A recent reunion of the Castle Ceili Band (James Keane in front with the accordion).

In the 40 years that the Willie Clancy Summer School has been underway in Miltown Malbay in West Clare, there have been many distinguished musicians from all over the world who ventured there to share in the musical appreciation and legacy of the Clare piper Willie Clancy.

Many have described Miltown as the Mecca of traditional Irish music, seeing how many musicians and students make the pilgrimage there every July since 1973 when the week was established to honor Clancy who died the year before. Seemingly anyone with a Clare connection would have been there one year or another.

But one special guest with deep Clare roots only managed to make his first long overdue appearance this past July when accordion player James Keane accepted an invitation to come over and play and share many of the brilliant and salient memories he had of his early days in Clare before emigrating to North America and New York back in 1967.

Keane and his older brother Sean (of Chieftains’ fame) were Jackeens by birth in Drimnagh, Dublin, born to musical parents from Clare and Longford.  Their Dublin home was a veritable teach cheoil for visiting musicians from around the country in those oh-so-important formative years of the traditional music revival set in motion in the 1950s. It was centered in the nation’s capital where many came to work if they didn’t emigrate to Britain or America.

The Keane boys’ interest and talent made for an easy welcome among some older musicians playing the music of the countryside in Dublin clubs and halls like the Mrs. Crotty Club, the breeding ground for the Castle Ceili Band that would go onto All-Ireland fame, taking the two Keane boys along with them as vital members. Their father Patrick would regularly take them down on holidays to Clare where they would meet with all the stalwart Clare musicians like Clancy and his peers.

For the box-playing James Keane, he absorbed that music with total affection and enjoyment, and it has been his hallmark in his own long illustrious career “keeping the faith and the spirit” of the music that was passed onto him.

He was blessed with a memory with keen insight and detail that has evolved into a series of true to life lectures that even the Smithsonian Institution has captured on tape for posterity sake.

While he is well able to talk the talk of Irish music history as he experienced it first hand, it is his faithful box-playing that evokes all the charms of traditional Irish dance music in its many variations.

His passion and dexterity are inseparable as is his joy in playing for people who appreciate it and understand it whether it is for listening or dancing. To further burnish that reputation, he hurriedly produced a new CD, The Hair of the Dog (www.newfolkrecords.com), before heading over to Willie Week to show everyone he was still alive and well and producing great music as always.  

There is a relaxed quality to his playing here, aided by friends Greg Anderson (who co-produced it), Eamonn O’Leary, Tom English and newcomer Kathleen Boyle of Cherish the Ladies.

Since returning from Ireland, James and his wife Theresa (from Tralee, Co. Kerry) have been busy organizing a big fundraising event to raise money for Theresa’s sister Jemma, who is battling cancer and huge medical expenses as well.  Jemma O’Shea is a waitress at Donovan’s of Bayside and Woodside for the past 25 years.

On Sunday, October 7 starting at 4 p.m. until very late, there will be a huge turnout of musicians supporting this worthy cause at the Mineola Irish American Center (297 Willis Avenue) on Long Island.

Along with James Keane will be Patty Furlong with John Creaven, Tony DeMarco and Siobhan Butler, Sean Quinn, Mick Moloney, Victor Cunneen, Willie Kelly, Jerry O’Sullivan, Don Meade, Greg Anderson, Dan Neely, Frank McKenna and Dermot Henry among many others.

There’s a raffle going on with some great prizes (only five bucks a chance) and donations accepted at the door or by mail (checks made payable to Jemma O’Shea c/o Theresa Keane/247-19 89th Avenue, Bellerose, New York, 11426).

For more info on tickets and the benefit contact Theresa at 718-347-6987.

James Keane will also be a special guest with his old pal from the Castle Ceili Band and Dublin Days, Michael Tubridy, who is coming into New York City for a weekend concert and dance workshop with Craobh Ull Mor CCE on October 13 and 14.

Tubridy, Keane and Felix Dolan will be in concert on the Saturday at 7 p.m. at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City. For more info contact Maureen Donachie at 845-499-3703 or ceolagusrince@gmail.com.