Traditions stand the test of time, handed down from generation to generation – adding new life, stories, and interpretations to its ever expanding width and depth. During the last weekend of September, Huerfano County will help perpetuate
the traditions of Irish, Scottish, and related Roots music and dance.

Huerfano County is often referred to as “Spanish Peaks Country” for its towering two peaks, West Spanish Peaks and East Spanish Peaks. Indigenous people looked at them with sacred eyes and called them Wahatoya, meaning “Breasts of the Earth.” Part of the Culebra Range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Spanish Peaks can be seen as far as 100 miles in some directions

Huerfano’s four most populated areas are Cuchara, La Veta, Gardner, and Walsenburg. They are like four siblings with totally different personalities. Walsenburg, the county seat and former coal town, will host the Celtic fest’s Harp retreat as well as the popular Friday and Saturday evening concerts at the historic Fox Theatre. Highlighting the connections between Celtic and Appalachian music, Fridays’ concert, “Scotland meets Appalachia.” will cast the renowned Old Blind Dogs, David Coe and others. On Saturday brace yourself for one exciting Irish hooley when County Clare fiddle sensation Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and friends raise the boards. La Veta is a charming artesian town that will house the Celtic fest office and is site of many classes/workshops and activities in the La Veta Park. Take a walk around town where the folks are friendly or jump on the train and go up the pass where bears often scavenge fallen grain that have slid from Coors boxcars. For a rustic mountain experience, travel 10 minutes south along the scenic highway of legends to Cuchara. This mountain village could easily be the set for an old fashion western movie. This is still a secret, but how much fun will happen when the Old Blind Dogs and friends meet at the Dog Bar on Thursday afternoon to start warming up for the Festival? On Thursday evening Gardner will host “A Taste of Things to Come,” a preview party with festival performers playing a few tunes or singing some songs. This “locals” event, is a sell-out each year so don’t your tickets a the last minute. Gardner has a colorful history too. Once the hunting grounds for Utes, Comanche, and Apace, it became home to cattle ranches. In the late 1960’s it became home to hippie communes. Most moved when they discovered the realities of rural living – hard work.

Gardner is also home of the Festival founders, Jack and Barbara Yule. Unafraid of work they moved to the area from Scotland a decade ago from Scotland to homestead on 30 acres. Jack is a harp maker and melodeon player and Barbara a storyteller. The festival grew its roots from informal ceilidhs (Scottish spelling for Ceili) that unfolded when they were visited by friends and family from back home.

The Yules European background is the reason behind the unique offering of a countywide festival. Unlike in America, it is not unusual for festivals in the Celtic regions of Europe (and eastern Canada) to have festivals that are spread out over multiple areas or towns, i.e., Willy Clancy Week, South Sligo Summer School, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (Ireland), Celtic Colors (Nova Scotia), and Celtic Connections (Scotland). “It is as much a retreat as it is a festival,” said Barbara Yule. “We encourage people to come down for a day or two – more if possible, and build your own experience with the festival offerings, world class performers, along with the sights of Huerfano County.”

Oh, can’t forget the Ceili in the ghost town of UpTop on La Veta pass Friday at noon. This is a free event that was started last year and was a blast. Bring a tune, song, or dancing shows and enjoy the session in the old saloon and dance hall. Pack a picnic (snacks will be for sale) and bring your camera, as the sights are beautiful. Also plan some time to visit the chapel and old depot from 1888, once the site of the highest narrow gauge railroad in the world. Now the site of the highest ceili in the world! Did we say the Spanish Peaks Celtic fest is unique?

7th Annual Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival, September 22 – 25, with music and workshops by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, The Old Blind Dogs, Robbie O’Connell (Clancy Brothers, Green Fields of America), David Coe, Ed Miller, Margaret Bennett, Roger Landes, Aine Minoque, Kim McKee, Jennie McAvoy, Claire Mann, Linda Hickman, Tanya Perkins, Shay Dunne, Cleek Schrey and more. Visit or call 719-746-2061, 719-742-3003, 719-742-5410, or 303-777-0502 for information and registration.


by Alan Groarke

There’s an old Irish proverb that states ‘an ounce of breeding is worth a pound of feeding’. Well that adage can definitely be applied to Darragh O’Neill who has just been announced as the starting punter for the CU Football team. Darragh has never before played in a competitive American Football game in High School or College and only took up punting last winter.
Darragh was born in Ireland with both parents providing a serious Gaelic Football pedigree. His father Colm won All Ireland medals with County Cork while his uncle Maurice Fitzgerald also won All Irelands with County Kerry and is revered for his incredible contribution to the game. Most Irish people would have Maurice in their top 5 Gaelic Football players of all time.

Darragh’s family left Ireland when he was 2 and moved first to Michigan where his father earned an MBA before they settled in Louisville. Colm owns the popular Conor O’ Neills pub in Boulder as well as a sister pub in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Darragh grew up playing Baseball, Soccer and Basketball before concentrating on the latter two sports in High School. However, it looked like a promising sports career would be cut short when Darragh fell ill with a rare blood disease during his sophomore year. The illness baffled doctors and caused his lungs to hemorrhage just before he slipped into a coma for five days. A priest delivered last rites, and the outlook did not look good. Amazingly, he bravely fought the illness and eventually recovered back to full health. Doctors felt it would be quite some time before he would be able to play sports again and probably not competitively because of the damage to his lungs. This would not deter Darragh who worked hard on his fitness and managed to recapture his place on the Fairview High School Soccer and Basketball teams. He was an All-State soccer player and led the basketball team to back-to-back Class 5A State Championship Finals with thrilling displays along the way. He was named Colorado Basketball Player of the Year in 2010 and averaged over 23 points a game as a point guard.

Surprisingly, Darragh did not hear from many Division I colleges – only the University of Denver invited him as a walk on although he had many Division II scholarship offers. Instead, he enrolled at CU but did not play basketball or soccer in his first year. Then last winter, Darragh took up punting, thinking it might be a way to play major-college football. “I played soccer, so I knew I had a decent leg anyway, so I just started working on punting with my dad, trying to figure it out…It was something I always wanted to do in high school. I just never felt I had the time.”

A friend hooked him up with local kicking coach Matt Thompson and a tryout with CU special teams coach J.D. Brookhart in March led to Darragh getting his shot. He immediately caught everyone’s eye after kicking a number of monster kicks. Darragh then had a battle on his hands all through the spring and summer to perfect his technique and ensure he had a consistent kicking game. He was competing against two other seasoned punters but CU Head Coach Jon Embree was convinced by Darragh’s skill, determination and toughness. He named the twenty year old as the starting punter for CU’s first game, which takes place on September 3rd in Hawaii.

It’s unheard of that someone plays their very first competitive game in a sport live on ESPN in front of a national audience. But then ‘Darragh’ in Gaelic means “oak tree” and it is that tenacity which has seen him recover from a life threatening illness and rise to the top of all sports that he has decided to play.

Not nearly satisfied with baseball, soccer, basketball and American football, he is an accomplished rower and has played Gaelic Football. Under the tutelage of his famous uncle Maurice, not only did he learn rowing, but he took home an All Ireland Rowing Medal after just a summer learning the sport. Darragh also has a North American Under 18 Gaelic Football medal, won while playing for our very own Denver Gaels. Indeed, he probably would have been able to contribute more to the club if his summers weren’t spent in Ireland with his family.

Darragh comes from a family of eight where sports plays an integral role and they continue to provide a conveyer belt of talent to sports teams here in Colorado. His brother Shane is also an outstanding soccer and basketball player and played with Fairview in the State Basketball Final last year. He is currently on the development squad for the Colorado Rapids and would love the opportunity to play professional soccer. Darragh has two other brothers – Enda and Mark and two sisters – Kate and Grace. His parents Colm and Christine regularly spend their weekends chauffeuring the kids to different tournaments around Colorado. CU now want to take over that role starting with a trip to Hawaii for Darragh’s debut as an American Football punter.

Mile High Sightings

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Sep 052011

Uilleann piper Davy Spillane was at Hastings College, Nebraska to receive
a Doctorate in Fine Arts for his works in making Uilleann Pipes.
He swung into Denver for a couple days with Richard Lloyd, Professor of
Irish Literature at the College. He is pictured above at Celtic Tavern in Downtown Denver. L-R Spillane, Noel Hickey, and Lloydrish L

Sep 052011

Charles “Chuck” McLaughlin, 59, passed away suddenly on Sunday, June 12, 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the home he shared with Judi, his wife and best friend of 42 years.

A few years ago a band that we have history with asked Celtic Events/ The Celtic Connection to promote and produce a show in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In some ways this was a bad idea since we had never been there before, knew no one, and the town had a reputation as a tough market for shows. On the other hand, the idea was appealing
since it fit into our plans to expose the Celtic Connection newspaper as a niche resource to as many folks, businesses, and organizations as possible who live, work, and play up & down the Rockies. I decided to take the opportunity to reach out further with the CC and took the show.

From Denver I researched Irish/Celtic organizations in Albuquerque – One of the names I came across was Chuck McLaughlin, Irish Freedom Committee. When I contacted Chuck I learned that he had also been a member of the Irish American Society of New Mexico and had publicity experience as media director for the Rio Grande Celtic Festival. When he understood what we were attempting to do in “Albu” he immediately went to work putting together names, numbers, and ideas that might assist us in promoting the show. I was so impressed by the effort he made to help a person that he had never met. He never tried to feel me out to learn who I voted for, what I prayed to or any other hot-button topic of judgment – he was just trying to help another human being who needed a hand. I soon learned that this was not an isolated incidence – Chuck was a man who unconditionally helped people as a way of life.

There was more than a little nail biting when we drove from Denver to Albuquerque for the show. Soon after we arrived at the venue Chuck and his good buddy Don Murphy showed up and asked, “How can we help?” I can’t tell you how comforting those words were, as we were working with a skeleton crew of my wife, me, and our then four year-old boy – who wasn’t much help but a good source of entertainment.

Subsequent trips to New Mexico always came with advice and helpful tips from Chuck. He loved New Mexico, and would always have good travel suggestion -given in his candid delivery, “..Most New Mexicans consider Santa Fe to be a waste of time and money…Taos is a far more friendly and affordable town and is my own favorite NM town.” Heavily involved with the Celtic League and the Irish Freedom Committee, Chuck would forward press releases to me regularly for consideration in the Celtic Connection. He was never pushy, presumptuous, and did not show contempt if his article was not published. But, when something was published about NM or one of his projects, he was over the moon with gratitude, making comments like “Dinner’s on me!”

By coincidence or by one of those serendipitous moments that get you wondering about a bigger picture, I came across one of those grateful emails from Chuck the night before he died. It said, “I owe you Pat and you know that whenever you and your family find your way to New Mexico, you stay here as our guests.” No Chuck, I owe you. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chuck’s friends and families. He will be remembered and missed. Pat McCullough The Celtic Connection/Celtic Events


Photo: Keriayn with dad, Bill, and mom Teresa

Keriayn O’Donnell has recently returned from Ireland where she was competing in the regional finals of the 2011 Rose of Tralee Festival.

Keriayn was the first local girl to be chosen to represent the City of Denver as the Denver Rose in this prestigious event. Although she performed well in all aspects of the four day event, she was not among the girls chosen to attend the finals to be held in August. The competition was fierce and, unfortunately, only 23 of the 51 entrants could advance to the finals. Besides the disappointment of not advancing to the finals, Keriayn suffered a stress fracture in her foot the first night of the competition and was not able to perform the slip jig she had been practicing for the judges. She elected instead to perform a piano piece.

All in all, though, the trip was a good one for Keriayn and her family as they were able to do some sight seeing before her competition and visit with cousins in Cahir, County Tipperary. In a show of family support, six O’Donnells from Tipperary attended judged events during the festival.

Keriayn will continue to represent the Denver St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee at State and local functions as Queen Colleen until her successor is chosen this Fall.

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Sep 012011

The Olympians

It’s 2012 and it’s the Olympics in London,
A Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman want to get in, but they haven’t got tickets.
The Scotsman picks up a manhole cover, tucks it under his arm and walks to the gate.
“McTavish, Scotland,” he says, “Discus” and in he walks.
The Englishman picks up a length of scaffolding and slings it over his shoulder.
“Waddington-Smythe, England ” he says, “Pole vault” and in he walks.
The Irishman looks around and picks up a roll of barbed wire and tucks it under his arm. “O’Malley, Ireland ” he says, “Fencing.”

from Wendy & Noel Hickey

Mystery Man

Three scotswomen are walking home at night (they are neighbors) and find
a scotsman passed out partially under a wagon. His upper body is
under the wagon and they can’t see who he is; however, they would like to
help him get home.
The first woman looks under his kilt and says, “It’s not
my husband”.
The second woman
looks under his kilt and says, It’s not my husband”.
The third woman looks under his kilt and says, “Why he’s not
even from our village!”

Jack Yule (heard at Spanish Peaks Celtic Fest)

Dub Grub

Sign in a Dublin shop: OReilly’s Kentucky Fried Chicken.
If Colonel Sanders had had our recipe He’d have been a general!

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