Niall oleary

O’Leary reveals secret of success

Niall O’Leary, on right of picture, celebrated

five years of Irish Cultural Night last week.

By Sean Devlin

As the clock slowly wears towards 10:30 p.m., the musicians trickle in towards the stage in the back right corner of the front room. It’s Thursday evening, and tonight is Irish Cultural Night at Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar on 29th Street and 2nd Avenue. The show takes place the same night at the same time every week, but the last Thursday in June is a special occasion. For Niall O’Leary, the show’s leader, is celebrating five years of Irish traditional music and dance at the venue.

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Since 2010, O’Leary has striven to bring together the most talented and passionate traditional musicians each week in an open session that focuses on a shared love of Irish music. This session, however, has a unique element. It’s one of the only traditional sessions that places a specific emphasis on dance.

At the outset of the show, O’Leary pulls his dancing shoes out of his black backpack. “This is really the session with the difference. There’s a percussive element to the show, and that imbues the music with extra meaning.”

The founder of Niall O’Leary’s School of Irish Dance wanted to make his show stand out from the dozens that take place every week in New York City.

As he reflects on the past five years, he points to a nondescript box in front to the stage, littered with scuffmarks. “The box! That’s a huge part of this whole experience,” he says. “When we started this show five years back, we decided to install the box so the sound of the shoes would be amplified with the rest of the instruments. It helps our show stand alone, and it’s gotten a great reception.”

Matthew Mancuso, a fiddle player from Brooklyn, echoes the sentiments O’Leary espouses about Irish Culture Night. When asked about his history in traditional music, he shares a unique story. “I’ve been playing the fiddle for years. When other people were learning the other instruments, my dad made me stick with it when I was a kid. I’ve been here at Paddy Reilly’s for the past 15 years, and it’s honestly one of the best traditional shows I’ve ever played in.”

Button accordionist Christy McNamara, a musician from Dublin, agrees that evenings like Irish Culture Night are important to maintain a sense of Irish identity. “Things like this are important. I’ve been playing since I was a small child, and a big part of the reason I came here was to connect with the diaspora. My family came from a big musical background and even cut their own records. I like being able to reconnect with my roots at events such as this.”

The crowd seemed equally as enthusiastic about the evening as the musicians. Danny Larkin, 30, came to Paddy Reilly’s with a group of friends to celebrate his birthday. When asked about his plans for the evening, he mentioned that he made a specific point to attend Irish Culture Night. “My brother and I are seeing Irish music shows every night that we’re here in New York, and I heard this was one of the best,” says Larkin says.

“Since we’ve started, I’ve had some really great collaborators here, “ O’Leary says. “Some of the best traditional musicians in the world have played here; I’m fortunate to have been able to share the stage with them.”

When asked about the future of Irish Culture Night, O’Leary says. “The Irish music scene is really thriving. The groups of traditional musicians in New York are truly great. The more you’re exposed to this sort of music, the better it gets. It’s a bit like radiation -- it gets in your system without you realizing.

“When people ask me how things are going here, I can only say, it’s never been better,” O’Leary says.