Remembering Joe Reavy with Friends, Family, and Lots of Great Music

Friends, family members, and traditional Irish musicians from far and wide gathered for an all-star session June 3 at St. Peter’s Church in the Great Valley, Malvern, Pa., to celebrate the life of Joe Reavy, son of the prolific composer of Irish tunes Ed Reavy, and an outstanding musician and musicologist in his own right. Joe Reavy died January 13, 2023, at the age of 95.

“It was the family’s idea to celebrate in this way. We had talked about it, and it just made so much sense,” says Katherine Ball-Weir, chair of the Philadelphia-Delaware Valley branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, and a friend of Joe. “They had wanted to do something that would be a celebration of Joe and really reflect what was important to him. We first talked about it at the time of his death, and we just knew Joe would have really loved it. It was a wonderful party and a true ‘Celebration of Life.’ We were just wishing he could have been here to be a part of it.” 

A memorial service in the historic church preceded the session. Fiddler Alexander Weir, Ball-Weir’s son and one of Reavy’s many longtime friends, played a slow air at communion. 

After that, it was off to a rollicking session in the parish’s adjoining hall, known as the High Point, a timber-framed space designed in a style reminiscent of the original Welsh barns in the area.

Joe Reavy’s fame was such that many traditional Irish musician eagerly and unquestionably accepted the invitation to take part in the session.

“Trying to put together a dream session was a wonderful task,” says Ball-Weir. “And there were many other musicians who would have been there if they hadn’t had other commitments. The group we ended up with was fabulous. If someone was asked and they didn’t have a commitment, they just said yes. They did it for Joe. They knew who he was. They knew his contribution to traditional Irish music, and they were honored to have been asked.”

The group included New York flutist Kevin Crawford of Lúnasa; McDermott’s Handy multi-instrumentalist Dennis Gormley and Kathy DeAngelo on harp and fiddle; bodhrán player Anna Colliton from New York; Philly-area fiddlers Brendan Callahan, Hollis Payer; fiddlers Rose Baldino and Brian Buchanan of House of Hamill; New York fiddler Sean Quinn, Baltimore fiddler Páraic Keane, Boston fiddler Alex Weir; concertina player Lexie Boatright from the D.C. metro area and Ryan Ward of New York, both members of The Consequences; flute and tin whistle player Brenda Dowling of New York; uillean pipes player Dan McHugh from the Philadelphia area—and really, far too many others to mention. 

Maire Reavy, Joe’s daughter, and Randell Jesup, his son-in-law, were delighted with the turnout of friends and musicians. 

Maire recalled how Joe was hoping to get to 100, “but he knew illness was going to take him, and he said, ‘For God’s sake, if I die in winter, don’t have my service then.’” 

Joe went on to instruct her to hold his memorial service in the spring, when there was life and lots of flowers. And, if possible, hold it near May 14th, which was his wedding anniversary, or near June 2nd,, which was his beloved wife’s (Mary Jo) birthday. Since May 14th was Mother’s Day, the decision was to host the gathering on June 3rd.

Maire recalls his exact words.

“He said, ‘I want you to have a party after my service, with a lot of great music. I want it to be focused on the music, and I want people to have a really great time, and I want there to be lots of laughter.’”

The family also wants to thank Eugene Lynch, who runs the Ed Reavy Festival in County Cavan every year. “The morning of the service, Eugene sent Katherine and us a 55-minute tribute to Joe from people in Ireland,” says Randell. “We met Eugene when we took a trip to Ireland in 2016. At the time, there was a concert, and by happenstance, Mick Moloney was doing one of his tours, and he was going to be in Cavan for the first time. We were there for that, and we met Eugene. Joe got to sit in his father’s house, in the living room, which has a plaque to his father over the door. Eugene was just such good friends to dad and to the family. He had been very loyal, checking up on my dad, especially as his illness got worse, and was very supportive.”

In the end, Joe got just what he had wanted, Ball-Weir says.

“Many people have said this was the sort of thing Joe would have loved. He would have been sitting in the center of the musicians having a great time. We all feel really good about that.”