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One hundred thousand welcomes to you to my official blog of all things Irish from me, Diane Byrnes, host of the Echoes of Erin radio show on WEDO Radio 810AM.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Folk Life Festival

Washington DC – July 6, 7, 8, 2007

The Smithsonian once again sponsored The Folk Life Festival on ‘The Mall’ in Washington DC from June 27 through July 8, 2007 with Northern Ireland as one of the featured countries. I attended Friday and Saturday, July 6 & 7th. It was a grand time; I met so many interesting folks and heard some brilliant music.

Upon arriving on The Mall I heard a very familiar voice coming from the ‘Lagan Stage’. This voice belonged to Colum Sands, brother to singer, songwriter Tommy Sands from County Down. Originally I thought the first voice was Tommy’s; isn’t it amazing how much siblings sound alike? Well I sat and listened throughout Tommy’s set and as usual he did a brilliant job. Even listening to Colum sing, he sounds very much like his brother. Colum has a new recording entitled ‘All My Winding Journeys’. I am listening as I’m writing; lovely, very, very nice!

Nancy Groce, Curator at The Smithsonian with Tommy Sands and Colum Sands.
Some of the grounds.
Colum Sands singing 'Whatever You Say, Say Nothing' which he penned several years ago.

Friday evening I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Carpenter, Communications Director for PA Congressman Tim Murphy. Mark came to meet me on The Mall and talked for a good while, then we walked what seemed like miles to my car. I was most appreciative of Mark's time. I had interviewed Congressman Murphy a couple of times on Irish related issues and Mark was effective in scheduling. Thank you Mark.

I did take a picture of Mark, but somehow it didn't show up when I uploaded the rest of the photos.

The Traditional Singers were wonderful; Patricia Flynn from Mullaghbawn, Newry, Co. Armagh; Roisin White from Cavanalaw, Co. Armagh.

The Straw Man made by the Aughakillymaude Community Mummers, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh. These talented Mummers gave a few performances but unfortunately I missed them. Their costume was quite unique!
Another shot.
Singer and Songwriter, Tommy Sands from County Down singing on Friday afternoon.
The brothers Tommy and Colum Sands; both are beautiful songwriters with genteel singing voices. I captured them Friday afternoon.

Paul Flynn with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Mullaghbawn / Belfast. Paul did an excellent job presenting a few of the acts. We had such interesting conversation and I'm sure I will see Paul when next I'm in the North of Ireland.

Here is Paul Flynn and Nancy Groce earlier Saturday afternoon.
Eamon Maguire, Bodhran Maker and Bog Oak Sculptor from Belfast. I had a great conversation with Eamon. He has previously been to Pittsburgh through The Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh and was the creator of the Brendan Foley Memorial Trophy a few years back.

Eamon is in the process of moving his studio into the Conway Mill. Now it just so happens that the Director of the Conway Mill Trust, Maggie Clark and the Board of Trustees are based in Pittsburgh, PA. When visiting Belfast the Conway Mill is a place to include on your visits as there are many unique businesses and crafts people utilizing the building. I'll bet you will get some good gifts here too!

Another shot of Eamon Maguire.
One of his Bog creations; it was just beautiful as are all of his creations.

Some of the participants at the festival included the Pittsburgh Junior Gaelic Football Club. They were to play the Philadelphia team except Philly did not show up. This photo includes, from the left, Shane Novak, Sean O'Connor, Brennan Reynolds, Anthony Sarver, Daniel Kennelly, and Joe Hoover. They are a fine young team and are expected to achieve much.

Here they are again!
Here are some of the Parents of the Junior team - John and Kathy O'Connor, and Mary Beth, Dean Sr. and Dean Reynolds Jr. The team brought many visitors from Pittsburgh to the Festival and they all had a good time.
Here we have Pat Wilson, NI Project Manager, Smithsonian and Olympics Unit. On May 20th Pat interviewed with me telling us about the participants at the Festival. She was having a grand time and was pleased with the exceptional response the entire team has received on the festival.

Traditional Singer Roisin White from Cavanalaw, Co. Armagh. I first heard Roisin sing a few years back while on Tommy Makem's Festival of Song which was based in Armagh City. Beautiful job!

This gentleman is another Traditional Singer from County Antrim; I think his name is John Campbell.

This is more folks from the Pittsburgh Junior Gaelic Football Club; above is Coach Johnny Connolly talking to the team.
More Pittsburgher's and team members.
This is Michael and Beth O'Donnell, parents of one of the young men on the team.

Here we have Craobh Rua out of Belfast with Michael Cassidy on fiddle, Brian Connolly on Banjo, Conor Lamb on Uilleann pipes; Jim Rainey, who we can't see as I cut him off, is on guitar and vocals.
Here is Fergus Kennedy who has performed in Pittsburgh many times at Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle.
Again we have Traditional Singers Patricia Flynn and Roisin White together in song.
Pat Wilson with the NI Government and Nancy Groce with The Smithsonian. Two of the Movers and Shakers for the Folk Life Festival.

This is Conor Lamb with Craobh Rua; we have another Conor Lamb in Pittsburgh so I took this shot for posterity sake. This Conor is a brilliant Uilleann piper and flautist!

Cahal Hayden on fiddle, with Four Men and A Dog; but I believe his is playing with others not in the band. They were just fabulous. If you check the credits on many of your CD's you will see Cahal Hayden has performed on many. Another brilliant musician!

Patricia Flynn singing on the Foyle Stage on Saturday afternoon.
Micky Quinn from Mullaghbawn, Newry, Co. Armagh; he was a wonderful singer of old songs as well as a poet. I had met Mick a few years back when I was in Armagh and we were at the same Pub in Forkhill. A delightful man and so enjoyable to listen to with his stories.

The thread between the Traditional Singers, Patricia Flynn, Micky Quinn and Roisin White and myself was their neighbor and my friend Briege Murphy, songwriter, singer and musician from Forkhill, Co. Armagh.

Nancy Groce; she was so nice and accommodating; the fruits of her efforts paid off well with the great crowds and positive feedback
Here we have Fintan Mullan, Ph.D. Executive Director of the Ulster Historical Society. Fintan was in Pittsburgh last year with the Society giving a presentation at The Carnegie on 'Finding Your Roots in Ulster'. It was so good to see him again and I was very impressed that he remembered me.

Here we have Craobh Rua again, this time I didn't cut Jim Rainey off; but it looks like Michael Cassidy was cut. The space I had to take the shot was very limited.
Here is a good shot of Conor Lamb and Brian Connolly of Craobh Rua and Nancy Groce in the back.

The next few pictures are of the Sterritt Family from Markethill, Co. Armagh, and the Lambeg drums that they make. I can't say I am a fan of the Lambeg Drum; it is so loud and I would cringe hearing it on my street. However, in talking with Darren Sterrit I learned some interesting facts about the drum of which I was not aware. He told me the drum is a musical instrument with the objective of making it reach a concert pitch; and there are many competitions throughout the North of Ireland on this drum.

For the Folk Life Festival, the Sterrits brought one Lambeg with them and made one here; both would go home with them. Here we have Darren tightening the strings.
Richard Sterritt is tightening the second drum.

Richard and Darren Sterritt 'making music'. The drums look to be about four foot in diameter and the stick used to hit the drum is about 18 inches; not as long as I first anticipated. I guess there are a few different 'hammers' you can use to bring out different sounds. The drums are pretty heavy, you better have a strong neck!

Alan Sterritt, another family member, is hammering so the drum projects the proper sound. I watched as he listened with a keen ear to the sound of the drum before he tapped with the hammer.

Here is Darren tightening again.

One of the most beautiful sites and exhilarating experiences is walking across the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Ballycastle, County Antrim. The bridge crosses an 80 foot chasm, and as long as you don't look down, you have nothing to fear. A prototype of the Bridge was on display with this picture behind it to give you an idea of what it all looks like. This certainly is worthy of a visit and experience.
What have we here? The folks from Bushmills were very informative with their history and when in the area, stop in for a tour. I have done the Bushmills Tour and again, it is very informative. Plus at the end of the tour there is a delicious treat for you. I won't tell you as I don't want to spoil your suprise! But it is lovely!
From Bushmills.
Good Friends, Fergus Kennedy, living in the Baltimore / Washington area and Cahal Hayden from Tyrone and with the band Four Men and A Dog.

This photo is the lower right hand portion of the Bogside Artists' Mural.
This is a photo of the full Mural. Unfortunately the Bogside Artists were gone back home to the North of Ireland when I was at the festival. I would have liked to have met them as a few years ago I had interviewed Tom Kelly. Anyway, this is the Mural they created during the Folk Life Festival.

This gentleman is another Muralist, Dee Craig from East Belfast. We had some very interesting conversation and Dee informed me that the murals around Belfast are changing rapidly. Although there are still many political murals, newer murals are reflective of current society.

Dee Craig's full Mural 'Belfast City of Industry'.

The Needle Craft tent was a display of some lovely linens, Irish dance costumes and beautiful hats created by Maureen Paterson from County Antrim.

Hats are very stylish in Ireland; and these ones created by Maureen were absolutely gorgeous!

Wearing one of Maureen Paterson's hats certainly makes a fashion statement!

Here is the full Mural of The Bogside Artists from Derry.Before the evening concerts there was Ceili Dancing with instruction. These two photos give you an idea of the crowd in which many were dancing.

Mary Fox, from Portadown, County Armagh, is one of the top Set Dance Instructors in the North of Ireland. Set Dancing has taken on a revived enthusiasm all over Ireland. Mary did a great job instructing and calling a few dances. She was a wonderful dancer herself!

Again, some of the crowd dancing.

The Finale Saturday evening was lead by Tommy Sands. Beside him are Craobh Rua from Belfast.

This photo includes Cahal Haden on fiddle along with Tommy Sands, Michael Cassidy and Brian Connolly from Craobh Rua.

This duo of Snare Drummers were awesome! In their first number they drummed 'Riverdance'. Here at the Finale they displayed thier talent in 'duel drumming', excellent and exciting!

Many of the performers on Saturday joined in the Finale. You can see Robert Watt on the Highland Drums and in the kilt.

This scene is Saturday evening with the Washington Memorial in the background.

There were some entertainers I saw perform but did not get a picture. Jim McGrath from Monea, Co. Fermanagh, a Traditional musician and Cathal McConnell, from Co. Fermanagh/Edinburgh, a Traditional singer and musician were with Hidden Fermanagh; along with a few others. Jim McGrath has cousins in Pittsburgh and Cathal McConnell has some very good friends here.

I had the pleasure of speaking with fiddle player, Maurice Bradley, from Draperstown, Co. Derry. Len Graham, Mullaghbawn, Newry, Co. Armagh, Traditional Singer and storyteller performed as well and did a really fine job.

The Folk Life Festival with Northern Ireland as one of the featured countries was an excellent experience. I had met most of the people I had set out to meet and the presenters and participants with their crafts and talents were so interesting. The entertainment was outstanding; I saw and heard performers I only have on CD's or LP's. The Festival has opened a door to many Americans both in researching their roots and making them aware of the marvelous adventures awaiting them when they travel to the North of Ireland. This part of the island of Ireland is so very beautiful and unspoiled because of the lack of tourists over the past 35 years. Now it is opening up and I will be back to visit and explore the province of Ulster.

February 2008 is the 20th Anniversary of Echoes of Erin. I am in the process of planning a customized coach tour with my Donegal News Correspondent, Patricia Sharkey, Editor of the Donegal Newsletter. Patricia will be our Tour Guide showing us the 'hidden' places in The North. Come dance with me in Ireland! Keep checking back on my Blog for further details.

I would not have been in Washington DC if it were not for an online listener to Echoes of Erin and my new friend, May Woody and her dog Annie in Columbia, Maryland.

Thank you May, it was a grand time and I am so glad to have met you and call you friend.

Slan to all,

Diane Byrnes


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