Athena tergis featured on live from the irish arts center an irish christmas cd cover.jpg

Center & Moloney, serve up Christmas treat

Traditional Music /

By Daniel Neely

For the past several years, New York City's Irish Arts Center has presented "An Irish Christmas," Mick Moloney's wildly satisfying multi-cultural musical celebration of the winter solstice.

Now a New York holiday season institution, Moloney will once again bring his musical cohort to the Arts Center on Manhattan's West Side for another baker's dozen "Irish Christmas" shows.

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In so doing, he will treat audiences to a signature holiday tradition that uses song, folklore and performance to celebrate family, friendship and community in a concert series that offers something for everyone.

This year's cast includes a familiar group of players drawn from music's upper echelons, including fiddler Athena Tergis, button accordion master Billy McComiskey, fiddle player Liz Hanley, dancer Niall O'Leary, singers Grace Nono and Tamar Korn and the storyteller Macdara Vallely.

In addition, the great piano player Donna Long (who played with Cherish the Ladies, but who has distinguished herself musically in myriad other ways since them) will come up from Baltimore and join the gang for the first time as well.

As always, Moloney gives space in each performance to a special non-musical guest or two. Some of this year's visitors will include authors Colum McCann and Malachy McCourt, noted academic Dr. James Murphy and David Mulkins of the Bowery Neighborhood Association.

Moloney never fully tips his hand in advance of these shows, though, so you never know who else will stop by. But you can be sure he has a few surprises in store.

The standard set with these shows is impressively high. Each performance is thoroughly entertaining, and I've watched how people leave absolutely glowing.

But because Moloney gathers the best around him, he's able to find unexpected ways to draw in the audience.

The inclusion of Filipino singer Grace Nono and jazz singer Tamar Korn, for example, brings an impressive variety that lifts the show in its entirety.

In addition, Moloney brought Macdara Vallely in for the first time last year to lead a mummers play during show intermissions. People could not have been more delighted, nor more a part of it, as the plays happened in the lobby with people milling about - it was an absolute hit.

Those interested in holding onto a piece of the show's magic should pick up "An Irish Christmas, A Musical Solstice Celebration," the live concert CD that Irish Arts Center released last year.

Many (including my predecessor here at the Echo, as well as several of my colleagues in other local and national Irish media outlets) considered the album to be one of the best Irish Christmas albums out there - so it's well worth having.

If I may play proud participant for a moment: I worked on the album, both as its production coordinator and as a performer with the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra.

It's a great document and a testament to the hard work all the artists involved put into this show. I cannot recommend it more highly.

Staged with an intimacy more reminiscent of someone's living room than of a midtown Manhattan theatre space, "An Irish Christmas" will run from Friday, December 7 through Saturday, December 22 at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan (553 West 51st Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues) and will take place at Fordham University on December 9.

Visit to buy tickets online, or call (866)811-4111 to book by phone.

Finally, congratulations to Kathleen Biggins for being inducted into the Museum of the City of New York's "People's Hall of Fame."

Kathleen's program, "A Thousand Welcomes," is one of the nation's most important Irish radio programs and it broadcasts Saturday mornings, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. from Fordham University's radio station, WFUV 90.7.

Those living outside WFUV's broadcast area can listen to Biggins live via WFUV's online stream:

For 26 years, Biggins has used her show to serve the tri-state's Irish community and all of us here in New York owe her a debt of gratitude. It's fantastic to see her great work recognized.

Good on you, Kathleen!