Catskills Irish Arts Week is Coming!


How It’s New York:  Seems like all the Irish players in the tri-state area go up, if not for the whole week, then for part of it!

The Road to the Catskills

How It’s Irish:  The music of course but also many of the teachers.  This year, 18 are imported from Ireland!

Catskills Irish Arts Week is almost upon us!  People are talking about when they’re going, are they coming back midweek for the Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center with Charlie Harris, Maeve Donnelly, Geraldine Cotter and Eamonn Cotter; where they’re staying.  I’ll be rolling out stories about it and featuring it on podcasts, but meanwhile, here’s the article that was in this month’s Irish Music Magazine.  As teaching weeks go, it’s a bargain– it lacks the convenience of dorm rooms and a college campus but in return gives the authenticity of staying in “roadhouses” all over town, and carpooling to sessions.  It’s also gorgeous up in East Durham and it looks like this summer will be no different.  I’ve made many friends up there and come back with tunes– what could be better?  Not to be missed!


Gwen Orel previews the Catskills Irish Arts Week the great annual gathering of Irish
Musicians, which takes place in upstate New York.

Outside Furlongs

Last summer during Catskills Irish Arts Week, I stayed across the street from Furlong’s Pub. When I left the bar at 3am, the session was going strong. When I got up the next morning
at 9.15am, it was still going. As the week wore on, the line for coffee at Lawyer’s general store would get longer and longer each morning and you’d recognize some of the teachers, due in class at 10, there at 9.58. The week is always instructional and inspiring. And as stimulating as a triple espresso.
The week, which runs this year from July 10th – 16th, is in its 17th year. As always, the week culminates with the day-long concert, the Andy McGann Festival, on the grounds of the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre. Last year was a knockout,
there were as many as 12 CD launches, including a launch from Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly, and Joanie Madden’s Galway Afternoon, recorded with her father, the late Joe Madden. This summer is not as launch-packed, though there will be some; but as always it promises to be a highlight of the trad year. The week of classes, sessions and Céilís takes place in roadhouses and pubs all through the East Durham area in the Catskills mountains. Unlike college- based weeks like those at Swannanoa and Augusta Heritage Irish week at Elkins, the week takes place all over town. It’s modeled on the Willie Clancy Week in Miltown Malbey. Paul Keating, the Artistic Director, first visited the Willie Clancy Summer School in 1984. He has been involved with CIAW since it began in 1995, and has been running it since 2003. Keating also writes a column for the Irish Voice, and works with Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann of the mid-Atlantic region.

About 1500 people crowd the sleepy East Durham area during the week, about 500 students register, but many bring family, and people also come up for just a day or two to play in sessions and go to concerts. Those sessions are worked out in advance by Keating, different speeds and different assigned leaders, drawn from the expert staff of names well-known to Irish music lovers; such

names as Blackie O’Connell, Shannon Heaton, Randall Bays, Mary Bergin, Billy McComiskey. People come for the week from over 30 states and 5 Canadian provinces. There’s already someone registered from Switzerland and from New Zealand.

In Liz Carroll’s Class

There are classes for non-musicians, too, including jewelry making and painting, Irish language classes, and children’s workshops. There’s a quilting class this year for the first time. And of course, there are dance classes. Keating himself doesn’t play an instrument, his way in is through set dancing. One of the new music classes is one in group arrangements from pianist Brendan Dolan.
Students get access to nightly concerts including the Andy McGann Festival and to topical lectures during the week. Len Graham, who wrote a book on fiddler Joe Holmes (1906-78) will launch it in East Durham (Len also teaches singing). Among last year’s talks were Damien Connolly on “bringing a tune to life with rhythm and phrasing;” Jeff Ksizaek talking about “Captain O’Neill Cylinders, lost and found,” Earle Hitchner in conversation with Galway Accordionist and Composer Martin Mulhaire, and the book launch of Liz Carroll Collected, hosted by Dr. Larry McCullough. Liz was one of last year’s fiddle teachers.
The scenery is gorgeous, and the environment rustic (translation: bring an electric fan and bug spray). This year, there’s a buzz about new pubs in the area: The Saloon, in the centre of town, where Darby’s restaurant used to be, promises to be a popular spot and Keating says “reports are that the food is good.” The Stone Castle Inn on the way into town has also just opened. The Blackthorn, after suffering a tragic fire last September, has been completely reconstructed inside of eight months, and, said Keating, “opened just last weekend. We’re calling it the phoenix-like Blackthorn.” A perennial favourite is Oak Hill Kitchen, a restaurant/bakery in nearby Oak Hill, run by the religious organization the Twelve Tribes (but don’t worry, they don’t proselytize, and the 60’s-style graphics in their newsletters ar delightful).
The Grey Fox bluegrass Festival takes place down the road (Blackie, Paul and I all went backstage during Tim O’Brien’s set last summer). And for the first time, a Céilí band from CIAW will go down to Manhattan mid-week to participate in Lincoln Center’s Summer Swing program. Master accordion player, Charlie Harris, winner of the TG4 Irish musician of the year in 2010, is coming
over. He and fiddler Maeve Donnelly, whistle player Geraldine Cottar and flutist Eamonn Cottar are all coming over and will form the basis of the band. “It’s a bit of an outreach programme,” Paul says.
There are about 65 staff, with 9 fiddle teachers including Matt Cranitch, Patrick Ourceau and Tony DeMarco. And there are new faces: concertina player, Pádraig Rynne, Accordion player, Colm Gannon, originally from Boston but now living in Connemara, and fiddle player Jesse Smith, from

Blackie O’Connell, Paul Keating and Me: Back Stage at  Grey Fox

Baltimore, will launch their CD The Ewe with the Crooked Horn.
“These are great young people who cut their teeth in Irish America, have gone back to Ireland, and have been playing there for over a decade,” Keating says.
One of the things that makes CIAW so significant is that mixture of Irish talent, as many as 18 from Ireland this year, with American artists and students.
“It’s a mutual stimulus that works well for both communities. We end up forming an incredible living tradition during the week. These are people who live, breathe and sleep with Irish music. Except, they don’t sleep up there.”

You can always sleep the week after, when everyone begins posting, “I wish Catskills Irish Arts Week could go on all year.”

(originally published with different photos in Irish Music Magazine, July 2011)

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