Published Wednesday, October 28, 2009, 4:50 PM
Last month in Dublin at the annual Tionol Leo Rowsome at the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Culturlann, a marvelous weekend was held to celebrate the achievements of the cultural movement founded back in 1951 to preserve and promote the traditional way of life as manifested through Irish music, song, dance and the Irish language.
The yearly event is named after one of the most influential uilleann pipers, Leo Rowsome, whose musicianship and teaching was key to keeping the pipes alive and inspiring organizations like CCE.
One of the enhancing features of the weekend is awarding a Gradam (honor) Award to a most deserving CCE volunteer officer whose leadership shows Comhaltas at its best and most dedicated. Once again that award went to someone living in America when CCE selected St. Louis resident, Helen Gannon as this year’s recipient.
Since 2004, Helen Gannon has served as the first lady chairman of North America for Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann with its 45 branches in the U.S. and Canada from coast to coast. For over 35 years she has been a leader in St. Louis Irish Arts, one of the most inspiring programs for young people who are brought into the world of Irish music and dance as part of their upbringing and taught a number of other values like community spirit and service as well.
Visitors to St. Louis for the annual North American Comhaltas Convention in 1990, 2002 and earlier this year in April would have seen her handiwork in a weekend-long homage to the principles espoused by Comhaltas as they watched the younger generation display their Irish heritage so proudly and so artistically alongside their mentors.
Helen, a nurse, and her husband P. J. Gannon arrived in St. Louis in the late 1960s where he established a medical practice while studying there as well. Emigration was a lonesome choice for them in many ways, but when a Comhaltas tour came through town a connection was made that would be most fortuitous for CCE in North America.
The Gannons embraced CCE and used it as bridge to all things Irish, and soon Irish Arts was a pioneering portal for many an Irish musician or dancer in the Midwest or heading west from the Gateway City.
Helen became the first certified Irish dancing instructor in St. Louis and developed her dancing school to include basic music study as well, which has grown in concept over the years as it produced many outstanding Irish musicians and dancers and teachers, including her own son Niall and daughter Eileen.
Having lived the American Dream, Helen and P.J. -- a gifted mouth organ player and master of the art of recitation -- have found myriad ways to give back to Ireland and America all the bounty they found here over the years through their cultural activities on behalf of Comhaltas and Irish dance.
Helen has always been a leader in the progression of CCE in North America and also the North American Feis Committee for Irish Dancing. She has also encouraged her young people to do community service, and many have been awarded recognition by Congress for their exemplary activities.
Helen and P.J.’s family joined them in Dublin for the celebration with sons Sean, Niall, Patrick and daughter Eileen all on hand along with many of her friends from America and all over Ireland thanking her for her legendary work on behalf of Comhaltas.