Dublin-based Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ) is the largest non-profit group involved in the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music and culture. Started in 1951, CCÉ now has branches all over the world. The O’Neill-Malcom Branch primarily serves the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
The roots of the Branch go back to St. Patrick’s Day 1969. About that time Maureen Malcom, a step-dance teacher living in Fairfax, Virginia, was asked by her daughter’s first grade teacher to come to the school and give a demonstration of Irish step-dancing. Maureen had received her TCRG certification while living in Ireland. Maureen came to the school and gave the demonstration to all the first grade classes. The mothers of these children were invited. There followed requests from some of the mothers to give step-dance lessons to their daughters. The classes were started and shortly thereafter “The Erin Dancers” were born. Parents got involved and a monthly Ceili followed, then an annual Feis. The Ceilithe began around 1972, and the first Feis was held in 1976 with 800 competitors. To direct these activities, “The Irish Dance Festival of Northern Virginia Ltd.” was incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization by Maureen on May 11, 1978.
In 1986 the Greater Washington Ceili Club invited the Irish Dance Festival of Northern Virginia to hold the Feis at Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, Md. in conjunction with their Irish Festival. The Feis was held there up to 2001 when there was no Feis due to construction at Glen Echo. It subsequently moved to Mt. St. Mary’s College in Emmetsburg, MD.
In 1994, the Executive Board of the Irish Dance Festival of Northern Virginia Ltd, voted unanimously (one abstention) to “roll” the Irish Dance Festival of Northern Virginia Ltd. into a new branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) organized by founding Cathaoirleach (Chair), Robert J. “Bob” Hickey, Jr. Michelle Donnelly inherited the Erin Dancers, under the banner of “The Donnelly School of Irish Dance.” At that point, the Branch took over the management of the Irish Dance Festival of Northern Virginia Feis.
The new CCE Board voted to name the branch “The O’Neill-Malcom Branch” to honor Maureen and husband Ben Malcom and Peggy O’Neill (RIP).
Peggy O’Neill was born in County Kildare, Ireland and was one of the very first recipients of the TCRG. She became the first Irish dance teacher in Scotland before coming to America and starting a step-dancing school and a monthly Ceili in Maryland. Peggy, along with her husband Frank, was inducted into the Irish Cultural Hall of Fame of the North American Feis Commission. The purpose of this honor is to memorialize those who have given unselfishly of themselves to promote Irish culture through their leadership and participation.
Peggy’s daughter, Laureen O’Neill-James continus her mother’s work and is the director of “The O’Neill-James School of Irish Dancing.”
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
O'Neill-Malcom Branch, Washington DC