Celtic Junction Arts Review
Issue 1, Lughnasa 2017
Archiving and Articulating Celtic Heritage
Upon the Opening of the Eoin McKiernan Library · St Paul’s Center for Irish Music Wins 35 Medals in St Louis · Family Tree Mystery · Dublin Letter: James Wright, Robert Bly, and Minnesota’s imagined landscapes · A Whisper Ran Through Laracor · Memories of a retired Irish dancer · A history of the St. Paul Irish Arts Week since 2016
Welcome to the Celtic Junction Arts Center Review
Welcome to the freshly minted inaugural edition of the new quarterly online cultural magazine, The Celtic Junction Arts Center Review.
Appearing at the legendary four ancient divisions of the Celtic year (Lughnasa/August 1; Samhain/November 1; Imbolc/February 1; and, Beltane/May 1), with new articles from a variety of authors located in both Minnesota and Ireland on topics connected with Irish and Celtic culture, it will delve into the vibrant arts presented at the Celtic Junction Arts Center and the larger traditions and histories out of which those arts have emerged.
To begin, what is the origin of the Celtic Junction which opened its doors on May 2, 2009? It was founded by Dubliner Cormac and Minnesota-born and Saint Olaf graduate Natalie Nugent O’Shea who met in 1997 in Minneapolis during the Riverdance tour – he was a dancer and she one of the local lighting designers. They subsequently both travelled on with the show and, in Natalie’s words,“saw the world.” Cormac, aged 16, had danced in the famous Riverdance event that was presented at the Point Theatre in Dublin in 1994 as an interval act during the Eurovision Song Contest. Riverdance subsequently became a spectacular globe-spanning dance sensation. Cormac clocked up more than 2,000 performances in front of at least two million people. The two married and returned to Minnesota in 2001, formed O’Shea Irish Dance in 2005, and sought their own building from 2006-2008. Drawing dots on Google Maps for all of their potential students, they settled on the Midway area of St. Paul as the most central hub for dropping off students. Natalie stated that The Celtic Junction “was from its beginning a convergence of Riverdance vision, energy, and ambition with the energy of a rooted St. Paul Irish and Irish American community.”
In this first edition, similar themes of memory, place, and continuity across decades and generations that led to the founding of The Celtic Junction are clearly evident. Aine McCormack reflects on a ‘Family Tree Mystery,’ Meghan Golder provides a poignant account of the power of Irish dance, we learn how the exemplary students of Irish traditional music from the Center for Irish Music are harvesting crops of medals in competition and making their mark at regional, national and international levels, and Dublin poet and former Managing Editor of The Irish Times, Gerard Smyth reveals how he carried Minnesota’s imagined landscapes around in his head for forty years under the influence of James Wright and Robert Bly before visiting Minnesota to collect the O’Shaughnessy Poetry Prize from the University of St. Thomas in 2012. Natalie O’Shea lyrically reflects on the Celtic Junction’s new definition as an Arts Center. This evolution was crowned with the addition of the Eoin McKiernan Library unveiled at a reception on April 22, 2017. I give a short account of the founding of the St. Paul Irish Arts Week in 2016 and its continued growth into 2017.
Editor/Director of Education
Dr. Patrick O’Donnell is a professor of English at Normandale Community College. He is director/ founder of the St. Paul Irish Arts Week, Artistic Director of the literary arts nonprofit, Celtic Collaborative, and an Irish literary historian who co-edited The Harp and the Loon: Literary Bridges between Ireland and Minnesota.
Upon the opening of the Eoin McKiernan Library
Natalie Nugent O’Shea
In the youth and naïveté of 8 years ago, Cormac and I started the Celtic Junction. It was baptized and tested by flood in 2009 and forged by fire in 2010. It not only survived the unthinkable, but grew despite adversity. It proved there was an energy, waiting for a space.
The stage at the heart of The Junction has housed 8 years of tunes, songs, classes, dances, literature and performances. It has also hosted birthdays of young and old, gatherings of friends, anniversaries of lovers, and memorials of loved ones past. It is soaking history up into its walls, the atoms that surround us, vibrating with the music of life.
This year, The Junction has had the honor of establishing the Eoin McKiernan Library, just above that stage – so now the head resides appropriately above the heart. The catalyst for this was at the hand of the McKiernan family as they honored us with their father’s collection of well-loved books. For anyone intoxicated by the smell of books, take it easy. When you are up there, breath it in – you can feel the love he poured into them.
All that said, I have a confession to make – this is not really about the books (sorry, McKiernan Family). They really aren’t enough on their own. There is a telling quote by R. David Lankes: “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.”
Great library… Well, we haven’t proved our mettle yet, but I can say this – a great community built this library.
We open this library now – but not with the simple boldness and vivacity of our earlier years… These doors only opened tempered with the experience, strength and history of this incredible community right here. It’s existence stands to your persistence.
“Books are of the people, by the people and for the people. Literature is the immortal part of history.”
That was William Lyon Phelps, professor of English at Yale in a radio interview, speaking on the pleasure of books in May 1933. Not everyone at the time shared his viewpoint… he spoke these words only one month before the book burnings in Berlin. So it really is not about the books, but about the people who value them.
…Or about the people – and their values. What you value.
We are developing classes, workshops, programs and exhibitions , striving to inform, educate, and enlighten not just this community but beyond our borders and our own culture. The experience of the Irish in the world, in this country, and in Minnesota is a valuable commodity that deserves protection, preservation, and a place in history.
Of course, history is not made by the idle. It takes many heads, hands and hearts together to make big things happen. We have only just started this journey together. This library is about you, our community. You are valuable to us and we will all need to work together to keep this resource viable. Please come and be in this beautiful space often. Use it. Share it. Help us to preserve it for your children and grandchildren.
Natalie and her husband Cormac founded The Celtic Junction in 2009, where together they run O’Shea Irish Dance. She holds a BA in Theater from St. Olaf College. Natalie has written and produced shows since 2011, including Get Up Your Irish (Forgetting Ireland), the Celtic Christmas Hooley, and Kickin’ It Irish at Stepping Stone Theater and Chanhassen Dinner Theaters.
St Paul’s Center for Irish Music Wins 35 Medals in St Louis. 18 Students Heading to Ennis for All-Ireland Fleadh
18 young musicians from The Center for Irish Music (CIM) in St. Paul, MN, are travelling to Ennis to compete in the All-Ireland Fleadh after making an impressive showing at the Midwest Fleadh Cheoil (traditional Irish music festival) in St. Louis, MO over Mother’s Day weekend. In May, 27 CIM musicians returned to Minnesota with an astounding 35 awards for first-through third-place finishes.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be bringing these young musicians to Ennis to represent Minnesota,” said Norah Rendell, executive director at The Center for Irish Music. “This year’s tremendously successful showing is a testament not only to their passion for the music, but to the quality of the teaching at the school.”
The Midwest Fleadh (pronounced flaw) drew more than 200 musicians to St. Louis, where competitors who won 1st or 2nd place in their categories qualified to compete in the world’s largest Irish music festival, the Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann. That famous event is sponsored by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the premier organization devoted to preserving and promoting traditional Irish music. More than 400,000 people are expected to flock to the All-Ireland Fleadh, including competitors from all over the world, during the week-long festival in Ennis, County Clare on August 13th-21st.
Among the international competitors will be 18 young musicians from The Center for Irish Music (CIM). Students will compete in solo and group competitions including the Ceili band in both 12-15 and 15-18 age categories and the 15-18 Grúpa Ceoil. Executive director, Norah Rendell will travel to coach the ensembles and support musicians.
“The passion these kids have for the music is infectious,” said Executive Director Rendell. “And so we are thrilled to be supporting each student by offering a $150 scholarship to attend Scoil Éigse, a 4-day workshop during the lead up to the festival. This initiative was made possible through generous donations from our supporters.”
The Center for Irish Music (CIM) is a non-profit music school located in the Celtic Junction Arts Center, 836 No. Prior Avenue, St. Paul. The CIM is dedicated to handing down traditional Irish music to the next generation of musicians through private lessons, group classes, sessions and events featuring world-class artists.
Family Tree Mystery
Most of us have at least one mysterious figure hanging out on a branch of our family tree. Sometimes it can take only a generation to forget someone. Early deaths, family squabbles and simply not knowing contribute to silences surrounding family members. These silences create the mysteries in our family histories. I will tell you how my family history research led to solving a mystery in my family tree.
My great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan was the mystery woman in my family tree. To say that I was haunted by her is a bit dramatic, but I have been keenly aware of Annie throughout my life. A couple of reasons for this: my nick-name is Annie, and my mom bears an eerie resemblance to photographs of Annie which hung in my childhood home.
It wasn’t just photographs of Annie. Growing up I was surrounded by artifacts from Annie’s life. Her rocking chair was in the corner of the upstairs hallway. A collection of Annie’s beautiful teapots and china dishes filled the shelves of the breakfast nook. On a bookcase in the living room sat an ornate brass umbrella handle next to a small wooden box of Annie’s photographs and cards. I was fascinated by these things from an early age and wondered about their previous owner.
Annie was everywhere, yet no one ever spoke of her. My grandpa John Regan was Annie’s only child. He passed away the year before I was born, and no other relatives seemed to remember Annie. My grandma Agnes was my most trusted source for family stories, and she only had this to offer:
I know so little about your great-grandmother…she passed away before your grandpa and I started dating. She came from Ireland, people said she was a mail-order bride, and I heard that she could be a bit aloof. Your grandpa told me she liked to have nice things – only the best would do for Annie.
I could tell she liked nice things, but a mail-order bride? That didn’t feel right to me. Years passed, and I moved from my parents’ home. I may have left behind the daily, physical reminders of my great-grandmother, but I never shook the urge to learn more about Annie. I knew there must be more than what my grandma told me.
In 2004, I decided to take a stab at family history, so I set off for Clontarf, Minnesota to see what I could uncover about my roots. Clontarf was the birthplace of my maternal grandparents (John and Agnes Regan). In the 1870s their grandparents were among the pioneer Irish settlers of this tiny railroad town on the prairie of Western Minnesota. My grandpa spent his entire childhood and young adulthood in Clontarf, while my grandma moved away as a girl.
In Clontarf, I met with my grandpa’s first cousin, Gerald Regan who also grew up in Clontarf. Gerald dazzled me with his memories of the “old days.” So, what did he remember about his Aunt Annie? I kept my expectations low.
Gerald’s eyes lit up as soon as her name was mentioned, “Oh, Annie! I spent a great deal of time at Annie’s. She made the best fried potatoes I’ve ever tasted…perfectly seasoned, crispy on the outside…”
This was just the start. It looked like I had hit the Annie jackpot!
With each memory, Gerald revealed another aspect of Annie’s personality. Annie was extremely good-natured – she loved a joke and teasing came easily to her. She had a competitive streak, especially when it came to playing cards – she loved a game of whist. Her house was immaculate, and Annie proudly displayed her collections of fine china and crystal. Annie took her tea with a lot of milk and sugar. She told Gerald it was the “Irish way.” Maybe she wasn’t the easiest person to please, but Annie only wanted the best for her family.
Gerald quickly put my mind to rest regarding the mail-order bride idea. His understanding was that she came to Clontarf to be with family. In the 1920s he remembered visits from Annie’s niece, Irene O’Brien. Irene came from Montana, but had once lived in Clontarf.
Armed with this new information, I began to search available records. In the St. Malachy Catholic Church of Clontarf registers I came upon some familiar names. A woman named Mary Hill, the daughter of Margaret Kelly and William Hill, baptized at Kill, County Kildare married Thomas O’Brien in 1894. This was the same information that was on Annie’s birth certificate. County plat maps, property records and U.S. Census data proved that the O’Brien family lived in Clontarf until 1912 when they moved to Montana.
Immigration records shed further light on how Annie came to the United States. I learned that Annie arrived at New York harbor in May of 1899, aboard the S.S. Ethiopia, “passage paid by brother-in-law Mr. O’Brien, destination Clontarf, MN.”
In the 1900 Census, Annie worked as a servant for D.F. McDermott, a prominent Clontarf resident and owner of the general store. Further Census data for the next ten years shows Annie living in two other Minnesota towns working as housekeeper for Father John Molloy (in Willmar and Shieldsville).
Annie married Neil Regan on February 21, 1911, twelve years after her arrival in Clontarf. My grandpa John was born in 1913, and Gerald said that Annie doted on her only child. Gerald said that Annie worked very hard throughout her marriage, selling milk to neighboring townspeople and even going out to work for area priests when Neil’s poor eyesight made him unable to work. By the time that John left home in the mid-1930s, the Depression had taken its toll on Annie and Neil. Their house was in foreclosure and Gerald said Annie was tired. She died in 1937.
The experts say the best place to begin genealogy or family history research is to speak to your oldest living relatives. Gerald is proof that this tip works. Add a little legwork and some luck and you are on the way to solving one of the mysteries lingering in your family tree.
Aine McCormack holds a BA in Sociology and History from the University of MN. Her writing on genealogy and the Irish experience in America has appeared in Irish America Magazine and online in Irish Lives Remembered, Irish Central and Irish Fireside. She has blogged at ‘The Irish in America’ since 2009.
Dublin Letter: James Wright, Robert Bly,
and Minnesota’s imagined landscapes
Back in 1970 the Irish poet James Liddy – then teaching in Wisconsin –introduced me to the visually rich poetry of James Wright and Robert Bly. The four books sent to me from the Midwest, which I still treasure, were Wright’s Saint Judas and The Branch Will Not Break and Silence in the Snowy Fields and The Light Around the Body by Bly.
This introduction to both poets was also my introduction to Minnesota, a place that immediately branded itself into my consciousness and imagination as a result of that early encounter with those two poets. Wright’s work in particular was to be a seminal influence, its intense and melancholy quality – a hallmark of all his writing – appealed to my youthful sensibilities at the time. So too did the fact that he was an admirer and fine translator of the German poet Georg Trakl whose poetic tendencies were not dissimilar.
In my early readings in poetry both became key guides in helping me to think in images and to understand the power of the image. Another central characteristic of Wright’s poetry that resonated was the fact that he was clearly a poet of place and place was to become a theme of my own work. Many of his poems in The Branch Will Not Break, created a strong sense of place, in particular Minnesota’s urban and rural landscapes, as well as conveying that “loneliness of the Midwest” which he so powerfully evokes in many of his poems.
Poems such as To The Evening Star: Central Minnesota and A Blessing with its marvellous description of the poet’s now legendary encounter with the two Indian ponies “just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota”, opened the way to showing me how a poet can read a landscape and illuminate it through his or her understanding and depictions of it, and often simply by the mere act of naming.
Wright’s distant vistas became intimate ones. Through my readings of his poems, Minnesota became one of my imaginative landscapes. More significantly the impact of discovering both poets – but Wright in particular – at that formative stage of my own writing, had I think an influence on my journey towards becoming a poet of place.
Since the beginnings of my own poetry much of it has been concerned with the geography and history of the city I was born and grew up in – Dublin. I have to accept the statement of my friend the poet Thomas McCarthy when he said “Dublin made him the poet he is”. However, there was also what I call a “second first place” in my life: the rural landscape of my mother’s home place on the pastures of Meath, a place that provided a counter-identity to the one my Dublin streets gave me.
My most recent collection, The Yellow River ( a collaboration with the artist Seán McSweeney ) is a sequence devoted entirely to poems set in this ancestral repository of so many of my touchstones of memory. The poems were written over a two-year period of revisiting sites of occurrence in my young life when my summers were spent on my grandmother’s farm.
The opening poem, however, dates from almost 50 years ago, close enough to the time I first encountered The Branch Will Not Break. In my introduction to The Yellow River I write:
“When my first small booklet of poems appeared, the poem most frequently noted was called “Today Is Not Enough“, one of the few poems to which I have attached a dateline: Wilkinstown, August 1969. I am not sure if my 18-year-old self fully understood that I was attempting to freeze-frame a moment.”
This poem, as I recall, arose out of a mood of reflection in the work yard of the farm before my departure back to city life – and written in the knowledge that this late Sixties August marked the end of my last “carefree summer” before stepping into a wider world with new roles of adult responsibility.
I can’t now imagine having written it without having read poems of Wright’s such as In Fear of Harvests, In Ohio, Twilights, Beginning, By a Lake in Minnesota and especially his own act of holding still a moment and illuminating it in his two supreme poems, A Blessing and Lying in a Hammock At William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.
What Paul Zweig of the Partisan Review described as Wright’s “simple spoken rhetoric” provided a model of form for the kind of poem I was reaching for. That short lyric from 1969 (and which has appeared as a kind of talisman in several of my books ) sought to emulate that in some way, and taught me the necessity of “isolating the telling detail”, as a reviewer of one of my own books put it.
Wright and Bly, thanks to Liddy’s introduction, became constant companions but it took over forty years before I travelled to their Minnesotan landscape, to spend time in St Paul and Minneapolis. During my time in the Twin Cities I was fortunate and privileged to meet Robert Bly and his wife, Ruth. Had James Wright also been still around to join our company I would almost certainly have wished to question him about one of his later poems, one that has for so long baffled ( and delighted ) me with its Irish literary and topographical references.
The poem in question is Written in a Copy of Swift’s Poems, For Wayne Burns. This “Irish poem” of Wright’s not only alludes to Ireland’s greatest satirist Jonathan Swift but the poet thinks of
…lanes in Laracor
Where Brinsley MacNamara wrote
His lovely elegy, before
The Yahoos got the Dean by rote.
I was always struck by Wright’s use of this beautiful and musical Irish place name. Laracor, in County Meath was where Swift had a parish and played out his affair of the heart with Hester Johnson (his “Stella”). The reference to Brinsley McNamara, author of the once-controversial novel for which he was publicly condemned, Valley of the Squinting Windows, is even more intriguing and the poem made me wonder what knowledge Wright had of this writer and his connection to Laracor.
I can only assume McNamara’s “lovely elegy” is the poem On Seeing Swift In Laracor, which, as far as I know first appeared in The Irish Times in the 1940s and later appeared in the anthology Poems from Ireland, published by the newspaper. McNamara would have been a regular visitor to this area of County Meath through his friendship with another poet, F R Higgins ( whose line from Father and Son – “our most lovely Meath now thinned by November” gave me the starting point for one of The Yellow River poems ).
Then there is that other Irish connection to Wright and Bly – William Duffy’s farm in Pine Island, Minnesota, which is the subject of Wright’s most famous poem. It appears the journal that instigated radical change in American poetry, The Fifties, initially edited by Bly and Duffy on the farm, was actually printed in Ireland. Wright’s own poetry went through a profound transition after reading Bly’s editorial in the first issue of The Fifties, leading him to “forge a new kind of speech”, as critic Adam Kirsch describes it but also establishing the life-long friendship between Wright and Bly.
A few years ago in an address to a conference in the University of Minnesota to honour Bly, Duffy recalled going through customs in New York to pick up an edition of the magazine which had arrived from Ireland.
“On the way we were thinking about the big duty tax we’d have to pay. But inside we immediately noticed that the agent in charge was named O’Grady. Robert quickly noted to me to do the talking. Agent O’Grady quickly located the box and lovingly exclaimed that it was from old Ireland. He studied the papers, studied my name and identification, and finally with a big smile on his face told us since we were Irish and the box was from Ireland, it just wasn’t right for him to take our money.”
Wright acknowledged his own Irish links in a Paris Review interview when he said: “my chief enemy in poetry is glibness. My family background is partly Irish and this means many things, but linguistically it means that it is too easy for me to talk sometimes”.
Yes, I do believe I heard the hint of an Irish brogue in those first poems of James Wright’s sent to me from the American Midwest that long ago summer of 1969.
Gerard Smyth has published nine collections of poetry, including, The Yellow River, with artwork by Seán McSweeney ( Solstice Arts Centre, Navan ), A Song of Elsewhere ( Dedalus Press 2015), and The Fullness of Time: New and Selected Poems ( Dedalus Press, 2010 ). A sequence of poems, After Easter, with a drawing by artist Brian Maguire was published in a limited edition by The Salvage Press in 2016. He was the 2012 recipient of the O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award and is co-editor of If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song ( Dedalus Press ).
A WHISPER RAN THROUGH LARACOR
We missed a turn or followed the wrong road
or maybe Laracor was a place that disappeared
and took with it Swift’s electric ghost.
We could not find the lovely hideaway
of light and better air where the Dean and Stella
walked together, their footfalls quiet
( he away from the Liffey’s stinking tide,
the souls in distress, vesper bells that chimed
in the parish of dens and dead-end alleys,
loves cries in Hoey’s Court ).
She, in eighteenth century bodice,
played the role of Counsellor Mistress.
Where better than Trim to take the country air,
he wrote to her in journal prose.
In Laracor she led the way to his grove
of hollies, row of willows.
The sun burned through an early mist
or evening starlings swooped in high wind.
He bowed before her, their fingers met.
A whisper ran through Laracor.
(Gerard Smyth from The Yellow River, Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, County Meath, 2017)
Memories of a retired Irish dancer
My name is Meghan Golder, and I am an Irish dancer. No, it’s not like clogging and it is most definitely not tap dancing as many have asked me before. Irish dance is athletic in the fact that it requires you to jump high, kick hard and move fast; all while staying on your toes. Irish dance is artistic, in the fact that your feet are producing a percussive rhythm and you must make it look pretty and easy, knowing full well that it is far from simple. Irish dance, was my life for ten years. It was not my hobby or my after school activity. Nor was it something I did just for fun or as my sport. It was me; it was who I was. The addiction started from the age of eight. I went with a close friend to her Irish dance class and they asked me to try it with them. I was awful. My feet couldn’t move fast enough and my arms; which were supposed to be down by my side always seemed to find themselves wobbling. But something about the quickness of the girls’ feet and how different it looked from any other type of dance, made me go home asking my mom to sign me up for more classes.
After this day in my life I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t dancing. Soon after I started, I switched dance schools and started dancing under Cormac’s name. O’Shea Irish Dance was where I grew up both as a dancer and as a girl. Cormac was tough, he expected a lot from the eight dancers who started in his school, and we had never worked so hard in our lives. The funny thing about the hours of hard-shoe drills every night and the amount of yelling we heard during those practices, was that it never got old. I lived for going to dance each night and sweating and dancing until I had nothing left. Cormac was like a dad to all of us, although he yelled and pushed us hard; he was our biggest supporter. The eight of us learned quickly that Cormac would only yell at us if he cared about how we were dancing, so we took pride in his voice that bounced off the mirrors each night. I fell in love with this sport more and more each time I pointed my toe to start my flight across the stage. As a young dancer I found out very quickly that I had much to improve upon, two of those areas were timing and posture.
Irish dance requires your upper body to stay still and solid as your legs and feet move with an intense speed. The idea of keeping your upper body both straight and still is easier said than done I can assure you. It requires great abdominal strength and lots of control and this took a long time for me to acquire. Irish music is beautiful to listen to, but as a young dancer I could never match my movements or beats to the timing of the music. I learned quickly that rhythm and timing are very important; both in the world of Irish dance, as well as in Cormac’s steps. He bases his hard shoe steps around how well the beats in the steps will fit with the music. His perspective and hunger for me to learn how to stay in time helped me to overcome this obstacle as a dancer. I soon loved being able to make intricate rhythms with my feet and it has become one of the things I miss most being a retired Irish dancer now.
Another challenge I faced along the way as a dancer was being able to dance en pointe. Unlike ballet, Irish dancers go on point in their hard shoes instead of a slipper type shoe. Another difference is that in ballet, they have a small wooden box in the tip of their shoe which supports them when they go on point. Irish dancers however, do not have this kind of support in their shoes so we dance on the support of our toes. Weirdly enough, once you get past how painful it can be at times, it is the most amazing feeling to jump onto point and feel like you’re on top of the world.
I mentioned before that Irish dance was my life for ten years and it was an extremely hard habit to quit. When I was about thirteen I broke a small bone in my foot and from there on, it was one broke bone or torn hip flexor after another. I won’t bore you with the details of each injury, because when I look back at my dance career those are not the moments I remember. I remember the first time I learned how to spin in the air without falling on my face, or the moment I realized I had qualified for worlds. I look back at the pep talks I gave other dancers, and the support I received. I still know how it feels to go on pointe or be out of breath from a two minute dance, and I still remember the feeling of coming off of the stage at a competition knowing that I was absolutely amazing. I still feel these things and remember these moments even now, even three years after I retired. The moment that I remember the clearest was when I went to my second regional championships; also known as Oireachtas in the Irish dance world. I had been practicing like crazy for the months leading up to those few minutes I would spend on stage. My stomach was in knots and I knew I wanted to show off all of those hours in the studio the moment I hit that stage.
After my three rounds and as we waited for my awards to be called, I was a nervous wreck. My dances had felt good and solid but the world of Irish dance is always improving. You might be getting better and better but so is every other girl in your age group. The announcer stepped up to the microphone to call out the world qualifiers and my mind tuned out, just like I always do at competitions when they call up the top dancers to award them their medals. Suddenly the girl next to me tapped me on the shoulder and I snapped out of it. I turned to her and she looked at me and said “they just called your name”. I looked up at the stage and the announcer was motioning for me to join her in front of the huge crowd. I had qualified for worlds? I looked out to my parents in disbelief and laughed when I saw their mouths wide open feeling the same thing I was. I remember almost asking the announcer if she made a mistake, I was not good enough to go to worlds! Then the announcer counted down from 15th place because there were 15 world qualifiers. I expected to be the first name called since I could barely believe I was a world qualifier. To my surprise the announcer got up to 8th place when she called my name. I don’t remember much after that. It was a blur of hugs and tears and my head still telling me that it was all a dream, but it was one I never wanted to wake up from.
Meghan Golder studied Irish dance for 10 years, qualifying for and competing in the Irish Dance World Championships five times. She is currently a student at Coe College, majoring in Psychology. Her writing has been published in Eastview High School’s literary publication.
A history of the St. Paul Irish Arts Week since 2016
“Irish men and Irish women, in the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.” These opening words from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic were boldly read aloud beneath the looming Portland stone colonnade of the General Post Office in the center of Dublin city on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916 by Padraig Pearse, commander of the rebels who seized the city during the Easter Rising in complete defiance of English rule and authority. The novelist, Liam O’Flaherty (1896-1984), who in his 1950 novel Insurrection examined the Rising as a curious conjunction of chaos and profound heroism, described it at the time as the greatest event in the entire history of Ireland.
The rebellion laid the foundation for an independent Irish state. Public opinion shifted against the British authorities following the execution in May of the seven signatories of the Proclamation –including Pearse – after the Rising was crushed within a week by British military forces. The playwright Sean O’Casey (1880-1964), an eyewitness to the Rising, described the news of the executions as like seeing blood flow from beneath a locked door. He would in 1926 provide a compassionate yet caustic view of the Rising in his culminating masterpiece in his Dublin trilogy of plays, The Plough and the Stars. W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) distilled the Rising’s ambivalent qualities of tragedy and folly and passion and nobility into the phrase “a terrible beauty” in his great poem, Easter 1916.
The fact that 2016 would be celebrated in Irish communities across the world as the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising became the catalyst to the thinking of Irish Fair of Minnesota board member, Patrick O’Donnell, who resolved to found an Irish Arts Week in order to fully commemorate this profound, multi-layered, and intriguing event. Paradoxically, despite being defeated, the nationalists won a moral victory through their courage in fighting and dying for Irish political independence against the British Empire.
Yet there was never any political or nationalist agenda operating in the Arts Week itself. One of the productions presented by the Celtic Collaborative, Ghosts of 1916, had fifteen actors articulate the points of view of both the Irish and British personalities involved in that tragic epoch-making week. “The centenary of the Rising gave an impetus to create the Arts Week, but its ongoing purpose is to delve deeper into Irish culture and history than is possible over the August weekend of the Irish Fair on Harriet Island,” said O’Donnell. “We also wanted to dig into the Irish roots of St. Paul. What made the Arts Week possible besides the brilliant work of Erin Cooper at the Irish Fair was the Celtic Junction itself.”
One of the highlights of the 2016 Arts Week was the announcement at its opening reception by Natalie and Cormac O’Shea that the family of celebrated Irish-American scholar and cultural bridge-builder, Eoin McKiernan, had donated approximately 3,000 volumes of his personal library to The Celtic Junction. The evolution of The Junction into the nonprofit Celtic Junction Arts Center was expedited over the summer months of 2016 with a magnificent new McKiernan Library – painted in the primary colors of the Book of Kells -unveiled at the opening reception of the second Arts Week in April, 2017.
By its second year in 2017, the St. Paul Irish Arts Week had expanded to ten days, was advertising on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, had begun bringing academic speakers directly in from Ireland, had gained its first sponsor in Claire Killen’s Emerald Real Estate, and had become a means to highlight the artistic wealth housed beneath the roof of the Celtic Junction Arts Center itself.