Cherish the Ladies.
By Daniel Neely
Catskills Irish Arts Week 2019 has come and gone, and it was exceptional! Celebrating its 25th anniversary with outstanding teachers (there were over 60 on staff offering tuition on a full range of traditional instruments), fabulous concerts, glorious céilís, and a can’t-be-beat nightlife, “Arts Week” once again proved why it’s America’s premier Irish week. For this, kudos are due director Reidin O’Flynn, who has really given the week on an upward trajectory since taking the reins and made a céad míle fáilte hospitality her ultimate goal. As we saw, her efforts really paid off. Cherish the Ladies
So much going on, it only seems right to start where it matters most: the staff. It was a list of all stars from the top. Billy McComiskey & Mick Mulcahy were this year’s artists-in-residence, and Mick Moloney the week’s special guest. The members of Cherish the Ladies were all teaching. So were the folks from Green Fields of America. Most of The Yanks were on staff. Some of the best folks from Baltimore and New York were there too. And thats only some of them – the teaching staf was utterly brilliant.
Over the week’s course, the concert stage featured all of them. Mick Moloney and Green Fields of America, Cherish the Ladies, the great Mulcahy Family, Mary Bergin, Cormac Begley, Willie Kelly, Patrick Ourceau, Pauline Conneely, Kathleen Conneely, Larry Nugent, Brendan Dolan, Dylan Foley, Dan Gurney, and many, many others entertained and delighted CIAW’s audience.
In addition to the nightly céilís, all of which featured full bands comprised of CIAW instructors, Wednesday night’s feature was the “Great Barn Dance,” which was spectacularly attended and a roaring success. The brilliant Padraig McEneany was in charge of the dancing and the music was provided by the Pride of Moyvane Céilí Band and friends.
The week again featured a full schedule of informative lectures, with Mick Moloney leading the afternoon session and yours truly taking time during the lunchtime slot, as usual. Moloney covered a lot of ground. His lecture about the Irish and African-American roots of Irish music was enlightening, but surely the high point was the lecture he did with Louise Mulcahy about Irish Women and the Uilleann Pipes. It was amazing – Mulcahy’s research is world class, and the two put on quite a show together. The chats I led that seemed to strike the fullest chord included my interview with west Kerry concertina player Cormac Begley, and my chat about writing that featured writer & poet Deirdre Cronin and Robert Heuston, publisher of Irish Music Magazine. More enjoyable people to listen to and speak with you won’t find.
What really gave this week it’s special life – indeed, the thing that makes the whole week memorable in general – was the incredible nighttime craic. Rather than one spot attracting all the life, the late-night session action gathered in three places: McGrath’s, the Shamrock House, and Gavin's Irish Country Inn. As each of these venues has multiple spots for a little tucked-away tune (as well as attentive bartenders!) they attracted the musical hordes in droves. The music and chat in these spots was mighty all around – people could run into and have the annual tune with their rare friends from far flung places. But what was really nice was how diversified it all felt: each spot had a different flavor. If one didn’t feel right – for whatever reason – you could simply move on to another one a short distance away, with very little effort. It felt just like old times.
On a more personal note, this was my first time taking my 8-year-old son with me to CIAW. We took “advanced basic” fiddle classes together and loved them, but having him in tow was a new experience for me and gave me a different, more parental perspective on what CIAW’s kid program offers. I found his classes were well suited to his age range and there were lots of kids in his classes to connect with. He made a couple of new friends and a clear sense of camaraderie developed among them. The fiddle, some new friends, and a nearby swimming hole really made the constant need for “screen time” irrelevant. It was great.
Catskills Irish Arts Week is one of the pillars of the Irish community and an absolutely worthwhile week for families who want to indulge in an immersive musical vacation experience. For those thinking about it for next year, bear in mind the week offers both full and part-time registration options for adults and up and coming youngsters, a stepping stone youth program for ages 9-16, and a “Tír na nÓg” program for kids 5-8. Registration is affordable, as are accommodations, which include a number of nearby resort and AirBnB options, as well as nearby campgrounds, where you can pitch a tent or park a camper. There are dining options as well.
Hats off to Reidin O’Flynn for putting together another excellent week. She promised the craic and delivered miles of smiles. Great stuff all together! Keep an eye on www.catskillsirishartsweek.com for announcements about next year.
Finally, apropos of nothing (except I’ve been seeing it on Facebook and think it merits mentioning): Cork-based concertina player Clíona Halley is the proprietor of “Britches Full of Stitches,” an endeavor in which she hand-stitches the notation of the traditional Irish tunes of your choice. Her work, “for all occasions,” is charming and well done, and the perfect gift for the musician in your life. Visit www.facebook.com/BritchesFullofStitches/ to see examples, she can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.