MAYOMAN Tom Vesey from Ballaghaderreen, one of the key Comhaltas movers and shakers in North America and a long-time CCE operative in the New Jersey area for decades through his Martin Mulvihill branch, is always thinking about how to do things differently and get more young people involved.

When he was chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Region he turned over the reigns of running the New York Fleadh to the next generation. It was their children who would be benefitting directly from keeping the competitions going, he reasoned, and he also recruited the nascent crop of teachers centered in Pearl River and elsewhere in New York City.

The senior guard stepped aside and let the young Turks provide the much needed energy and new thinking to allow it to grow substantially, encouraged by Vesey’s mantra of “looky-here, whatever ye want to do.”

The new blood also energized him and he was still respected as a man who could get things done, climbing every mountain and challenge to raise the Comhaltas banner higher and higher and more profitable, allowing it to underwrite its cultural mission, particularly in promoting Irish music education and travel to Ireland for Fleadh Cheoils.

Having negotiated and run five successful CCE conventions at Hilton Hotel properties in New Jersey, the last four in Parsippany, Vesey was convinced that the New York Fleadh was ready to be moved to this hotel in Northern New Jersey and out of a less accommodating and limiting school locales.

Taking a page from the Irish dance competitions that have been going to hotels for years, the time seemed ripe to try it with the music competitions where kids could romp and play freely and relax in the pool with one another between competitions.

Realizing another promotional piece of the puzzle needed to be added as a centerpiece to increase the turnout and the financial success of a weekend event, the decision was made to combine another popular event, the annual Hall of Fame Ceili to the two-day fleadh competitions.  And so that is what happened last weekend in
Parsippany, as the CCE Mid-Atlantic Region celebrated the 60th anniversary of CCE’s founding in 1951.

The forward-thinking regional board now led by chair Frankie McCormick from Co. Tyrone took up the idea and actively prepared to carry out the “experiment.”

A generous grant from CCE headquarters would allow them to bring in some excellent musicians from Ireland who were well schooled in current adjudication techniques and guidelines, some of whom happened to be in the All-Ireland senior champions of 2008, the Inisfree Ceili Band, who also played for the opening Friday night ceili.

They would be blended with some qualified judges from this side of the pond to provide thorough and impartial results to determine who would be qualified to compete in Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann to be held in Cavan town in mid-August.  Generally the Irish task force was very impressed with both the quality of the young musicians and the training they received in most of their comments.

The Grand Ballroom provided the setting for the Saturday evening Hall of Fame banquet, holding over 500 people gathered to honor its four newest inductees.

Homage was paid to Don Meade for his significant contributions to New York’s Irish music scene for almost 30 years as a musician, concert organizer and promoter, and music writer with an encyclopedic knowledge of tune names and derivation.

The late Jim McGivney, who passed away last June, was lauded for his skillful leadership for almost four decades in Comhaltas as one of the primary fleadh workers, as well as long time branch chair of the Michael Coleman branch and the region’s first regional chair.

John Reynolds was saluted as a musician who came up through the first educational ranks in the Pete Kelly School and its Shannon Aires Ceili Band, who in the past 10 years worked financial magic as a key treasurer in the fleadh operation and now the region, as well as putting out great music on the fiddle and in the Pride of Moyvane Ceili Band.

His wife and partner in the Pride of Moyvane Margie Mulvihill carried on the noble heritage of Mulvihill name (Martin was a cousin and also her teacher in the Bronx) in not only teaching children to play the tin whistle and the flute, but infusing them with a pure love of the music at the same time.

It was a special honor to serve as the master of ceremonies for this highly symbolic event of the weekend because these inductees are all friends of mine with whom I have shared many great days and nights, and they were all richly deserving of the acclaim afforded this night.

Sunday brought the duets, trios and ceili bands on display, and the handiwork and team spirit of the teachers was very much evident all day in the competitors.

The weekend was capped by the Senior Ceili Band who took the stage for the last competition of the day, including a core group of teachers who worked so hard all weekend as part of the fleadh and regional committee.

Manning the drums and the tempo was the same Mayoman who inspired the massive weekend undertaking as he sat on the drummer’s stool to the surprise of many in the hall, including his wife Rose. 

For Tom Vesey the beat keeps going on and on, and who knows, maybe we’ll see our first Senior All Ireland Ceili Band bring a first place gold very soon. Wouldn’t that make the Mayoman proud.

Irish Arts Center’s Masters

THE fifth edition of the Irish Arts Center’s Masters in Collaboration Series will be coming up next week at the Hell’s Kitchen home for Irish culture in Manhattan. And once again series creator Dr. Mick Moloney has come up with a powerful pairing of artists in whistle and flute player Joanie Madden and box player and vocalist Seamus Begley to mix it up over the course of a week in New York City.

It makes for a very intriguing combination because while both are veteran musicians, most of their careers have been spent furrowing different fields in the tradition.

Madden is a native of the Woodlawn section of the Bronx whose music grew of out the Galway/Clare connection where jigs and reels were paramount and the polkas of Sliabh Luachra and Corca Dhuibhne very remote and foreign.

Begley hails from the Dingle Peninsula Gaelthacht where the polkas and slides characterized the dance music, and sean nos singing in Irish and English were more the order of the day.

Madden’s father Joe was a famous dance band leader in the U.S. from the 1960s, and the Begley family is renowned for their mastery of traditional music, song and dance in Ireland.

Though both embrace different regional styles, they share a common understanding that dance music played well is also brilliant music for dancing, the livelier the better for the country sets.

Over the years their paths wouldn’t have crossed too often, though Madden remembers that the Tonder Festival in Denmark may have been the first time they met. She would have been a fan of Begley from his music, introduced to many of us from his 1996 Kells Music recording with Steve Cooney in a CD entitled Meitheal.

There is a quality to his voice and songs that stand out to the long-time leader of Cherish the Ladies who has a well-tuned ear for singers, having hired many of the best over Cherish the Ladies’ 26-year history.

The brief for the Masters in Collaboration Series is for the artists to work together during the day at the Irish Arts Center where they are well catered to by Aidan Connolly, the executive director, and his staff.

The artistic exploration between artists examines where they come from and where can they meet musically to produce a quality production by week’s end that would be both entertaining and enlightening for the knowledgeable audience the event usually draws.

As the imaginative juices are flowing mid-week we are also invited (or is it enticed?) to look behind the curtain of creativity of the selected artists by way of a personally revealing interview session with Moloney.
Skillfully plucking relevant bio bits into his line of questions, he manages to open up the artists’ souls just enough to keep you guessing yourselves as to how everything will all turn out in the end for these two musical minds.

This tandem will bring something very different to the table this series, as both are legendarily boisterous and comical which increases their charm on the audiences they encounter everywhere. The interview is scheduled for Wednesday, April 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets are free but must be reserved at phone 212-757-3318, ext. 202.

The series ends with three concerts over April 15-17 with all starting at 8 p.m. Guitarist Gabe Donahue joins for the show as well as some set dancers.  Booking seats for the concerts is via (showcode =MAS11) or 212-868-4444.