How It’s Irish: It’s the traditional holiday celebration taking place mostly as Gaeilge, in the Irish language.
The atmosphere was right for the Airneal na Nollag holiday celebration on December 8th. Glucksman Ireland House, just steps from the colorful Christmas tree under the Washington Square arch, had holly berries hanging from the chandelier by its entrance, sconces adorned with red bows, and red ribbons and white lights decorating the playing area for the evening’s singers, musicans, and speakers. The event was to be conducted in the Irish language, and, though I took some Irish classes years ago, I was concerned that my Irish would be a bit rusty for this. But, I’m happy to report that I understood a good portion of the Irish and that there was enough English for anyone to enjoy this musical and literary event.
Pádraig Ó Cearúill, NYU Irish-language professor and our host for the evening, welcomed everyone to the event in Irish and provided a helpful English translation.
First up was Molly Hebert-Wilson, a young Irish language teacher who learned her Irish from Pádraig. She began with “Gleantain Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair,” a song with the same melody as “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore.” She then brought up three delightful little guests, her very young students from Brooklyn, Ava, Sophia, and Rohan Mitchell who, encouraged by their teacher’s a haon, a do, a tri, (“one, two, three”) joined her in singing, “Bimse Fein ag Iascaireacht” (something I could relate to if it were a bit warmer — “I’m Going Fishing”) and “Beidh Aonach Amarach,” which celebrates a fair beginning tomorrow to County Clare. Molly and the children performed some gestures along with the songs, pointing to their shoes, for example, when they sang the word, “brog.” A great way to start off the festivities!
Andrew Carey came to the microphone next with a Greek instrument which has become a standard part of the Irish musical tradition, the bouzouki. On the newest instrument to join the Irish tradition, Andrew played some of the oldest tunes of that tradition. With his capo set low on his fretboard, he played the harp tunes, “Brian Boru’s March” and “Madame Maxwell” by Turlough O’Carolan.
The literary portion of the evening featured the incomparable Honor Molloy, reading a story, as Bearla (in English), entitled, “Inis Nollaig” (“Christmas Island”). In “Inis Nollaig,” a little girl listens to her American mother tell the story on Irish radio (Can her mother actually fit inside the wireless?) of her traveling to Inis Maan at Christmas time, braving six-foot waves for five hours in a curragh during the early days of her relationship with the little girl’s father.
After the reading, Grainne So gave a beautiful performance of a song in the acapella Sean Nos or “Old Style”. Sinead Joyce then played us a couple of tunes on the harp, including “The Kerry Dances.”
|Henry accompanies the Orchestra|
One of the main attractions of the evening, the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, came to the microphone next. The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra formed in the year 2000 when Mick Moloney began teaching at NYU. Its purpose is to pay homage to the Irish dance bands popular in New York City in the 1920s and ’30s. At the Airneal na Nollaig, the orchestra featured Tony Horswill, recent Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Hall of Fame inductee Don Meade, Liz Albertson, Liz Kennedy Bradley, and Suzanne Grossman on fiddle and Lisa Farber and Linda Mason Hood on flute. Daniel Neely introduced the songs, played tenor banjo, and sang. His wife, Gail Neely played the flute while their toddler son, Henry, acted as a front man for the group, strolling around in front of the musicians, playing with the microphone stand, and having a few laughs. The orchestra began with a selection of tunes called “O’Keefe’s,” “The Humours of Oisin,” and “Julia Clifford’s.” Don Neely and Linda Mason Hood sang a couple of catchy songs for the holidays, “The Gloucester Wassail” and a “Mulligan’s Christmas” (by Harrigan and Braham). The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra finished up with a set of reels associated with well known Irish traditional musicians of New York, and the fiddles and flutes sounded even merrier accompanied by the plentiful giggles of young Henry Neely.
The final act of the evening was a chorus of Pádraig Ó Cearúill’s students from Ireland House. The chorus sang a set of songs which included “Donal agus Morag” about a wedding we’d all wish we’d been to, the popular, “Oro, Se Do Bheatha Abhaile,” a Connemara song of jealousy called, “Bean Phadin,” and “Oiche Chiuin” (“Silent Night.”)
Pádraig thanked everyone for coming and wished everyone “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Hanukkah” in Irish and English. I can echo his remarks with “Nollaig shona daoibh!” and “Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Daoibh!” but I’ll have to say “Happy Hanukkah!” in English. Happy Holidays to all, whatever and wherever you are celebrating!