As bemused airline pilots and flight attendants came through the lobby on their way to work, they encountered music and dancing in every nook and cranny of the brand new hotel, which sits on the edge of the airport. More than 500 of the hotels 599 rooms were taken up by the Comhaltas convention, according to co-chairperson Barbara Davis.
Workshops were under way in the function and meeting rooms for whistle, fiddle, accordion, harp and flute. The main lobby held four music sessions continuously from 10 a.m. until 4 a.m. the next day. By day, the ballroom held ceili classes for adults and children. At night, hundreds of couples swung around the floor in unison to the Matt Cunningham Band. People were seen dancing in the elevators and playing tunes on the hotel shuttle bus going to downtown Boston.
“If people back in Ireland could see the sheer size of this event and the quality of the music, they would be shocked,” said Sen. Labhras O Murchu, director general of CCE in Dublin, who attends the convention each year.
“The status of Irish music in Boston is exceptional, thanks to Larry Reynolds and his family,” O Murchu said outside a room where RTE’s “Ceili House” program was recording a live band set led by Reynolds and featuring John Whelan, Mike Rafferty, Fergus and Johnny Keane, Beth Sweeney, Tara Lynch and others.
“I played in the final session on Sunday night and I was nearly falling asleep on top of the fiddle,” said Reynolds, a beloved figure in Boston’s Irish community who organized the local chapter in 1976. Today, Boston has the largest chapter in North America with more than 500 members.
Reynolds praised everyone but himself for the event’s success, especially Davis, Jimmy Roach, Frank Kennedy, hotel catering director Jim Anello and the volunteers who held raffles and sold program ads.
People are attracted to Comhaltas conventions for various reasons. Maureen O’Leary and her daughter Colleen traveled to Boston just to join the non-stop ceili dancing that continues to be the rage in Irish-American and Irish-Canadian communities.
Others attendees, like Mike O’Connor, Joe Moriarty and Brian O’Donovan of the Irish Cultural Center, see the convention as an extension of their own efforts to promote Irish culture as a positive, enriching experience in the Boston area.
Eamon O Cuiv, Ireland’s minister for community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs, came to the convention to show his support for the music and dance but also for the Irish language. O Cuiv, the grandson of Eamon de Valera, also met with Irish speakers living in Boston at St. Brendan’s Church in Dorchester.
Seamus Connolly, who organizes the annual Gaelic Roots each June in Boston and understands the challenges of pulling off so massive a project, flew back from Ireland to lend a hand to his Boston friends. Connolly organized the music for the banquet and the Mass, and also gave workshops in intermediate and advanced fiddling to 38 students, not all of them Irish or even Irish American.
O’Murchu noted that Irish music appeals to many non-Irish Americans, citing Isaac Alderson of Chicago, who won three All-Ireland titles last summer on uilleann pipes, tin whistle and flute.
“People see the whole exuberance of the music, the camaraderie of the musicians, and the fact that everyone is welcome, whether you’re Irish or not,” O Murchu said.
Next year, the Comhaltas convention will be held in Parsippany, N.J. In 2005, Ottawa will host the event.
For more information on Comhaltas, visit www.comhaltas.org.