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Fond farewell to set dancing fanatic Bruce Olens

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Bruce Olens
RIP set dancing fanatic Bruce Olens

On a sunny but steamy Friday morning last week over 100 people flooded a Dumont, New Jersey funeral home to pay respects to one of the more popular set-dancing fanatics in the greater New York-New Jersey area who passed away at the young age of 63.

Many in that community were stunned and saddened the week before when word spread that Bruce Olens had died from a heart attack -- suddenly but peacefully -- at home, and that the smiling gentleman who taught set dancing as part of the Iselin Ceili Group in New Jersey would no longer be rounding the house at any future ceilithe.

Many learned at the memorial service conducted by a rabbi with Bruce’s brother, sister, daughter and his grandchildren in attendance, that Bruce embraced two cultural heritages, that of his Jewish faith and also his intense interest in Irish music, dance and history.

The rabbi also wisely commented on the number of people from the wider Irish dancing community who turned out in great numbers and distances to bid farewell to a fond friend who always had a cheerful hello at the regional ceilithe remarking that a man’s worth is often more telling at the end of his life.

Olens’ family was treated to an Irish celebration of his life afterwards at a repast at the nearby Bergen Irish Center in Dumont where stories, songs, jokes and even a few sets jokes revolving around the hail-fellow-well-met Olens.

His dear friend, Down native Marianne McShane --who had returned recently from Northern Ireland escorting him on his first trip to the North -- with help from the Iselin Ceili Group organized a fine sendoff.

Olens will be missed on the dance floor and the weekly Monday night classes down in Iselin where for the time being “Team Bruce” will lead the faithful attendees in their paces learning new Country sets or polishing older ones.

Farewell also to Bernie Mulligan of Co. Monaghan, Woodlawn and more recently of Pearl River, New York who passed away this week at the age of 93.

Known for his proud Republican fervor with Irish Northern Aid and the Bronx Gaelic League, he was also an avid supporter of the Pete Kelly School of Music and the Mulvihill and McCarthy Schools of Irish Dance.

He and his wife Alice reared five children in the Bronx (Bernadette, Brian, John, Bridget and Alice) before he retired as a custodian with the Board of Ed.

He was an artist and poet, and he performed his poem “My American Wake” about his own emigration to America in 1948 as part of daughter-in-law Eileen Ivers show very often.  Brian and Eileen Ivers Mulligan buried her own father just a month ago.

There is a one day wake Wednesday, September 12 at Assumma-Shankey Funeral Home in Pearl River (2-4 and 7-9 p.m.) and a Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday at St. Margaret of Antioch Church in Pearl River.  Condolences to the Mulligan family.

Also at deadline heard of the passing of Johnny Walsh, the long-time chairman of the Irish American Cultural Institute based in Morristown, New Jersey at the age of 74. He will be waked on Wednesday, September 12 from 3-8 p.m. at Doyle Funeral Home in Morristown and a Mass of Christian Burial will be on Thursday, September 13 at Christ the King Church in New Vernon, New Jersey.

Walsh did so much for Irish culture through the IACI and other New Jersey Irish events. Condolences to the Walsh Family.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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