Pride of New York Band in Dublin. (Photo by Martin Donohoe)
DUBLIN -- As one of the first big Irish music festivals of the year, the Temple Bar Trad Festival (TBTF) was one of the designated events of The Gathering, an Irish government tourism initiative which hopes to entice many overseas visitors to come to Ireland in 2013.

While it is too soon to tally how successful the festival was in luring visitors last week, it certainly reached across the waves in recruiting talent in its eighth year.  Artists came from Europe, Britain, Cape Breton and America mainly to perform in the beautiful Georgian City Hall from the 18th century alongside Dublin Castle.

With its tall and stately rotunda, it served as one of the premier venues for the TBTF for the second year in a row thanks to the support of the Dublin City Council.

Along with performing troupes from Cape Breton, London and Europe was the Pride of New York Band, invited over specifically to focus on the Big Apple Irish community.   This was the group’s third performance in Ireland since its formulation in 2005 at the Catskills Irish Arts Week (your humble correspondent assembled them at that time to spark a recording that occurred a few years later), and in the year of The Gathering perhaps its most symbolic visit.

While the quartet’s big night would be their Friday night concert at City Hall, the TBTF built up to it with a series of lunchtime concerts there linking up the group’s members Joanie Madden,  Brian Conway and Billy McComiskey with well matched musicians from Ireland with a similar stylistic heritage.  Those interludes provided for some easy-going fireside chat with their fellow musicians and the audience on what influences they shared.

Flautist Madden was teamed up with flute player and maker Eamonn Cotter from Ennis on the Wednesday, ably accompanied by Cillian Doheny from DIT on guitar.

Fiddler Conway teamed up with Philip Duffy of the Dartry Ceili Band from Sligo accompanied by Brendan Dolan on keyboards on the Thursday. McComiskey on accordion invited his old friend, fiddler Anton MacGabhann (aka Tony Smith), down from Meath where they shared stories of their younger years in the Catskills and also back in 2010 when they witnessed the shared experience of their children who formed a band together called NicGaviskey.  These marvelous afternoon musical conversations were just a prelude to the magical experience of the Friday night concert.

TBTF artistic director Kieran Hanrahan passed the compere baton to me that night to introduce PONY which was a great honor that I won’t forget.  A steady crowd came into the hall on the wet evening to see what all the fuss was about. 

McComiskey’s sister Ann traveled from Warsaw for the special occasion, and Padraig McGlynn, the brother of Billy’s fond mentor and friend Sean McGlynn, came up from Teenagh in East Galway on the train to see him play.

Madden had several aunts and uncles and family there as well, and there were quite a few musicians on hand like the McGorman family and the Kane sisters and Martin Donohoe from Cavan.

Pride of New York played tunes from their self-titled album, giving testimony all evening to the passion for the music handed down to them to a very enthusiastic audience who enjoyed their potent presentation.

Though these musicians would have plenty to boast about for their individual accomplishments and expertise on their respective instruments, the pride they feel has more to do with the older generation who entrusted them with their music to pass onto another generation in America, and that is the legacy they carry abroad as well. 

They also bridged the gap between the great Sligo musicians around New York to the equally important musicians from Galway and Clare who dominated the scene in the Big Apple.  Their repertoire was filled with faithful and classic material from those eras, and also their own compositions that have entered the traditional canon.

Fair play to the TBTF for grasping the essence of The Gathering spirit, and to the Bord Failte (and its Tourism Ireland folks over here) to provide an infrastructure where these important connections can be further enhance. If it helps the Irish economy, that’s a good thing.

Keep your eyes out for more great festival offerings at