How It’s New York: Catskills Irish Arts Week takes place in Durham, New York, and many if not most of the trad players in the tri-state make it up for at least a day!

How It’s Irish: East Durham, New York was where Irish immigrants used to take their summer vacations, in the days before air conditioning. Many an Irish pub, Irish place name, it even kind of looks like Ireland. Today, there’s a fab Irish Arts week every summer (and festivals throughout the year), which include many players and teachers from Ireland.
Dan Neely talks to Paul Keating about this summers Irish Arts Week, which will be here in less than a month!  We wrote this piece about sessions there last summer…. not to be missed!

This year marks the 18th annual Catskills Irish Arts Week, one of the country’s finest celebrations of Irish music and culture.  “The Catskills,” or CIAW for short, has become legendary in traditional Irish music circles.

Paul Keating (the week’s dynamo director) and I recently sat down and talked about CIAW’s past, present and future.  He explained that the week began as a one-day festival in Schoharie County, N.Y.  In those early years, the roadhouses and resorts in nearby East Durham were where festival-goers went for good, after-hours craic.  Three years in, the festival was invited to set up shop in East Durham, where it developed into the prestigious teaching week it has now become.

Dan Gurney will be at CIAW (our InteReview here!)

CIAW takes very much after the annual Willie Clancy week in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, in that classes are offered in the mornings and afternoons, lectures occur daily (this year’s schedule includes Matt Cranitch talking about Seamus Creagh, Fintan Vallely talking about the second edition of his Companion to Irish Traditional Music and Na Píobairí Uilleann’s executive director Gabe McKeon), CD and book launches happen regularly (Cathal McConnell’s new book I Have Traveled This Country will launch there, as will the new albums of Dylan Foley, Dan Gurney, Caitlinn NicGabhann, Catherine McEvoy and Dermot Byrne), concerts and céilithe take place nightly, and there are all the sessions one can handle.  The week comes to a close with a day-long festival named after legendary New York fiddler Andy McGann, where all the instructors (and then some) perform.  It’s a grand event.

The week’s success is due, in great measure, to its large, world-class faculty.  CIAW has an unusually expansive teaching staff, and Keating boasts of counting the likes of old-style concertina player Dymphna O’Sullivan, fiddler Mick Conneely, singer Michael Black (of the famous Black family of singers) and set dance teacher Padraig McEneany among this year’s names.  The international reputation of CIAW’s instructors has helped attract people from all over the United States, Canada, and overseas.

Ivan Goff, Blackie O’Connell, Isaac Alderson play through the night

The week’s success is also aided by the spirit of camaraderie it inspires.  The environment is non-competitive and nurturing.  At the seemingly innumerable sessions, for example, young people sit alongside top musicians; they learn the music and make lifelong bonds with real people as well as with their heritage – it’s the kind of experience that brings people back year after year.

Gwen with Eileen Gannon, Guinness hat

But like so many music and culture weeks across the country, CIAW still needs support from the community at large.  Diminished arts funding from granting organizations combined with a lagging economy threaten to conspire against even the most noble of efforts (especially if these efforts include bringing artists in from overseas).  Help support the week by attending the public concerts and attending the Andy McGann Festival on July 21. 

It’s great music, and it’s important that the outlets that present it are properly looked after!

For more information go on the 2012 Catskills Irish Arts Week, which takes place from July 15-21, go to

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