Category: Archive

Trad Beat A haven for dancing, music

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

CÉILÍ, "CORK NIGHT," and SURPRISE PARTY, Irish American Community Center, East Haven, Conn. May 29.

The folks at this center sure know how to have a good time. This night was a tripleheader, combining a monthly céilí (runs from September to May), a "Cork night" organized by Kinsale native John O’Donovan, and a surprise 40th birthday party for button accordionist John Whelan, who’s been a frequent performer here.

Built in 1940, the center has changed hands from Italian to Lithuanian to Irish, who purchased it in 1967. Currently it offers four Irish-language classes, a drama group, a singing group, a bagpipe band, and dance lessons. In addition, Gaelic football games are held outside on a field cut into a long grassy ridge.

On May 29, however, the focus was on music and set dancing inside. Up on stage was an impressive array of talent: John Whelan and Aughdarra, Co. Clare, legend Bobby Gardiner on button accordions, Jerry O’Sullivan and Mattie Connolly on uilleann pipes, Marie Reilly and Pat Stratton on fiddles, David Kincaid on mandolin, Martin Reilly on tin whistle, Tom Wetmore and Louise Whelan (John’s wife) switching on upright bass, Bruce Uchitelle, Jody Heeran, and Steve Ross (formerly of Midnight Court, a band that once featured Cherish the Ladies guitarist Mary Coogan) on guitars, and Mike Griffin on bodhrán.

Out on the hardwood floor were eight sets of dancers stepping in time to the music, and they went full-tilt from 8 o’clock to midnight with just one brief band break. Among those in the audience or on the dance floor were Miltown Malbay’s Jimmy Murrihy, whose son Jimmy is the lead dancer for "Lord of the Dance" in Las Vegas, and Josie McNamara, an All-Ireland singing champion from Leitrim. Also in attendance were Paul Keating, chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Board of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann; Kathleen Biggins, host of WFUV-FM’s "A Thousand Welcomes;" historian Marian Casey; documentary filmmaker and film editor Pat Mullins, and John Whelan’s father, Denis, a Wexford-born stalwart for CCÉ back in England.

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This is likewise the territory of the Curry-Seery branch of CCÉ, and its chairwoman, Joan Kennedy, is also chairwoman of the Connecticut Irish Festival (North Haven Fairgrounds, Rte. 5, Washington Avenue, North Haven, Conn.) that will be held June 26-27 from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ([203] 393-0377). One of the attractions at the festival will be Ireland’s Shaskeen Céilí Band.

Based on this evening, the level of Irish music and dance is quite high at the center, which provides a calendar of eclectic activities anyone interested in Irish culture and sports can enjoy. For more information, contact the Irish American Community Center, 9 Venice Pl., East Haven, CT 06512, (203) 469-3080.

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