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Celtic Appalachia tops St. Patrick’s Day celebrations - Mick Moloney and Irish Arts Center triumph

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Dana Lyn, John Roberts and Mick Moloney perform. (Photo by Erin Baiano)
Dana Lyn, John Roberts and 
Mick Moloney perform. (Photo by Erin Baiano)

Mick Moloney and the Irish Arts Center triumphed once again at the historic Upper West Side cultural bastion known as Symphony Space which serves as a large platform for its increasingly popular themed variety shows. 

With a capacity crowd of nearly 800 people in the restored edifice (that is a tribute to the vision of the late Isaiah Sheffer who died last November) the Irish Arts Center latest show Celtic Appalachia II managed to upstage St. Patrick’s Day celebrated earlier that day at the parade. It wasn’t just a great day for the Irish but also for the Celts, most of whom were represented in some way at the evening performance.

Moloney’s own invention, the Green Fields of America troop, opened the night in the Irish vein with its mixture of hard-driving Irish dance music and historical songs about the Irish experience breathed new life by his solid current edition of Billy McComiskey, Brendan Dolan, Liz Hanley, Athena Tergis, Dana Lyn and Joey Abarta. 

The latter three are well regarded in the Irish scene from their work with Moloney and elsewhere including Ireland, and also reflect the assimilation in these green fields of America. 

That was further underscored with the percussive dance routines of Irish dancer Niall O’Leary and Hall, an African-American tap dancer with Riverdance roots also.

The Appalachian ties were handled by the group Hello Stranger, which harkens back to the Carter Family through grandson Dale Jett who wondered “how they managed to make a living playing music back in the Depression when he could hardly make a living at it now.”

Through their simple and genuine performance they displayed the kinship with their Irish cousins who often used music and dance to counter the travails of this life and the religious conviction that a better world awaited afterwards.  

Some of these historical points and connections were further enhanced by the separate appearances of the veteran folksingers John Roberts and Tommy Sands (with his son Finan).

The second half was dominated by two surprising and very disparate acts.  Brothers Owen and Moley O’Suilleabhain (who perform under the name Size2shoes) dramatically approached the stage in a tandem procession down the hall’s two aisles singing the ancient Irish chant “The Seven Sorrows of Mary,” followed by some Gregorian chant. 

Their mother Noirin ni Rian is one of Ireland’s foremost singers in ancient Irish song and chant lived in Murroe, Co. Limerick near the famed Glenstal Abbey and the singing monks. 

Since they share a gene pool with their father, Dr. Micheal O’Suilleabhain, known for his own flair for musical creativity, experimentation and crossover tendencies, watching them cleverly shift into a more contemporary song of their own with Moley alternating between improvised rap and sound effects was amazing.

The concert came to a close with the most astonishing aspect of the evening when a troupe from Brittany recreated a Breton Fez-Nos (evening festival) throughout the theater. 

Over 70 musicians and dancers over in New York to promote Breton culture (as a Celtic cousin they are simpatico as the after-party proved) dominated the last half hour. Their segment opened with two terrific singers in Armel An Hejer, one of Brittany’s most prominent singers, and Alain Le Clere.

Highland pipes, bombards and drums filled the stage and the air while 30 colorfully costumed dancers weaved their way up and down the aisles dancing native dances like “La Gavotte or L’en Dro” enticing willing people out of their seats at one point.  It had to be seen and heard to be believed and it was a stunning crowd-pleaser.

While the encore was another Carter Family staple “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” the real testament to this evening’s well rounded entertainment was a conviction and commitment to one’s cultural identity and genuine Celtic bonhomie.

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