by Anne McNiff
The Philadelphia Ceili Group (pronounced “Kay-Lee”), a non-profit, 501-c-3 organization, founded in 1958 to preserve and promote Irish music, dance and culture, will be sponsoring its 42nd Annual Traditional Irish Music and Dance Festival for three days: Thursday, Sept. 8, through Saturday, Sept. 10, at Philadelphia’s “Irish Center,” a.k.a. The Commodore Barry Club, Carpenter Lane and Emlen Streets in West Mt. Airy.
This year’s festival has something for everyone: a night of Irish song with some of the best local singers of Irish traditional songs hosted by Marian Makins; a special Ceili dance with live music by the McGillians & Friends and a Friday night Rambling House hosted by Tim Britton.
On Thursday night, Sept. 8, 8 p.m., there will be a special night of song with some of the area’s best local singers of Irish songs sung in English and in Irish. Friday night, Sept. 9, starting at 8 p.m., will be filled with music and dance with a Ceili dance and live music by the McGillians & Friends, one of the best Ceili bands in the tri-state area, and hosted by John Shields and Cass Tinney.
Additionally, in the Fireside Room a music-filled Rambling House will be hosted by Tim Britton, renowned player of the rare Irish uillean pipes. Tim is also accomplished on the wooden flute, tin whistle, Highland pipes, mandolin and as a singer and storyteller. Tim will be inviting some special guests to perform, so get ready to hear tunes, songs and a story or two performed by Irish traditional singers and musicians. It is open to all ages.
Saturday, Sept. 10, will kick off at 11 a.m. with live music and free instrumental workshops at all levels for all ages from world-class musicians. Additionally, there will workshops in singing, Irish language, St. Brigid’s cross making and much more. Workshops are free to current Ceili Group members with the price of admission. The afternoon concert will feature Glengesh, McDermott’s Handy, the Philadelphia Ceili Band and Irish dancing demonstrations between the musical performances. During the dinner hour music will be provided by The Next Generation. There will also be an Artisans’ Gallery featuring Irish arts and crafts, activities for the kids including face painting and St. Brigid’s cross making. Food will be available throughout the day.
Saturday’s 7 p.m. concert will feature Altan, a 30-year active band called the living legacy of Irish music. The band was founded by Gweedore singer and fiddler, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, and her now-deceased partner Frankie Kennedy. Altan is a band of virtuosos with bouzouki-player, Ciaran Curran; U.S.-based Derry guitarist, Daithi Sproule; Donegal fiddler, Ciaran Tourish; Martin Tourish on accordion and Mark Kelly on guitar. The band has gold and platinum albums in Ireland and has literally toured the world.
Opening for Altan is Poor Man’s Gambit, an energetic trio composed of local area performers Corey Purcell, Genevieve Gillespie and Dylan Richardson. Steeped in the traditions of Irish, Scottish and Americana folk music, Poor Man’s Gambit is one of the hottest new trios on the East Coast. The night is bound to be great “craic” (“great fun” for the non-Irish speakers).
The Ceili Group began in 1958 when a group of young Irish immigrants and Irish-American ceili and step dancers gathered at The Commodore Barry Center in Mt. Airy to formally promote Irish music, dance and culture. The annual festival began in 1975, when founders of the Ceili Group decided that the local Irish music and dance talent should be shared with a larger audience and in a larger setting than just the Friday night ceilis. It started out as a one-day festival and then expanded to a three-day festival.