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Senior ceili band champions (from left) Emily McShane, Lindsay Buteaux, Erin Loughran, Blaithinn Loughran, Maeve Flanagan (holding trophy), Pamela Geraghty, Dylan Foley, Margaret Dudasik, Deirdre Brennan and Declan Crowley. (Photo by Debbie McShane)

Traditional Irish music fleadh thrives in Pearl River

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Senior ceili band champions (from left) Emily McShane, Lindsay Buteaux, Erin Loughran, Blaithinn Loughran, Maeve Flanagan (holding trophy), Pamela Geraghty, Dylan Foley, Margaret Dudasik, Deirdre Brennan and Declan Crowley. (Photo by Debbie McShane)

One of the most exciting elements of the annual Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann (All-Ireland Music Festival) is the late Sunday night unveiling of that year’s senior ceili band champions who are whisked from the competition hall to the gig rig in the public square of the fleadh town. 

With all the tension of the competition behind, the music that flows from them has an even more joyous quality as they accept the acclaim of those assembled around them as the fleadh weekend draws to a close and they begin their reign as All-Ireland champions. 

While the New York Fleadh held in Pearl River last weekend wouldn’t approximate the level of drama or attendance of the All-Ireland, there was a parallel revelry as the 2009 senior champions, the River Rogues, left the competition hall to perform nearby at Christy’s Pub full of exuberance and satisfaction over the achievements that not only reflected well of them but of the entire Pearl River community.

This Sunday night residency in Christy’s Pub by the band Girsa, a contingent of eight to 10 young ladies who have been having a marvelous spring since launching a new CD in March, was a very special occasion. 

Placed before them as they entertained the crowd with their mixture of jigs, reels and songs was the senior trophy garnered just moments before they were to be on stage at the gig.

Girsa formed the bulk of the River Rogues Ceili Band (aided and abetted by two very lucky and talented young men, Dylan Foley and Declan Crowley). 

As parents, family and friends and teachers all made their way in from the fleadh down at the nearby Middle School in Pearl River, it capped a terrific weekend for this epicenter of traditional Irish music in America.

Since Girsa (www.girsamusic.com) represents the vanguard of the younger generation of talented musicians to arise in the Pearl River revival of Irish music in New York, their first place finish in a sensational showing by five senior ceili bands (the other four had age but not necessarily experience on their side) was unanimous from the three Irish-born judges who deliberated the outcome. 

Coming in a close second was the Old Bay Ceili Band (who went on to compete in Ireland last year) and the St. Cecelia’s Ceili Band from New York on their heels in third. 

Joined by two ceili bands from Boston under the direction of Oisin McAuley and Sean Clohessey for the Boston CCE Irish Music School, they all gave marvelous entertainment as the fleadh drew to a successful close.

Since moving the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh to Pearl River over five years ago, it has become as vital and dynamic as the Irish music scene there that has blossomed in the past decade as it became known as THE place for Irish music to prosper.  

As one of the qualifying fleadhanna in North America, it plays an important role in selecting competitors who are encouraged to compete in Ireland late in August at Fleadh Cheoil na HEireann (in Tullamore once again over the week of August 16-23 with details at www.fleadh2009.com). 

Since the fleadh committee is comprised mostly of teachers and musicians and some very dedicated CCE officials who work very hard every year, the emphasis is on creating the right balance of competition and adjudication to not only ensure a high standard, but an atmosphere where the music can thrive and continue to be passed on to future generations.

The flow and execution of this year’s New York Fleadh in Pearl River seemed to be as good as it could be, starting with the ceili on Friday night hosted by the Pearl River Ceili Group in West Nyack. 

Over 14 sets danced to the music of four adjudicators over from Ireland, Corkmen Conal O’Grada (on flute) and Ciaran Coughlan (on keyboards), Paudie O’Connor (on box from Killarney) and Diarmuid O’Brien from Glin, Co. Limerick, a relation of the late Martin Mulvhill. 

The dancers were well pleased and entertained by the music kept at a very comfortable pace that we often don’t see with some of the Irish ceili bands these days.

During the day Saturday solo competitions were the order of the day, with all the groups (duets, trios, grupai cheoil and ceili bands) competing on the Sunday. With over 400 entries across the competitions, interest seemed to be higher than ever and indicative of the quality of teaching available these days and the dedication of students of all ages.  

In between there was a large session gathering at the Holiday Inn in Orangeburg where a number of out of town guests joined in the tunes, with the locals led by Mike Rafferty and Willie Kelly. Providing much needed relaxation and socialization between the busy days of competition is a very necessary thing.

The four lads over from Ireland (O’Grada, Coughlan, O’Connor and O’Brien) and one lady (Maire Walsh) enhanced a distinguished stateside panel of adjudicators who have a very vital role in elevating standards and preparing prospective competitors for stiffer challenges in Ireland or as they further their musical education. 

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