In July the Colorado Irish Festival enjoyed a financial, cultural, and musical success. Featuring world class entertainers like Gaelic Storm, Solas, The Elders and Cathie Ryan this year”s festival drew 32,000 visitors or a 50% increase over last year. In its 14th year the Co President Kacey O”Connor took no bows. Instead, as usual, she pointed to others.“The Festival”s success is largely due to the visionaries, 14 years ago, that started the event. Without them and their fanatical determination we would never be where we are now. We have 400 volunteers tirelessly committed to the festival. We are expanding and hopefully improving the Festival each year. Ciaran (Ciaran Dwyer the other Co-President) and I get the accolades but really it”s the management team and the volunteers that are responsible for our success.”The festival made two changes this year and one caused a mild controversy. First of all the old smaller location in Clement Park became too congested. The festival management team decided to move west in the park to a larger area with an amphitheatre. The change presented a few logistical challenges but the new site worked well and the guests enjoyed it. The second decision was the selection of Coors as exclusive vendor for beer sales.Kacey explains. “In reality the decision was a no-brainer. Coors offered us a significant contribution. Their people are fabulously cooperative and huge supporters of the festival. Their contribution helps us bring the world renowned talent to the festival.”A visit to Kacey”s store reminds one of a visit to a store in a small village in Ireland. It”s quaint, clean, well stocked with merchandise and staffed with warm friendly people. Daughter Lillie helps with managing as well as purchasing dance outfits, shoes and wigs. As Kacey puts it “Lillie is tuned into what young girls want in their dance outfits. She is invaluable in our purchasing.”Humor seems to surround Kacey. On a recent Saturday a huge middle age gentleman came to the store to connect with his newly discovered Scottish roots. After browsing for awhile he settled on a kilt. Returning from the change room he proudly pranced around the store. Lillie saw the customer and almost collapsed trying not to laugh. He had put the kilt on backwards. She rushed to her mother and Kacey diplomatically approached the egotistical customer with “that looks fabulous on you and it”s surely the right size but I think it would look much better turned around.” The customer sheepishly returned to the changing area, turned the kilt around and left with his first kilt. Charming, hard working, feisty and fun loving, she is a credit to the Irish community.
Irish folk legend Ronnie Drew – the former frontman of ballad group The Dubliners – has been given an old-fashioned Irish wake by his family. The gravel-voiced singer, who passed away on 16th August, was waked in his Greystones, Co Wicklow home, by hundreds of fans, friends, family members and neighbours before his funeral in the nearby Church of the Holy Rosary. Among those dropping in to pay their respects to his son Phelim and daughter Cliodhna – and Ronnie himself – was composer Phil Coulter, singer Paul Brady, Riverdance composer Bill Whelan, Eurovision Song Contest winner Shay Healy and Sinead O’Connor.Local people in Greystones supplied food and drink for mourners who had traveled from far and near. And Ronnie was laid-out inside in his coffin in one of his best suits.His agent and friend Brian hand said: “He wanted a big party more than anything else. This was a celebration of life. He was a real man of the people and that was what he wanted. So he got it.”Ronnie was laid to rest in Greystones cemetery after a service that include music from his old Dubliners colleagues Barney McKenna and John Sheehan. The church was so full, loudspeakers broadcast the ceremony to the hundreds outside in the car park.Ronnie ” regarded as the ultimate Dubliner ” passed away after a long battle with throat cancer. Last year his wife Deirdre, who nursed him through the initial stages of his illness, contracted cancer herself and died. But he battled on enduring bout after bout of exhausting chemotherapy, supported by his children, five grandchildren and extended family.Earlier this year U2 star Bono was behind a tribute song to him called The Ballad Of Ronnie Drew. It reached number one in the Irish charts and featured contributions from The Edge, Andrea Corr, Moya Brennan of Clannad, Sinead O’Connor, members of The Dubliners and a host of others.Ronnie was suitably embarrassed by the tribute, which was broadcast in a TV special while he sat in the audience. The song was co-written by Bono and The Edge along with contributions from Robert Hunter, the lyricist with legendary American band The Grateful Dead.While Bono attended Deirdre Drew’s funeral last year to console Ronnie, there was no sign of him at the singer’s own funeral. He was believed to be on holiday with family and friends at his home in the south of France.But manager Paul McGuinness was there to represent the supergroup, while President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Briwn Cowen were also represented by aides. And colourful Pogues singer Shane MacGowan arrived in a black top hat to pay his respects.The Dubliners formed in the early 1960s and were originally called The Ronnie Drew Group. But the changed their name to The Dubliners after the James Joyce book that group member Luke Kelly was reading at the time.In 1967 they were the first Irish act to appear on British chart show Top Of The Pops singing the controversial Seven Drunken Nights, which was banned on Irish radio. Nearly 20 years later they teamed up with punk-folk band The Pogues to appear on the same show singing The Irish Rover.As famed for their drinking sessions as their songs, they toured for decades. But nearly 20 years ago Ronnie called a halt, quit he group and gave up drinking.Since then he performed regularly, doing solo shows, readings, pantomime and occasionally re-uniting with the band for special shows.With a voice of gravel that belied a heart of gold, he died peacefully in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin surrounded by his family. A true Irish legend.
(Published in September 08 Celtic Connection)World-Class musicians from around the U.S. and abroad will travel to Huerfano County in south central Colorado for the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival September 25 -28. They will give concerts, offer music lessons, talk on the music traditions, and partake in impromptu music sessions along the way. The towns of Walsenburg, La Veta, Cuchara, and Gardner, all take part in the County-wide festival ” and it all started in a shack and trailer that Jack and Barbara Yule called home.Jack and Barbara moved with their four cats from Scotland to Gardner, Colorado in December of 2000 just in time for Christmas. In the previous spring they came across for a month so Jack could “knock up a shed” where they could live while he single-handedly built the two-story house he had designed for the couple to live. Luckily they had an old tiny used trailer to stay in while this job was being completed. The shed turned out to be 16″ by 20″ ” divided the long way for a half to hold Jack”s work tools and the other half for them to live in ” no amenities, including no electricity the first year. World-Class musicians from around the U.S. and abroad will travel to Huerfano County in south central Colorado for the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival September 25 -28. They will give concerts, offer music lessons, talk on the music traditions, and partake in impromptu music sessions along the way. The towns of Walsenburg, La Veta, Cuchara, and Gardner, all take part in the County-wide festival ” and it all started in a shack and trailer that Jack and Barbara Yule called home.Jack and Barbara moved with their four cats from Scotland to Gardner, Colorado in December of 2000 just in time for Christmas. In the previous spring they came across for a month so Jack could “knock up a shed” where they could live while he single-handedly built the two-story house he had designed for the couple to live. Luckily they had an old tiny used trailer to stay in while this job was being completed. The shed turned out to be 16″ by 20″ ” divided the long way for a half to hold Jack”s work tools and the other half for them to live in ” no amenities, including no electricity the first year. American born, Barbara went to Scotland in 1978 with her then eight year old daughter Heather to study for a doctorate in folklore at the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University. Jack and Barbara met and married and her stay extended beyond the degree for 22 years. Jack had been first a boat builder in a East Lothian boat yard, then a cabinet maker and somewhere in between he worked in the building trade. His final challenge after he and Barbara were married was to learn how to design and make Celtic harps. He became so successful at his art that in 2004 the Smithsonian Institute invited him as the only harp maker from Scotland to exhibit his harps at their Washington D.C. Folk Life Festival honoring Scotland and their finest traditional artists. Besides working in wood, Jack”s other love was playing his squeezebox or melodeon, a popular folk instrument in Scotland. He learned to play while growing up on various farms in East Lothian where his father was a ploughman. Barbara set the backdrop for the family Yule, “Our little cottage in the hamlet of Silverburn south of Edinburgh drew musicians both professional and amateur for regular ceilidh evenings. Storytelling, my field, was also popular at these events. This was Heather”s upbringing including getting the opportunity when she was still a schoolgirl to accompany me on many of my field collecting trips. We traveled widely throughout the country so I could record traditional stories told by the traveling people (formerly known as tinkers). It is no wonder Heather eventually went on to become a professional Celtic harp player and storyteller herself.”When Jack and Barbara moved to Scotland, Jack was and still is the only Scotsman living in Huerfano County. It took him a wee while to find other amateur musicians like himself who enjoyed playing Scottish and Irish music. He did find a few such men and they met regularly once a week to jam together.Barbara explained how the seeds of the Celtic Fest were planted. “In the summer of 2001 a couple of our musician friends from Scotland came across to camp on our land, and so we organized a ceilidh in their honor. The word spread, as seems to happen easily out here in the country, and about 75 people showed up with food and drinks and we had a rip roaring good time. Another ceilidh was held the following year and the year after that ” whenever one or more of our friends would cross the ocean, instruments in hand. Every summer participants to these rather spontaneous events increased and dancing and sing-alongs were added. After the 2004 summer ceilidh a number of us thought it might be fun to organize an actual weekend Celtic music festival.”With only a start up loan of $2500, all Barbara could think to do was to phone several of their professional musician friends who, because of Jack”s profession, were predominantly harp players, and ask them if they would come at their own expense to help launch a new festival. “To my surprise everyone I asked agreed!” said Barbara. That first year included Scottish ballad singer Alison Bell, world renowned harpers Billy Jackson (Scotland), Grainne Hambly (Ireland), international jazz harpist Park Stickney who flew in from Switzerland and Alfredo Ortiz, master player of the Paraguayan harp, and finally Jane McMoran, a fabulous Celtic fiddler from Tennessee. “Jack volunteered to host the concerts and his dry humor made such a hit that he still has that job today. We even had our daughter Heather across that year to take part as a harp teacher and storyteller. We couldn”t guarantee these wonderful artists the price of their flight tickets let alone offer them a fee! – As it turned out in the end we were able to reimburse all their expenses, pay back our loan, and still have a little money left over as a start for a second year!”Not bad for the first try especially so when you figure the preparation for the festival took place in the 8″ by 10″ living-work space in the shed that Jack built, still without running water and just a wood stove for heat, and six cats (they had added two American strays to their family). At least the shed now had electricity and an uncertain telephone that was on the blink more than it worked ” they would have to wait for their telephone poles later along with a well for water.The next years saw many more great international and American artists join their festival ranks. From the very first year outreach programs were presented by the guest artists to all Huerfano County schools K-12 during the week leading up to the festival itself. During the weekend they offered classes, workshops and demonstration talks especially with musicians and lovers of Celtic culture in mind. The festival has grown in number and popularity year to year, but by design it strives for quality and not quanity.“Ours will always be a small festival because our concerts (this year 5, one of which is free) and our strong educational music program does not have as broad an appeal as say, a Highland Games event,” explained Barbara, “We try and bring in artists as much as possible from Celtic countries, or Americans with direct Irish and or Scottish ties who perform internationally to offer participants an opportunity to hear, enjoy and learn from artists not normally accessible to Southern Colorado. We hope in the future to include more of the exciting best Celtic musicians Colorado has to offer as we are getting to know them from their visits to our festival.” This year the festival have two popular duos with local Colorado ties ” the delightful Willson and McKee who actually are rooted in Walsenburg and Shannon and Matt Heaton who have a big Colorado following from their years displaying their skills in their Colorado based band Siucra (Shoo-cra, Irish for “sugar). The Heatons will be joined on stage for the Saturday night concert at the Fox Theater in Walsenburg with internationally renowned Irish fiddler Liz Carroll, premier Uilleann piper Jerry O”Sullivan, and Kieran Jordan, a beautiful master of Sean-Nos (Old Style) Irish step dancing.As the festival closes in on its fourth year Barbara, as festival director, continues to take on the mighty task of presenting the pure form of Celtic music and dance to Colorado, while Jack single-handedly builds a house and home. Progress has been slow but steady -Jack and Barbara moved into their unfinished house (November of 2006) and now they have running water as well as electricity! Stop down to the beautiful Spanish Peaks region the last weekend in September and enjoy the fruits of their labor. “We welcome all to another festival we think you will find exciting, and this time, you will be pleased to know, we finally have found a great pub in La Veta happy to welcome late night session players! For more information visit www.CelticMusicFest.com
Denver resident Matt Updike recently qualified to compete in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, September 6-17, as a member of the US Paralympic Cycling Team. While he”s been on the US Team for several years it”s his first time qualifying for a Paralympic Games. Although making the team was a tremendous accomplishment in itself, Matt can use your help and support down the home stretch toward his goal in China.“In order to help Matt perform his best in China we”ve decided to have a fundraiser so he can have the proper equipment and training needed to bring home a medal” hopefully one that”s gold.” said Andrew Toole, owner of Scruffy Murphy”s ” “Having the best when it comes to things such as wheels, tires, components, etc. and being able to afford to have sufficient time to train can make a huge difference in results and we want to give Matt his best shot at that gold.” The fundraiser for Matt will be Thursday, August 7 at Scruffy Murphy”s, 2030 Larimer Street, Denver. Folks interesting in helping can write a tax deductible check to: US Handcycling. “US Handcycling (501c3 non-profit) has been a long time supporter of mine,” said Matt, “It is a great organization that”s involved in putting on elite handcycle races as well as grass roots efforts such as getting kids with disabilities and newly injured people into handcycling.” If you can”t attend the fun at Scruffy Murphy”s but would still like to support Matt and US Handcycling please go to www.ushandcycling.org where you can make a donation online easily with your credit card. Born in 1971 in Syracuse, New York, Matt was injured in an automobile accident in the Fall of 1997 that left him paralyzed from the chest down, however, Matt immediately made his way back to skiing and cycling, his two passions prior to the accident. Matt began racing on the handcycling circuit in 2000 and showed dramatic improvement in a short time. He went from finishing near the back in his first season, to a National Time Trial Title and a Bronze Medal at the 2002 IPC World Championships in Germany. Through continued resolve and hard work Matt has become a dominate force in his race and has won multiple National Championships in the past few years and was most recently a member of Team MasterCard ” a select international group of handcyclists chosen to participate in events/races around the World. Matt”s speed often takes him first across the finish lines, but he also has a great deal of endurance. He proved this when he brook the 24 hour distance World Record, riding his handcycle over 463 km in 24 hours through the Dutch countryside.Andre Toole commented on Matt”s fortitude, “He is a real inspiration, he works-out every day and is built like a brick-shithouse; than he”ll take off on a Saturday for a 50 mile ride!Besides training and racing, Matt is currently working a residential mortgage banker with Universal Lending Corp (firstname.lastname@example.org). He enjoys volunteering at Craig Hospital as a peer counselor and with Adaptive Adventures helping kids get into handcycling.The August 7th fundraiser at Scruffy Murphy”s, 2030 Larimer Street, Denver 80205 (303-291-6992) runs from 6-8pm. $20 includes free drinks, etc. Tax deductible donations to Matt c/o U.S. Handcycling are greatly appreciated.
Irish Band Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys have an internet hit on “YouTube” in the works with their song celebrating Barack Obama’s Irish ancestry, “There’s No One as Irish As Barack O’Bama”. The band from Limerick, Ireland, made up of brothers Ger, Brian, and Donnacha Corrigan wrote the song after learning about a study last year that revealed Barack Obama roots to Moneygall, a small town in County Offaly. “We have been messing around for the last year or two as a band” said Ger Corrigan who described the band as “specializing in parody songs.” “We wrote the song about Obama because we heard he was from Moneygall, and we were really just doing it for a bit of fun.” The bands initial offering of the “Obama song” went without fanfare.“We put the song on Youtube in March and by the end ofApril it had only 25 hits” said Ger Corrigan. But that has all changed since the worldwide media have picked up on the “bit of fun” of the song and story. Now newspapers, TV, websites and bloggers from all over the world are covering the story.Irish media has also been joining in on the fun. At the end of June Hardy Drew and The Nancy boys headlined the “Obama Nomination Celebrartion Gig” in Obama”s “hometown” in Moneygall Ireland. This was carried live on the Irish National News TV3. A documentary maker following the bands story and recorded the celebration gig for posterity.The facts behind the fun come from recent findings uncovered by Canon Stephen Neill, a Church of Ireland rector in Moneygall, who found that the Hawaiian-born Illinois senator’s Irish Anglican ancestors hailed from the village, many of whom emigrated to America at the time of Ireland’s potato famine in the 1840s. Baptismal and marriage records has traced Mr Obama’s maternal family tree back to his great-great-great-great grandfather Joseph Kearney, a well-to-do shoemaker from Moneygall, Co Offaly, who lived from 1794 to 1861.Mr. Obama ,son of a Kenyan man and a woman from Kansas, recently spoke with Irish televison RTE in regards to his Irish roots. He said in jest, “I”ve always maintained that Obama is and Irish name ” just put the apostrophe after the O and your all set.”There is no word yet if the band will fly to Denver this month for the Democratic National Convention to honor the presidential candidate as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential election, but “Michiganders for Obama” have invited the band to play in Michigan if Obama succeeds in the November Presidential Race.Pat McCullough August 08 Celtic Connection