Musicians don’t usually wear pajamas to traditional Irish music sessions, but for the kids attending the CCÉ Mid-Atlantic Region Fleadh in May, such casual wear was encouraged. The combination pajama and pizza party was a new feature of the 2023 Mid-Atlantic Fleadh in Parsippany, N.J., part of an overall effort to make the event more kid-friendly, says regional Chair Annmarie Acosta Williams. Williams co-chaired the event together with North American Provincial Chair Frankie McCormick and a dedicated Fleadh committee.
“This was our first time as a new Fleadh committee, with some people who were on the committee previously, but also with a lot of new blood,” says Williams. “We had a particular vision to approach the Fleadh by keeping things exactly as they were before and to make it familiar for everybody, but to balance that with some obvious changes. We particularly wanted to up the social component for the children, to make it more youthful.”
The so-called “juice box session” was modeled after a youth-oriented program initiated by the Washington, D.C.-area O’Neill-Malcom Branch, with Maisie Lynch heading that effort. “They started the idea of having sessions that are specific for children,” says Williams, “so when I wanted to do something similar for the Fleadh, I reached out to Maisie to ask if she would help. And she did more than help. She and Erin Fitzpatrick agreed to oversee our event, and then I kind of threw in the pizza, the pajamas, and games.”
One other popular feature of the 2023 Fleadh: for the first time in many years, commemorative T-shirts, stickers and other merchandise. Those colorful T-shirts, hoodies and stickers were seen everywhere at the Fleadh, Williams says. Mid-Atlantic Secretary Lexie Boatright, with help from Williams, came up with the design. “It was kind of like rainbow colors, and it aligned with what kids expect at an event. So, this time we made the extra effort,” says Williams. “It develops a lot of camaraderie. Those things were important to me as a child going to the Fleadh overseas. You would never come home without a new sticker on your accordion case from that event.”
Of course, the Fleadh is also about some serious competition and bragging rights. More than 225 competitors took part in this year’s Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, which took place over Mother’s Day weekend. There were more attendees pre-Covid, but organizers are hopeful that increasing the “fun” component will encourage an increased turnout in coming years.
A highlight of the Fleadh was the Hall of Fame banquet honoring Mary Coogan, guitarist and founding member of the renowned ensemble Cherish the Ladies, and spouse Bruce Foley, an acclaimed singer, guitarist, and uilleann piper. The two have been performing traditional Irish music for more than 40 years. 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, New York, and grew up in a household filled with music. Her mom Celia hailed from
Castlerea, County Roscommon. Her dad Jim was a fine button accordion player. Bruce was born in Buffalo, New York, and 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.
Honored posthumously was James Francis (Jimmy) Lavin. Jimmy was born in the Bronx, New York, on September 30, 1961. His father Dominic Lavin (Clontarf, County Dublin) and mother, Marianne Lavin (Bronx, New York) had deep family roots in Ballymote, County Sligo, and a love of its renowned tradition of Irish music. In 1970, Jimmy, his sister Teresa (R.I.P.) and brother Dom began piano accordion music lessons with Hall of Fame County Galway fiddler Pete Kelly.
All three siblings were original members of the Shannonaires Ceili Band that toured Ireland in the summers of 1973, 1974 and 1975 where they also competed in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann competitions in Listowel, County Kerry (’73, ’74) and Buncrana, County Donegal (1975).
Gerry and Geraldine Rodican were Service Award Recipients. The Rodicans hail from County Leitrim, Ireland. They emigrated to the United States in 1987 and made New York their home. Always lovers of the tradition, they enrolled their three daughters in traditional Irish music lessons in Yonkers, New York. They studied music with Annmarie Acosta Williams, each beginning at an early age. Their parents ensured that they were exposed to both Irish music and dance, and all three girls, now adults, are still involved. Michaela, Ciara, and Lauren Rodican, taking after their parents, currently volunteer on the Fleadh committee, as they had wonderful role models along the way. Members of CCÉ Killoran-Clancy-Whelan, they have attended the All-Ireland Fleadh since August 2006, always traveling from New York to enjoy the music.
Many volunteers were responsible for the smooth running of the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, Williams says. “Everything was just so organized,” she adds, crediting volunteer Ciara Rodican for the success. “Everybody had their assignments in advance, everybody knew what was happening. We had phenomenal adjudicators who gave particularly clear and encouraging comments. They made the extra effort to give the competitors suggestions regarding how to achieve improvement in future. There was a lot of good positive feedback about the judges’ comments. We had a good crew.”
And now, for many of the competitors, it’s on to Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Mullingar! Best of luck to all!
Credit: Photo by Tom Farley