The more that I am around the traditional music scene, the more apparent that it is a very special community that thrives on equal measures of commitment and craic, especially in the New York area when it seems like any weekend can be a very good one to enjoy it. All generations gladly participate with one another in the living tradition celebrating the past, present and future all at once, and they don't need to wait until the St. Patrick's season to boast about their heritage. In fact, two such February occasions are worth noting here to buttress that. Coming up on Saturday, February 21, out at the Mineola Irish American Center on Long Island is the annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Hall of Fame ceili run by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. Being inducted are two distinguished gentlemen in Sean Quinn and John Nolan, both Irish Americans who have been key contributors to Irish music for decades, yet are still in their prime with many solid years to come. Quinn is the oldest of seven children raised in the music and dance by his deceased parents Louie (Armagh) and Mary (Monaghan). His dad was inducted into the CCE Hall of Fame back in 1998 not alone for his great commitment to traditional Irish music, but for building the Irish Musicians Association and then aiding the transition to CCE there on Long Island working with North American founder Bill McEvoy, who shared induction that year. The branch in Mineola bears his name along with another great mentor Colum Mulligan. From an early age, Quinn would not only learn his craft on the violin from his father, but he was also steeped in the tradition both at home and on the road as his father played a pivotal role in keeping the music alive through an extensive network of Irish musicians not only in North America but also in Ireland. Countless sessions at home and abroad would find the Quinns seated alongside the greats like Sean McGuire, Lad O'Beirne, Ed Reavy, Johnny Doherty and the Rowesome Family to name but a few. His dad's close association with Ed Reavy, one of the most prolific composers that Ireland every produced, served as a personal inspiration to Quinn who has written 300 tunes himself, many of them featured on three solo CDs that he has produced including his most recent release The Mountain's Still Standing. Choosing a career in music education in the Long Island school system, it allowed him to continue to be very active in Irish music as both a performer with his dance band the Druids and also as a teacher with the Quinn School of music that he founded in 1968. Quinn has been married to former Irish dancer Cathy Burke Quinn for 34 years and they have three children, Christopher, Tara and Heather, who all play the fiddle as well. John Nolan hails from the Bronx near Fordham Road and, similarly, his father John introduced him to Irish music through the accordion. His education continued with the late John Glynn and Martin Mulvihill, and also his contemporary Billy McComiskey from Brooklyn. While a student at Fordham University, part of his extracurricular education was honed at the nearby shrine to traditional music in the Bronx, the Bunratty Pub on Kingsbridge Road just off Jerome Avenue. His attendance record must have been great since his good musical buddy Joe "Banjo" Burke included him in his homage to the legendary pub entitled the Old Bunratty Crew. In 1982 he made history by becoming the first American to win the Senior All-Ireland medal at the Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in Listowel on the button accordion, a remarkable accomplishment in the days when Americans had to really stand out to get noticed at the fleadhs. His mentor, McComiskey, also a Hall of Famer, won it in 1986 and they remain the only two Yanks to hold that title on the button box. Nolan was spurred onto victory that year in Listowel by a spirited coterie of young men and women who played Irish music and danced around the New York area at that time who formed a traveling party called RENT-A-CROWD after that historic trip. It was a loose confederation of fellow travelers who included some of the top and most committed musicians and dancers to come out of the neighborhood schools of music and dance who not only partied all around the greater New York City, area but breathed some much needed life into the East Durham area in the Catskills. Along with fiddler Pat Keogh, with whom Nolan recorded a keepsake cassette A Taste for the Traditional, they led many a madcap night at Erin's Melody alongside their base camp, the Keogh Cottages, that on certain occasions probably rivaled the best nights of Irish music in America. The RENT-A-CROWD legacy hasn't been documented in the 1980s and 1990s, but it surely was an important generational link to the current success of the Catskills Irish Arts Week because it was the first prominent display of talent and pride from Irish American youth as a generation who enjoyed it and were ready to pass it on when their time came around. Nolan, like Quinn, was a familiar trad presence in all the popular Irish pubs, all the best ballad singers around town like Jesse Owens, Dermot Henry and Tom Bermingham garnering attention when the spotlight came his way. As the set dancing revival sparked many of the CCE branches like the Michael Coleman branch, Nolan's playing with Brian Conway put lift into many of the ceilithe around town, a gift he shared with one of his heroes, the late Joe Madden, whose daughter Joanie has often crossed gender lines and asked him to perform with Cherish the Ladies. In 2000, he released a solo recording, A Rake of Reels, which he tastefully delivered along with a number of other excellent tunes that further established him as one of New York's finest Irish musicians. Nolan married Mary Lehane Nolan in 1989, who along with wedded bliss, presented him with a gray Paolo Soprani which he proudly plays at every occasion. They have two children, Maura and Brendan. Nolan is also a noted accordion repairman and tuner. The CCE Hall of Fame night is always one of the best of the year, and even if I wasn't asked to emcee the ceremonies I wouldn't miss a moment of it because of all the wonderful people who make it happen and enjoy the craic of the occasion. It takes place at the Irish American Center from 7 p.m.-midnight for the ceili, with a session to follow in the hall. Call Terry Rafferty at 201-288-4267 or Pat Kearney at 631-698-3305 or visit the newly revamped website http://midatlanticcce.wordpress.com created by the new PRO Dan Neely. Admission is $20, and music will be provided by CCE Hall of Fame musicians and many CCE members and friends.
The Irish pub that became home base for 9/11 ground zero rescuers