Honored May 19, 2012
Jesse Winch with the Sean McMahon Orchestra, 1958.
James Terence “Jesse” Winch was born in the Bronx in 1943. He’s the son of Bridie Flynn (RIP) of Loughrea, Co. Galway, and Patrick Winch, (RIP), born in London and raised by his Co. Clare-born mother in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Jesse’s parents met and married in New York City in the early 1930’s. Paddy, as he was known, played the tenor banjo and encouraged all five of his children to play the Irish music he loved so well. 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. While still in High School, Jesse became the regular drummer for the Tenafly/Englewood, New Jersey Ceili Club with his dad, P.J. Conway and Walter Walsh, accordions and Jackie and Peggy Riordan (later Thompson), fiddles. 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.
Upon graduation from Iona College in 1964, Jesse entered the Peace Corps and spent two years in Niger, West Africa, working in agricultural development and, on the side, as a guest drummer in L’ Orchestre Mariko, an African high-life band. Upon his return, he obtained a Master’s degree in African Studies from Howard University with a focus on music and language.
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.
In 2004, Jesse was elected Cathaoirleach (Chair) of the O’Neill Malcom Branch of CCE and served in that position until 2011. He brought many innovative programs to the Branch and built on the strong foundation established by his predecessor and Branch founder, Bob Hickey. At the 2000 CCE Convention, held in Washington, Jesse and Bob were honored for their contributions to the promotion and preservation of traditional Irish music and dance. Jesse is now the Chair of the 2013 Annual Convention, to be held once again in the Washington, DC area, April 4-7.
Jesse lives in Silver Spring, MD and is married to Francesca Lee Winch and they have two teen-agers, Fiona and Patrick; he has two children, Alexandra and Yancey, from his first marriage to Mary Alice Curtin, and a grandson, James, Alexandra’s son.