Celtic Junction Arts Review
Issue 9, Samhain 2019
Archiving and Articulating Celtic Heritage
In this issue:
Riverdance – 25th Anniversary on Ireland’s Late Late Show · New Partnership Inaugurated · Silver Apples A-Growing in the McKiernan Library · The New Policeman · Maps to the Center · No Irish Need Apply · IMDA’s Cross-Cultural Grant Deadline Nears
Welcome to the Samhain 2019 issue of the Celtic Junction Arts Review.
Illuminating one of the powerful and living bridges between Ireland and Minnesota, our first article by Natalie Nugent O’Shea unfolds the beautiful story of how Adrienne O’Shea substituted for her father away playing music in Australia and flew herself to Dublin to join the cast of Riverdance to celebrate its 25th anniversary. She is almost certainly the first “Riverdance baby” as the daughter of Natalie and Cormac who forged their relationship from 1997-1999 within the original touring production of that global Irish dance sensation.
Demonstrating how generations inherit the traditions of their predecessors, she danced alongside her aunt and uncle who had appeared in the original show 25 years earlier. This crucial link was presented on the longest running chat show in the world, the storied Late Late Show hosted by the always chipper and dapper Ryan Tubridy. We include video clips from both the recent The Late Late Show with Adrienne and the original Riverdance production from 1994 with her father, uncle, and aunt in that electrifying presentation that signaled a new dynamism and confidence in Irish culture and identity.
I contribute two articles to this edition. The first discusses the new partnership that has begun between the University of St Thomas and the Celtic Junction through our Colloquium Series. The second raises the ghost of Yeats. William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, was vivified in a devised theatre production, Silver Apples of the Moon: The Strange Genius of W. B. Yeats by Celtic Phoenix Theatre in Celtic Junction’s McKiernan Library during the fourth Irish Arts Week. It is unusual for theatre to burst forth from the sedate shelves of a library, but the space is redolent with ghostly histories and memories and seemed to be in a secret rapport with the actors and performers.
Continuing the international tradition of the Celtic Junction Arts Review, we publish again another selection from the Nova Scotia-based fiction author, Ronan O’Driscoll, whose novel Chief O’Neill will be published soon in Ireland. Chief O’Neill, the justly celebrated collector of Irish music in Chicago, is the main protagonist in this compelling and subtly textured evocation of an Irish point of view on a vibrant metropolis in the American nineteenth century.
Caroline Joy Tatem, a folklore scholar based currently in Philadelphia who acts as a touring manager for the Armagh Rhymers, offers us for the first time a fine original poem “Maps to the Center” meditating on her personal creative journey into the Irish linguistic and mythic depths. Caroline was one of the speakers at the Irish Fair of Minnesota in August, 2019.
The artist Nancy Wojack Hendrickson gives us a timely meditation on the prejudice and bigotry that historically bedeviled the Irish emigrant experience in a pointed piece: “No Irish Need Apply: How Soon We Forget.”
To round out our issue, the always wily and insightful Carillon RoseMeadows reminds us of an opportunity to keep creating links and connections beyond our Celtic heritage to other cultural traditions with a grant opportunity from the Irish Music and Dance Association (IMDA).
Patrick O’Donnell – Founding Editor/contributing writer/Director of Education.
Riverdance – 25th Anniversary on Ireland’s Late Late Show
By Natalie Nugent O’Shea
It became an event which those who experienced it can vividly recall where they were when it happened… Following that Eurovision interval act in Ireland 1994, twenty-five years ago this month, the creative team that brought together Michael Flatley, Jean Butler, Anúna, and 24 of the most talented Irish dancers in the country announced on the Late Late Show with Gay Byrne that they were taking that 7 minute program and putting together a full-length production – Riverdance, The Show.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of that announcement, John McColgan and Julian Erskine brought twenty of the original line dancers to the Late Late Show to relaunch the 25th Anniversary production. Cormac Ó Sé, was one of those original dancers, alongside his World-Champion brother and sister, Colm Ó Sé and Dara O’Shea Delap. Cormac was away playing music for the Australian national Irish dance championships, so he offered his daughter instead. Thus eighteen-year-old Minnesota-raised Adrienne O’Shea flew into Dublin to take her father’s place for this historic event.
It is no exaggeration to say that Adrienne wouldn’t even exist without Riverdance. Her parents, Cormac and Natalie Ó Sé, met briefly during the first American tour in January 1997, met again in 1999, moved to Dublin in 2000 and had their eldest child at the Coombe, the same hospital in which her father was born. Fast-forward eighteen years, and the whole family is an integral part of Celtic Junction Arts Center (CJAC) in St. Paul, MN, voted Irish Central’s “Best Irish Cultural Center in North America.” CJAC was founded by Natlaie and Cormac and is home to their own dance school of 15 years, O’Shea Irish Dance, of which Adrienne is a product. Her mother, Natalie, jokes “Adrienne would have experienced all of the Homecoming shows at the Point Theater in Dublin 2000 in utero, so perhaps it is no surprise that she has spent her life both Irish step dancing, singing, and playing Irish traditional music.”
While Riverdance itself spread both Irish dance and music globally, it has also actively spread humanity… over sixty-four Riverdance marriages have come to fruition as a direct result of the touring shows. Family lived and worked as friends and occasionally friends even became family (in fact, both Cormac’s siblings found spouses within the show too.) To date, over 100 babies have been born to those couples. While many current dancers in the touring production weren’t born before the Eurovision song contest, Adrienne became the first “Riverdance-born” baby to don the gear and to dance in the production.
She says, “It was like nothing I had experienced before, although I have been competing and dancing in shows for as long as I can remember, of course!” as she beams. “Everyone was so kind and welcoming, although the rehearsals took all day – it was intense. What I really loved best of all was dancing with my aunt and uncle. It is hard for my dad, living so far from home, and family means everything to him. The fact that I got to experience that day right there with them and with all the people they basically grew up with was amazing. I even danced next to my friend and 7-time world champion, Jack Quinn, trained by my grandmother. She was always known for the champion boys she trained.”
Áine Uí Shé, and Seamus Ó Sé, Cormac’s mother and father, taught Irish dance in their school Scoil Rince Uí Shé for 47 years. They trained generations of dancers passionately and relentlessly, including their own three children. Cormac was only sixteen performing in the Eurovision, and went on to tour the world for over 6 years in more than 2000 performances on four continents, to over two-million people. Cormac remembers, “My father and mother met at a ceili, danced together on Irish Television’s “Club Ceili” in the sixties (Ireland’s version of American Bandstand) and went on to teach thousands of children. We always thought my parents were nuts for how hard they worked. I understand now the very deep place that Irish dancing always held within them, and that they would do it until they no longer could.” The O’Shea family lost Áine just over a year ago to brain cancer. She was teaching classes, chairing dance committees, and even attending the World Championships a month before she died. (link to earlier commemorative article.) “Dancing has been a way of life for my family, and I am very proud to watch my own daughter continuing the tradition, over four-thousand miles from home.”
Scoil Rince Uí Shé and O’Shea Irish Dance competed against each other in the Senior Mixed Ceili at the World Championships in London 2014. They became the first parent/child schools to place in the same competition on a world stage, holding 3rd & 6th places, respectively. Over its 47 year history, Scoil Rince Uí Shé achieved over 30 Solo World Championship titles, and numerous Ceili and Figure Choreography World Championship titles along with dozens of All Ireland, All Scotland and Great Britain titles. One of their cherished accolades is being awarded the overall teachers cup for Feis Atha Chliath (Dublin Feis) for 28 consecutive years. Áine and Séamus were the Honorees of the 2017 World Championships, recognizing their life-long commitment as champions for Irish Dance. O’Shea Irish Dance has the most awarded dancers in Minnesota – but that is another story (watch for their 15 year anniversary article for details!)
Riverdance’s 25th Anniversary show launches twenty-five years to the day that it began at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland in February, 2020.
New Partnership Inaugurated
Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas and the Celtic Junction Arts Center
By Patrick O’Donnell
The platform through which a new partnership was inaugurated between the Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas and Celtic Junction was our ongoing Colloquium Series which, since fall 2017, has offered free public lectures in the McKiernan Library to our community.
David Gardiner, the new Director of the Center and Patrick O’Donnell, Director of Education for the Irish College of Minnesota at the Celtic Junction agreed to partner the organizations to promote a talk by Patrick Deeley, Galway author and winner of the 23 rd annual Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award.
Raised in Mullagh, near Loughrea, Co. Galway, Patrick Deeley has written six poetry collections, which include The Bones of Contention (2008) and Groundswell: New and Selected Poems (2019).
His recent memoir The Hurley-Maker’s Son, depicting the meticulous craft-based world of his father has received widespread critical praise and was the main subject of his informal and witty presentation to an appreciative audience in the jam-packed library setting on Tuesday, October 29th.
Silver Apples A-Growing in the McKiernan Library
By Patrick O’Donnell
One of the eerie werewolf-like metamorphoses that sporadically convulses the McKiernan Library is its transformation into a theatre venue. Who is the culprit responsible? The guilty party is the resident troupe of actors and writers who create devised and collaborative works: Celtic Phoenix Theatre. Their most recent foray was the production Silver Apples of the Moon: The Strange Genius of W.B. Yeats (co-directed by Sarah Kiani and Patrick O’Donnell) which premiered to a jam-packed full house at the 4th Irish Arts Week on Monday, May 6, 2019, after taking shape in a looser form at IMDA’s Landmark Center earlier in March.
The production offered a meditation on the four passions animating the imagination and life of the great Nobel Prize-winning poet, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939): his immersion in Celtic myth, folklore and romance; his love for the formidable Irish nationalist and beauty, Maud Gonne; his determination to articulate an Irish cultural nationalism; and, his determination to evoke a mystical depth beneath our material universe.
These themes interwove their way through the production’s depiction of his poetic journey and psychological maturation as he changed from being a high Victorian Romantic in the 1880s, to a framer of the Irish Literary Revival and the Celtic Twilight through the late 1880s – 1890s up to the founding of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, to a more caustic assessment of Ireland’s flaws in the 1910s-1920s, culminating in a sensual yet apocalyptic sensibility in the 1920s-1930s as the new Irish state was born following the Easter Rising of 1916, the War of Independence from 1919-21, and the Treaty creating the Free State in 1922. Yeats recorded the intensely private, the eerily mystical, and the public political dramas in his relentlessly lyrical and restlessly innovative verse thereby giving voice to an emerging Irish nation and creating himself and “making his soul” as a world-famous Irish national poet. Appropriately, he received the Nobel Prize in 1923 after assisting Ireland’s emergence on to the world’s stage.
This play combined devised theatre scenes such as Maud Gonne reacting in exasperation to one more letter sent from the persistent poet to her in Paris to animated theatrical performances of the keynote poems in his canon of works such as “The Song of the Happy Shepherd,” “The Stolen Child,” “Down by the Salley Gardens,” “The Hosting of the Sidhe,” “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “Easter 1916,” “The Second Coming,” “The Rose Tree,” and “Death”.
Because the show was a devised production, individual cast members could offer individualized and unique perspectives. Local architect Dan Gleeson’s father – a well-regarded newspaper editor of the Tipperary Nenagh Gaurdian – knew Yeats well in the 1930s, and thus Dan could speak directly to the audience about his father’s friendship with Yeats and the poet’s work at the Abbey Theatre. John Concannon, an impassioned researcher into Ireland’s nationalist struggle, offered spirited historical contexts to the more explicitly nationalist poems.
The cast consisted of Patrick O’Donnell, Sarah Kiani, Kathy Luby, Jane Steiner, Fred Stemborg, Naomi Karstad, Mariam Kiani, Dan Gleeson, Eddie Owens, and John Concannon. The production appeared in the McKiernan Speaker’s Tent at the Irish Fair of Minnesota at Harriet Island on Aug 10-11, 2019.
The New Policeman
Francis O’Neill (1848-1936) is renowned for being the Chicago chief of police who saved Irish music. We were introduced to Chief O’Neil in Whistle and I’ll Wait For You. The following is another excerpt from the forthcoming novel, Chief O’Neill, by Ronan O’Driscoll.
Monroe Street, Chicago, August 17, 1873
Francis pushed the heavy helmet back to scratch his forehead. All around him was chaos—buildings looming next to gaps of new construction. A maze of electric, telegraph and tram wires along with attendant poles obscured the heavy summer sunlight. There were awnings of all colors over shops, banks and saloons. Signs everywhere: ‘Goodfriend shirts’, ‘Commercial National’, ‘SMOKE’.
Hansoms, horse-drawn omnibuses and carriages were backed up along both main streets by a cart overladen with hogsheads stalled at the intersection. Drivers and passengers spilled onto the pavement, yelling and cursing at the obstruction. Men in dark suits and caps, women in heavy frocks and hats watched the scene. Francis waded into the midst of it all, the heavy blue wool of his new uniform still chafing. After a month of traveling beat, he was still unused to it.
“What has you stopped in the middle of this street?” he called to a man pulling at a brace of carthorses.
Eyes wild and rolling, the animals tossed their heads about. One bled from the neck, stomping and resisting. The driver’s hands were covered in dark horse blood. He turned to Francis, knife in hand. Francis’s hand went straight to the club on his belt.
“This blamed horse won’t get going. He’s just stopped here. Stopping all of Chicago he is. I nicked his neck a little to let the pressure out. Get him goin’ again.”
The man’s features were slack, as if drunk or simple.
“Alright. Slow it down now,” Francis said. “I want you to put that knife down, right now. Slowly mind. I don’t need you letting any more pressure off.”
The driver regarded him with a confused look. “What is it, officer? I ain’t done nothing wrong.”
“Right now, you’re the cause of an obstruction at a major intersection. Now put that knife down or I’ll haul you in.”
The man slowly put the knife down, a scowl on his features at the injustice of it all. “Blamed horse is the cause of it all,” he muttered.
Francis took the knife and tossed it in the wagon. He motioned other nearby drivers to the halted wagon of barrels, directing them to untether the frightened horses and use their own beasts to haul away the over-burdened wagon.
“How’m I going to explain this to my ganger?” the driver asked.
“Take it up with City Hall,” growled Francis, stepping back from the center of the thoroughfare. He scratched again where the helmet strap rubbed under his jaw. The obstruction finally cleared, he walked down Monroe Street, squinting in the early afternoon sun.
A loud bang. It came from everywhere and nowhere, at once. Francis looked back to the intersection. Traffic still moved, ignorant of the loud sound. The bare-breasted caryatids of Palmer House stared down unconcerned. Francis turned the corner at Clark and spotted a man dashing past pedestrians, pursued by another in a black suit. They were running straight at Francis.
“Halt there,” shouted Francis, spotting the gun.
The man stopped, looking back at his dark-suited pursuer. The latter waved a revolver of his own, trying to clear people out of the way. The young man raised his pistol, blinked and shot straight at Francis—a quick blaze of fire spat from the gun barrel.
The blink saved Francis’s life.
He had enough time to begin to dodge to the side. A sudden sharp slice of pain came under his left shoulder, followed by a coldness spreading all down his side. He put the fact of the bullet from his mind, as the young killer approached. Instinct made Francis reach for his club. Somehow, he raised the baton, bringing it in an arc down upon his assailant’s pistol. He felt outside himself, watching everything from a distance. He noted how young his attacker was, hair untidy and eyes slightly crossed. The young man looked in confusion at his weapon on the ground, unsure of what to do. Then his dark-suited pursuer was upon them, a burly type with jet-black hair to match. His brow was a single bar above his grim face.
“You’ve done it now, Bridges!” He raised his gun at the young man. “Nobody plugs a Chicago cop and walks away from it.”
He said the last with relish as he studied the best spot on Bridges to place his lethal shot.
“Bloody Pinkertons,” spat Bridges. “Always skulking around after honest men.” He cowered in anticipation. The detective laughed, savoring the moment.
Francis still felt he was watching himself from outside. He spoke to confirm he was still alive. He put himself between them, left hand limp at his side, club half raised.
“Don’t you shoot him.”
He gasped as a sudden spasm of pain took him. The Pinkerton gave a disgusted sneer and tucked his gun into the depths of his coat. Bridges saw his chance and made to run. With his good hand, Francis grabbed him by the collar and shoved him to the wall. Francis hoarsely cried to the gathered crowd for help securing the criminal, blood dribbling out of the left cuff of his police coat. In the confusion, the dark-suited detective disappeared.
Maps to the Center
By Caroline Joy Tatem
Format-preserving PDF of poem.
A tall man saw me studying Irish in the Starbucks on 9th street.
He pulled himself into the chair next to me, to explain all of Ireland’s ancient history.
Starting in the center, calling on his ancestors,
Bhí cúpla focal in a bhéil.
An Chraobh Rua, agus Emain Mhaca,
agus scéal draíochta
ó am na mBíobla Naofa,
Scríobh sé línte ó thoir go thiar
[There were a couple words in his mouth.
The Red Branch, and the Twins of Macha,
And a magical story
from the time of the Bible,
He wrote lines from east to west]
And his black eyes glistened like unspeaking stars.
Drawing places he’s never seen but always seen…
Friends asked me why I’d sit with a raving man like this, but I’d say,
“You can’t argue with a dream.”
A frenzy of time straightened out in plain sight,
In his scribbled maps to the center, I saw something familiar.
He drew out my dreams in black and white, and old eyes colored them:
I’ve been walking alone at night through those cold and windswept fields.
Dark green under the black skies, shadows on the hills.
Wooden windows with flickering sills,
A room full of candlelit kings
Muddy roads to the center, sleeping, and I’m waking up with wings.
I can still hear their chat through the flat roof a thousand moonlit nights ago.
I fall through the swirling portal to Emain,
Which takes me off from the peninsula of a dream,
Where I spend all night at the switchboard…
Concrete canals and creek-side cottages, Electric light, and glowing ice to Ísafjör∂ur and sunset rays to Waikīkī…
I lost my backpack in a hostel in India,
Huddled all night under the garden sheet,
Whispering to strangers, “Strange how the pathways followed me.”
I left my backpack somewhere in the origins of the world.
It would be difficult to retrieve it, and I needed to rest here in this cavern.
It came to me as the rain came— with a knock on my dream door,
About three weeks before…
The next day when I woke up a mouse had eaten through the oatmeal package and ran up and
down my unfinished painting that I began a summer ago. I dreamed of my friendly ghosts and
thought to paint over the unfinished lines, but the mouse ran like brushstrokes, footprints too
light to mark the dusty road paved through my mind.
Besides the mouse and the landlord, I’d been living alone on the edge of an island, learning
Irish in Manhattan.
I could imagine myself flying out of the bed, the window, the sidewalks, riding the space
between the skyscrapers, like skyways to Europe, where I’d take my body to my soul,
No Irish Need Apply
How Soon We Forget
By Nancy Wojack Hendrickson
I usually like to spend a great amount of time working on an image before revealing it. However, I feel compelled by recent events to show the photograph here in its preliminary stage. Tacked to the wall of a pub is a sign, surrounded by currency from all parts of the world. It states “Help Wanted – No Irish Need Apply.”
My ancestors were Irish immigrants. They faced this kind of discrimination here in the United States. This sign would have been directed at them. The shunning of immigrants is not a new issue. This has been going on a long time.
The Irish Potato Famine sent over a million of Irish fleeing this small country. Many of those refugees were desperately poor and suffering from starvation. My own Irish ancestors came to America during the famine years to save themselves, to find a new life.
During those years of heavy Irish immigration (1845 – 1852) there was strong anti-Irish sentiment and many negative Irish stereotypes prevailed. Those with Irish accents or Irish names were barred from housing and employment opportunities. Signs like this one photographed by Barry were common.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. How soon we forget. A generation or two will go by, and we will have figured out how to fit in. We have found some comfort and gained our own stability. So perhaps, we don’t recognize in those refugees today, our own ancestors. The needs, the hopes and the dreams are the same.
I hope this image can help us remember the past and our own ancestors, and in doing so, find ways to help new immigrants and refugees who seek asylum here, feel welcome.
This article originally published by the author at her blog here.
IMDA’s Cross-Cultural Grant Deadline Nears
The Irish Music and Dance Association has not forgotten…
In January of 2018, the IMDA’s monthly newsletter came with the announcement of a new grant program.
Immigration and diversity are topics that have been receiving an increasing amount of attention recently, not all of which has been positive or progressive. From the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century, Irish immigrants frequently encountered prejudice and discrimination as they attempted to adapt to American culture and society. Now, all too often, their descendents are seeing other races and ethnicities being treated in a similarly inhospitable manner.
Because the IMDA believes that exposure to the music, dance, and customs of ethnic groups other than one’s own can help bridge gaps, foster understanding and promote mutual respect, they challenged the Irish community to partner with other cultural and arts organizations to create an original performance piece – together.
In response to this 2018 challenge, O’Shea Irish Dance and Bollywood Dance Scene created a fusion performance of Indian and Irish dance. Also, a trio of Mexican folk musicians (“Andale Juana”) were joined by Norah Rendell (Executive Director of the Center for Irish Music) to present a joint musical performance based on the story of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion (the “San Patricios”), a group of primarily Irish immigrant soldiers who left the American army in 1846 to fight for the Mexican side during the Mexican-American War. Then, in 2019, North Star Irish Dance collaborated with the Wild Rose Cloggers for a performance they called Kissin’ Cousins, and Phil Platt also collaborated with Eric Platt (no relation!) for a presentation that blended Irish songs with Swedish tunes. These performances were incredibly well received by their respective audiences
The IMDA is now seeking new proposals for 2020! The organization aims to fund unique, collaborative projects that showcase the rich traditions of communities the world over.
Written proposals regarding joint cross-cultural performance pieces will be accepted via email by the IMDA through 11:59 pm on November 15, 2019. Details and full information can be found on the IMDA website here. Start collaborating with your neighbors, Irish community!