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My visit to “OurLand” - celebration of Irish culture at New York’s Lincoln Center

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William Kennedy, Alphie McCourt, Joe Hurley and Malachy McCourt at OurLand. (Photo by Christine Walsh)

Well, it’s back to work for us here at the Irish Voice. Everyone’s hanging around the water cooler, nursing our savage and angry Irish red burns.

Some went to Saratoga to watch the ponies run. Some went to kiss the auld sod.

Me? Well, I hung out at the Jersey Shore. I live here, so a dip in the briny waters is more of a daily occurrence around here.

I did do a reverse commute from the shore to the city, and am I glad that I did! I participated in the OurLand Festival at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. It was not only the highlight of my summer but of the whole year as well.

OurLand was conceived and executed by Joe Hurley, he of Rogues March fame. Chain smoking and dressed entirely in black, he paced the backstage area as a gaggle of writers and authors took to the stage and offered the crowd a decidedly different flavor of Irish culture than you might get in the “green beer and Guinness” variety, usual run-of-the-mill Irish summer fests.

People seemed to like it. There were over 3,200 people at the author’s tent alone and almost 8,000 at the main rock stage!

Yes, Hurley took to the large stage and rocked the skyline mercilessly, and you would come to expect that. Accordions, flutes, and fiddles made a joyous ruckus behind him as his gravely baritone licked the humid air.

His Irish Rock and Soul Revues have become stuff of legend in this city, and a cast of characters from Hurley’s Rolodex (that’s a contact list for you texters out there) honored the songbooks of Van Morrison and Thin Lizzy.

For me, the highlights came in the quieter moments on the side stages.  Joanie Madden led a spirited acoustic seisiun from the main stage before the hard rock got underway.

Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim native Niamh Hyland performed a stunning a capella read of “Hard Times Come Again No More,” a parlor song by Stephen Foster whose first known recording was back in 1905.

“Foster was influenced by Irish music and authors as well as the Deep South, so I thought it was appropriate to cover that song,” Hyland said after the performance.

“I don’t do old songs very much nowadays, but it’s fun to evoke the strong emotions in these old songs. We have this great variety of Irish Americans and people that love Ireland to celebrate the amazing contributions of this tiny little island of ours. It’s great to see so many people soaking this in!”

Hyland is gigging around Manhattan with her band Lily Sparks and is working on some recordings. She is loving her stint in the city. Keep your eye out for this one -- she’s going places!

Alphie McCourt, the soft-spoken brother of Frank and Malachy, carried on the family tradition of sharp social commentary by reworking “The Patriot Game” into “The Immigrant Game.” 

“An immigrant nation-we were in the past/But this new crop is alien-and they’re coming too fast/If we don’t watch out now-we’ll be overrun/And the blame will be all ours-when all’s said and done/So we’ve passed legislation-to close down the door/On the immigrant nation-that we were before/We don’t want them sailing-past Liberty’s lamp/ And if we have our way soon-we will pull up the ramp,” he sang.

The audience returned the favor by singing “Happy Birthday” to him. At that moment, the skies opened up, and brother Malachy quickly took to the stage and blamed the change in weather on Mitt Romney.

For me, sharing a stage with the likes of the McCourts and Pulitzer Prize Winner William Kennedy was a true honor, a highlight of my literary career that I won’t soon forget!

I spoke to Hurley a few days after the show, and he is looking forward to making the festival an annual affair and bringing the OurLand concept into different sized venues throughout the year.
I’m praying that a new tradition will be formed from this alternative Irish festival!

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