Billy McComiskey, the Irish Echo's 2011 Irish Musician of the Year, first came to Washington DC in 1974 to play for a ceili at the invitation of Lou Thompson. He returned in January 1975 at Lou's and Hugh Kelly's invitation for a week-long gig at The Dubliner Pub on Capitol Hill with fiddler Brendan Mulvihill, and a week later returned to New York and enlisted singer-guitarist Andy O'Brien from Kerry, to form the trio that would eventually come to be called The Irish Tradition, Washington's first Irish traditional music ensemble. The Irish Tradition played together for another 10 years, recording three albums, Catchin’ the Tune, The Corner House and The Times We’ve Had and firmly establishing Irish traditional music in the DC area.
Billy has been living in Baltimore since 1980. He's been playing, teaching, performing, sharing, and promoting Irish traditional music throughout that time, all the while holding a job, and raising and educating three fine sons (all of whom play the music at a high level) with his wife Annie. He can truly be said to be the prime mover behind Baltimore becoming one of the finest cities for Irish music in America today.
Billy won the senior All Ireland Championship for the button accordion in 1986, only the second American to be so honored. No American boxplayer has won it since. Billy has played all over The United States, Canada, Ireland, England, and Scotland with some of the finest musicians in Irish music today. He continues to play, record and perform with such celebrated groups as Trian, The Greenfields of America, and The Pride of New York. In addition to his ensemble work, Billy has released two solo accordion albums, Makin’ the Rounds in 1981 and Outside the Box in 2010.
Brendan Mulvihill has been called “a rare genius” by Irish musician and scholar Micheál Ó Súilleabháin. His roots in Irish music run deep. Brendan's grandmother Bridgid Mulvihill, née Flynn, was a fiddler and her brothers were all musicians as well. Brendan's father, the late National Heritage Fellow Martin Mulvihill of county Limerick, was a renowned fiddle player in Ireland and became one of the most highly respected Irish music teachers in America after emigrating to New York.
Brendan came to New York with his family in 1965 at the age of eleven. In the 1970s, he traveled to Ireland playing throughout the country with his contemporaries and building a huge repertoire of tunes. Later, he moved to Birmingham, England, where he played in céili bands and with the many Irish musicians who had also settled in the English Midlands. In 1975, Brendan returned to the US where he soon after began playing with accordion player Billy McComiskey and singer/guitarist Andy O'Brien as part of a group hired for a week-long gig in The Dubliner pub. The week turned into several years, and The Irish Tradition, as the band came to be known, became a seminal influence in traditional music, helping to establish it as a permanent and integral part of Washington's musical fabric. After recording several albums, the Irish Tradition disbanded. Brendan remained in the Washington, DC/ Baltimore area, using the region as a home base for his travels.
Brendan has taught several younger fiddle players in the Washington, DC/Baltimore area, among them Jesse Smith, Jim Eagan and Brendan Callahan. Brendan received the 2005 Maryland Traditions Folk Arts and Culture Apprenticeship Award for teaching the art of traditional Irish fiddle playing. He was also inducted into the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Mid-Atlantic Region Hall of Fame in 2008. Brendan, who continues to play at various venues in the Washington D.C. area, also teaches fiddle, leads sessions and tune teach workshops, and participates in weeklong workshops. in 2013, Brendan published his first tune book (whih includes a learning CD) called Brendan Mulvihill’s Irish Scroll / Volume One; it contains 93 tunes, mostly traditional tunes but also a few of his own compositions.
Laura Byrne is highly regarded on both sides of the Atlantic for her mastery of the Irish traditional flute and whistle. Laura began studying flute at age 9 in her native Vermont, continuing her studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, where she earned Bachelor’s degrees in both flute performance and music education in 1995. Though classically trained, she chose to devote her musical career to Irish traditional music.
Laura has committed herself to the playing of the older generation of flute players through countless trips to Ireland and from close study of immigrant players to the United States. Her mentors and influences are many and include East Galway flute player Mike Rafferty, Sligo/Roscommon style flute player Catherine McEvoy, Matt Molloy of The Chieftains, and East Galway-style button accordionist Billy McComiskey. Laura has performed at countless festivals, ceilis, and concerts in the U.S., Canada, and Ireland. She is a three-time 1st place winner in solo flute, duets, and slow airs at the North American eastern Fleadh competition. In 2005 Laura released her first solo album Tune for the Road to great acclaim, and has since followed it up with a second solo album called Lucky Day. In 2014 she combined with fellow MAD Week instructor fiddler Rose Flanagan to release a duet album, Forget Me Not. She was a 2008 Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship grant recipient and recently was awarded a Maryland State Arts Council grant for solo performance.
Laura has performed for many years with fellow Baltimoreans Billy McComiskey, pianist and fiddler Donna Long, and guitarist and singer Pat Egan as The Hedge Band. She runs a weekly session on Sundays at Ryan’s Daughter pub and also plays regularly with fiddler Jim Eagan, with whom she led a weekly session at the fondly-remembered Baltimore pub J.Patrick’s for nearly 10 years. In 2008, Laura and several other Washington-Baltimore musicians formed The Old Bay Ceili Band and competed in the senior ceili band competition at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in 2008 and 2009. In 2011 the band released a recording called Crabs in the Skillet.
A sought-after flute and tin whistle instructor, Laura maintains an active private teaching studio and has taught at numerous festivals and workshops, including the CCE MAD Week and the Catskills Irish Arts Week in East Durham, NY. She teaches Irish flute at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, and founded and directs the Baltimore Irish Arts Center and the annual Baltimore Irish Trad Fest.
Keith Carr, who plays tenor banjo and ten-string Irish bouzouki, has steadily gained a reputation as a dynamic contributor to the DC traditional music scene. Originally from New York, he moved to Washington thirty-some years ago after completing a graduate degree in geography at the University of Oregon. Although he has spent his career as a nature conservationist, he devotes as much time as possible to what he loves most: performing and teaching Irish traditional music. He grew up in a family of professional musicians; his parents were well-known music educators in New York. Through them he received extensive classical training, becoming an accomplished orchestral trumpet player by the time he was in college. His musical background also includes many years as a performing jazz/rock/fingerstyle guitarist.
Keith's enthusiasm for Irish music crystallized when he heard the landmark recordings of the Irish groups of the 1970's, which included the great bouzouki players Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, and Alec Finn. Hearing these seminal players motivated him to acquire a bouzouki and teach himself to play it. On the banjo, his chief inluences include Keiran Hanrahan, John Carty, and Angelina Carberry. In addition to banjo, Keith teaches bouzouki, guitar, and mandolin; he is on the faculty of the Washington Conservatory of Music; he teaches at various Irish music camps and workshops; and he gives private lessons. With flautist Tina Eck he is part of the Irish traditional music duo Lilt, which has released three recordings: Irish Traditional Music, Onward and Little Falls (www.liltirishmusic.com). He often performs with other prominent traditional musicians in the Washington area, and he plays regularly with the multi-genre contradance band The Love Mongrels. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia.
Seán Cleland is an Irish fiddle player, Irish music teacher, adjudicator, collaborator, and producer. He is the founder of the Irish Music School of Chicago (www.irishmusicschool.org), a non-profit institution dedicated to the preservation and presentation of traditional Irish music, language, song, and dance.
Chicago in the 1970s was a hotbed of Irish music, and from early on Sean was influenced by a hearty group of musicians including Mayo flute powerhouse Kevin Henry, flute player Séamus Cooley from Peterswell, Galway, Chicago-born fiddle player Johnny McGreevey, concertina player Cuz Teahan from Glountane, Kerry, and uilleann piper Joe Shannon. Cleland began violin lessons at age seven. A couple of years later he began attending weekly get-togethers at the Mayfield Park Field House, learning from the Tipperary-born flute player Noel Rice, and a monthly ceili at the Swiss American Club on North Laramie anchored by Rice, county Offaly, box player Tommy Maguire, and a host of others. In 1976, he became one of the first students of Liz Carroll, studying with her for the next eighteen months. Cleland began going to Ireland during the summer to attend Scoil Eigse and compete in Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and to travel around the country recording and meeting musicians like Packie Duignan, Séamus Mac Mathúna, Paddy Carty, Seán 'ac Dhonncha, Paddy Tunney, and Paddy Ryan among others.
In 1988, Sean founded The Drovers, an Irish-infused folk rock band which played to packed houses across the US, recording four albums, appearing in two Hollywood films, Backdraft and Blink, and contributing to both soundtracks. In 2000, he co-founded the band Bohola with Irish piano accordion master Jimmy Keane, recording four critically acclaimed albums and touring extensively throughout North America and Australia.
In the late 1980s, Sean began teaching Irish music, ultimately joining the faculty of Chicago’s world renowned Old Town School of Folk Music. He left the Old Town School in 2003 to found the Irish Music School of Chicago. Sean continues to teach regularly in Ireland at Scoil Eigse, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann's school before Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, and at such festivals and camps as the Catskills Irish Arts Week (CIAW), St. Louis, Missouri Tional, the Milwaukee Irish Fest Summer School, the California Traditional Arts Society, the Goderich, Ontario Celtic Roots Festival, and Cape Breton,'s Celtic Colours International Festival in Nova Scotia.
Guitar and bouzouki player Zan McLeod's musical heritage began with his grandfather, Ed Stacy, who played Appalachian music on the banjo and mandolin. Zan, a North Carolina native, started his own music career playing in the style of the great Southern Rock bands of the early 70s. After moving to Chapel Hill in 1976, he started playing acoustic music. He recorded and toured with local Chapel Hill favorite Mike Cross. In 1979, on a trip to Nashville, Mike and Zan met Triona NiDhomnaill of the legendary Bothy Band. Together Triona and Zan formed the innovative and groundbreaking band Touchstone. In 1988, Zan moved north to Washington DC. There he connected with his Irish musician friends again and began an exciting and hectic 10 year period of touring and recording.
His solo CD, Highland Soul, was recorded by Zan, and its success inspired him to become an audio engineer. Upon graduating from the Omega School of Recording in 1997, he created and established his own home studio, Tonehouse. He has produced more than twenty CDs at Tonehouse for many of Washington's emerging local artists. Zan performs as a freelance musician with many of the most talented and innovative musicians around.
Zan is also a respected and experienced workshop leader and instructor. He has taught for years at Augusta Irish Week, Gaelic Roots at Boston College, Common Ground, and the Swannanoa Gathering. In 2001, he released an instructional video on the Irish Bouzouki for Homespun Tapes.
Betsy O'Malley discovered Irish music in 1981 while attending NYU, and began her long musical journey by teaching herself mandolin. After a solo 6-month bicycle odyssey in 1982 throughout Ireland at the age of 24 with a mandolin strapped to her bike rack, she learned that the next step was to progress to the Irish tenor banjo, her main instrument since that time.
In 1990 Betsy moved from NJ to northern Virginia. She played for 15 years with two DC area ceili bands, The Blackthorn Stick and the Bogwanderers, and was a regular guest artist with the concert bands Celtic Thunder and Iona. For 12 years she performed festivals, concerts, and ceilis with the Bogwanderers Ceili Band. She was lead vocalist and banjoist on their CD So Here’s To You. She co-led a weekly tunes session for 6 years in Sterling, Virginia, at O’Faolain’s Pub.
Through the O’Neill-Malcom branch of CCE Betsy offered group tin whistle classes for several years in Fairfax, Virginia, and has served on the teaching staff of the Upper Potomac Irish Weekend in West Virginia and at MAD Week. She holds the TTCT Teaching Certificate from Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in Dublin Ireland.
Betsy was invited to Ireland as a featured performer at the annual South Roscommon Singers Festival in October 2013. She offers private music lessons at her home and group mandolin classes through the Fairfax City Parks and Recreation Dept. at the Stacy C. Sherwood Community Center. Her website is www.betsyomalleymusic.com.
Fiddler Joe DeZarn, like many who play traditional music, comes from a very musical family. His grandfather, Bill DeZarn, was a noted fiddler in his native Kentucky before the family migrated to Virginia, where Joe was born. Joe believes that those with the good fortune to have traditional music in their lives know a path to a deep well of fun, self-expression, and connection to culture. He plays the fiddle for the love of these things.
His chief interest is traditional dance music, with a particular focus on Irish music: reels, jigs, slip jigs, slides, polkas, hornpipes, and waltzes. He also has an impressive repertoire of American fiddle tunes and traditional music from Quebec.
Joe plays with the dance band Rambling House for ceilis and New England-style contra dances and is a charter member of the renowned Boston-based fiddle orchestra, Childsplay.
Fourth-generation fiddler Graham DeZarn grew up surrounded by the contradance scene in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. First inspired by the music of his father, Joe DeZarn, Graham studied fiddle with Andrea Hoag and bodhran with Jesse Winch and soon began performing with other Washington D.C./Baltimore youths as The Next Generation. After taking an interest in old-time fiddle playing, Graham joined the Richmond-based stringband The Hot Seats, with whom he has toured from the Rocky Mountains to the Shetland Islands. His music has also been heard at The White House and The Smithsonian. Graham is an amateur mycologist and melodeon repairman with interests in sustainable agriculture and music education.
Shannon Dunne is best known for her percussive dancing, specifically sean nós dancing, which she has performed at theaters and festivals all over North America and Ireland while touring with Childsplay, Kitchen Quartet, The Wren Girls: American Women in Sean-nós Dance, and as a principal dancer for Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble from 2007-2010. She has studied Connemara sean-nós dance with Paidraic O'Hoibicin, Roisin NiMhanin, Mick Mulkerrin, and Mairead Casey, Clare battering with Aidan Vaughan, and Munster (old-style) step dance with Patrick O'Dea. She also studied flatfooting/clogging with Eileen Carson, Megan Downes, and Christine Galante.
She is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 2008 Dance Fellowship and multiple Folk Arts Grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. She is on the roster of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and was the recipient of a 2006 Performers Grant from the University of Milwaukee.
Shannon is the founder/director of Shannon Dunne Dance (www.shannondunnedance.com), a multigenerational sean nós/set dance group dedicated to the preserving the steps and values of the dance forms.
Sandy Hoar has been playing and singing music since she was very young; Celtic music with a number of local groups for several decades, including the Irish Breakfast Band, 1999 Wammie winner for best Celtic release for their first CD and nominated for their second one in 2005. She has been doing handicrafts her entire life and has taught various craft workshops for all ages. Sandy has exhibited different crafts annually at a DC Art Exhibit at George Washington University. She has been doing Celtic crafts for a decade and loves sharing often neglected Irish handicrafts with others, especially children. She has presented Irish crafts several times at a regional Irish music festival. She teaches a number of different Irish handicrafts to adults and children each year for MAD week and is excited to be sharing some new skills this year. She teaches some of the same crafts to children as a representative for the Irish Embassy for the annual Kids Euro Festival.
Sandy also is a nationally certified Physician Assistant in Primary Care, with specialty training in public health, pain medicine, infectious disease, and tropical medicine. She teaches at the George Washington University as an Assistant Clinical Professor in the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health and has domestic and international public health projects, and has received an international award in Public Health. She has created curricula, written and published on subjects ranging from working with children in public health, to unexpected sources of caffeine. Sandy also provides direct care to uninsured patients at the Holy Cross Health Center. She keeps a very busy schedule giving local, regional, national, and international presentations on medicine and public health. She is a former EMT and Instructor, Instructor-Trainer in all areas of first aid and CPR with the American Red Cross. She has been the Health Officer for MAD week since its inception and looks forward to another healthy week of fun.
Donna Long grew up in Los Angeles where she was introduced to music at a young age by her father, Byron Long, a jazz and classical pianist. After moving to Baltimore in the early 1980s a chance meeting with Irish fiddler Brendan Mulvihill inspired her to learn the fiddle and also accompany him on the piano. They played as a duo for ten years and recorded two albums together, The Steeplechase and The Morning Dew. A member of Cherish the Ladies for nine years, Donna recorded the group on occasion. Donna currently performs with many artists from the Baltimore-Washington area and also with Irish fiddler James Kelly, with whom she has just released a CD. Donna currently teaches piano and fiddle in the Baltimore/DC area and won a Maryland State Arts Council Teacher/Apprentice Grant for 2010 with her student, Matthew Mulqueen. Her first solo piano CD, Handprints, was released in 2003 to critical acclaim. Donna’s son Jesse Smith is a renowned traditional Irish fiddler currently living in Dublin.
Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin was named as the inaugural holder of The Johnson Chair in Québec and Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University, Montréal, in 2009. Prior to that, from 2000-09 he was The Jefferson Smurfit Professor of Irish Studies and Professor of Music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. A five-time All Ireland Champion uilleann piper and concertina player, Gearóid has presented more than 1,000 concerts on four continents during the past thirty years. He is also an advisor for the Centre for Irish Studies at the National University of Ireland-Galway and is involved with several research collaboratives in the European Union and North America.
In Jully 2016, his long awaited book Flowing Tides: History and Memory in an Irish Soundscape will be published by Oxford University Press. In addition to his previous book A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music (O’Brien Press, Dublin), he has published numerous book chapters, academic articles, encyclopedia entries, and liner essays on Irish music and cultural history. His commercial recordings include: Traditional Music from Clare and Beyond (1996); Tracin’ – Traditional Music from the West of Ireland (1999, with fiddler Patrick Orceau); The Independence Suite – Traditional Music from Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton (2004); and the ethnographic recording Paddy Murphy: Field Recordings from a Pioneer of the Irish Concertina (2007), which was also published as a digital archive (2008).
MacDara Ó Raghallaigh, of the well known musical Ó Raghallaigh family from County Meath, has earned a reputation as one of Ireland’s outstanding fiddle players. His playing style is highly individual, personal, and deeply rooted in the pure tradition, with a driving rhythm and pulse that is delivered by a powerfully fluid bow hand. MacDara interprets and fashions each tune to his own liking, building in variation and ornamentation with a great sense of feeling to draw the most out of the tune. The result is an ear-catching performance full of energy, inventiveness, and expression, delivered at a solid steady pace with great underlying rhythm and lift.
MacDara has achieved many All Ireland honors in solo, duet, trio, and céilí band competitions through all the age groups at the Fleadhanna Cheoil, including the All Ireland Senior Fiddle championship at Clonmel in 1992. He is also a winner of the Oireachtas and Fiddler of Dooney fiddle competitions. He was a member of the Naomh Pádraig Céilí Band from its formation in the junior age groups right through to their becoming three in a row All Ireland Senior Céilí Band Champions in 2004/05/06. The Naomh Pádraig have recently released their debut CD entitled 3 in a Row All-Ireland Champions.
MacDara is well known as both a performer and teacher. Apart from local classes in the Meath, Kildare, and Dublin areas, he teaches annually at Scoil Éigse at the All Ireland Fleadh. He has also given numerous workshops and performed both in Ireland and abroad, including France, Britain, Luxembourg, and the USA. He has recently released a critically acclaimed solo album, Ego Trip, which was recorded before a live audience featuring the unaccompanied sound of the fiddl. The album is receiving much praise and attention.
Joey Abarta has spent the last sixteen years touring North America, Europe, and Asia, teaching and performing music on the uilleann pipes, the irish bagpipe. A Los Angeles native, he first received instruction on the pipes from Dubliner Pat D'Arcy, a founding member of the Southern California Uilleann Pipers Club.
His musical skills have been further honed by several visits to Ireland, a year-long stint working in Japan, and continuing relationships with master pipers. In August of 2009, Joey's accomplished playing won him an All-Ireland championship, placing second worldwide at the Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann. In the fall of 2014 Joey became the first American uilleann piper to win first prize at the An tOireachtas, one of the biggest competitions for traditional music in the world. In 2015 Joey was honored to be a recipient of a traditional arts apprenticeship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council meaning he was awarded a grant to teach his art to the next generation.
Currently based in Boston, Joey divides his attention between performance, teaching, and recording. In addition to performing solo, he performs with Nathan Gourley of "Life is all Checkered" fame and had toured with Mick Moloney and the group The Green Fields of America; while at home, he organizes the meetings of the Boston Pipers Club, teaches for ComhaltasÕ Boston Music School, and organizes various traditional music concerts and events.
Jesse Winch, born and raised in the Bronx in an immigrant neighborhood, is regarded as one of the top bodhran (Irish drum) players and teachers in traditional Irish music. He also plays bouzouki, guitar, and harmonica, and was a founding member of Celtic Thunder.
As a ten-year-old, Jesse took up the drums and two years later started playing with his father and button-accordion player P.J. Conway for house parties and parish dances. He played in his first ceili band in the late 1950s under the tutelage of the legendary Felix Dolan. The bands Felix organized won many first-place prizes at New York feiseanna. Jesse went on to play drums with the Joe Nellany Band, Paddy Noonan, Paulie Ryan, and several other Irish dance bands in New York in the early 1960s, playing such historic venues as the New York City Center, The Yorkville Casino, The Jaeger House, and others.
In the late 1960s Jesse was introduced to the bodhran at an Irish Northern Aid benefit by Brian Heron, grandson of James Connolly, the great Irish patriot. In succeeding years, Jesse started playing the bodhran with encouragement and inspiration from such players as Peadar Mercier, Robin Morton, Seamus Begley (while visiting Washington on the 1976 Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann [CCE] tour) and DeDanann's Johnny McDonagh. Jesse played with James Keane's Ellis Island Band at the National Folk Festival in 1986 and 1987 as part of an all-star line-up that included Jack Coen, Mike Preston, Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, and Mattie Connolly, with Seamus Connolly joining the group in the second year.
Jesse is a founding member, with his brother Terry, of the award-winning band Celtic Thunder, and also plays regularly in the DC area with Narrowbacks, the Bog Wanderers Ceili Band, and the Irish Inn Mates. Jesse has recorded with Celtic Thunder, Jerry O'Sullivan, The Clancy Brothers and Robbie O'Connell, Johnny Cunningham, Linda Hickman, and many others. Jesse has served on the teaching staff at the Augusta Heritage Center’s Irish Week in Elkins, WV, teaching bodhran and ceili band, a class he created; at the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week in Asheville, NC; at the Annual Convention of the North American Province of CCE; and regularly for the Washington Conservatory of Music at Glen Echo Park, Maryland.
Jesse, former cathaoirleach (chairman) of the O’Neill Malcom Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ), the worldwide traditional Irish music society, was elected to the CCÉ Mid-Atlantic Region Hall of Fame in 2012.
Peter Brice sings old songs in a traditional style, and plays Irish traditional music on the button accordion. A native Annapolitan and an exponent of Baltimore's Irish traditional music community, Peter's work blends singing and musicianship with musicology and history, humor and colorful design, and a vision for traditional culture as a foundation for a n intellectual life. His playing reflects his admiration for Galway accordionists such as Joe Cooley, Kevin Keegan, and Raymond Roland—a style into which he was initiated by Brooklyn-born accordionist Billy McComiskey. A lifelong singer, Peter has married a repertoire of American historical songs with a wide-ranging English-language style that he gleaned from his teachers Dónal Maguire and the late Louis Killen.
He is a former vice-chair of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s O’Neill-Malcom Branch in Washington, D.C. and a past co-coordinator of the Washington Folk Festival. He founded the Baltimore Singers Club with singers Andy O’Brien and Pat Egan to promote traditional singing in Maryland, and was a founding member of the Old Bay Ceili Band. In 2014, he and his mentor Billy McComiskey were recognized by the Maryland State Arts Council as a traditional arts master-apprentice pair. He has independently written over $18,000 in arts grants for Maryland's Irish traditional music community. A graduate of the Peabody Conservatory Preparatory program, Peter also holds a BA in Irish Traditional Music and Dance from the University of Limerick. He is the founder and director New Century American Irish-Arts Company (newcenturyirisharts.com), which fosters traditional artists and their programs in the United States.
MAD Week Director Mitch Fanning is not only a consummate fiddle player, but an inspiring fiddle and violin teacher who can rightly take credit for gracing our area with hundreds of young musicians. He has himself studied violin at Catholic University’s School of Music, where he received a Bachelor’s of Music degree in violin performance in 1982. He studied Irish music with Brendan Mulvihill and others, and in 2014 was awarded a TTCT (Teastas Teagaisc Ceolta Tire), a diploma given to master teachers of Irish music by the CCE in Ireland. Mitch is also founder and director of Musical Arts and Dance (MAD) Week, a now-celebrated school of instruction whose faculty, for one incredible week, includes a galaxy of Irish music stars. He also directs The Bog Band, a talented group of young musicians who are mad for trad Irish music. A frequent participant in festivals and sessions in Ireland, Mitch performs closer to home at events throughout the Washington metro area—he can be heard, for example, every Monday night with his fellow "Inn Mates" at the Irish Inn at Glen Echo. Mitch is also a faculty member of Washington Conservatory of Music, where he teaches traditional Irish fiddle classes designed for violinists.
Maddy O'Neill-Dean has been playing music since she was a kid growing up in an Irish neighborhood in the Bronx, NY. The daughter of immigrants from County Tyrone, Maddy spent her early years step dancing, singing Clancy Brothers songs, and playing the guitar!
She is passionate about making music with kids and their families. And she is passionate about Irish music. For over 15 years Maddy has been involved with community music making - playing the guitar and singing for families in various venues throughout the DC area. In addition to the guitar, Maddy plays the bodhran, ukulele, the hammered dulcimer, and the mountain dulcimer.
However, her real expertise is the art of having fun with music.
Maddy is the Chair of the O'Neill-Malcom Branch of CCE and Director of the CCE Irish Folk Festival.
Maddy is also the Director of Music With Maddy, the founder of the Irish band Mad for the Road, and performs with the Irish Breakfast Band.
A 4-time All-Ireland Fiddle Champion, Dylan Foley was a student of the great Rose Flanagan (the original fiddler in Cherish the Ladies) and counts Joanie Madden, Brian Conway, Mike McHale, and Monsignor Charlie Coen among his primary influences. He is a vibrant stylist whose playing has been called “impeccable and spirited.” Dylan has played on Jay Unger’s Dancing On the Air show on WAMC four times. Dylan has also performed with Mick Moloney, Joanie Madden, Bobby Hicks, Matt Molloy and Sharon Shannon.
He has also taught and performed at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, CCE MAD week and Elkins Irish Week. In March 2012, Foley released his debut solo album, “Hup!” featuring Brendan Dolan (piano) and Josh Dukes. Dylan, in March 2013 recorded an album with a stunning quartet, “The Yanks” made up of Isaac Alderson, Dan Gurney and Sean Earnest. Their album has been called “Outrageously good… This new Yanks album is a brilliant debut that features some of the best young trad players you’ll find anywhere.”- The Irish Echo. They are now touring frequently around the US. Now, at the age of 22, Foley teaches privately, plays concerts, sessions and celli’s around the greater NY area. “One the finest Irish fiddlers of his generation.” – Brian Conway
In 1976, Karen Ashbrook built her first hammered dulcimer as a high school project. She attended the Eastman Preparatory School in Rochester, NY. In search of Irish music, she went overseas and spent five years playing in Europe and Asia, traversing the globe twice.
With her delicate touch, trademark shimmering lilt, and ear for authentic ornamentation, Karen Ashbrook is considered one of the finest Irish hammered dulcimer players anywhere. Add her wooden flute and pennywhistle playing, and you have the consummate Irish musician. Irish reviewer John O'Regan calls her recordings "Celtic music for the mind and body.
"Karen has long been something of a heroine to me... Her style is at times traditional, then moves surprisingly at a tangent, making it more interesting in an unexpected way. And her whistle playing is excellent." — Irish Edition (Philadelphia)
Based in the Washington, DC area, Karen teaches and performs Celtic, contra dance, and Jewish music. These days she primarily performs as a duo with her husband Paul Oorts, playing his native Belgian and French music, and as a trio in Pavilion 3 with percussionist Steve Bloom added. She has several recordings, both solo and with the group Ceoltoiri, on the Maggie's Music label. Karen plays the hammered dulcimer in the Irish Tradition book/CD set from Oak Publications, a standard text in dulcimer literature. She appears at numerous folk music camps and festivals around the country. Performance highlights include RTE 1-Irish National Television, the Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic, and playing at the White House for President Bill Clinton. Karen also plays with Cabaret Sauvignon. Check out her 4/13/01 performance at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage
Karen's newest CD, Spring Will Come, is a live recording marking her 30th anniversary as a dulcimer player, teacher, and advocate, and celebrates her rich musical partnerships with Ceoltoiri, David Scheim, and Pavilion 3.
In addition to her performing and recording career, Karen has done much to promote traditional Irish music and arts to the next generation of Irish musicians. Karen has taught and coached two-time All-Ireland winner Arjuna Balaranjan (miscellaneous Instrument, 2 different age groups). Karen compiled The Hedge School Tune Book, the compendium of traditional Irish dance tunes that is used by children’s sessions throughout the area. Karen runs a series of “Hedge School” summer camps for children of all ages each summer. She also ran a children’s session for ten years at various venues in the DC area. For details about summer camps as well as a downloadable version of The Hedge School Tune Book, please visit her website at www.karenashbrook.com.
Máirtín de Cógáin is a singing, dancing, story-telling bodhrán player who also is a noted playwright and actor. He performs in his native Ireland and all over the U.S…. and between and beyond, too! An infectious personality, Máirtín pleasantly commands the attention of any collection of people, from a concert hall to an intimate porch.
Descended from a long line of storytellers and with two CCÉ All-Ireland’s for Storytelling under his belt, Máirtín gets no more joy out of life than the telling of stories. If you are lucky enough to catch him spinning a few yarns, you are in for a treat.
When touring the globe with The Máirtín de Cógáin Project & The Fuchsia Band, Máirtín is also a true promoter of the Ballad. He is searching ever for those forgotten songs of old to give them new life, and also writes some of his own. Máirtín learnt from many famous Irish singers such as Danni Maichi Ua Súilleabháin, Séamus Mac Mathúna, and Ciarán Dwyer. A fluent speaker of Irish (Gaelic), his love of the ‘Teanga na Gael‘ stems from his parents, who brought him up in a bilingual house and sent him to primary & secondary schools taught in the medium of Irish. Máirtín then earned a Degree in the Irish language from University College Cork.
If not on stage singing, storytelling, dancing, or playing the bodhrán, Máirtín is threading the boards as an actor, most notably in the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley. He has co-written many productions with the Be Your Own Banana Theatre Company, recently playing De Bogman off-broadway in NY.
Máirtín has been playing the bodhrán for a long many moons, learning first from Eric Cunningham (The New De Danann) and later from Colm Murphy (The Old De Danann). Máirtín has taught Bodhrán technique at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, August Irish Week as well as giving workshops at major US festivals including the Kansas City Irish Fest, CelticFest Mississippi, Minnesota Irish Fair, and La Crosse IrishFest. He also gives private tutorials along the road while touring, be sure to inquire if you need a lesson.
Growing up in a house full of dancing, Máirtín could not but help teach the steps at the family run Céilís from an early age, and a gifted teacher of Cork’s folk dances he is.
Máirtín makes friends wherever he goes. In a very short time, Máirtín, the Fuchsia Band, and the “Project” have made themselves regulars at some of the most prestigious Irish festivals in the U.S. While now living in Minnesota, he has taken up Bird Watching while not on the road and hopes one day for A Big Year!
Máirtín's website is www.mairtinmusic.com
With more than fifty years of dance under his feet,
Kevin Doyle of Rhode Island, USA, is a 2014 National Heritage Fellow in Irish step dance. The National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship is the highest honor awarded in the United States to a traditional folk artist. Doyle is a leading exponent of Irish dance as brought to America by his mother from County Roscommon in the 1930s. For young Doyle, the American melting pot already had cooked up a taste for step and percussive dancing that welcomed the Irish, who took to tap dance and the performance opportunities that vaudeville and musical theatre in the 20th century presented.
While competing in Irish feis in the 1960s and earning US Irish Dance Champion honors, Kevin Doyle added American tap to his repertoire, studying with the legendary Theresa Landry. With tradition on his side, Kevin has tap danced through every decade of his life: the waltz clog; Tea for Two; the military tap, and more. He is a sought-after performer, teacher, choreographer, and creative collaborator. He has contributed to the award winning television series Along the Blackstone, which documents the cultural traditions of the Blackstone River Valley, the newest American National Historical Park, and region where Doyle advanced his skills in Irish step dance and American tap. The series won Doyle a shared Telly Award.
In his performances and workshops, Doyle explores the steps that travelled from Ireland to meet American tap routines. As a master teacher, he conveys a living social and performance genre in American dance. Doyle is the recipient of national and regional awards and grants (RI State Council on the Arts 2013 Folk Arts Fellowship and Southern New England Folk & Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program-Dance Master) that honor his place and his footprint on the American stage and its dance performance legacy.
Josh Dukes is an All Ireland champion accompanist and a highly sought after music teacher in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area. A multi-instrumentalist whose talents embrace the ceili drums, guitar, bouzouki, bodhran, flute, and tin whistle, Josh has established a reputation for providing sensitive, tasteful support for traditional Irish music.
As a young high school student, Josh studied the oboe, tenor/alto saxophone, drum set and baritone horn. Outside of the classroom, he learned the art of ancient rudimental drumming under the tutelage of Dominick Cuccia, a widely respected instructor/performer in the fife and drum community. In 1997, Josh enlisted in the Army and has since earned the rank of Master Sergeant , currently serving as one of three Drum Majors for the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, ÒThe Official Escort to the President,Ó the only military unit of its kind.
Josh continues to perform Irish music, having shared the stage with such renowned musicians including John Doyle, Paddy Keenan, Billy and Sean McComiskey, Brendan Mulvihill, Kevin Crawford, Zan McLeod, and Myron Bretholz, and he can be seen playing ceili drums regularly with The Old Bay Ceili Band. Josh lives in greater D.C. Area with his wife Judy and two daughters, Mya and Olivia.
Irish-American musician and singer Eileen Estes has thrilled audiences for years with her extraordinary voice, which effortlessly combines vocal power with subtle emotional expressiveness. She works as a vocal instructor to private students and is a former song class instructor at the Blue Ridge Irish Music School. Daughter of Nita (Conley) Korn, Celtic Thunder’s original lead singer, Eileen grew up immersed in the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland. In addition to her appearances with Narrowbacks, she is a singer-songwriter who performs solo and with other musicians throughout the D.C. area and beyond. In 2015, Nita and Eileen released a beautiful album of Irish and Scottish songs called The Apple Tree Project.
Brian Ó hAirt's style of concertina playing reflects his love of West Galway, where he spent a good deal of his formative years involved with the Irish language and music community of southern Conamara--a district with its fair share of melodeon players, singers, and dancers. Understandably, his style mimics much of the phrasing, lift, and drive of melodeon music while clearly influenced by the concertina playing so prevalent in neighboring Co. Clare. His style can be understated and yet at times ornate--reflective of his experience as a sean-nós dancer and singer. Also a gifted button accordionist and whistle player, Brian creates a unique "blended" style that engages both listens and dancers alike.
County Clare fiddle player Joan Hanrahan is a well known musician, teacher and broadcaster.
Coming from West County Clare, Joan grew up immersed in a rich cultural heritage where traditional Irish music, dance and song were a natural part of everyday life.
From a young age, Joan felt a strong draw to the music of her native county. She has a particular passion for the music of the older generation, and this is reflected in her traditional West Clare fiddle style.
Joan has been instrumental in passing on the strong tradition of County Clare, having taught music there from a young age. Joan has extensive formal music qualifications (BA, HDip, TTCT, MA Ethnomusicology), has taught at Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy since 1993 and has coached many students and groups All-Ireland successes. In 1997 Joan introduced music to the curriculum in Rice College, Ennis and continues her career as music teacher there presently.
Joan commenced her broadcasting career in Clare FM on Feb 1st 1999. Since then Joan has captured a worldwide audience, producing, directing and presenting a two hour traditional Irish music programme, The West Wind, every Monday from 7pm to 9pm. (www.clare.fm)
Joan has played and toured extensively, including performing in England, France, Canada, America, and Australia. She features on many recordings, including two recordings with Turloughmore Ceili Band, the Lahawns “Live at Lenas” featuring Andrew McNamara, Anne Marie McCormack Jim Higgins and Jim Corry and also many other compilation albums, including “Ceol Na mBan” and “Live at Brogans”.
All Ireland champion Sean-nós dancer Paraic Ó hOibicín hails from Connemara, Co. Galway in the West of Ireland and has been sean-nós dancing for many years, receiving both national and international recognition as a dancer.
There has been a massive revival of sean-nós dancing in recent years. Paraic played an essential role in this, being one of a handful of performers who began providing workshops in sean-nós dance to people of all ages and from different walks of life. This lead to a rejuvenation of sean-nós, with many of Paraic’s students going on to become competent dancers and teachers in their own right.
Paraic is a natural teacher with a relaxed and humorous teaching style. Students find his love for sean-nós dance infectious whilst audiences delight in his charismatic stage presence, his ability to capture the heart and soul of traditional Irish music and dance percussively to the tune.
Paraic has toured Ireland and Europe as a teacher and a performer. He has tutored at many schools, universities and festivals including the O'Carolan Harp and Traditional Music Festival for the past fourteen years, where in 2000 he had the privilege of having the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and her husband attend his class. He was a member of the traditional dance show Barr go Sáil/Heel to Toe, which performed at festivals such as Tonder Festival, Denmark, Celtic Connections, Glasgow, and the International Dance Festival of Ireland. He has shared stages with many of the top names in Irish traditional music, including Máirtín O’Connor, Seamus Begley, John Carty, Jesse Smith, Johnny Connolly and many others.
Paraic’s love and passion for sean-nós dancing grows with every new experience and challenge he takes on and he has no intention of slowing down, ‘not until his legs gives up.’
Nuala Kennedy hails from Dundalk, Co. Louth in the northeast of Ireland. She sings traditional songs in English and Gaelic, plays the flute and low whistle, and is a songwriter and tunesmith. Kennedy’s roots are first and foremost in Irish traditional music, and this year, she celebrates the release of 'Behave the Bravest', her fourth solo recording and first solo release on her own label.
In addition to touring her own music, Nuala also performs in Irish vocal trio The Alt with John Doyle and Eamon O Leary and in Oirialla, performing music from her native North-East Ireland with Gerry (fiddle) O' Connor, Martin Quinn and Gilles le Bigot.
Nuala enjoys collaborating across genres and a few years ago she recorded Enthralled, an album of original duets for fiddle and flute with the late great Canadian composer Oliver Schroer.
Whatever she is doing, Nuala always comes back to her traditional Irish roots. Her 2007 debut solo album, The New Shoes, was voted Album of the Week in the Irish Times, was featured in Hotpress’ “Top Ten Folk Albums” of the year, and named BBC Radio Scotland’s “Traditional Album of the Year” in 2008. She has received numerous awards and accolades, including several international residencies and collaborations, and has a strong interest in education holding degrees with distinction in Design, Education and Music from Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh, and Newcastle University respectively.
Sean-nos dancer Seosamh Ó Neachtain hails from An Spidéal in Co. Galway and has had a keen interest in sean-nos dancing from a young age. Although he never received any formal training, he has received both national and international acclaim as a dancer, including the sean-nos competition at the Oireachtas na Samhna. He has performed with some of the most influential acts in traditional Irish dance music: Altan, De Danann and Mairtin O’Connor.
In addition he has recorded with some solo musicians who would be regarded as being at the utmost degree of their professions, including Harry Bradley, Jesse Smith, Johnny Connolly, The Tap Room Trio and Róisín Elsafty.
In 2000, he was awarded a bursary from the Irish Arts Council to study aspects of tap dance in New York City. In 2004 he completed his studies at Galway University and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree. In 2005 he was involved in the production of “Cross Currents – Turned on Tap” at the Southbank Centre in London. This was a performance that explored the relation between Irish traditional dance and American tap dance.
In 2006 the International Dance Festival of Ireland commissioned Seosamh to do a weeklong residency with French Guinian dancer Tomango. There were three performances at the end of the week called “Stepping Out”. Seosamh returned to New York City in 2007 to document the influence that Irish dance had on the evolution of American tap dance, and this was aired on TG4 television as part of the Ceolchúirt Series and it has been nominated for the Celtic Film Festival 2009.
In 2007 he was commissioned by Éigse Carlow to produce a work with Indian Katack Dancer Sonia Sabri, titled “Rhythm and Beats”. He is also one of the founding members of the traditional dance show Barr go Sáil/Heel to Toe which has performed at festivals such as Tonder Festival, Denmark, Celtic Connections, Glasgow and the International Dance Festival of Ireland. He is currently Dancer in Residence at NUI Galway. In October 2009, he performed at the Cape Breton Celtic Colours Festival.
Ben Power is a flute and bodhrán player, singer, piper, sean-nós dancer and ethnomusicologist from Liverpool, England. After attending college at St. John's College in Maryland, playing with the fine Irish musicians in Baltimore, he moved to Dublin in the mid-nineties for the tunes. He studied there at Na Píobairí Uilleann with the great Irish flute player, Paul McGrattan, and subsequently moved West to do an M.A. in Traditional Irish Music at Limerick University’s renowned Irish World Music Centre. There he worked with Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, the celebrated Irish composer, Niall Keegan, Tom Doorley and Desi Wilkinson, the well known Irish flute players, and singer and bodhrán player Sandra Joyce, among others.
It was also in Limerick that he was introduced to sean-nós dance at Tráth na gCos, the centre’s annual traditional dance festival, going on to study sean-nós and traditional dance with Róisín Ní Mhainín, James Keane and Catherine Foley, subsequently helping reintroduce the style to the United States. More recently, he has spent a lot of time playing Scottish bellows pipes, learning principally from Fin and Hamish Moore and Iain MacInness. Ben has played or danced with Mick Moloney, Solas, the Cathie Ryan Band, Susan McKeown, Kieran Jordan Niall O'Leary, and the Hutchins Consort, among others. He has recorded a CD, the Mouse in the Mug, twice been principle dance teacher at the Sean-Nós Northwest festival in Portland, Oregon and won consecutive grants from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts to teach sean-nós dance in Southern California. He has lectured on traditional music, anthropology and sociology at UC San Diego, CSU Channel Islands and NYU. He currently lives in Washington, D.C. from where he teaches, performs and engages in research, principally on artisanal instrument makers and the bellows pipes revival in Scotland.
Desi Wilkinson (advanced flute, morning and afternoon) is an experienced, well-travelled and popular performer and teacher with eclectic musical interests. In addition to the concert flute, he plays tin whistle, fiddle, bagpipes and clarinet and has a strong interest in folk song, both accompanied and unaccompanied. He has worked, toured and recorded both as a soloist and with an array of talented artists from the world of Irish Traditional Music and other related genres. Most recently he has been recording and touring with the groups Cran (with Ronan Browne and Sean Corcoran) and Buffalo in the Castle (with Mairtin O Connor, Frank Hall and Lena Ullman.)
Prior to his appointment as traditional musician in residence at University College Cork (2015-16), Desi worked as a full time lecturer at the International Centre for Music Studies at Newcastle University. His new book on the dance music of Brittany entitled ‘Call to the Dance’ was released in January 2016 (Pendragon Press, New York). Apart from his prolific recording and performance career, he has published articles concerning the socio-political and aesthetic world of Irish traditional music in academic books and journals.
“Desi is one of our finest musicians, his playing of dance music has a rhythmic, emphatic style based on the Sligo-Leitrim tradition. He is an articulate and humorous presenter of the music...deeply committed to exploring genres and traditions beyond Ireland. If traditional music is about searching, absorption, retention and change, so is Desi.” (Ciaran Carson, poet and writer)
Jackie O’Riley is one of the foremost traditional Irish dancers in New England. A teacher and performer of old-style step dancing and sean-nós dancing, her dancing has a light and fluid touch, underscored by strong rhythm, and an infectious joy for sharing this living tradition. Jackie performs at festivals and venues throughout the country, was an original member of the touring sean-nós dance show Atlantic Steps, and was featured on Irish television's TG4 coverage of the 2014 sean-nós dancing Oireachtas. Jackie has shared the stage and collaborated with performers including Kevin Doyle, Kieran Jordan, Brian Cunningham, Nic Gareiss, Seamus Begley, Matt Cranitch, Oisín Mac Diarmada, and many others. She has studied with dance masters including Patrick O'Dea, Peggy McTeggart, and Aidan Vaughn. Jackie directs and teaches an award-winning non-competitive Irish dance program for children based in Boston, now in its sixth year. www.jackieoriley.com
Robert Engelman is an author, an environmental researcher and a musician. Born and raised in the DC area, he has worked as a journalist in Latin America, Kansas City, Denver, and Washington. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Scientific American, and his scientific work has been published in Nature. He speaks regularly in the U.S. and abroad on such topics as climate change, population, reproductive health and gender. His book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want won a Global Media Award from the Population Institute. As a senior fellow and president emeritus of the Worldwatch Institute he currently directs a project assessing scientific research on family planning and environmental sustainability.
Bob’s musical interest began with piano lessons as a child, and he performed in the DC area as a singer and guitarist in the 1960s and ‘70s. Studying hammer dulcimer in the mid-‘70s, he encountered the music of O’Carolan, which launched a passion for Irish traditional music that has continued since. An adult learner on violin, he has studied the fiddle music of Donegal with the late James Byrne, Caoimhín Mac Aoidh, Siobhan Peoples and other masters of the genre.
Local history has long been an avocational interests for Bob. In 1986 the Washington Post Magazine published his article “Washington Before Washington” on the prehistory of the Washington area. At home and in frequent travels to Ireland he continues to pursue research on the intersection of Irish and Maryland history since the 17th century. He lives with his wife Colleen Cordes in Takoma Park.
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