New York City's first annual Irish Cultural Festival takes place from April 19 through June 2, aiming to promote Irish culture throughout the city and foster deeper relations between communities on both sides of the Atlantic with an interest in Irish culture.
Named after one of the five ancient roads to Tara, Co. Meath, the seat of the high kings in ancient Ireland, CualaNYC is the brainchild of Grammy Award-winning folk singer Susan McKeown and brought together by the Cuala Group, a social enterprise based in Ireland.
Boasting events such as the American premier of Dónal O’Kelly’s solo play “Hairy Jaysus”—a telling of the life of feminist and socialist Francis (Frank) Sheehy-Skeffington as seen through the eyes of a Dublin ATM beggar today—CualaNYC also features a number of events related to the important role that New York played in Ireland’s 1916 Rising.
McKeown herself has a strong link with the music of 1916 as her great-grandmother’s song “Hoist the Flag” was performed in Ireland during the Easter weekend centenary commemorations.
She discovered the song in a bag of things that belonged to her mother, the woman who inspired her to develop her talent for singing and put her on the musical path that would take her from busking on Grafton street to a career as an award-winning singer-songwriter.
Speaking to the Irish Times, McKeown explained how the idea for the festival came from a number of inspirations: Being asked “What is it about you Irish? You’re so loved all over the world” while touring the US with her music; experiencing the expression of different stories through culture while recording a world-music album “Songs from the East Village” to help raise funds for her daughter’s New York school; and the words of Irish businessman and financier Dermot Desmond, who spoke of the importance of promoting Irish culture internationally at the 2009 Global Irish Economic Forum.
Knowing that creating such as festival in New York was viable, she set about acquiring the business know-how to put it together.
“That led me to postgraduate studies in the economics of culture at DCU’s Ryan Academy,” she said.
“My course director said they had never had an artist in the business school, but my father always said I should have been a marketer. I’m most comfortable doing business when I know that it will do good for people.”
Despite a small team, Cuala have worked hard to curate events that will “bring benefit back to Irish communities,” and while the first aim is to establish the six-week Cuala NYC as an essential New York festival, sights are already set in expanding the project to other countries.
“The vision for the festival is to bring it to other US and European locations, and to China in 2019,” continued McKeown.
“As is usually the case with such an ambitious and innovative project, it takes one person to begin it, to commit to making it happen. And when you’ve been pushing hard enough, the gates open.”
Among the other events to take place over the six-week period are:
Women’s Shebeen: An evening of discussion with Writers Eimear MacBride (winner of the Goldsmith’s Prize and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction), Belinda McKeon (Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize winner), writer and storyteller Tara Clancy, Professor Geraldine Downey and special guests.
Little Green Cars: A show from the Irish band in the Bowery Ballroom as part of their U.S. tour for new album Ephemera.
Irish language Shebeen: A short presentation about the history of the language will be followed by a number of short presentations in Irish with Louis De Paor, Theo Dorgan, Anthony Duffy, Maura Mulligan, Daithí MacLochlainn and others.
Newgrange Festival: Watch the sun go down in Manhattan during Manhattanhenge and enjoy an evening on Irish poetry and song.
More information on the festival can be found at http://cualagroup.com/.
H/T: Irish Times