Irish-American writer Jimmy Breslin dead at 88

How it’s New York: Jimmy Breslin wrote about New York: “a New York Institution.”

©David Shankbone [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

How it’s Irish: Breslin was Irish-American.

 

Newspaper icon Jimmy Breslin dies at 88

Jimmy Breslin, the street-savvy, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist whose two-fisted prose championing the little guy and pillorying those who betrayed the public trust made him a New York City institution for more than 40 years, died Sunday. He was 88. Breslin, who also turned out a string of fiction and nonfiction books, died of complications from… (more…)

When Irish eyes are rolling… (Hail the Unnamed Irishman)

How it’s New York: Trump is from New York.

Donald Trump, making Ireland Nigerian Again.

How it’s Irish: It’s St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, and Trump wanted to find an Irish proverb to read to Enda Kenny.

Because of the day that’s in it, Irish people, such as Irish Labour secretary Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, he of the piercing blue eyes who called Trump a “fascist” right after the election (and the video of him saying it went viral, watch it below), are in the U.S.

Ó Ríordáin is here to participate in Irish Stand, a ticketed event at Riverside Church with such people as New York-based writer Colum McCann, “West Wing” actor Richard Schiff, and representatives from the Food Bank for New York City, the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, and politicians. Performances are curated by our friends at Artists Without Walls.  

Proceeds are going to the A.C.L.U., who have been staunch in their defense of those at risk under Trump.

No doubt this is also why Sean Spicer wore a green tie to the press briefing today, at which he once again yelled at the press.

But the real reason for this post is  that I simply could not resist the joy (O frabjous day!) of Trump reading a Nigerian poem and thinking it’s an Irish proverb.

Before you say “this is not culture!” remember: proverbs and poetry are culture… (more…)

Perfect Irish soda bread

How it’s New York: New Yorkers love to eat?

Sodabread

How it’s Irish: Soda bread is an Irish staple… and can be found all over during “the season!”

The Perfect Traditional Irish Soda Bread

The perfect Traditional Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread that has 5 ingredients and nothing else. Traditionally, it was not even made in an oven but made in a bastible which is a cast iron pot with a lid that was set over… (more…)

New Book on Irish Music by L.E. McCullough

How it’s New York:  Latest book from L.E. McCullough focuses on Irish-American musical heritage
How it’s Irish:  2-volume set offers 4 decades of Irish music scholarship

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L.E. McCullough started writing about Irish Traditional Music in 1974.

He hasn’t stopped yet.

What Whistle-Flyer 150dpi-trimA new publication titled “What Whistle Would You Play at Your Mother’s Funeral? — L.E. McCullough’s Writings on Irish Traditional Music, 1974-2016″ gathers in two volumes the more than 300,000 words on Irish music and culture the prolific musician/scholar has published in 43 years of teaching and research.

Published by Silver Spear Publications in PDF and paperback formats, Volume I contains Dr. McCullough’s three major academic works — his landmark Ph.D. dissertation (Irish Music in Chicago: An Ethnomusicological Study) and earlier M.A. and B.A. theses (The Rose in the Heather: Irish Music in Its American Cultural Milieu and Farewell to Erin: An Ethnomusicological Study of Irish Music in the U.S.).

Volume II, subtitled “Everything Else”, covers a wide range of Irish music performers, instrument-makers and music events — 122 essays and reviews, journal articles and concert reports, blog reflections, album notes, newspaper features, seminar presentations, whistle-playing tips … and a screenplay.

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Up the Scots! Celebrate Burns Night

How it’s New York: Thomas Burt is a New York lawyer, and the Iona Sessions take place in Brooklyn.
Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait by Alexander Naysmith

Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait by Alexander Naysmith

How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Robert Burns is Scotland’s favorite son, and symbolizes Scottish heritage. See below for Robert Burns songs sung by Jim Malcolm and the late Andy M. Stewart with Silly Wizard (with the late Johnny Cunningham, Phil Cunningham, Martin Hadden and Gordon Jones, filmed in 1988). Just try not crying when Andy M. sings it.

Trust me. You know a few poems by Robert Burns. What do you sing on New Year’s Eve? “Auld Lang Syne.” That was his. “My luv is like a…” if you’re thinking “red, red rose,” you’re right, and that was his, too. “The best laid plans of mice and men…” also his.

The “Bard of Ayrshire,” who wrote in broad Scots in the 18th century, has become over the years the national symbol of Scotland.

The Irish have Bloomsday, which celebrates James Joyce and “Ulysses.”

The Scots have Burns Night, which celebrates Robert Burns (1759-1796) in a formal dinner, complete with recitations, music, and, of course, Haggis.

There are fewer Scots than Irish in NYC, and as lawyer Thomas Burt points out, the Scots have been very good at assimilating. They are harder to spot, but they are here.

“It’s a focal point to remind us who we are, and what we have in common with each other.”

Burt is also secretary of St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, founded in 1756, before Burns was even born. He points out that past members include Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Carnegie. The society raises money for two children’s hospitals, provides scholarships for graduate study and more.   There’s also a Scottish Bar Association of New York.

Irish pubs are everywhere, true, but there are some Scottish pubs in NYC and Brooklyn: St. Andrews, 140 West 46th St.,  Caledonia Bar, 1609 Second Ave.,  are a few. More are listed here.

And the wonderful, amazing, BEST THING ON NEW YORK STAGE “The Strange Undoing of Pruedencia Hart,” which comes to the McKittrick Hotel courtesy of the Scottish National Theatre, with script by David Grieg, has just been extended until March 26th. The show, set in a Scottish pub,  includes free drams, Scottish music and a wonderful retelling of a “woman meets the devil” folk tale– in rhyme!  (this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in the theatre. Review/podcast has been delayed thanks to a cold that lasted pretty much all December and January but believe me when I say you do not want to miss this show).

IONA Burns-3There’s even a Scottish music session: the Iona Session is held on Mondays at Iona,  180 Grand St., in Brooklyn. And they are having a Burns Night celebration, too:

The IONA BURNS NIGHT returns in all it’s shaggy glory next Wednesday 25th January at 9pm. Fiddler Emerald Rae and piper Andrew Forbes will unleash the musical beasts. Poetry, comedy, haggis and cheap adult beverages will flow. JR StraussMax CarmichaelAmy LynnCalum MichaelMatt DiazPamela Jean AgaloosMiguel Coias and Karen Brown in the house. Crying and screaming permitted. Also dancing and laughing.

The Burns Society of the City New York was founded in 1871, and is still going strong. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting to throw their own Burns supper, Burt says. It has a supper, and so does the American Scottish Foundation.

But what is a Burns Night (Burns Nicht) supper, anyway?  It celebrates the poet’s life, and the history of the Scots, and is held around his birthday: Jan. 25.

“It’s a rallying point for a diaspora that is hard pressed to find rallying points,” Burt says. “We assimilate out of existence into the economic and power structure of anywhere we land.”

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‘New York City: A Shining Mosaic’ review

How it’s New York: Tales of immigrants who arrived in New York City.
New York City: A Shining Mosaic produced by Charles Hale. September 27, 2016. 1st Irish Theatre Festival. Featuring Niamh Hyland, Walter Parks, Elsa Nilsson, Eleanor Dubinsky, Laura Neese, John Duddy, Jack O'Connell, Mala Waldron, Yuri Juárez, Julie Kline, and Charles Hale at Pier A Harbor House, New York City.

Photo courtesy of Mitch Traphagen.

How it’s Irish: Those arriving left lives behind in Ireland. This piece was part of Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish 2016.

Were this event staged a few years back, before the advent of the so-called “information age,” there’s quite a chance that attendees of this extraordinary production may well have invited encyclopedia salesmen into their home, to peruse their wares, and purchase a volume or two, to look up a few of the fascinating tidbits that Charles R. Hale’s modern masterpiece had informed them of.

“New York City: A Shining Mosaic” is so much more than a play: it is a series of vignettes, a song and dance revue, a carefully interwoven collection of biographies of several characters, some seen, others merely mentioned.

It is a story which unravels elegantly, a timeless tale that reminds us that there were generations here before us, dozens, scores, hundreds of them: men and women who had less, but yearned for more. Brooklyn had them by the thousands. :New York City: A Shining Mosaic,” directed by Niamh Hyland (music), Julie Kline and Charles R. Hale, is brought to us by Artists Without Walls, and is a production celebrated aptly right within sight of the arrival of all of those millions of immigrants who made it to New York, at Pier A, which looks out on New York Harbor, with Lady Liberty and Ellis Island calmly watching in the wings.

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An agonizing, haunting look at famine in Donnacha Dennehy’s “The Hunger”

Iarla Ó Lionáird and Katherine Manley perform in Donnacha Dennehy's The Hunger, a collaboration with Alarm Will Sound. (Photo courtesy of Jack Vartoogian/BAM)

Iarla Ó Lionáird and Katherine Manley perform in Donnacha Dennehy’s The Hunger, a collaboration with Alarm Will Sound. (Photo courtesy of Jack Vartoogian/BAM)

How it’s New York: Alarm Will Sound had its origins at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, and its debut concert was in New York in 2001. “The Hunger” was included as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.
How it’s Irish: The play originates from first-hand accounts of the Great Irish Famine in the 1840s. Playwright Donnacha Dennehy is a Dublin native, and the founder of the Irish musical ensemble Crash Ensemble. The play is presented in partnership with the Irish Arts Center.

Hauntingly melodic and starkly condemning at the same time, “The Hunger,” Donnacha Dennehy’s collaboration with Alarm Will Sound, is many things all in one: an opera, a documentary, a concert. The result is a work that is meant to unsettle the audience rather than to console.

The show had two performances on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s

As Asenath, Manley is the leader of a one-woman chorus, a Cassandra figure whose words and appeals seem to fall on deaf governmental ears in England. It is hard not to be frustrated at her recounting how a man on the verge of death is repeatedly told “come back on Tuesday” to receive his ration of grain.

Howard Gilman Opera House, as part of the 2016 BAM Next Wave Festival.

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Remembering 9/11: Should Art Always Have to Make Nice?

How it’s New York: 9/11 generated an outpouring of Art within the 5 boroughs … along with passionate response to that Art
How it’s Irish: Traditional Irish musician and journalist L.E. McCullough analyzes the background of three notable 9/11 works of Art


[An essay written in 2002 by L.E. McCullough
… 14 years later, the question posed remains the same:  What is the role of Art in a calamitous moment? Do we have an answer yet?]

should-art-always-have-to-make-nice-graphicIF YOU BELIEVE Art with a Capital A has lost its relevancy to our culture, that the ability of the so-called “fine arts” to strike a deep, common societal nerve has diminished with the decline in attendance and formal dress at symphonies and the ballet, consider the current furor over a statue, a window display and a poem addressing the horrors of 9/11.

Eric Fischl’s Tumbling Woman sculpture was part of a 9/11 exhibit at Rockefeller Center this past month until curators bowed to expressions of public discomfort and removed it. The Center profusely apologized to anyone who might have been “upset or offended” by the statue.

A like-themed visual work, Falling by Sharon Paz, was also briefly on display at Jamaica Center for Arts in New York until it, too, was hidden away from public view so it could no longer incite unsettling thoughts or discussion about a very public and murderous act of war that killed nearly 3,000 innocent civilians.

Of course, everyone knows that context is crucial in appreciating visual arts. At a Manhattan restaurant last week, I noticed a lamp stand with a female figure in almost the exact same shape and position as Tumbling Woman. As a functional decor item in a trendy eatery, the figure was clever, eye-catching, a little risqué, possibly kitsch. In the context of a somber 9/11 tribute, the same pose provokes thoughts of gut-wrenching fear and despair.

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9/11 memories: A day when nothing felt real

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Part of the Essex County 9/11 memorial at Eagle Rock Reservation, which has a clear view of New York. (Photo by Erin Roll)

How it’s New York: New York is a city that’s always been very dear to me, and I now live right across the river in Montclair.
How it’s Irish:  My ancestry is part Irish; I’ve got roots in Belfast, Armagh and Antrim.

As a journalist and a researcher, I’m used to asking other people to share their stories, especially whenever the anniversary of 9/11 rolls around. I’ve interviewed first responders, police, memorial planners and – most significantly – people who lost dear friends and loved ones.

So it feels a little odd sharing my own feelings and memories of the day, outside of all the talks I’ve had with family and friends over the years.

I remember watching the CNN tape loop of the planes striking the World Trade Center for the umpteenth time on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, right after I’d gotten home from school. “So this is what the end of the world feels like,” I thought vaguely.

That was a day when nothing felt real. Everything playing out on the television news – and we had the news on pretty much all night – looked like something out of a big-budget disaster movie with tons of special effects. If only it were…

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How A Sleepy Tuesday Morning Became Deadly History on 9/11

Shadow of the Twin Towers over NYC (By Cait Hurley from London, UK - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1102684)

Shadow of the Twin Towers over NYC (By Cait Hurley from London, UK – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1102684)

How it’s New York: I am a New Yorker, and this leg of the 9/11 terrorism happened in New York City.
How it’s Irish: I am Irish, and many of those killed were Irish, too.

We were a quiet, bleary-eyed lot: the usual passengers on the morning “N” train, commuting from our homes in Brooklyn to our jobs in Manhattan. When the train pulled to a stop in Nassau Street, some very animated people poured on – very unusual in both numbers and noise level. Most of us barely noticed, however: the noise was lively but unimportant.

Emailing my sister in Texas to tell our mother on Long Island that I was OK because the phones in NY were jammed with millions of calls.

When I got to the office across from Grand Central – my day job at a law firm – everyone was glued to the partner’s huge-screen TV: one of the Twin Towers had been hit by an errant jet plane! We were astonished that a flight pattern could go so awry, but a news update showed the second Tower hit. Our senses were assaulted with the unthinkable: the “mistake” was deliberate, and we were under a terrorist attack. When the first Tower imploded, this unflappable reporter ran out into the hallway and yelled that the Tower had fallen. The partner left his office open for us, the subways shut down until 4pm, and we all sat glued to TVs until we could go home.

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9/11 and Political Theatre

From our house in Millburn, you could smell the towers burning—fifteen miles and a river away.  
Editor’s note: I wrote this for the Portuguese journal Obscena in 2007. I’ve published it here before, but thought with the 15 year anniversary of 9/11 upon us I thought I would republish it again. Of course, the things most present in my mind in 2007, such as the Iraq War and the death of Rachel Corrie, have been replaced by the current election. Both candidates are making visits to Ground Zero, which is good but also, of course, a political gesture.
I think I knew even at the time that it wouldn’t be long before people thought of 9/11 as a historical event. If you weren’t around for it, it’s hard to recall how weird it was then and shortly after. Yes, I bought an American flag sweater and wore it at the airport (where I bought it). yes, I was nervous when a man in a turban got on the plane before me (and yes, I am embarrassed about that now).
And yes, the four days I was stranded in New Jersey, I took calls from playwrights and actors and continued to cast the Southern Writers Project workshop I was running. It seemed normal, not ghoulish, for them, and it was for me too.

How It’s New York: 9/11 will always be associated with New York, and a lot of the political theatre attempts to deal with it happened here too.  Everybody’s sending around their reminiscences of 9/11, so I will too.  Some of my 9/11 memories are embedded in this article about sentimental political theatre I wrote for the Portugese Journal Obscena in 2007.  It is a rant but in its own way it honors 9/11.  When things are really important they should be treated with honor and dignity.
How It’s Irish:  Irish playwrights fall into this trap too, unfortunately (less about Iraq than Israel, but that’s a whol ‘nother topic).

Since I’m guessing most of you don’t read Portugese, I’m uploading my original word doc.  Political theatre in this country for a long while after 9/11 was all very guilt ridden, often false as the day is long as playwrights tried to imagine life from the perspective of an Iraqi.

But before the political theatre rant– some more on me an 9/11:

Sigmund the Cat

The real reason I was in New Jersey on 9/11:  my cat Sigmund, who had Squamous Cell Carcinoma, took a turn for the worse on 9/9. 

We had to send him Over the Rainbow Bridge on 9/10, and knowing I wouldn’t want to fly that same day, I changed my ticket to 9/11.  I have always believed that somehow Sigmund arranged it so that I’d be in New Jersey with my family on the awful day (and yes, I know how that sounds).  I would have panicked if I’d been in Montgomery, Alabama, where I was living then.

 

From our house in Millburn, you could smell the towers burning—fifteen miles and a river away. 

We actually first found out what was happening from friends in England– my mother was online emailing a Cat Newsgroup (I know, I know) about Sigmund when someone there mentioned it.  She asked my father had a plane struck the World Trade Center?  No, he said, reading the paper, you’d hear about that.  A few minutes later she said “here’s another post, let’s turn on the television.”  We did, and saw the second tower come down live. It was a gorgeous day, one of those perfect September days.  There was an eerie silence because the airports were closed, interrupted by government planes buzzing the coast.  I wondered, is this the day the world ends?

My father, the late Leo Orel

My father, Leo Orel, who was a World War II vet, was shaken up.  There was a candlelight vigil on my street and we joined it. My dad even carried a candle and was eager to go out, and this was not like him.  He looked around for a flagpole stand in the yard.

It’s hard to explain now the impulse to put up and wear flags but it was something beautiful, not something aggressive as it often is here.  It was somehow a way of joining together.

9/11 is the reason there is a flag sticker on our front door.  To decode what it means you need to picture my dad sadly standing there.

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Fifteen Years Later

How it’s New York: September 11th.
How it’s Irish: A Dubliner’s brief account of one of his 9/11 memories.

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15 years ago this Monday, I was working as a writer/photographer for an Irish newspaper in New York City. I heard the house phone (I didn’t have a cellphone) ring at about 8.40am, and it was an old pal, telling me I should rush into Manhattan and get a story, and some photos, as a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. I skipped the shower, quickly got dressed and threw on a cap to hide my unkempt hair (I’d a lot more back then). Flicking on the news as I prepared myself, I saw the burning building and began to realize the enormity of what had happened. It was at that moment that the second plane hit. I took off my cap, sat back on the edge of the couch, and quit getting ready. I’d not be going to Manhattan that day, and a lot more wouldn’t be leaving it. (PS I took the photo on September 2nd, when I was downtown buying a new digital camera).

 

Don’t miss ‘Dancing at the Crossroads’

How it’s New York: The Catskills are in New York state, and Catskills Irish Arts Week has become a destination, at Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 1.08.08 PMleast for a day, for all the trad players on the East Coast.
How it’s Irish: Before air conditioning and cheap flights, East Durham was where Irish immigrants went to relax over the summer, and dance, and play. Joanie Madden played there as a girl with her father Joe.

I was blessed to meet Kevin Ferguson while he was making this important documentary, “The Irish Catskills: Dancing at The Crossroads.”

The film, which celebrates the legacy of Irish music and dance in the Northern Catskills, premiered just before St. Patrick’s Day this year, and airs tonight on PBS here in the Tri-State area at 7 p.m.

AND you can purchase a digital copy at narrowbackfilms.com.

 Pat Fenton, writing in the Irish Echo, said that the film

…pulls you along the rural roads of East Durham on long-ago hot summer days and nights when children ran freely through hay fields without a worry. It pulls you out onto the crowded dance floors of historic Irish hotels like the Weldon House as rows of dancers line up to do the Ceili on a Saturday night in the 1950s.

This was a time in a simpler America when there were no craft beers, the beer was Irish, and the sound of Irish music and heels clacking against bare wooden floors could be heard echoing out of the dance halls along Route 145. There were no iPads, no Facebook, and, way back then, no air conditioners even.

Paul Keating in Irish Central wrote, when the film was still raising money at Kickstarter (yay for Crowd funding):

Since the 1930s Irish families sought the cooler mountain fresh air especially from New York City just 125 miles away, but also around the northeast because it was where the Irish vacationed when they couldn’t afford to go back to Ireland.

The lush green hills of the Catskills reminded them of the Emerald Isle.  Music and dance were the social elixirs that brought young men and women from the Old Country out to dance halls in the cities, and they were also the allure to the Catskills where in the summertime music could be heard seven nights a week in the resorts and roadhouses.

IMG_0280Paul was the reason I first dipped a toe into the Irish Catskills, attending my first CIAW in 2009.

I didn’t make it this year due to a foot surgery but hope to make it to Columbus Day weekend, or at other points during the year. There are many wonderful teaching weeks and festivals in America (and Ireland too of course), but the heritage of the Irish Catskills makes it of particular interest to people who love history. This Jewish girl had no idea there even WAS another Catskills. Of course I’d heard of the Borscht Belt, but that was really before my time– and though I’m a Jersey girl, my parents are Yankees and we visited Cape Cod and Long Island Sound.

So the Irish Catskills with their beauty, their signs in English and Irish, were a revelation.

I love that if you visit the Facebook page for the film and look at the photos, there are comments like, “that’s my mother”

And, “the banjo player was a regular in Dad’s band!”

 

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Do you know this tune? Fairy tale in the Catskills, or McGrath’s Waltz

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Eileen O’Brien plays piano at a Seisún at McGrath’s.

How it’s New York: Catskills Irish Arts Week takes place in East Durham, New York. Everybody comes!
How it’s Irish: Historically an Irish town,  the Emerald Isle of the Catskills, the week is a teaching week for music, with a “camp” for kids (some of whom are fierce, fierce players!) and classes in Irish dance and culture too.

I believe that the Good Folk travel.

Like the Fiddler on the Roof (there’s your Jirish reference!) some of them hopped on board the backs of carts, then went on  ships with their people, off to Amerikay.

Off to New York. Saratoga. East Durham.

One of them (at least) taught me a tune in the Catskills last summer, at McGrath’s Motel. (more…)