Haley Richardson is just 15 years old, but she is already an all-Ireland champion fiddle player with an international reputation.

by Len Lear

A remarkable local 15-year-old who began playing the violin at age 2 and now has an international reputation is just one of many highly acclaimed musicians who will play traditional Irish music at the 43rd Annual Irish Traditional Music and Dance Festival. It will run Thursday, Sept. 7, through Saturday, Sept. 9, at the “Irish Center,” a.k.a. The Commodore Barry Club, 6815 Emlen St. (at Carpenter Lane) in West Mt. Airy.

Haley Richardson, the stunning teenage musician who started playing the violin at age 2 “because I liked the sound of it” and who will be playing on Saturday night, is not only an all-Ireland champion fiddle player but also a humanitarian who recently produced a CD called “Trad Teens: a CD for Mercy.” All proceeds were donated to Mercy Centre, a charity in the slums of Bangkok, Thailand, that includes five orphanages, a hospice, a 400-student kindergarten and a home for mothers and children with HIV/AIDS.

“I learned about a CD called ‘Lullabies for Love’ that featured a host of legendary musicians, many of whom have been of tremendous influence to me throughout my musical career,” Haley told us last week. “I thought the concept of someone using their musical talents to help others was amazing, and I wanted to do something similar. I began thinking and wondered if some of my young musical friends would be interested in helping me.

“I received an overwhelmingly positive response, and with that I began producing the CD with the help of some incredible musicians from all over the US, Ireland and Canada. Ultimately, I chose the Mercy Centre because 100% of the funds raised for the charity go directly to the kids. So far the CD for Mercy has raised upwards of $3780 for the Mercy Centre.”

The Philadelphia Céilí Group (PCG), which produces the annual festival in Mt. Airy, insists that its festival is the only in the area that is “truly a traditional festival” and is “one of the oldest continuous (if not the oldest) traditional Irish music and dance” festivals in the U.S. The Céilí Group began in 1958 when a group of young Irish immigrants and Irish-American step and figure/céilí dancers gathered at The Irish Center in West Mt. Airy, also founded in 1958, to formally promote Irish arts traditions.

The PCG started with Friday night céilís for all who wanted to learn Irish figure dances and musical instruments and went from there to Irish theater productions, Irish-Gaelic language lessons and much more to its present-day yearly festival of all things Irish for all ages. (A céilí is a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering.)

The annual festival began in 1975, when folklorist Mick Moloney expressed a need for a venue where Irish music and dance talent could be showcased without a competitive atmosphere. So 13 people met throughout the summer to make the festival a reality. Those people involved in organizing the first festival were Mickey and Jimmie McGill, Helen and Gus Haun, Sally and Dan Dougherty, Tina and Margaret Quigley, Tim Britton, Brian and Tim Quinn, Carl Zuckerman and Dan Verbo.

On Thursday night, Sept. 7, 8 p.m., there will be a very special night of song with some of the area’s best local singers of Irish music sung in English and Irish hosted by Rosaleen McGill and featuring local favorites Matt Ward, Kevin McCloskey and Keegan Loesel. Rosaleen began singing Irish ballads at age 7, performing for the first time at the request of the late Mt. Airy musician Frank Malley for the first “Singers Night.”

Most recently she was asked to sing the National Anthem with her trio, Glengesh, for the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park! Rosaleen sings on Thursday nights at Fergie’s Pub in Center City or around town with Glengesh. Rosaleen’s father, Jim McGill, is a Chestnut Hill resident who hails from County Donegal and who instilled a love of Irish music, dance and culture in Rosaleen from infancy.

According to PCG spokesperson Anne McNiff, on Friday, Sept. 8, starting at 8 p.m., there will be “a céilí dance with live music by the McGillians & Friends, one of the best céilí bands in the tri-state area. Additionally, in the Fireside Room a music-filled night will be hosted by Gerry Timlin … who will be inviting some special guests to perform, so get ready to hear tunes, songs and a story or two performed by your favorite Irish traditional singers and musicians.”

Saturday, Sept. 9, will kick off at 11 a.m. with live music and instrumental workshops at all levels for all ages offered by world class musicians. Additionally, there will workshops in singing, Irish language, St. Brigid’s cross making and more. Workshops are free to current Céilí Group members with the price of admission. The afternoon concert will feature the Jameson Sisters, So’s Your Mom, the Philadelphia Céilí Band and Irish dancing demonstrations between the musical performances. During the dinner hour, music will be provided by the Next Generation, and food will be available throughout the day.

Haley Richardson, of South Jersey, won her first MidAtlantic under-12 Irish fiddle competition at just 6 years old in July, 2009. By April, 2014, Haley was a 6-time MidAtlantic Region under-12 Irish fiddle champion. Since then she has won nine consecutive MidAtlantic solo fiddle championships. She has also placed numerous times in the All-Ireland competition.

“I think there are a lot of people who point out the problems of the world but don’t actually make an effort to solve them,” said Haley, whose favorite musician is Freddie Mercury, the late singer in the great rock band, Queen. “I hope that through my music, I can continue to help and inspire others.”

Haley has also been studying classical violin. Does that mean she would like to play in a symphony orchestra or as a soloist? “I enjoy playing classical music,” she replied, “but I don’t think I have the same passion for it as I do for Irish music. However, I did have a wonderful experience last  summer when I traveled to Oregon for the American Band College program. I soloed with a full wind orchestra.”

For more information about the festival, call 267-575-7744 or visit www.philadelphiaceiligroup.org

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