There's nothing like experiencing live music
Who knows where the time goes is the refrain from the Sandy Denny song, and as the year winds down so does my ninth year of writing columns for the Irish Voice and looking forward to 10 in 2012.

It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to witness so much great music and so many wonderful artists of all ages, and to feel the affinity between the native music of Ireland and the dance forms it inspired in all kinds of settings over that decade.

As from day one in January of 2003, I have sought to add my own voice to these pages, giving a perspective from that chosen place by the fireplace offered to those who were most welcome in an Irish country kitchen, the warmest spot near the hob, and my thanks to the publishers Niall O’Dowd and Debbie McGoldrick for indulging me all these years.


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Don’t worry, I’m not going away but just counting my blessings as one of the more extraordinary years draws to a close thanks in large part to a year of Imagining Ireland and the cultural riches it possesses.

From January to December the efforts of Culture Ireland and Irish artists have inundated American towns and cities with their creativity, talent and determination despite the deep financial troubles besetting the Emerald Isle.

It was all with a single-minded purpose displaying the depth of the Irish people to overcome adversity and turn it into inspiration and hope for the future by employing artists to spread the culture.

My prism is mostly through the world of traditional Irish music and dance, and it never ceases to amaze me how truly vibrant and growing it still is and how it has the power to grab audiences throughout the world and propel dancers out on timber floors for hours on end.

And inside the tradition there is so much respect for the way the music flows from one generation to the next, with the oldest of them beaming with the numbers of young people who are playing the music today.

They sit along side one another at countless festivals, fleadhanna, summer schools, weekend workshops, pub sessions and the still popular kitchen or house party to soak up the other fireside music and keep it roaring for another generation or two.

So even though it is sad to think that within a year of one another the venerable Sligo musician Peter Horan (R.I.P. October, 2010) and his Galwegian peer Mike Rafferty (R.I.P. September, 2011) went to their eternal rewards, the music they shared with so many down through the years will remain long after eyewitness accounts ebb.

The fierce pride, dedication and love of all the musicians who went before us was well nurtured and preserved against many more crippling obstacles than the economic woes we face now.

And those individual efforts, along with a tenacious organizational push by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann to foster a nationwide movement in Ireland for 60 years, have paid off on both sides of the Atlantic where the music continues to develop and mature and still captivate the fancy of so many musicians, dancers and listeners.

It is very much a Living Tradition that was able to boast its own strand among all the mixed offerings that the Imagine Ireland initiative threw at us in 2011.

Music that was soul-stirring and invigorating on a slate floor country kitchen in Clare could be just as uplifting on a grandiose outdoor dance stage at Lincoln Center with a Steinway piano to boot was one lesson we learned in 2011 last July.

But as I look forward to 2012, it isn’t the abundance of great musicians and the high standard of music they produce in Ireland and America that concerns me.

What worries me is who will be listening to all those fine players, many of whom are ready, willing and able to make it their life’s work even though it isn’t a millionaire’s life they will be living.

Okay, we all know that the music “industry” has been turned upside down and CD sales and commercial clubs have declined precipitously, and the rigors of touring and performing make it tough to eke out a living except for the most resourceful or well-married.

And I am no Luddite who doesn’t appreciate what technology can bring to my own hearth and home, desktop or iPad and the value that is in it.

But what a year of Imagine Ireland has reminded me of is that nothing beats the experience of going out to see live music, or participating in it by listening or dancing or playing it and doing so with other live human beings.

The artists of today need an audience, feedback and support, and so do we if we are to keep our cultural inheritance alive for future generations to enjoy as we have.

On these pages you will find plenty of suggestions for live music, theater or dance events every week. I encourage each and every one of you to make a New Year’s resolution that should be relatively easy to keep.

Try and see an Irish-themed show, or take in at least one event a month that will stretch your mind and your heart (especially if it’s a ceili) and sample the exceptional talent that is at our doorstep or easy reach virtually all the time.

Most are reasonably priced, and getting out of the house with family and friends to see artists who make a difference can pay dividends that will last a lifetime.

I’ll admit that the seat by the fire can be very comfortable, especially in the cold of winter, but venturing up onto the floor and out into the artistic world all around us can be heartwarming as well and good for us all.

To Look Forward To . . .

WITH a long Yuletide hiatus coming up at the Irish Voice until the next issue lands on January 11, there are some events that I would like to make you aware of over the break.

This week in Matt Molloy’s Pub in Westport, Co. Mayo a very special television show was being taped for Ireland’s national language station for its excellent traditional music series Geantrai to mark the 50th anniversary of the Chieftains which will be celebrated throughout 2012 including on their U.S. tours.

The show, Geantrai Na Nollaig 2011, The Chieftains, 50 Years, will show highlights on TG4 ( on Christmas Day starting at 9 p.m. Irish time (4 p.m. EST in the U.S.)

For trad fans, it features a host of luminaries on the show toasting the milestone for Ireland’s foremost traditional music band.

Slated to appear with the remaining Chieftains led by Paddy Moloney, Sean Keane, Matt Molloy and Kevin Caniff with their regular harpist Trion Marshall are guitarist Tim Eddy, Paul Brady and Eddi Reader.

Making this extra special are three of the hottest, and newly reconstituted trios in trad -- the Teetotallers starring Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford and John Doyle; Martin O’Connor with Catha Hayden and Seamier O’Dowd; and Liz and Yvonne Kane with Eel Fox.

With that talent lineup, it should be a riveting watch online and listen on the TG4 player service on the festive day, but thanks to their archive option you can catch up to it if you are well into your own celebrations.

And wouldn’t we all love to be in the Hills of Donegal for the 18th annual Frankie Kennedy Winter School the week between St. Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day.

For those of us who can’t, we can be treated to another look through the window provided by when they transmit a live broadcast of a Friday night concert with Fidil, the Donegal fiddling trio with special guest Tim O’Brien and Arty McGlynn.

That takes place on Friday, December 30 at 8:30 p.m. Irish time (3:30 p.m. EST).

The quality of the video and sound gets more impressive each airing as our global community shrinks and the web allows us to visit at will around the world.

Looking into the early New Year, it looks like the Pride of New York quartet will be out and about once again. Group members are Joanie Madden, Billy McComiskey, Brian Conway and Brendan Dolan, and once again they will be at the Irish American Community Center in East Haven, Connecticut on Saturday, January 7 at 7:30 p.m. for what has become a wonderful concert kickoff tradition for the New Year. Details are at or contact John O’Donovan at 203-281-3563.

Their vintage road show heads down to York, Pennsylvania on Sunday, January 8 for a show at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York Church (925 S. George Street). Visit

Also on the 8th is the U.S. debut of a new ensemble called the Gloaming, with Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Thomas Bartlett and singer Iarla O Lionaird as part of the multicultural Globalfest down at Webster Hall in the East Village. Check out

Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all our readers and until next year when we take up our seat in the hob, be well and happy.