One of the fascinating aspects of traditional Irish music is that it is a great magnet for making friends who may last your entire lifetime and band families together with the common bonds it engenders.
This past weekend certainly was indicative of that as two separate and thoroughly enjoyable occasions came back to back on Friday and Saturday and were worth noting in this space.
On Friday night at the Kerry Hall in Yonkers, a wonderful tribute to Galway fiddler Pete Kelly was organized by the Kerry Association in conjunction with the Michael Coleman branch of CCE and the HOPe charity based there.
The hall was filled with well-wishers who appreciated the accomplishments of the humble 73-year old musician from Ballymoe who has quietly and most assuredly made his mark on the Irish American music and dance community since arriving on these shores coming up on 50 years ago in 1959.
Classically trained and also a very experienced musician in Irish bands before arriving here, he was well qualified to start his own school of music, teaching Irish music full time to young Irish Americans whose parents wanted them to keep the tradition alive.
That first generation of students were organized into a band called the Shannonaires who would tour Ireland seven times under his tutelage, and several were on hand to help honor him in Yonkers including my own wife, Deirdre Danaher, who joined Maureen Coyne, Bernie and Bridget Mulligan, Loretta and Monica Egan, Kathy and Mary Normanly, Kathy Brown, Mary Murphy and one of the night’s organizers John Reynolds.
According to Pete in his remarks that night, 1973 marked the first time that a junior group of Irish American musicians traveled over to Ireland thanks to parents like Bernie Mulligan of Woodlawn and Dan Danaher of Inwood and many others who helped them in their historic efforts.
Pete’s school produced hundreds of fine musicians, many who still play and teach today, before he gave up teaching full time and suffered some crippling injuries in a bad fall off a ladder.
Proving that you can’t keep a good man down for long, Pete developed a second career, if you will, in Irish music as the leader and organizer of one of the most popular ceili bands in North America in the late 1990s. Back in 1997 he formed the Pete Kelly Premier Ceili Band around the time that the North American set dancing Revival was still in high gear, and his emerging popularity did much to spur New York area ceilithe and help raise a very high standard for other ceili bands that formed to meet the demands of the very active dance community.
Along with bandmates Martin Mulhaire, Hugh O’Neill and Tommy Brady, these senior citizens are as active as they want to be as they accept invitations from outside the area as well.
Kelly was presented with a lovely Galway Crystal bowl by Kathleen Gallagher (CCE), Tom Kennedy (Kerry) and Joe McCarthy (HOPe) for his achievements, and the crowd on hand to salute him were also rewarded with first rate music all night and food and snacks in abundance in a festive party atmosphere.
Margie Mulvihill, John Reynolds, Martin Mulhaire, Felix Dolan, Mike Brady and Peter Carolan provided 12 sets on the floor, with lovely dance music for a variety of sets. The centerpiece was the gift that the Shannonaires present gave back to Kelly, their teacher of many years ago.
Loretta Egan Murphy spoke for all when she said, “A teacher never knows where his influence will end,” which was very much born out throughout the evening and vividly on display for all to see and appreciate. A lovely evening for a lovely man who keeps on influencing people with his music.