finale for the music series. We thought the band would be popular, attracting Ceili Group members as well as others. Many people are familiar with the name Dé Danann, and revivals are all the rage right now.”
This particular revival won’t represent a radical departure from the sound the band is known for, says McNiff.
“At the core, they certainly have a sound that they’re known for. It’s the way the band plays with each other that makes them great.”
So that takes care of the festival finale, but there’s a whole lot of Irish music, dance and culture on the agenda in the days leading up to the Saturday night concert.
Thursday night (September 6) is singers night, dedicated to vocal music, and dedicated to the memory of the late Ceili Group leading light Frank Malley, who dearly loved songs. Look for performances by Rosaleen McGill, Matt Ward, Marian Makins, and others. The night is hosted by Gabriel Donohue.
Friday night (September 7), you’ll be able to dance to the music of the McGillians & Friends, or you can grab a chair in the cozy Fireside Room to take in a brilliant little one-man show, “Who Killed James Joyce,” by troubadour Sean Tyrrell. McNiff is looking forward to that performance.
“We have had Sean Tyrrell before. He is famous for these one-man shows. This is his latest, and he’ll be presenting not only works from Joyce, but other Irish poets as well. While it’s not a theatre piece, it has theatrical aspects to it. Sean’s shows very much incorporate the spoken word as much as the music. We really wanted to present something different in the Fireside Room, which is a smaller, more intimate venue. It’s more of a pub-like experience.”
Earlier in the day Saturday features a wide range of workshops, from Irish singing to the irish language. There will also be live music throughout the day, kiddie activities, vendors, and of course delicious food and drink.
You can find out more about the festival by visiting the Ceili Group website.