The years are flying by when I realized recently that it was over three decades ago that I first became aware of a young teenager who was playing in her father’s band for one of the Clare Society dances. She was getting a firm grounding in playing Irish dance music for a crowd that knew how to dance sets with the right tempo alongside her old man who had the tradition ingrained from his own East Galway musical influences.
Her musical influences were her dad’s musical friends also, a veritable who’s who of trad music around the greater New York area. She was one of a number of young boys and girls born to the breed of Irish musicians in a first generation who took up the music and made their parents proud and audiences around the U.S. and the world even happier.
We are talking about Joanie Madden of Yonkers (formerly the Bronx and Yorktown Heights) who is celebrating another birthday this week as she gracefully slides into middle age with an extraordinary past few weeks adding to the occasion recently.
Not only is she another year older and wiser, but the accomplishments and accolades keep coming her way which also honor the rich legacy she was given by her father Joe Madden from Portumna in East Galway and the Madden family also led by mother Helen Meade Madden from Miltown Malbay in Clare.
Last year we celebrated 25 years of Cherish the Ladies as a professional touring band, and also a Bronx designation of Madden’s career with a Walk of Fame street sign and honor. This year came the Ellis Island Medal of Honor recognizing both the success and contributions of diverse immigrant groups awarded to her three weeks ago on Ellis Island itself.
But I think the icing on the cake was a simple but oh so symbolic renaming ceremony that took place in Bogota, New Jersey on May 15 at a Comhaltas ceili.
For 18 years the Bergen County branch of CCE was named in honor of its founder musician, Mike Rafferty from Ballinakill in East Galway. Rafferty, 84, who won a National Heritage Award last September for his national contributions to Irish music in America, was also a close friend of the late Joe Madden’s for 50 years in this country, sharing the immigrant life of good times and hard times.
They worked hard and they played hard all their lives and got to witness the younger generation of Irish musicians following in their footsteps with the same passion and talent for their native music. It was way more than they could ever have dreamed possible when they began their journeys across the Atlantic more than a decade apart.
Joe Madden left us tragically in November of 2008 and has been mourned ever since, leaving a large void in our hearts and music sessions, though his larger than life personality would never be forgotten.
Part of the healing process began last summer when Joanie lovingly produced their last joint project together, the CD A Galway Afternoon, capturing a recording session on Joe’s last trip to Ireland.
Another large step was taken thanks to an inspired and generous notion from Terry Rafferty, Mike’s wife, that the New Jersey branch add the name of Joe Madden to its official title, “reuniting” the best friends once again in a meaningful way that looked to the future as well as the past.
And so it came to pass on a showery Sunday afternoon in Bogota in a crowded VFW Hall that the new banner was unfurled at the outset of the May ceili.
Members of the Madden family in attendance included Helen, Joanie, Joe and Patrick. Their close family friends the Raffertys had Terry and Mike, Mr. and Mrs. Mike Rafferty Jr. and Mary Rafferty Clancy visiting from Ireland with her three children Liadan, Colum and Liam.
Branch chair Bridie Dal Pizzol and husband John and John and Mary Carney and other branch workers did a wonderful job of hosting the auspicious occasion.
The new union symbolizing an old one was truly christened by the musicians on stage who assembled to play for the dancers and to honor Mike Rafferty and Joe Madden. They gave us outstanding and beautiful music to dance and listen to.
Neither Raff nor Joe were on stage this day, but their work had been done long before this day. The torch had been passed tune by tune over the years, and the flame will burn brightly for many years to come as we remember two lads from East Galway who gave us so much.