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Rita Keane

Traditional Irish music's bright future

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Rita Keane

One particular contingent from Mullaghbawn area of South Armagh stood out in my mind as worthy candidates to share their talents with budding singers in the Catskills and those who appreciate great singing and creativity and a bit of humor. Experienced singers like Len Graham, Patricia Flynn and the 82-years-young Mick Quinn provided a formidable task force to take on the town of East Durham.

Graham was born in Glenarm, County Antrim and now resides in Mullaghbawn with his wife Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, who is also a traditional singer. Both specialize in the songs of Ulster. 

Graham is the most well-known of the trio, having visited the U.S. many times before on solo tours and in concert with other performers like Cathal MacConnell and his one-time band Skylark. 

His singing and sourcing his songs are first-rate and very much in the mold of Harte and the Keanes, and his associations with many of the finest singers in the North like Joe Holmes, Eddie Butcher, Geordie Hanna and Sarah Anne O’Neill, MacConnell and storyteller John Campbell place him in the vanguard of tradition-bearers today.   

His work on Northern Ireland songs is particularly noteworthy and valuable these days and he has appeared on 20 albums, including three solo CDs.

Patricia Flynn, born in Drumintee in South Armagh and now residing in Mullaghbawn, is also a very fine singer (one CD entitled “Stray Leaves”) of songs from the area and beyond. As one of Armagh’s local music promoters, she help found and run the Slieve Gullion Festival of Traditional Singing which served a major role in the preservation and promotion of Northern Ireland Song.

Mick Quinn was born in Carricknagavna in South Armagh in farming country, and he honed many of his stories and songs from his father and the barn and flax dances in his neighborhood back in the 1940s. 

He is a highly respected author of poetry, stories and songs in a comedic vein and a wonderful tradition-bearer in the Irish music scene and the uncle of box-player Martin Quinn who appeared in the Catskills a couple of years ago. 

Graham and Flynn will teach singing workshops in the Catskills and perform in the evening concerts and sessions along with Quinn who will serve in a master musician’s role all week next week. They will all participate in a special workshop on Northern Ireland song on Thursday afternoon in the Shamrock House starting at 4 p.m.

Helping to keep the singing tradition alive and well in the U.S. is Brian Hart (Brian O hAirt), a St. Louis native who has studied traditional music, song, dance and the Irish language through graduate programs in Ireland.

In 2002 in Listowel, he was the youngest and first ever American to win the All-Ireland Senior Singing competition. He has put all that education to good use in establishing Sean Nos Milwaukee, a leading celebration of singing in the sean nos tradition, especially in the Irish language and he will teach singing in Irish in the Catskills. He is also a very fine concertina and sean nos step dancer and member of the band Bua.

While the voices of Frank Harte and now Rita Keane have been stilled, their spirit is very much with us especially in the Catskills with the Frank Harte Singing Club established in his memory in 2007. 

Raising voices in such a community as that strengthens the living tradition and assures that Ireland’s history in song and story will remain as powerful as it has been in the past.

For more information on the Catskills Irish Arts Week contact 518-634-2286 or visit www.irishvillage.com.

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