Mary Coogan and Bruce Foley
Mary Coogan and Bruce Foley were married in 2016 and have each been performing traditional Irish music for over 40 years. Mary is a founding member of the acclaimed ensemble, Cherish the Ladies and has helped to bring traditional music to audiences around the world for nearly four decades. Bruce, an acclaimed singer, guitarist, and uilleann piper has toured extensively with various bands throughout the USA and Ireland. Both together and individually, they have contributed to the Irish music tradition through performing, recording, playing at sessions, and teaching.
Mary and Bruce come from a background steeped in a love for the tradition. Mary was born in Yonkers, NY, and grew up in a household filled with music. Her mom Celia hailed from Castlerea, County Roscommon and her dad Jim was a fine button accordion player. Bruce was born in Buffalo, NY, first heard the uilleann pipes at a concert by the Abbey Tavern Singers, and was hooked after hearing the playing of Tommy Reck. His grandfather was a noted baritone who sang for Woodrow Wilson when he was in Paris.
Mary started playing guitar as a teenager and played with her father Jim at house parties and dances in the Hudson Valley area. She later picked up the tenor banjo and mandolin and joined forces with Tom Cashman, Ed McGowan, Steve Ross, Gerry Phelan, and Kathleen Ludlow as a part of the traditional group, The Midnight Court.
Mary has a master’s degree in education and is named in Who’s Who Among American Teachers. She taught elementary school at Sacred Heart School in Newburgh, NY for 15 years. While at a local music session in Ardsley, NY, she met Joanie Madden, and shortly thereafter received a call from Mick Moloney asking her to participate in a concert series at the Ethnic Folk Arts Center in Manhattan titled “Cherish the Ladies.” The concert series would evolve into a lifelong commitment, and Mary’s teaching job gave way to touring the world and performing on over 18 recordings while Cherish the Ladies emerged as one of the world’s top Irish traditional bands.
Mary has taught at the Tara Circle in Yonkers and also at Martin O’Grady’s Woodlawn Irish Music House, starting out beginning players of all ages and helping countless young musicians to prepare for competitions. When needed, she would help John Redmond, Michelle Bergin, and Deirdre Connolly, musicians and teachers who she admires greatly, prepare the bands and Grúpai Cheoil around Fleadh time. She also has three critically acclaimed recordings of her own.
Bruce began his musical journey singing and playing upright bass and tin whistle with the Irish ballad group Carolan’s Kind. Performing throughout the midwest and northeast, he amassed a large repertoire of Irish folk ballads. While performing in Chicago, Bruce sought out the renowned uilleann piper Joe Shannon, where he learned tunes in the American piping style reminiscent of Tom Ennis and Patsy Touhey. Over the years Bruce has contributed to numerous albums and performed with artists including The Irish Tradition, Clanjamfrey, Andy M. Stewart, and legendary folksinger Tommy Sands. In 2009 he was thrilled to perform with Tommy at Madison Square Garden as a part of Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration.
Bruce moved to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie-Mellon University where he obtained a degree in Civil Engineering. He became an avid promoter of Irish traditional music and taught tin whistle and guitar. He was president of the Pittsburgh Comhaltas branch where he brought in traditional artists to teach and perform and also hosted two Echoes of Erin tours. Bruce organized two uilleann piping Tionols at the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh, all the while performing regularly with local bands: Hooley and Guaranteed Irish.
His son Brendan, who sadly passed away at the age of 15, was a step dancer and whistle player, as well as a rower on the crew team of Central Catholic High School. In his memory Bruce organized an annual concert known as Irish Night - Row On for Brendan, which has featured some of the world’s finest traditional musicians, earning much-needed funds for the crew team for over 27 years. Bruce’s son, Emmett played the whistle as well and joins his dad on a recording with local Pittsburgh favorite band, Guaranteed Irish.
Spending time between NY and Co. Clare, Bruce and Mary have been performing as a duo as well as teaching and leading sessions at various venues. They have recorded a beautiful album titled Turning the Tides featuring contributions from many dear and talented friends. Bruce has joined Cherish the Ladies on several concerts and tours. He and Mary are delighted to occasionally collaborate with Cherish bandmates Joanie Madden and Mirella Murray.
During the pandemic, Bruce and Mary did a weekly Facebook Live session, bringing songs and tunes into homes at a time when live music was not possible. These “self-isolation sessions” connected a wide community of appreciative listeners throughout the world who graciously expressed their gratitude in heartfelt comments.
They are honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and humbled to be a part of the amazing group of inductees that have come before them. They give their sincere thanks to the members of Comhaltas who work tirelessly throughout the region so that all may stay connected in love and respect for Irish music and culture.