This week's holiday tips were a mixed bag of excellent and, um, offbeat. One reader (who requested anonymity) said he was planning to enroll his brother in a "Bacon of the Month" club -- I guess nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a slab of cured meat. Marty W. said that he was planning to give each of his three kids an iPod Nano and a $100 iTunes gift certificate, which seems like a pretty sweet deal. (Plus Apple engraves for free!) Kathy R. thinks a small, flat-screen TV for the kitchen makes the perfect family gift. Sticking with the kitchen theme, Lisa C. likes to put together her own gift baskets, filling them with treats she knows her friends will love. Each one has a theme: Italian (pasta, sauces, cheeses, breadsticks), chocolate lover (dark, light and milk chocolate bars, cookies, cocoa, etc.). Instead of baskets, she packs the items in wastebaskets or large bowls. (I am SO stealing that idea.)
Next week, mail me your best tips for celebrating the New Year at firstname.lastname@example.org. The person who sent it in will receive a free, one-year subscription to the Irish Echo. (This week's winner is Lisa C.)
For folk music lovers . . .
The Makem & Clancy Concert (Shanachie) The sad passing of Liam Clancy had me in a nostalgic mood this week, so I spent many hours listening to this CD -- possibly my all-time favorite live recording. Released in 1977, the album captures the duo at their peak, and includes some of their most famous numbers, including "The Dutchman" and "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, both sung by Clancy, and "Mary Mack" and "The Cobbler," sung by Makem. I dare you not to tear up during "Leave Her Johnny." (I double dare you!) (Amazon.com, $14.99)
Original Dubliners (EMI Import) The Dubliners saw many membership changes over their long career, but with all due respect to Paddy Reilly, Jim McCann and Sean Canon, nothing can beat the band's original line-up of Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna, John Sheahan and Ciaran Burke. This 2-disc set contains the 56 tracks which comprise the group's first four albums. All the favorites are here, including "Seven Drunken Nights," "Old Triangle," and a personal favorite, "Dicey Reilly." Plus, that photo on the cover is cool -- check out Ronnie's eyes. (Amazon.com, $26.99).
The Best Irish Party Album Ever If you're looking for a party in a CD case, look no further than this sampler of Irish music, featuring tracks from The Wolfetones, Thin Lizzy. Horslips, DeDannan, Phil Coulter, The Fureys and the Dublin City Ramblers. Get it as an mp3 download on Amazon for $7.99 or, if you prefer the CD, order it from Dara Records, where it's listed at $16.00 (Amazon's price for the CD is $35.65) Item # CCD 565, (800) 714-3272 or www.dararecords.com.
Give the gift of music & literature
Let the Great World Spin (Book by Colum McCann)
The House that Horse Built (Let the Great World Spin) CD-EP by Joe Hurley. If you're looking for a truly unusual - and brilliant - gift for someone who enjoys literature and music, pick up "Let the Great World Spin," the National Book Award-winning novel by Irish author Colum McCann. Pair it with, "The House That Horse Built (Let the Great World Spin)," the new CD-EP by New York-based Irish singer Joe Hurley. The three tracks on the CD were inspired by a chapter in the novel, and skillfully evoke the mid-1970s vibe that McCann captures in the book. Hurley's CD-EP features an impressive group of guest musicians, including Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains on uilleann pipes. The CD-EP is available at www.cdbaby.com/joehurley, or at www.roguesmarch.com; The paperback edition of McCann's book, released last week, is $15.00, and can be found at any major retailer. (Psst: Amazon.com has it for half price.)
To the Manor born . . .
When I heard that Richie O'Shea's Manor Irish Gift Shoppe was celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, I had two thoughts: first, wow, congratulations are in order! And second: hmmm, I wonder if I can order online. Well, I'm happy to report that you can either browse in person at the store, located at 70 Covert Ave., Floral Park, NY (516) 328-8975, or online at www.manoririshgiftshoppe.com. I couldn't resist taking a look at the online inventory, which includes Inis (the energy of the sea) Cologne Spray, 30 ml ($36.95).
Shop early and local
Looking for last-minute Irish gifts they'll love? Avoid the malls and get yourself over to your local Irish gift shop / grocer / butcher shop! A few to consider: Kathleen's of Donegal Irish Imports, 8 North Park Ave., Rockville Ctr, NY 11570 (516) 536-9616, www.kathleensofdonegal.com. Mary Anne's Irish Gift Shop, 5694 Riverdale Ave., Bronx, NY 10471, (718) 549-7660. Shamrock Gift Shop, (914) 237-3223. The Butcher's Fancy, 961 McLean Ave., Yonkers, NY 10704, (914) 237-8260. McGuinness' Irish Gift Shop, 3609 Ave. S, Brooklyn, NY, (718) 627-0009.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season . . .
Irish Arts Center presents 'An Irish Christmas'
Irish music legend Mick Moloney hosts An Irish Christmas at the Irish Arts Center 553 West 51st St., NYC. The show, which features Athena Tergis, Brendan Dolan, Billy McComiskey, Liz Hanley and Niall O'Leary, runs Dec. 17-20. Tickets are $45 (general), $35 (members), and are available from Smarttix.com or (212) 868-4444.
Ring in the New Year . . .
If you're looking for an alternative to staying home with Dick Clark and a mug of hot cocoa on New Year's Eve, you could catch Gaelic Storm at the Grammercy Theater, 127 E. 23rd St., NYC. Doors open at 9 p.m., the show starts at 10 p.m., and tickets are $40 (visit www.livenation.com or call 1-877--598-8694). Or if you like your kickin' rock and roll flavored with an Irish sensibility and a strong political point of view, catch Black 47 at Connolly's at Times Square, 121 W. 45th St., NYC. Tickets are $25 (a bargain for NY's Eve) - call (212) 597-5126 for details or visit www.black47.com.
Merry Christmas, New York City
Merry Christmas, New York City, a benefit for the Faith & Family Foundation, will take place at Alice Tully Hall Starr Theater at Lincoln Center in NYC, on Saturday, Dec. 19, at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, call (212) 721-6500 or visit MerryChristmasNewYorkCity.com.
A Wilde musical
This month, the brilliant Irish Repertory Theatre will present "Ernest in Love," a musical adaptation of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde's sublime verbal opera, "The Importance of Being Earnest." The show, directed by Charlotte Moore, with musical direction by Mark Hartman and choreography by Barry McNabb, runs through Jan. 31, 2010. Tickets are $65 and $55, and can be ordered by calling (212) 727-2737.
A Christmas Carol
The McCarter Theater Centre at Princeton University will present its annual production of Charles Dickens's classic, "A Christmas Carol" through Sunday, Dec. 27. The show, which features delightful music, spirited choreography (literally!) and eye-popping special effects, is a beloved holiday tradition in New Jersey. Directed by Michael Unger, with musical direction by Charles Sundquist and set design by Ming Cho Lee, the show stars James A. Stephens (pictured) as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Tickets, which start at $33, go quickly, so order yours by phone at 609-258-2787 or online at www.mccarter.org. The theater is easily accessible via New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor Line (www.njtransit.com for schedules).