Photo: Michael Thompson at last years CIF
The cultural offerings at the 2011 Colorado Irish Festival’s Cultural Village are the heart and soul of the weekend event, showcasing some of Colorado’s talented groups, organizations, and individuals that perpetuate Irish culture all year-round.
One such individual is local Celtic musician and storyteller Michael Thompson. Not only is Michael a Chairperson for the Cultural Village, but he will lend his talents with an updated version of his presentation on “The History of Ireland in Story and Song.” “It’s not easy to encapsulate ten thousand years of Irish history in an hour,” said Michael, “But if you’ve ever wondered about the origins of the Irish people, this is your chance.”
One of Michael’s friends in the Colorado circle of storytellers is Denis Michael John Gorman McCarthy Gessing – and with a name like that, you know there has to be a story! The “American-Irish Seanachi” ( Seanachi, variation on the spelling of the word for a traditional Irish storyteller/historian) keeps the oral tradition alive, with stories to delight audiences from the wee to the ancient. Born in Colorado to third generation Irish parents, Denis gives life to Irish Folk Tales, his own stories and those of Frank Delaney. “The American/ Irish Seanachi reminds you that while the ancestors had to leave Eire, Eire never leaves you … so long as there’s the Seanachi.”
As anyone from Ireland can attest, the local pub has been a key part of Irish culture for many years. According to Michael the pub is an integral part of the Cultural Village. “The pub is not just a place to drink – in Irish culture, it’s a center of social life, where the community gathers, old friends meet up, and new friends are made. Irish pubs are famous for their music and craic (pronounced “crack,” an Irish word for good times and friendship), and you will find plenty of both in the Cultural Village Pub.” Local acoustic Irish traditional music will be provided by Skean Dubh, Mythica, Colcannon, Gobs O’Phun, Lougheed, and Mondragon. Also, traditional music sessions Friday and Saturday evenings, featuring musicians who gather to play just for the joy of it, much like what happens in most local pubs in Ireland – so stop by for a listen, or bring your own party piece (tune or song)!
For centuries the Harp has been recognized as a national symbol of Ireland. Thanks to sponsorship from Denver company Kolacny Music, you can learn to make angelic sounds from this instrument. Harps will be provided for learners for a “hands-on” workshop with instruction from Lisa Clark of the Colorado Harp Society.
Another instrument with a strong Irish identity is the Uilleann Pipes. The name comes from the Irish term píoba uilleann which literally means, “pipes of the elbow.” Unlike the Highland and other pipes, the uilleann pipes are inflated by means of squeezing bellows strapped between the waist and arm with one’s elbow. The bellows relieve the player from the effort needed to blow into a bag to maintain pressure. The uilleann pipes allows pipers to converse or sing at the same time as playing – or as the famous Irish piper and singer Finbar Fury once said at a Denver concert, “The Irish designed the pipes to make the mouth available for a pull on the pint.” You can have an up-close-and-personal look at this uniquely Irish instrument when Colorado Uilleann Piper Eric Olson conducts his presentation of “Kitchen Music.” According to Michael, Eric will recreate the facet of traditional Irish music culture, where friends and neighbors gather in the kitchen for informal sessions, playing tunes and sharing songs, and maybe and occasional dance. “You don’t want to miss this, in his own inimitable style, Eric will cook-up a presentation where audience participation will happen!”
You can learn how to pronounce “uilleann” and other words and history of the Irish language when Ireland native Mick Bolger gives his presentation, “The Broken Tradition.” The front man for the Irish band Colcannon and student of the language will bring insight and instruction in the colorful language promised Michael, “This is not just a “tea towel” approach to a few tourist phrases, Mick’s workshop will give you a new understanding and appreciation of the Irish language and how it influences the culture, even among those who no longer speak it.”
Want to find your family tree? Marylee Hagen, a member of W.I.S.E. (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) Family History Society (which will also have a booth in the Village), has been doing genealogy for 16 years. She is a teacher by profession, and has given many adult and student programs on genealogy and Ireland. Marylee will give a presentation on “Tracing Your Ancestor’s Footsteps.” She found her family roots in southern Ireland by tracing her ancestor’s footsteps backwards to their homelands in County Kerry. She will start with first researching in the United States and then go abroad. Strategies, tips and resources will be shared and examples displayed.
Colorado historian Sherman Bucheger will share two presentations this year at the Fest. The first, “The Irish Famine in America,” will discuss details of the 1845-46 potato blight in Ireland, the resulting famine, and the emigration of millions of Irish, many to North America. This vast migration had widespread effects in both countries, which continue to change the face of American culture to this day. “The Irish in the American Civil War; The Union Irish Brigade” will briefly discuss the role of Irish and first generation Irish-Americans in the American Civil War of 1861-1865. The discussion will focus mainly on the involvement of the Irish in the Union Irish Brigade under the command on Thomas Francis Meagher from the battle of Sharpsburg in 1862 through the unit’s involvement in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Topics to be discussed will include why the Irish fought for both the Northern and Southern causes during the war, the use of Irish troops by both the Union and the Confederacy during the early combats of the war, and a possible reason why current day knowledge of the Irish during the war Civil War is so limited.
Michael was pleased to point out some of the Colorado groups and organizations that continue to fly the flag of Irish culture all year-round, will have booths in the Cultural Village, they include:
The Colorado Emerald Society fraternal organization of police, firefighters, and public safety personnel, promotes Irish culture and traditions among those valued professionals. CES also sponsors a pipe and drum band that represent the State of Colorado at the National Peace Officers Memorial March and Service in Washington D. C., and the International Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Colorado Springs, as well as leading the Colorado Emerald Society in Denver’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The Denver St. Patrick’s Day Committee will be represented, dispensing information about one of the most prestigious St. Patrick’s Day parades west of the Mississippi.
Every year, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and its auxiliary, the Ladies AOH
The ever-popular Irish Wolfhounds will make a return visit, and this year, we feature a special display of Viking craft skills and handiworks, by Iðavellr Vikings . Vikings came to Ireland many times, in bands small and large, and made significant contributions to Irish culture. Iðavellr Vikings is both a Crafter’s Guild and Living History group, situated in Colorado. Iðavellr is old Norse for the place where the Norse gods rest after battle; a place where crafting and camaraderie ensues. The Iðavellr village will represent how Norse people lived during the Viking Age, traditionally circa 700 C.E. to 1066 C.E. Its members portray Norse people from various countries sometime during that period. Nearly everything they have is hand-made, from clothes and shoes to kettle and knives. During the festival, they will display things they’ve made that Norse people would have had, and work on Viking-Age crafts, such as shoe making, nålbinding, tablet weaving, spindle spinning, and so on.
And of course, no discussion of Irish culture would be complete without the mention of distinctively Irish sports, such as Gaelic football and hurling. Michael explains the games, “Gaelic football predates the modern sport of soccer, and resembles that sport as well as rugby, but with some unique Irish twists. Hurling looks a bit like field hockey, but is played by much the same rules as Gaelic football. Colorado is the proud home of the Denver Gaels.” Dublin native and local “D.J.,” Shay Dunne (and co-founder of the Gaels) and some of his teammates on the Denver Gaels, will explain the importance of traditional Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) sports in Irish culture. This will be followed by demonstrations of these quintessential Irish games that include Irish Football and Hurling. The Gaels will also host teams from outside Colorado in GAA competition all weekend at the Fest.
Check the Cultural Village schedule at Colorado Irish Festival, click on Events, and scroll down to Cultural Village