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Irish music

Music, People

Irish Musical Merriment Afoot with Maggie’s Boots

Maggie’s Boots is one of the many music groups gearing up for a summer of events after not being able to play live music very much over the past year. They are a traditional Irish music ensemble made up of Hollis Payer on the fiddle, Rob Curto on the button accordion and Melissa Brun on cello.

Payer has been playing music from a very young age and played violin, piano and guitar throughout her youth. Her interest in Irish music came after hearing The Chieftains.

“I certainly played folk music, but I didn’t know Irish traditional music until I heard what The Chieftains were doing and I just thought, ‘What is this?’ and I immediately gathered up all the money I could and went to Ireland with my fiddle and just traveled around for three months,” Payer explains.

She spent those months hitchhiking and going to music sessions and began learning traditional music. Back in America, she started learning under musicians like Kevin Burke and James Kelly. “I tell people that Kevin Burke was my first fiddle teacher because when I came back from Ireland, I moved to Portland, Oregon, and that’s where he lives,” says Payer. “I didn’t even know he was famous. I just started going to him to learn more about playing the fiddle.”

She notes that there is a deep history of Irish music in Philadelphia, but there are pockets of people playing the music everywhere now. Payer also teaches tune and fiddle classes which led her to meeting one of her bandmates.

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Chris Hagy’s Journey: Irish Fiddling Still Takes Her Away

Chris Brennan Hagy is one of the area’s best-known Irish fiddlers. She is devoted to teaching, retaining and sharing the tradition, and a longtime fixture at area Irish music sessions—including the Mermaid Inn in Chestnut Hill, where she is the leader.

You might think she came by her love of Irish fiddling naturally.

On the one hand, it seems like it was preordained. Music has always played a part in her life, dating back to her childhood on Long Island.

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How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish in Philly This Week

It's that time again.

It’s that time again.

Hope you’ve dug out your car. There’s plenty to do this week, so let’s get craic-ing.

Maria Walsh will be the International Rose of Tralee for another several months, but on Saturday night she gives up her local crown as Philadelphia Rose of Tralee at the gala selection event at the Radnor Hotel.

The Burlington County, NJ St. Patrick’s Day Parade, always the first in our area, won’t be first again this year. They’ve had to postpone it until March 29 because of this week’s snowstorm.

This and next are the weekends for the pub crawls that are part of the fabric of the St. Patrick’s holiday observance in the region. We posted several on our calendar, include the Shamrock and Roll in Delaware County. Marty Magee’s is part of the event and will have live music, including the Malarkey Brothers, Joe Magee and friends, and the John Byrne Band. Don’t drink too much and enjoy the music.

The McHugh Irish Dancers have also posted their schedule for the next couple of weeks on the calendar so if you have a hankering for seeing some step dancing—high recommended just for the adorableness overload—check it out.

Also on Saturday:

Lafferty’s Wake, an interactive play, continues at Society Hill Playhouse.

The Bogside Rogues will be providing the Irish music at Paddy Whack’s in Northeast Philly.

The AOH Division 6 Montgomery County is holding its St. Patrick’ Day party at St. Mary Parish in Schwenksville.

The Bucks County St. Patrick’s Day Parade Ball is Saturday night at Falls Manor Caterers (former Kings Caterers) in Bristol.

The AOH Notre Dame Div. One parade folks are having their grand marshal ball at the Elmwood Park Zoo Banquet Hall in Norristown. Congrats again to GM Mickey McBride.

Belfast Connection is playing at Darlington Arts Center in Garnet Valley.

Blackthorn is the headliner at the Beer Festival at Harrah’s Chester Casino.

You can spend an evening with Celtic Spirit at the Nazareth Center for the Arts in Nazareth or with Donegal’s own Altan at Annenberg Center on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. (Side note: Altan was the first Irish group I ever saw live, and they hooked me.)

Jamison is taking the stage at Brittingham’s in Lafayette Hill.

On to Sunday:

There’s an all-day fundraiser for the Springfield St. Patrick’s Day Parade at Maggie O’Neill’s in Drexel Hill. Doors open at 11 AM for Irish breakfast and if you tell your server you’re there to support the parade, a portion of your bill will be donated to the parade. At 4:30 PM, catch the local Celtic rock group Round Tower and meet the 2015 Grand Marshal Dr. William McCusker, who is the recently retired president of Cardinal O’Hara High School.

At 10 AM, there will be an Irish Mass at St. Malachy’s Church in Philadelphia, a recent tradition that looks like it might have staying power. Read our story from 2013.

The group Celtic Spirit will be entertaining at brunch on Sunday at Kildare’s Irish Pub in West Chester.

This Sunday will also mark the third anniversary of the burial of some of the victims of the Duffy’s Cut tragedy at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. There will be a memorial event at graveside starting at 2 PM.

At 3 PM, Blackthorn takes the stage at The Deck at Harbor Pointe in Essington for a fundraiser for the 162nd District. It’s a GOP benefit.

Catch local young phenoms Haley and Dylan Richardson and Keegan Loesel, along with the Cumberland Highlanders Pipe and Drum Band and the group, Sligo Road, at the Down Jersey Celtic Celebration in Vineland stating at 3 PM.

The Paul Moore Band will be playing at the Jokers New Year’s Association—think Mummers’ Parade—St. Patrick’s Day party at the group clubhouse in Philadelphia.

Women of Ireland bring their full stage production to the Keswick Theatre on Sunday at 3 PM.

Then on Wednesday

Villanova’s Irish Dance group will be showcasing their prodigious talent on at the Connelly Center Cinema at the University starting at 7 PM.

At 9 PM, the Druids, a rebel ballad band from Kildare, will be performing at Mary Magee’s Pub in Prospect Park.

Thursday dawns. . . .

And so begins the 12 days of Irish music at the Green Parrot in Newtown. Slainte, Seamus McGroary, Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfetones, Clancy’s Pistol, McGraw and McLaughlin, Seamus Kelleher, Tom McHugh, the Hooligans, Secret Service and Challenge Accepted are all booked there through the holiday season. Check our calendar for links to the Green Parrot where you can see who is playing when. Some of the gigs are on our calendar. (Bands can post their gigs to our calendar, but there are so many of them that we can’t usually do those.) For instance, we know that Slainte is performing on Thursday night because they always put their gigs on our calendar. Well done, men!

The annual Philadelphia Parade Grand Marshal dinner will be held on Thursday night at the Doubletree Hotel in Philadelphia. Kathy McGee Burns, who has been the head of just about every Irish organization in the city from the Donegal Association to the Irish Memorial, is this year’s GM.

Also on Thursday night, the AOH Notre Dame Div. 1 Irish coffee contest is happening at the club house in Swedesburg. It’s a well-attended event that’s loads of fun—and, there are samples.

The Irish conversation group continues talking in Irish on Thursday at Villanova.

The Wolfetones will be performing at the FOP Lodge #5 in Northeast Philadelphia this evening.

On thank-God-it’s-Friday:

Hoo boy, this is quite a day and night.

Check out the Paul Moore Band on “Good Day Philadelphia” in the morning. That’s on Fox29.

Then, listen to the Bleeker Street Café Celtic Mandolin Concert on WDVR (89.7 FM) starting at 1 pm. That should be amazing.

The Hooligans will be playing for the early dinner crowd at Fluke’s on State Road in Philly.

The John Byrne Band with No Irish Need Apply are scheduled for World Café Live that evening. The show is almost sold out.

McDermott’s Handy—two fine musicians, Dennis Gormley and Kathy DeAngelo—will be in concert at the Bridgeton Public Library in Bridgeton, NJ. BTW, I know for a fact that these two will play anywhere. I once ran into them playing in the deli at a New Jersey supermarket.

The Celtic group, Carbon Leaf, will be at the World Café Live at the Queen.

The Glengarry Bhoys are scheduled to be on stage at the Sellersville Theater.

Blackthorn is back playing at Ambler’s The Lucky Well BBQ place. Love the band, love the BBQ. A win-win.

The Bogside Rogues are at Reedy’s Irish Pub in Philly.

The Hooligan’s are at the newly re-opened Dubh Linn Square in Bordentown (after their early bird special at Fluke’s in Philly).

The Broken Shillelaghs will be at Tavern on the Edge in Gloucester City, NJ.

2U, a U2 tribute band, is booked at Brittingham’s in Lafayette Hill.

Isla Verde, a Philly bar, is having its first St. Patrick’s Day Party, though we’re not quite sure how Irish it’s going to be.

And a word about next weekend:

The Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade is on Sunday. It’s broadcast by CBS3 and CWPhilly but it’s really fun to see live. Really. I wouldn’t lie. The crowds alone are worth the drive or train fare. There are two Irish pubs along the parade route that are crowded and convivial (Tir na Nog and Con Murphy’s). Me, I usually eat a pretzel from a vendor because, hey, I’m working here. Last year, I bought gloves from a vendor. Best purchase ever. $5. For both gloves. But the weather’s gong to be nice, so fear not the evil Arctic blast or polar vortex. Or polar bears. There won’t be any of those either.

There are lots of parties after, but may we suggest Sober St. Patrick’s Day at WHYY. It’s one of a group of St. Patrick’s Day events across the country that cater to families and to those in recovery. Maria Walsh, the International Rose of Tralee (and an affirmed teetotaler) will be there, as will a remarkable array of Irish traditional musicians from all over.

On Saturday, there are beaucoup parades: Bucks County, Springfield, Hamiton, NJ, North Wildwood, Trenton, Conshy. I’ll be going to all of them. Yeah, right. Look for me in Springfield, if all goes well. Look for Gwyneth MacArthur, our parade photographer, in Conshy and in Philly on Sunday. You’ll see Lori Lander Murphy in Philly on Sunday and you’ll also see Jeff Meade there, totally wrapped in camera straps like something from 50 Shades of Grey. No one knows where he’s going to be on Saturday. He is the man of mystery.

Take a peek at the calendar for next week. It’s already large and will grow to Godzilla size (Aieee! Aieee!) by next Friday, when we write the last big How to Be Irish in Philly for the season.

Also, consider joining our Irish Philadelphia Facebook page. There are some lively discussions going on there (I especially like the “who/what is more Irish” debates) but there’s also a great exchange of information and ideas. I now have lists of great Irish books, movies, and songs, thanks to this enthusiastic group of people who share a love for all things Irish (and Philly). It occasionally gets a little salty there, but if you can overlook that, I think you’ll learn a lot. And be entertained.

Check our calendar frequently this week. It’s changing almost every minute.


The Sligo-Bound 6 Bring Out Their Sunday Best

Livia Safko, with Haley Richardson waiting in the wings.

Livia Safko, with Haley Richardson waiting in the wings.

“We’re always nervous. We just have to make sure that the worst we do is pretty good.”

It doesn’t seem like such a heavy burden for fiddler Alexander Weir, 15, of West Chester. It least it didn’t seem that way on Sunday when Alexander and five of his friends who are headed to the All-Ireland music championship this summer played at a big fund-raiser in their benefit at Molly Maguire’s in Downingtown, emceed by Terry Kane.

But playing at a fund-raiser is one thing. Standing in front of judges in Ireland, judges who are accustomed to hearing the best players in the world—most of them with the advantage of competing on their home turf—that’s another thing. But two of the Sligo-Bound 6 are world champs from last year—under-12 fiddler Haley Richardson, and Emily Safko, also in the under-12 category, on harp. These kids are used to competing, and they’re all dazzling players. You never know what might happen.

Alexander might be pretty typical of most of the kids. Competing in Ireland isn’t something he thought he’d be doing when he took up the Irish fiddle. He started playing violin at 3, and at 5 he took up Irish fiddle. He’d already been Irish dancing, and he thought it might be fun to play dance tunes. “I was just trying something out,” he says. “I thought it could be something to do in my spare time.”

It’s turned into something more than that, but Alexander’s parents are really just taking it all one day at a time. To qualify to go to Ireland, all of the kids—Emily, her sister Livia on fiddle, Alanna Griffin, a fiddler and concertina player, Haley, Alexander, and Keegan Loesel on whistle and uilleann pipes—had to place first or second in the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil. It’s not clear who will still be playing at a competitive level years from now, so Alexander and his friends are just focusing on right now, and supporting each other—as they have for years, even though they got into Irish music at different stages, and even though there are age differences.

“Alanna is 18 and the younger ones are 10 or 11, but they’re all respectful of one another. It’s so fabulous that they have each other. They encourage each other. That’s one of the best things about Irish music,” says Alexander’s mom Katherine Ball-Weir.

And there is also this parental side benefit, she laughs: “When our friends are out on a cold, wet soccer field, we’re in a pub with a pint in front of us.”

You can find out how much fun it was, for parents and kids. Check out our photo gallery. And there’s a neat little video under that.

[flickr_set id=”72157644814598574″]

How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish in Philly This Week

The great and glorious.

The great and glorious.

Does the fun ever end? Well, it might, but not this weekend.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!! (Or Happy Paddy’s Day to you real Irish. To the rest of ye, it’s not Patty. Not now. Not ever. Never. ) The big day is Sunday this year, and there are three local parades on Saturday that will get you in the spirit. They’re staggered a little so you may be able to make all three (some of the bands do two, so it’s possible).

First off the line is the 25th annual Bucks County St. Patrick’s Day Parade which starts at 10:30 AM from St. Joseph the Worker Church at 9172 New Falls Road in Levittown.

At noon, the Springfield, Delaware County parade starts from West Springfield Road.

Then, at 2 PM, the Conshohocken St. Patrick’s Day parade takes over downtown Conshohocken.

There’s plenty more out there to help you get your Irish on. Here it is in chronological order, and we are not taking a breath:


9:30 AM. Paddy Whacks’ St. Patrick’s Day Dash and Bash features a 5K on a closed course to raise money for patients at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, followed by the Bash, an all-day tented event at the bar’s Comly Road location featuring Jamison, Slainte, and the Bogside Rogues. Lots of drink specials.

10 AM. Register for the new Glenside GAA at the MacSwiney Club in Jenkintown.

10 AM. Hear Clancy’s Pistol at The Boat Club in National Park, NJ.

Noon. Enjoy drink specials and lots of music at the Piazza at Schmidt’s Shamrock Celebration on Hancock Street in Philadelphia.

1 PM. Head to the Irish Center for televised GAA sports from Ireland.

2 PM. The Molly Maguires Ceilidh Band will be providing the music at the St. Patrick’s Day Party at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Glenside, a production of the Sean MacBride AOH Div. 2. Lots of dancing and fun for the kiddies.

3 PM. The Bogside Rogues go on stage at Paddy Whacks at 9241-43 Roosevelt Blvd. n Northeast Philadelphia.

5 PM. Clancy’s Pistol is on the move. They’re playing at Maynard’s Café in Margate, NJ.

6PM. Jamison goes on at Paddy Whacks’ Paddy Bash.

8 PM. Catch Burning Bridget Clear at World Café at the Queen in Wilmington, DE.

8 PM. Celtic Pride will be showing it off at the Temperance House in Newtown.

8:30 PM. The Broken Shillelaghs will fix you up at Brittingham’s in Lafayette Hill, now under new ownership (Brittingham’s that is).

9 PM. If you need a break from Irish music, check out Electric Boa and Hammer Down at World Café Live in Philadelphia. Not sure what they’re doing on our calendar, but, oh well. Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

10:30 PM. Hope they get mileage. Clancy’s Pistol is setting up at yet another Jersey location on Saturday—the great old Anglesea Pub in North Wildwood.

Sunday-St. Patrick’s Day!
7 AM The Annual AOH St. Patrick’s Charity Breakfast takes place at Fado Irish Pub on Locust Street in Philadelphia.

8 AM. Have another charity breakfast at The Plough and the Stars in Philadelphia. Your host: Judge Jimmy Lynn, who can always be counted on to sing.

8:30 AM. The Derry Brigade will be at Marty Magee’s in Prospect Park.

9:30 AM. More televised GAA games at the Irish Center in Mt. Airy.

11 AM. This is a special year for the Irish Memorial—its 10th. There will be prayers, speeches, music, and, of course, Irish dancers, at this lovely location at Penns Landing Park.

11 AM. The Shantys open up the Erin Pub in Norwood for a day of celebrating.

12 PM. Clancy’s Pistol, on very little sleep, will be playing at Paddy Whacks on Comly Road in Philadelphia.

12 PM. Galway Guild will be at Fado in Philadelphia.

12 PM. Join John Brennan and the musical Brennan family, harper Ellen Tepper, and fiddler Bette Conway and more at The Water Gallery in Lansdale for a day of live music (and lovely handcrafted Irish items). You can also buy our CD, “Ceili Drive: The Music of Irish Philadelphia,” which features the Brennans, Tepper, members of Blackthorn, The John Byrne Band, and many of your local favorite traditional musicians.

12 PM. Have your lunch at Roller’s in Chestnut Hill and hear Kitty Kelly Albrecht and her husband, Mike Albrecht. For $10, you get a copy of the latest Philadelphia Ceili Band CD, “Kelly Time.”

12 PM. There’s an open house at the Gloucester County AOH/Richard Rossiter Memorial Hall in National Park, NJ, featuring live music by the Broken Shillelaghs.

1 PM. There’s a family friendly event at Tom & Jerry’s in Folsom featuring Blackthorn—and they promise Irish music all day long.

1 PM. Attend the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass at the Irish Center. Afterwards, enjoy a lunch of ham and cabbage and shepherd’s pie (it will be authentic, believe us) along with music and dancing.

1 PM. Bill Monaghan and Celtic Pride make their annual trek to the stage of the Sellersville Theatre.

4 PM. Mick Moloney and Friends come to the Cape May Convention Hall. Expect topnotch traditional Irish music and some great stories.

5 PM. Mary Beth (Bonner Ryan) and Friends Irish Band will be playing at The Springfield Inn in Springfield. What a voice!

6 PM. Pack the House Entertainment is going green at World Café Live Downstairs. Listen to three rock and three hip-hop bands, wear something green, participate in the leprechaun costume contest (winner gets a green $50 bill—do they come in other colors?).

7 PM. Chances are I will know about half the audience at the TLA because I count many Saw Doctors fans among my pals. These Galway rockers come to Philly every year because of the love.

8 PM. Burning Bridget Cleary will be at World Café Live.

8 PM. Clancy’s Pistol (where were you all day?) will be playing at Dubh Linn Square in Cherry Hill, NJ.

8 PM. Catch the Shantys at Reedy’s Tavern on Frankford Ave. in

9 PM. Galway Guild will be rocking RiRa at the Trop in Atlantic City.

The great and glorious.

The great and glorious.

That’s it so far for Paddy’s Weekend, but keep checking back because new events are being added to our calendar about every hour. Please note: Some sessions on our sessions calendar that repeat every week may not be as scheduled because of the weekend events. Call ahead to find out about any changes. There are more details on all these events on the calendar, including addresses and even maps.

Ah, but that was just the weekend. There’s more.

Blackthorn leaves this week for spring training—if you didn’t book, you missed out.

On Tuesday, Sir James Galway, celebrated Irish flutist (flautist?), comes to the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

On Thursday, Mary O’Malley, the Heimbod Chair at Villanova, will be reading from her newest work, Valparaiso, which deals with themes of Ireland’s economic boom and bust, at Villanova.

There’s also a new recurring event on our calendar—Irish Music Thursday at Schileen’s Pub in Westville, NJ.

On Friday, the Yanks are coming. American-born trad musicians Dylan Foley, Dan Gurney, and Sean Ernest will be playing a house concert in a private home in Ambler. Contact info is on our calendar.

Coming up: the Robbinsville St. Patrick’s Day Parade is next Saturday, as is the Delco Gaels Night of Comedy and Music (I thought that was what “Dancing Like a Star” was) at St. Laurence Hall in Upper Darby. And Clancy’s Pistol will be playing at Big Heads Pub in Willow Grove next weekend. Like Chicken Man, they’re everywhere, they’re everywhere! Hats off to ya, lads!

Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and don’t do anything we wouldn’t do.


Return of the Voice You Can’t Forget

Singer-songwriter Don Stiffe

In 2010, we wrote about a then up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Galway. His, we wrote in a headline, is “a new voice you won’t forget.”

Since that time, Don Stiffe has become an arrived singer-songwriter from Galway and hundreds of thousands of people have not been able to forget his gift-from-God voice, thanks to his 2011 appearance on RTE’s “The All Ireland Talent Show,” one of Ireland’s most watched TV shows a la “America’s Got Talent,” on which he was a finalist.

Fresh off the Joannie Madden (Cherish the Ladies) “Folk’n’Irish” Cruise, with a new CD in hand (“Life’s Journey”), and a tour with the Kilfenora Ceili Band on the resume, Stiffe is heading to Philadelphia for a return engagement at the Irish Center on Sunday, Feb. 17. The show is produced by Marianne MacDonald, host of the “Come West Along the Road” radio show on WTMR 800AM every Sunday at noon.

MacDonald forged a relationship with Stiffe after, one day, deciding to blow the dust off a CD someone had given her to hear this new guy’s version of a song she loves, “Shanagolden.” She had the same reaction most people do when they hear Don Stiffe sing. “Wow,” she said.

“So I did what you usually do these days when you want to reach someone—I found him on Facebook!” she says, laughing. They chatted and she lured him to his first Philly gig, introducing him to fellow Galway native and musician, Gabriel Donohue, who served as his one-man-band accompanist.

Stiffe entered “The All-Ireland Talent Show” on the urging of his wife Elaine and three children. He didn’t win, but as it goes in many of these star-making series, even the runners up reap the rewards.

“You get the publicity out of it and it’s fantastic,” Stiffe told me a couple of weeks ago from Miami, where he was about to board the Joanie Madden cruise ship. “People take a bit more notice of you. In fact, when I was coming through Shannon, on of the immigration officers said to me, ‘Are you that person who was on that talent show one time?’ God almighty,” Stiffe says, laughing, “when an immigration officers pulls you up and starts talking about the bloody thing. . .I thought people would be thinking I was on some murder list or something! And she just would not let me go. She knew about the three kids, the family. . . .”

The real reward isn’t recognition though, says Stiffe. “It’s the work. Getting the work is a great thing. I didn’t think things would happen so fast. I got a nice bit of work at home, in different parts of the country.” He toured with Cherish the Ladies last year (they made a stop at Philadelphia’s Annenberg Theater to soldout crowds) and is with them again right now in Texas. And he hooked up with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, the oldest and possibly most famous ceili band in Ireland, which regularly sells out the Irish National Concert Hall in Dublin.
“Touring with the Kilfenora Ceili Band was fantastic. We played all the big auditoriums in Ireland and people did recognize who I was. To get to a wider audience, to get steady work, that’s the name of the game. I’m not too concerned about the fame,” he says, laughing again. “It’s the work.”

But getting noticed is what’s bringing the work and Stiffe’s talent is drawing attention in many ways. In 2010, his version of Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” from his debut album, “Start of a Dream,” earned him the “Vocal Cut of the Year” award from the Live Ireland awards. This year, one of his songs, “Somebody Special,” performed by his friend and fellow Galway native Matt Keane, was named Live Ireland’s pick for “Song of the Year.”

But, perhaps more important, this touching (and to Stiffe, very personal) love song has become the song of the year—and possibly, for years to come—of young Irish couples. “A lot of people are singing it at weddings,” says Stiffe. “That must mean something, hmm?”

Listen to Matt Keane’s version and you’ll understand why.

Even better, come to the Irish Center on Sunday night at 7 PM and ask Don to sing it himself. Guaranteed, you’ll never forget it.