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.
The Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center—otherwise known as the Irish Center—will hold its summer fundraiser at Tip O’Leary’s in Havertown on Sunday, July 11. This will be the Irish Center’s first big live event since COVID restrictions have been lifted. After a year that put financial strains on many, this fundraiser is vitally important for the Irish Center, located in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
“This time every year, we do a fundraiser,” says Lisa Maloney, vice president of the Irish Center board. “It’s for regular operating expenses and for maintaining the building. We work within a very limited budget.”
Last year, everything was shut down so an in-person event was out of the question. Instead, they sent out an appeal letter asking people for donations so that the Irish Center could make it through the year.
It has been an incredibly difficult time for many, if not most of us. The covid-19 pandemic has triggered bouts of stress, anxiety and even depression for people who normally might not be subject to those mental health issues.
As we begin to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, maybe now is a particularly good time to take a candid self-assessment and explore ways to give our emotional health a boost.
The Irish Diaspora Center, working through its CHAT committee—it stands for Community Help Awareness and Trust—is hosting “Mindful in May,” an open-air event providing a day of opportunities to do just that.
Frank Hollingsworth has been described as an “activist extraordinaire.” He passed away following a brief illness at the age of 81.
To say he will be missed is pure understatement—and not just by the Irish community, but by the countless other organization with which he was involved, from his beloved Lincoln High School Alumni Association to the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame to the Glen Foerd on the Delaware historical site to the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame. Whatever his interest, Hollingsworth was in it all the way—always the inveterate volunteer.
That, says his life partner of 41 years Pat Smith, was just the way Frank Hollingsworth was built.
“He just always had an interest, the putting together of things, connecting to his history, to this person to that person to that place,” she says. “Finding people from his class, for example, he ran the reunion for his 50thclass reunion. He found so many people, it was unbelievable. They had an amazing turnout. And then there’s been groups of them that have gotten together here and there a couple of times of year ever since.”
It’s been six or seven years since Raymond Coleman, one of the Philadelphia area’s most popular Irish musicians, has recorded an album. The first was “Trouble (with a Capital T.)”
Now, he’s getting ready to work on the next one—as yet unnamed—and it promises to be a real crowd-pleaser. Best of all, proceeds benefit autism awareness.
The long pandemic-imposed break in live performances gave Coleman time to think about the sorts of tunes he wants to put on the CD, which he’ll be recording at Cove Island Productions, with multitalented local musician Gabriel Donohue producing.
“I’m just trying to get things organized,” he says. “People have been asking when I’d be doing the next recording, and every year I’ve said, ‘It’s coming’.”
It’s where to go when Derek Warfield & The Young Wolfe Tones host a live online concert, where local Irish musicians publicize upcoming gigs—or post their availability for new ones—and where you can hear a vintage recording of the Chieftains playing “The Foggy Dew.”
And a whole lot more.
It’s The Great Irish Songbook, a group page on Facebook, and if you want to join in the fun, you can.
The page is the brainchild of Bill Donahue, Jr., front man for The Shantys—and who better? He’s been playing Irish music since 1999. He grew up in a household heavily influenced by the musical preferences of his Derry-born grandfather and his mother, from Dublin. He’s been hearing rebel tunes practically from the cradle.
He’s been a musician since 1999, starting in a Pogues cover band. At an early age, he started taking tin whistle lessons. They didn’t take at the time—he wasn’t very good at it, he admits—but later on in life he picked it up again, and now it’s one of his principal musical instruments.
When The Shantys take to the stage Sunday afternoon for a show at the Fainting Goat in Glenolden, Delaware County, they’ll be missing a longtime friend who tapped out the rhythm for all their tunes.
William E. “Bill” Whitman, Jr., of Ridley Park, who played a mean bodhrán—the traditional Irish frame drum—died at the age of 70 on Good Friday, sending shock waves throughout the Delaware Valley’s Irish community. Local musicians knew him. He sat in with all the bands. He made frequent appearances at traditional Irish music sessions. He was well-known throughout the pubs and clubs where that music was played, from Northeast Philly to the Jersey Shore.
But his influence and friendship extended well beyond the musical community. He was a longtime marshal for the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade, a member of Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 87 in Port Richmond, a volunteer for Irish festivals and many other events, a member of The Mayo Association of Philadelphia, and a frequent visitor to the Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center (the Irish Center). In 2020, Whitman was named a member of the parade’s Ring of Honor—and quite the honor it was for a truly humble man.
Whitman grew up in the Swampoodle neighborhood, at one time an Irish hotbed in the city of North Philadelphia, and around here you can hardly be more pedigreed than that. He was a proud graduate of Roman Catholic High School.
Seamus Kelleher, the multitalented guitarist-singer-songwriter and alum of the celebrated band Blackthorn, has struggled with depression and anxiety for decades. When he was 20, he spent five weeks in a psychiatric hospital.
During that time, when he was living in his hometown of Galway, he recalls going into his kitchen, pulling out a bread knife and holding it to his wrist.
“This is a very clear memory,” he says, “I was incredibly depressed. I was suicidal. I had no intention of doing it then, right? None. But that was my insurance policy. If it didn’t get better, I could end it. And that was at 20 years of age. I had my whole life ahead of me, great rock and roll bands. On the surface, I had everything. But for me, if the pain got any worse, that was my exit strategy.”
Kelleher says he entertained thoughts of suicide again, about seven or eight years ago, but he was extremely fortunate to have been surrounded by people who recognized that he was in bad shape and steered him in the direction of the help he so badly needed.