CIAW to be virtual again in 2021

Joanie Madden, pictured at White Strand Beach, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, will teach the tin whistle at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, which is scheduled for July 12-16. [Photo:]

Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely

The big news this week was the CDC’s announcement that those who have been fully vaccinated can resume mask-free activities! This was most welcome news and didn't just represent a huge step in the direction of normalcy, it also put us in a place where live music could once again be a possibility! Won’t it be nice to get out and reacquaint yourself with your favorite live acts? I know I’m looking forward.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

And while this is great for artists and bodes well for the return of traditional tune sessions, the big summertime festivals are still in a bit of an unfortunate holding pattern. Preparations for these sorts of events generally begin a year in advance, so when there are uncertainties about public health, organizers are forced to act early, either by going online or postponing altogether. This was the trend in 2020 and is something that continue to see the effects of into 2021.

It was no surprise, then, that this year’s Catskills Irish Arts Week, this country’s premier Irish traditional music week, will once again be virtual – it is set for July 12-16. This is good news. Last year’s CIAW turned out to be a most pleasant surprise and set a fine standard for virtual events of this nature. It showed that the love for CIAW was enduring and that an excellent online event was possible. When this year’s line up was announced, it not only reinforced CIAW’s commitment to quality but also the traditional music community’s commitment the CIAW community.

As always, the festival’s organizers (led by Reidin O’Flynn) have assembled a superb lineup of instructors. The list includes Willie Kelly and Dylan Foley (fiddle); Athena Tergis (song accompaniment, fiddle); Larry Nugent and Laura Byrne (flute); Billy McComiskey (button accordion); Joanie Madden and Mary Bergin (tin whistle); Louise Mulcahy and Benedict Koehler (uilleann pipes); Michelle Mulcahy (harp); Brenda Castles (concertina); Josh Dukes (guitar); Kathleen Boyle (piano); Mary Coogan (mandolin); Pauline Conneely (banjo); Mirella Murray (piano accordion); Myron Bretholz (bodhrán); Margie Mulvihill (céilí band); Nell Ní Chróinín (song, sean nós and English language); Kieran Jordan (sean nós dance); Padraig McEneany (set dancing); Vincent Crotty (art); Deirdre Cronin (creative writing); Mícheál Ó Máille (Irish language); Vincent Woods (poetry); and Mick Moloney (presentations). Students will be able to access their classes for eight weeks.

Once again, Catskills Irish Arts Week offers something for everyone! And while it’s hoped that this year’s event will be the last to happen virtually, rest assured that no effort has been spared to make CIAW 2021 the best of its class. Registration is now open, to enroll visit

With preparations for CIAW 2021 well in hand, organizers in East Durham are already working overtime in preparation not only for next year's CIAW but also for the East Durham Irish Festival ( This will involve some heavy lifting, because a return to in-person events (which is what is expected for 2022) after two years of virtual programming is already proving to be a real challenge, fiscal and otherwise.

In order to help meet one part of this challenge, Irish Music Magazine ( has taken an extraordinary move by stepping in and presenting a “Transatlantic Virtual Experience & Fundraiser” for the MJ Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Center on May 29 & 30. This promises to be an event for the ages.

Named after Michael J. Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America and an early supporter of the civil rights movement in the US, the MJ Quill Center is a 501 (c)(3) not for profit that promotes and preserves the cultural and artistic heritage of the Irish and those of Irish descent. It’s the organization that operates the Catskills Irish Arts Week and the East Durham Irish Festival as its flagship events.

A huge number of artists from both sides of the Atlantic are lending their support by performing for this donation drive. United States-based artists and groups will include Billy McComiskey & Baltimore Salute, Mick Moloney, Shilelagh Law, Andy Cooney, Young Dubliners, Celtic Cross, The Narrowbacks, The Whelan Master Sessions, The Noble Call & Chicago Reel, The Canny Brothers, Dan Gurney, Christina Dolphin & Dylan Foley, Mary Courtney, Mickey Coleman & The Pride of Moyvane, and Poor Man’s Gambit. Special guests will include Scythian, The Irish Rovers, The Gothard Sisters, and Joanie Madden with Mary Coogan & Bruce Foley.

Artists from Ireland will include Screaming Orphans, Derek Warfield & The Young Wolfe Tones, Seán Keane, SíFiddlers, Connla, Billow Wood, BackWest, Trad on the Prom, Meadhbh Walsh, Dan McCabe, Maċa, Elle Marie O'Dwyer, Na Fianna, Sina Theil, and Conor McGinty. Special guests will include COSCAN, John Garrity, The Dublin Legends, and The Bonny Men.

This is an outrageously good lineup of artists and one that almost certainly could not happen in person. (This kind of global participation is one of the advantages of a virtual event!) Better still? The online festival is free to watch! Donations can be made at any time through the link at, but those who contribute before midnight on June 7 will be entered into a drawing for a free trip to Ireland with Dublin accommodations.

You can tune into the Transatlantic Virtual Experience & Fundraiser concert on the 29th & 30th through Irish Music Magazine’s Facebook page, which you can also visit for more details,