You’ve probably seen this type at Irish festivals and in Riverdance. It looks complicated and can be a little tricky at first, but if you keep at it you’ll soon get the hang of it. And then you’re skipping and stepping to jigs and reels, spinning and swirling in patterns with your classmates like a kaleidoscope. There are many schools of Irish dance throughout New York and a Google search should turn up one near you. Though most of their classes are geared towards kids age 4-18, some offer classes for adults.
To see some top-notch Irish step dancing performed by The Academy Irish Dance Company at the Dublin, Ohio, Irish festival, click here. Then give it a try yourself with this instructional video:
Translated to English, the name of this type of dance means “old style”. Compared to step dancing it’s looser, with your arms free to move about and the steps closer to the floor. This is more of a solo dance without the group patterns like step and céilí dance. When the opportunity arose a couple of years ago, Craobh Dugan hosted sean-nós teacher Rebecca McGowan from Boston to teach a live class in Utica. We hope to do that again in the future, but you can learn a few steps now from this video:
Céilí is an Irish word for “gathering or party”. So céilí dancing requires more people, ideally at least eight. The dancers' feet can be doing skips and side-sevens commonly seen in step dancing (which can really get your heart rate up) or simple walking works too. The fun part is learning the patterns and how all the people weave together like threads on a loom. In the video below, you can see a good example of The Seige of Ennis, one of the all-time favorite céilí dances. It looks complicated at first, but it’s easy to learn, especially with the help of Craobh Dugan’s céilí dance group.
Every Friday at 7:00pm the group meets at the Seton Center at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Genesee Street in Utica with plans to move to the new Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley when it’s finished later this year. You can bring your own partner or find a partner at the class. You don’t need any special shoes. Sneakers or any footwear you feel comfortable walking in will do. The classes are free and open to the public. Just to make sure nothing has come up to cancel class, we do recommend you call Jim O’Rourke (315-336-5966) before heading out.
In traditional Irish music, a “set” is a group of three tunes each played three times. So this year I thought it would be fun to put together a “set” of ideas that you can add to your holiday celebrations to make them a wee bit more Irish.
Irish Christmas Recipes
Delicious aromas from the kitchen are part of everyone’s festivities, so let’s start with a “tune” of three Irish Christmas recipes. (Click the titles on each recipe below to go to the complete directions.)
Irish Plum Pudding
Here’s a recipe developed by Mairéad, author of The Irish American Mom blog. Beginning with her mom’s recipe that she fondly remembers making when she was a child in Ireland, she gives detailed directions with her own adaptations that make it easier for us to make here in the USA. Important note: if you want to make Irish Plum Pudding this year, start now. It has to ripen for at least four weeks before you eat it.
Crisp Gingerbread Biscuits
Famed Irish foodie Donal Skehan says this recipe is a “must have at Christmas”. You’ll have to do some measurement conversions on this one, which takes a little effort on Google, but it looks like it will be worth it.
Most of the recipes I searched through online looked pretty complicated (like the plum pudding above). Christmas must be a time of serious culinary endeavor in Ireland. But I was able to find this easy one for those who’d rather not spend so much time in the kitchen.
Irish Christmas Gifts
For our second "tune," let’s take care of some gift shopping. What can you wrap up for your Hibernophile friend who has everything? Here are three ideas.
A Subscription to The Online Academy of Irish Music
Some famous names in Irish music are among the teachers of these very well-done video courses. They offer monthly, six-month, and annual subscriptions. And if your loved one doesn’t play an instrument, OAIM offers courses in how to sing in the Irish traditional style.
Kilkenny Design Centre
If your gift list includes someone who’s been to Ireland and already has all the usual items like an Aran sweater, a Belleek vase, and lots of Celtic knot jewelry, you might like to check out the Kilkenny Design Centre’s online shop where you’ll find many beautiful items made by Irish artisans.
If you’d like to keep your Christmas shopping dollars in Upstate New York, you’ll find Irish-themed gifts at The Plaide Palette in Cherry Valley, Cashel House in Syracuse, and Celtic Treasures in Saratoga Springs. In the Utica area, The Olde Wicker Mill in the New Hartford Shopping Center has an Irish gift department.
Irish Christmas Music
And finally, our third "tune" actually involves music. Here are three selections to add to your holiday playlists. All of these are available on CD, digital or vinyl, new or used on Amazon.com. You may also be able to find the albums, or tunes from them, on your favorite music app like Spotify or iTunes.
An Nollaig by Eileen Ivers
Canadian fiddler Eileen Ivers is one of our all-time favorite performers, having appeared at the Great American Irish Festival a number of times. This is her take on some familiar holiday classics and traditional Irish carols.
The Clancy Brothers Christmas by The Clancy Brothers
This old classic includes many songs you’ll recognize, like Jingle Bells, and some that may be new to you, like Christmas in Carrick. But they’re all rich with the Clancy Brothers’ characteristic sound.
The Wexford Carols by Caitríona O'Leary
Caitríona, a fine singer herself, did considerable research into Irish carols and poetry from the 17th-18th centuries, then teamed up with stellar musicians Tom Jones, Rosanne Cash and Rhiannon Giddens in 2014 to produce this authentic collection of Irish Christmas music.
I hope you found something in this set of three threes that you can blend into your holiday celebration this year. If this article has made you think of some of your own special finds, please share them in the comments.
They started with Johnny Allen's Reel and the tunes rolled on from there for a very generous two and a half hours. In between sets, Jerry and Damien filled us in on the history of the music with colorful stories about musical characters back in Ireland.
Jerry explained how he uses one elbow to pump air from the bellows to fill the bag under his other elbow. Hence the name: uilleann pipes which translates to "elbow" pipes in English. He said air blown through the player's mouth would be too moist and destroy the reeds in the chanter and pipes.
Damien told us that the inside of his accordion is constructed like three harmonicas, one tuned to pitch while one of the others is slightly flat and the other slightly sharp. The bellows force air through the keys which release the notes.
At one point Damien played a tune he composed for his wife Sally. It's called Sally Gally and interestingly it's become quite a hit in Japan. A group of Japanese musicians even made a wonderful music video of the tune which you can see here.
We want to send out a huge thank you to everyone who was able to come out for this fine house concert and hope even more of you will be able to join us for future ones. Meanwhile, here's a sample of the concert and you can see two more videos on our YouTube Channel here and here.
More Photos from the House Concert
Every year in October, Craobh Dugan members gather to eat, drink, dance, play music, and be generally merry. And we manage to squeeze a meeting in there too.
Looking back over last year, we had some wonderful successes to celebrate:
And looking ahead to the coming year we have some new projects in the works.
And before adjourning the meeting and beginning the music, we took a moment to remember our dear members who passed away this year. Both Jim O'Looney and Carl Sturtevant were long-time Craobh Dugan members and served generously as chairmen of the branch.
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Our musical historical program The Irish and the Erie has taken us to many places around Central New York that we may not have seen otherwise. It’s been fun to explore some of the wonderful museums and libraries in our area and in August we found a beautiful garden that you may want to visit next time you’re anywhere near Waterville.
The Waterville Public Library is in a lovely building built in 2006, and if you walk around behind it in the summer you’ll find a garden full of flowers and benches where you can take in the view over the fields and distant forest.
There’s even an observatory near the garden where the library and the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society host stargazing events.
We hope you get to check it out sometime.
You know Mike Carroll as our singer, flute, and tin whistle player extraordinaire, but he’s also a surveyor for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. He gets to spend many of his work days out in the woods and meadows of Upstate NY measuring and singing.
Well, one day in August he and his assistant Alina, found themselves working along the old Erie Canal near Oriskany. Suddenly, a metal detector Alina was using signaled that an object was under the dirt in a wet area near the boundary. When they investigated, it turned out to be an artifact significant to our new CD and program - The Irish and the Erie.
We all know the song that goes “I had a mule. Her name was Sal. Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal…” Right now you’re probably picturing a mule plodding along the towpath pulling a canal boat, and it’s not surprising that many of them threw a shoe from time to time.
The metal object that Mike and Alina found may have been one of those shoes. Since Alina has a horse, she showed a picture of the rusting shoe to her farrier who said it was the right size and shape to fit a mule’s hoof. There’s no way of carbon dating the shoe. That only works for organic matter. But it was in the right place to fit the story, and we can imagine it was once worn by a mule led by an Irish hoggee along the old Erie Canal.
Many of our newsletter readers and Facebook fans are historians and professors. What do you think of the mule shoe’s history?
The English word "galore" comes from the Irish "go leor" which means "enough". And by all accounts there sure was more than enough to do at this year's Great American Irish Festival, affectionately known as the GAIF.
The 15th annual GAIF brought out thousands to celebrate Irish culture July 27-28 at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds. And many Craobh Dugan members were on hand to contribute to the festivities with music, dance, language, and history.
The Cultural Cottage, part of the Cultural Building this year, acted as a mini museum crafted by Craobh Dugan members with the help of some friends. They put together displays teaching festival goers about the Irish language, history, musical instruments and Gaelic sports. Eight-year-old Mackensie Griffin researched and created a display about the horses of Ireland. And Mike Carroll gave a musical talk about the history of the Irish in song. Representatives from Two Rivers Gaelic League in Albany were also on hand to translate festival visitors’ names into Irish. And Cindy Wood spoke about tracing Irish ancestry through genealogy.
Though Craobh Dugan musicians have performed at all of the GAIFs, this year we played on the Traditional Stage for the first time. Our dancers in full costume demonstrated ceili dances like the Haymaker’s Jig and the Walls of Limerick. Later the dancers gave festival goers a chance to try out the dances themselves over at the Cultural Cottage.
Finally, on Saturday evening, Craobh Dugan members offered an Open Session inviting anyone who plays a traditional Irish instrument to join in. This gave us a chance to meet Anton, a singer and guitar player from Australia, who was traveling through the area and found out about the festival online.
The GAIF hosted 16 excellent bands with some of the best performers in Celtic music today. Though long time favorites The Elders bid farewell to the GAIF as they are disbanding after this year’s tour, new bands like We Banjo 3 and 1916 made their first appearance. Plenty of food trucks were on hand along with beer and wine tents. Special events like whiskey tasting, comedy acts, and an artistic sip ‘n’ paint gave people even more to do along with the annual massed pipe band march and competition, the state championship highland games, and the 5K Ranger Run. Wow! There’s always a lot going on at the GAIF!
On Sunday Craobh Dugan musicians provided music for the Irish Mass held at St. Joseph and St. Patrick Catholic Church in Utica. Deirdre and Jim McCarthy continued the tradition of singing the Our Father in Gaelic and the Mass was offered for our late founder Jim O’Looney and Matt Sullivan, the founder of the GAIF who also passed away recently.
Here’s a gallery of photos featuring Craobh Dugan’s activities at the the GAIF. For more photos and lots of videos of the festival check out the GAIF Facebook Page.
On June 25, 2018, Craobh Dugan bid farewell to our beloved co-founder, Jim O’Looney, at a beautiful funeral Mass at Historic Old St. John’s Catholic Church in Utica. To the sweetly somber notes of the highland pipes played by Michael Roddy on the church steps, Jim’s loving wife, his seven children and their spouses, his 12 grandchildren, and his many friends gathered to celebrate the full and generous life Jim lived.
In 2005 Jim preserved the story of his life in an autobiography called A Time to Reflect. The section that stayed longest in my memory is the story of how he met Diana, an American teacher on vacation in Ireland. Chapter 11 begins, “On the evening of August 26, 1954, my life was about to change in a wonderful way.”
At the time, Jim was playing accordion with the Lough Lein Ceili Band at the International Hotel in Killarney. And that night Di and her friend decided to stop in and check out some local music. After the show, they lingered to chat with the musicians and that’s when Jim noticed something special about Di. The next day by a romantic stroke of serendipity, they happened to meet along the road to Muckross House and Gardens as they were riding bikes in opposite directions. They spent the rest of the day getting to know more about each other as they wandered through the beautiful gardens. Before the end of the day, Jim and Di knew they were in love.
Diana soon canceled her return ticket to the United States and after staying with friends of Jim’s for a few months, getting to know his family, and returning home to Utica for a few months, Di returned to Killarney just three days before the wedding. Jim and Diana were married at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney on June 30, 1955, and celebrated their reception at the hotel where they had met.
Now, 63 years later, we had gathered to celebrate the love story that continued and grew throughout Jim’s life. He loved his wife Diana, and said so daily as his son Michael told us in his eulogy. He loved his seven children, Mary, Katie, Siobhan, Nora, Ellen, Michael, and Roisin, and all of their families. He loved his home country of Ireland and his adopted country of the USA becoming an American citizen in 1986. He loved Utica, his hometown for over 50 years, and made many contributions there to the Observer-Dispatch newspaper as a printer and a process camera operator and as a professor in the Advertising Design and Production program at Mohawk Valley Community College. He loved music, helping to found our local branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Craobh Dugan in 1978. And he loved life.
As his daughter Mary said, “My father was a doer.”
This is evident from the many honors he received, including induction into the MVCC Hall of Fame and the CCE Northeast Region Hall of Fame. He received the Spirit of Ireland award at the Great American Irish Festival in 2008 and served as Grand Marshal for the Utica St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2009.
Jim's musical idol was Scottish accordionist Sir Jimmy Shand, whose influence could be seen in Jim's waltz styling. Jim once had the honor of meeting Sir Jimmy and was paid a very high compliment by the elder Shand saying to Jim, "You have nice touch on that accordion."
A week before Jim died, Diana called Chris and Mike Hoke, the current leaders of Craobh Dugan, and asked them to gather a few musicians to come over.
“He seemed so weak, I thought he would die that night,” Chris said. But as they began to play the ancient and familiar tunes Jim had loved since his childhood in County Kerry, he gathered strength. He asked for his accordion. His fingers moved over the keys and the lovely sad melodies of his favorite waltzes filled the room. Then a few days later at 9:00 am on June 21, the first day of summer, Jim peacefully passed away at the age of 86.
After seeing the obituary on the Craobh Dugan Facebook page, many people commented about Jim’s kindness and generosity to them. At the calling hours and at the funeral reception it was the same. Everyone spoke of the happy times at gatherings in the O’Looney’s house on Springate Street in Utica after the Boilermaker Road Race, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and the weekly Irish music practice sessions. Jim always wore a friendly smile and was ever ready to help. He even cared for a neighbor’s dog after the man passed away.
Jim’s life was indeed a love story, and one that will live on through the book he wrote, the CD where his accordion music is recorded, his beautiful family and the Irish cultural organization he founded. He was the kind of soul we don’t encounter often in this world. Kind, gentle, generous and refined. As his son Michael said, “He was the perfect example of a life well lived.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
A merry band of pub crawlers dressed in bright green T-shirts could be seen making their way from pub to pub on Varick Street in Utica, NY, on June 16. Joining James Joyce fans around the world that day, we had gathered to retrace (in a metaphorical way) the path of Joyce’s fictional character Leopold Bloom just as he strolled the streets of Dublin in the novel Ulysses.
The Utica Bloomsday Pub Crawl included stops at four pubs and the Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley, which is under construction.
Our group of about 60 started out at Utica Brews Cafe where we received our shirts and goodie bags containing round wire-frame glasses, much like the ones James Joyce used to wear, as well as candies and our passports which would serve as our program for the day and our door prize tickets.
Then we were off to Saranac Brewery’s 1888 Tavern where Mark Sisti put the pub crawl into context for us with a bit of history about James Joyce, Ulysses, and the tradition of Bloomsday pub crawls. The musicians of our own Craobh Dugan set the mood with traditional Irish tunes, and a group of costumed Craobh Dugan dancers performed traditional steps. The musicians and dancers travelled along with us performing at each of the stops.
After that we stopped at Nail Creek Pub and and enjoyed the sunny day out on the porch while we heard Herkimer College professor Matt Powers give a rousing reading from Ulysses. Powers is director of the Little Falls Theater (LiFT) and founder of a new dramatic podcast called The Brass Lantern.
Next we were off to see the amazing progress that’s been made on the Irish Cultural Center. Last year, we saw steel framing and samples of the stone that would be used to cover its outside walls. This year we were able to walk upstairs where we saw the rooms taking shape and the many windows installed allowing plenty of light into the very generous amount of space that will soon be home to Irish cultural events. The stone now covers most of the outside of the building. The center’s owner and developer Vaughn Lang joined us there in a champagne toast.
Then we gathered at Lukin’s Brick Oven Pizza. Its stylish industrial design served as a pleasant backdrop to poet Tom Townsley’s reading from Ulysses. Tom, who teaches English at Mohawk Valley Community College, has recently published a book of poetry called Night Class for Insomniacs.
Finally we made our way over to the Celtic Harp Irish Pub where we heard the multi-talented actor, writer, musician, and teacher Ann Carey give a spine-tingling performance of the final reading of the day: Molly’s Soliloquy.
Several members of the pub crawl won delightful door prizes, and everyone said they had a wonderful time and are looking forward to the third annual Utica Bloomsday Pub Crawl.
We would like to thank our many generous donors who helped make the day such a grand success!
The pubs who provided the venues, food, and donated door prizes.
Utica Brews Cafe & Pub
Nail Creek Pub & Brewery
Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley
Lukin's Brick Oven Pizza
The Celtic Harp Irish Pub & Restaurant
Other door prize donors:
The Great American Irish Festival
University of California Press
The Blarney Rebel Band
For filling the day with music and for door prizes:
For the cool James Joyce eye glasses:
For the portable amplifier and mic:
Big Apple Music
For the T-shirt and passport designs and event promotion:
Green Pencil Content
Stockdale's Bar and Grill in Oriskany was filled to capacity with Irish music fans on April 17, 2018. They came out to feast upon Rueben burgers, wet their whistles with ales and ciders and hear Craobh Dugan musicians play a few tunes from our new CD, The Irish and The Erie. It was a great evening with lots of toe tapping and singing along.
We'd like to thank everyone who came out to celebrate with us, buy our CDs, and generally support us! You guys are awesome!
If you weren't able to make it to the party, you can still buy a CD easily on our CD Baby page. Just click the button below.