Moyne, Co. Longford -- In the traditional music realm, the image of the country crossroads is a very strong one whether you are talking about the humble roadsides gathering spot of olden times in Ireland, or a more weather-friendly indoor local where the country people came together to play, dance and share one another’s company.
Or it can be a simple happenstance where like-minded individuals meet and begin a cultural exchange that can be truly historic.
Those notions all came to mind recently I when I made my way out to the parish of Dromard, the townland outside of Moyne in Longford where the late fiddler Paddy Reynolds was born where a night of music helped celebrate a legacy that touched many people.
It was my first visit to Longford, and the occasion would be memorable for a number of reasons, most of them revolving around the legendary musician who spent over 57 years in New York as part of the storied New York Sligo fiddling masters who dominated the trad music scene for decades, from Coleman to Conway.
A night of music was organized by John Daly, a Cork man and fiddler who befriended Reynolds and who, shortly before Reynolds died back in 2005 produced a CD entitled Paddy Reynolds: Classic Recordings of an Irish Fiddle Master from a treasure trove of tapes found in Reynolds’ Staten Island home.
Daly, who was a leading musician out in Chicago before being recruited for a job back in Ireland, wanted to have a CD launch in Paddy’s home place with some of his family and friends that included his one surviving sister Peggy. Making it extra special was the availability of one of Paddy’s foremost American protégées, his one-time Brooklyn neighbor, Tony Demarco, who was on his own Irish tour launching his CD The Sligo Indian to be the evening’s special guest.
Demarco was a young high school student back in Brooklyn with a curiosity for expanding his musical horizons when he was sitting on a park bench playing the fiddle when Reynolds came walking along. Paddy saw some potential and invited the young Italian American with one quarter Irish heritage over to his house to learn a few Irish tunes.
It began a life-long friendship as Reynolds influence helped make Demarco one of the leading fiddlers in the Irish scene in the country, garnering respect on both sides of the Atlantic. While Reynolds was a formative influence on the young Demarco, Tony’s own fascination with Irish music led him to many other influences that are in evidence on the new Demarco recording.
But the symbolism of him appearing in a farmyard cow-cabin turned performance space not far from Drumlish was most profound on the night where Reynolds was remembered as a great musician who touched a lot of lives with his music.
Demarco also had gigs in Galway, Gurteen and Dublin as well the sentimental stop in Dromard which was indeed an inspired move by Daly to help bring Paddy home in spirit for this very special night. Demarco performed solo for most of the formal concert accompanied only by John McCartin on guitar who, along with garnering a MA in traditional music performance from the University of Limerick last year, is a Fine Gael candidate for a local June election as well as local businessman.
In addition Anna Colliton, who traveled with Demarco from New York, joined in on bodhran, and Daly joined Tony on some fiddle tunes that harkened back to the duets that Reynolds and McGann often played.
It was indeed a great honor to be asked to say a few words about my own connection with Reynolds and recollections of the times we shared in New York over the years, and so many of those wonderful moments passed through my mind all evening.
Daly, who had an all-too brief tenure as the executive director of the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago before returning home, has a penchant for making good things happen around the traditional music scene as he has vision and follow-through and a knack for bringing the right forces together.
We first made one another’s acquaintance at the night that Reynolds was inducted into the CCE Hall of Fame in 2002 out in Mineola which was another crossroads we shared that night.
Daly had a familiarity with that part of Longford and nearby Roscommon from an earlier stint in the Dairy business and, in particular, he would pass by a crossroad where Murphy’s Dance Hall was just a memory from the Ballroom of Romance days gone by in this agricultural area.
Once bustling with farming families anxious for a night’s dancing in the showband era, the buildings where cattle were attended to on the first floor and in a neighboring cabin, the property now belonged to Michael Masterson, a local contractor with a sense of history and nostalgia.
Masterson allowed artisans to use the ballroom building while more renovation was planned for the two-level structure. Meantime, the contiguous cow-cabin was lovingly converted by him and some volunteers into a large room performance space in country kitchen fashion decorated with many antiques and with some of the floorboards from Murphy’s laid into the flooring to add some historical continuity.
Even a couple of settle beds on one wall gave it an authentic look and feel. It made a marvelous venue for people to come together on the night, and under the hospitable management of John Kenny, it is a space where singsongs and other music nights convene under local auspices.
To give the night more of a feel of kitchen session, the chairs and artists were taken off the stage and assembled in the middle of the room where some other musicians gathered around for more tunes and a singsong. The road to this crossroads gathering was very well chosen and a sample of the kind of things that often await you when you go to the heart of the tradition and steer clear of the touristy types of entertainment.
Even though Reynolds wasn’t with us in the room physically, his lifetime of sharing his music touched people in many directions and brought people to a simple country crossroads once again to celebrate a rich heritage and friendship.
NY Fleadh for Pearl River
THE annual New York Fleadh organized by the Mid-Atlantic Region of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann is coming up on the weekend of May 29-31 in Pearl River, New York.
The popular event turns the Rockland County area into a bustling Mecca for students of traditional music where they will vie to become qualifying competitors for the 58th annual Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann (www.fleadh2009.com) being held in Tullamore, Co. Offaly for the third year in a row.
It isn’t all about competition because over the years, many of the students have taken the opportunity to take classes in Ireland during the week preceding the August fleadh weekend at the Scoil Eigse. Over 800 students from all over the six provinces of Comhaltas (Ireland, Britain and North America) enroll for this summer school with many of the top musicians in traditional music as part of the faculty. It features classes by instruments by day and plenty of social interaction and concerts by evening to build bonds for aspiring young musicians from so many different communities.
The weekend kicks off with the fleadh ceili on May 29, Friday night from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Clarkstown Reformed Church on Strawtown Road in West Nyack (site of the Pearl River ceili). Music is the Glinside Ceili Band from Limerick visiting for the weekend. For more info on the ceili contact 845-359-6047.
On Saturday, May 30 at 8 p.m., the fleadh hotel the Holiday Inn in Orangeburg (329-Route 303 at Orangeburg Road) will be the site of the evening sessions with Mike Rafferty and Willie Kelly slated to anchor the main session, though last year there were at least two or three percolating for much of the evening.
The fleadh itself will be at the Pearl River Middle School (520 Gilbert Avenue) on Saturday, May 30 at 10 a.m. with all the solo competitions scheduled on the first day.
In addition a set dancing competition has been revived and is scheduled for Saturday afternoon for mixed set, all ladies and half set combinations which is also a qualifying for the All-Ireland championships.
For more details and rules on the dancing competition, contact Fergal O’Halloran at email@example.com or 347-613-3655.
Sunday, May 31 begins with Mass at 10 a.m. at the school with the duets, trios, grupai cheoils and ceili band competitions to follow.
All events are open to the general public for a nominal admission. Contact secretary Terry Rafferty at 201-288-4267 or visit www.nyfleadh.com.