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Oliver O’Connell and Mickey Dunne team up to highlight the importance of Irish Travellers to music tradition

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Mickey Dunne and Oliver O'Connell
Mickey Dunne and Oliver O'Connell

On a brief tour of Massachusetts and New York next week are two very lively entertainers from Ireland who each in their own way are the bedrock upon which Irish traditional music survives and flows into the next generation. 

Oliver O’Connell, originally from Doolin, Co. Clare, is a historical storyteller, songwriter and musician.  He is teaming up with Limerick piper Mickey Dunne for a series of enlightening concerts that will provide a great deal of information about the importance of the traveling community in Ireland in preserving and passing on so much traditional music over the years.

O’Connell is an enthusiastic musician with a real gra for the uilleann pipes of which his son Michael, better known as Blackie, is a master, especially the wild and easy-going style of the traveling people with whom both are enamored. 

Oliver helped lead a revival of the Johnny Doran Piping Tionol by rooting it down in his native Clare several years ago, and out of that festival came a marvelous publication two years ago called Free Spirits: Irish Travelers and Irish Traditional Music which he co-authored with an academic and piper, Tommy Fegan. 

The seminal work shed valuable light on the vital role that the itinerants, or pavee people as they were alternately called, played in carrying on the tradition. 

Irish music was under siege, with famine, wars, poverty and emigration all gnawing at its viability, so the travelers and, in particular, certain families helped ensure the music would be spared and remain a source of great pride and enjoyment throughout Ireland’s rural communities.  

Through colorful and fact-filled stories and songs, O’Connell will give more context to this fascinating subject and even show some rare photos and video as his part of their traveling program.

Dunne belongs to one of the traveling families that are responsible for so much Irish music down through the years, and from his base in Co. Limerick he has become one of the key musicians around Limerick City.

He can often be seen leading a music session at Dolan’s Warehouse on the Shannon’s banks that serves as an off-campus redoubt for University of Limerick music students who include his own stellar daughters, Niamh and Brid Dunne, who like their father also excel on the fiddle.  Mickey will be playing the pipes and low whistle in their show.

In keeping with the informal places where the music survived down through the years like a rambling house dance, a country crossroads or small parish hall, O’Connell and Dunne have sought out Irish centers or venues that are amenable to the approach they will take.   

They are starting at a house concert in Alexandria, Virginia (O’Connell is attending the CCE convention the weekend before) on Tuesday, April 9. On Wednesday they are in Worcester, Massachusetts at the Hibernian Cultural Center in their Fiddler’s Green Pub at 7:30 p.m., followed by Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Burren Back Room (247 Elm Street; 617-776-6896). 

The proceeds from these three nights will be donated to the Michael J. Dunleavy Foundation to support research for pediatric brain cancer.

On Saturday, April 13 they be performing at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City (doors open at 7:30 for an 8:30 p.m. show) starting with a cocktail hour and tea, coffee and soda refreshments.  While the seating is limited there is a great vibe to this community center for the Irish which I enjoyed in the past for shows similar to this by Martin Hayes, Michael Tubridy and very recently Donie Carroll, and it is a very welcome facility for all the Irish to enjoy. 

For reservations contact the center at www.newyorkirishcenter.org.  There will be information on how to purchase the book if there are no more copies for sale at that stage of the tour.

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