–via Mick Moloney that is!  He says:

  The McNultys were the ultimate Irish family group, vaudevillians who entertained people in the tough years after the depression. They cheered people up on their day off. Vaudeville was high level escapism, and they were a really good act. They crashed onto stage and did their routines, sketches from skits they wrote, bit of melodion playing from Ma McNulty, very colorful and very loved.

That’s from my interview with Mick for Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog.

You’ll see their faces in slides and hear their songs, as performed by some of the best Irish musicians today.
Ma McNulty and family stormed the Brooklyn Academy of Music 55 times from 1930-1960.  The vaudevillians were hugely popular, and put on a real variety show, including Irish dance, tap dance, comedy, singing and instrumental music.

Indefatigable Mick Moloney has brought together a star-studded group of musicians and performers (Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Dana Lyn, Julie Feeney, Niall O’Leary, Green Fields of America, Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, whose first album launches at Glucksman Ireland House next Friday, among others!) to pay tribute to the family tonight at Symphony Space.  As he often does at his gigs, Mick will show slides and tell stories– kind of like the most fun art/music history lecture ever.
The concert’s presented by Irish Arts Center, and associated with American Irish Historical Society, Archives of Irish American/Tamiment Library-New York University, Glucksman Ireland House-New York University, and Irish Repertory Theatre.

 You’re just not interested in Irish music at all if you don’t know who Mick is– and if you’re in NYC, if you haven’t met him by now.  He’s almost not a person but a FORCE (and that’s a good thing).  Without Mick, who put together the Green Fields of America for a Smithsonian American Folklife Festival in 1978, you might never have seen Michael Flatley or Jean Butler dance, or enjoyed Cherish the Ladies (yup, that was Mick’s idea too).  Mick curates the Masters in Collaboration series at the Irish Arts Center, that has so far paired Sarah Siskind with Paul Brady; John Doyle with Andy Irvine; Gregory Harrington with Martin Hayes, and Athena Tergis with Bill Whelan.  He’s a National Heritage Award winner from the NEA, and a PhD, too.

As for the McNultys, if you haven’t heard of them, you’ll know all about them after the event.  Don’t worry– Mick hadn’t heard of them either before he visited his father’s cousin and heard some of her collection of 78s.  But they are beloved by generations of Irish-Americans, says Mick– the concert sold out in three days!  (though I’m told a few prime tickets remain, and it’s always worth going to see if any are returned).  Annie “Ma” McNulty (1887-1970) played melodeon, joined onstage by her son Peter (1917-1960) and Eileen (1915-1989).  It was Eileen that Mick interviewed in 1978 in North Jersey– and Eileen’s daughter who tracked Mick down decades later after reading an article Mick had written for Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States.  Her collection of 78s is now in NYU’s archive.

Paul Keating of the Irish Voice’s From the Hob writes:

Their music played across the briny seas as far as Ireland, though the McNulty Family never did perform there and only Eileen made it back there after Annie and Peter passed away (Peter died at 43 in 1960 and Annie a decade later in 1970 at age 82).

They also made 157 recordings of songs like “Mother Malone, I’m Leaving Tipperary, Far Away in Australia” and so many more that have been covered and re-recorded by hundreds of Irish artists since. In addition, Peter and Ma wrote for the Irish Advocate newspaper for years, giving readers a glimpse of the inside life of show business Irish style.

When her Drumkeeran-born husband John died at age 38 in 1928, Ma McNulty soldiered on, displaying a show-business acumen that would catapult her and her children to the top of Irish American entertainment along the East Coast. In 1932 and 1933, the McNulty Family launched their trademark Irish Showboat revue on radio and stage, and in 1953 they appeared on Milton Berle’s national TV program.

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.