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Music, Dance, Workshops, Genealogy, Food and More: The 2019 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

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.” Continue Reading

Arts, Food & Drink, Music, Sports

Kilt Fest: An All-Inclusive Celtic Celebration

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.” Continue Reading

Dance, Music

A Look Back at the 2012 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

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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:

Dance, Music

Dazzling Lineup for the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

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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.

August 10, 2012 by

It’s Celtic Day Sunday in Bristol

Irish fun down by the river

Irish fun down by the river

Dave McGlynn was born and raised in Bristol Borough. As a kid, he remembers a longtime Irish section of the riverside town, known as “the Kettle.”

“The majority of the Irish who settled here helped build the Delaware Canal, which runs from Bristol to Easton. Most of it was dug by the Irish,” says McGlynn. Their neighborhood was called “the Kettle,” he says, because of all the Irish households where tea kettles were ever on the boil.

Today, Bristol Borough still boasts a vibrant Irish-American population—23.6 percent of the riverside town, according to 2009 Census figures. (The Italians are not far behind, at 22.6 percent.)

So it’s a good bet that Bristol’s 16th Celtic Festival would be a big draw, no matter what. The fact that it also pulls in Irish from throughout the Delaware pretty much guarantees a big turnout.

This year’s festival is on Sunday, from 1 to 8 p.m. in Lions Park, at the foot of friendly Mill Street, along the banks of the Delaware.

If you haven’t been before … go. The venue is among the most lovely of all the region’s Celtic-themes festivals. (Of which there are many.)

This year’s festival features nonstop music and dance, says organizer McGlynn, starting with Belfast Connection at 1, followed by the Celtic Martins family band, and the Fitzpatrick Irish Dancers. The fabulous Barley Boys close out the festivities with a concert from 6 to 8 p.m. Bring your dancing shoes.

There’s plenty of food and drink, of course, and many vendor tables … just in case you’ve worn out your Claddagh ring.

The day will be dedicated to the memory of longtime festival volunteer Bridget King.

“She was from Ireland,” says McGlynn. “She took care of all our merchandise vendors for years, then she came into bad health, and she past away this year. A good old-fashioned Irish woman, she was. You didn’t mess with Bridget. We called her the ‘Iron Lady’ of Celtic Day.”

Members of the Celtic Heritage Foundation have a lot to proud of. To find out why, pack up the car and spend the day along the river.

Arts, Dance, Music

A Festival of Videos

Dan Isaacson

Dan Isaacson in concert with his band Simple System.

A lot can happen in three days and nights.

And let’s be honest, we couldn’t be everywhere, my partner Lori Lander Murphy and I.

Or could we …

Looking at the videos we collected at the 2011 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival, it certainly seems like we must have violated some of the fundamental laws of space and time.

You are traveling through another dimension—a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead… Your next stop: The Twilight Zone!

OK, so maybe it wasn’t as far out as all that.

But we think it was still cool.

You decide:

Here ‘s this year’s video playlist.

Dance, Music

The 2011 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival in Pictures

Shannon Lambert-Ryan

Shannon Lambert-Ryan of Runa, the opening band at the Saturday night concert.

Anna Ryan was up to her elbows in thin reeds, patiently twisting and turning the slender stems into something delicate and uniquely Irish in its symmetry: St. Brigid’s crosses. Now and again, kids would make their way over to the table in the Philadelphia Irish Center’s Barry Room, gracelessly grab reeds like hands full of pickup sticks and, with patient instruction from Ryan, begin to learn how to craft something sacred from nothing more than spaghetti-like strands of dried grass.

Ryan looks forward to the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival, which celebrates Irish culture through music and dance, of course, but also through the arts, history, genealogy and more.

Ryan has been a fixture at the event for years. “I don’t know how many years it’s been,” she says,” when asked about her ties to the festival. “It’s been over 10 years, anyway.”

For many of the organizers and participants, it’s been at least that long—and often longer.

And yet, it never gets tired. You see a lot of the same faces year after year, but the thing about the Ceili Group festival is this: It’s feels like a kind of Celtic renewal. Fluters and dancers, harpers and artisans flock to the Irish Center every September in the way Monarch butterflies return to Mariposa. Or maybe it’s like a Philadelphia Irish version of Burning Man—except with banjos and hard shoes instead of naked people who paint themselves silver.


We captured the spirit of the thing in photos.

Here ya go.

Dance, Music

Make Plans Now for the 2011 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

Matt Ward will sing out at this year's singers' session.

Matt Ward will sing out at this year's singers' session.

The annual Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival is just a little over a month away, but the excitement is already building.

The festival runs from Thursday, September 8, through Saturday, September 10, at the Philadelphia Irish Center in Mount Airy. Planning continues now at something of a feverish pace for a jam-packed program of Irish music, dance and culture.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival is the Saturday night concert by three members of a superb Irish ensemble, The Pride of New York—Brian Conway, Brendan Dolan, and Billy McComiskey.

“(It’s) a great band out of New York City that usually includes Joannie Madden,” says the Ceili Group’s Anne McNiff. “Joannie will be out of the country in September and unable to join her bandmates for the festival concert. We were just thrilled to have “the boys” and know that everyone can look forward to a great show.”

The hot local band Runa, featuring singer Shannon Lambert-Ryan, is also on the bill, as are dancers from the Coyle School.

The long weekend opens with singers’ night, dedicated to the late longtime festival chairman Frank Malley. “The first singers night was held at the Mermaid Inn as a ‘prefest’ event and was such a success that he (Malley) brought it in as a regular part of the lineup,” says McNiff.

The great Irish singer Matt Ward, one of Malley’s favorites, is in this year’s lineup. Local singers include the well-known singing publican Gerry Timlin, together with longtime favorite Vince Gallagher and the talented Terry Kane, who sings in both English and Irish.

On the following night, a terrific band from Baltimore, Dan Isaacson’s Simple System, is featured in fireside concert.

For those who want to hone their Irish music performance skills, Saturday offers a wide array of workshops, taught by some of the best in the business:

  • Brian Conway (fiddle)
  • Billy McComiskey (accordion)
  • Dan Isaacson (pipes and whistle)
  • Danny Noveck (guitar)
  • Matthew Olwell (bodhran)
  • Terry Kane (Irish singing)

Other workshops include:

  • Brendan Dolan – Irish Music: Gems from the Moloney Collection
  • Tracing Your Irish Roots, the Ins and Outs of Genealogy with Lori Lander Murphy
  • The true story of Duffy’s Cut, presented by Frank Watson
  • A workshop on Sean Nos (old style) dancing with Kelly Smit for dancers at all levels
  • An Irish Language workshop with Leo Mohan
  • Knitting and spinning demonstrations
  • An informational talk on Commodore Barry by Frank Hollingsorth and Billy Brennan
  • “How to be Irish in Philadelphia” with Jeff Meade and Denise Foley
  • Tin Whistle for Beginners with Dennis Gormley
  • St. Brigid’s Cross making
  • Irish Folk Tales for Children with Basha Gardner.

Also for the kids: face-painting and balloon animals.

Vendors also will be on hand with food, gifts, and more.

All of that, plus you never know when Irish music will spontaneously break out.

Tickets for the festival are on sale now. Visit the Philadelphia Ceili Group Web site for details.