The Right Time and the Right Crowd:

Twin Cities Irish Music and Dance in the 1970s and 1980s

John McCormick and Bob Sweeney Behind MacCafferty’s

(St. Paul, September 1981)

John McCormick, Bob Sweeney

Photographer: Mike Fitzgerald, Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Irishness

In the excerpts from our oral history project below, John McCormick and Nick Lethert talk about Irishness, growing up in St. Paul and the Irish vs. German basketball games at St. Mark’s.

(Smartphone users, click “Listen in browser” to play)

Cover Photo from The Dayhills album “Mom’s Favorite”

(c. 1976)

Charlie Heymann, Tom Dahill, Barbara (Dahill) McDonald

Photographer: Laura Benson, LP is part of the McKiernan Collection

“…and some person . . . said

‘Bye! See you next week!’

and I thought,

‘Well, maybe you will!”

The Dayhills and Friends Perform at “Paddy Hill Day,” an Irish Northern Aid Benefit

(Mendota, MN, Dec. 1977)

Musicians from left: unknown bodhran player, Terence “Cuz” Teahan, Ann Heymann (hidden behind harp), Barbara (Dahill) McDonald, Tom Dahill, Charlie Heymann, Martin McHugh, Mary McDonagh. Dancers: Lucy Fallon facing the camera, Jeannie (Merrill) Rogers in the red shirt, Jim Rogers, Virginia McBride.

Photos contributed by Sheila Jordan.

NorAid

In the ’70s, Irish Northern Aid (NorAid) held fundraiser céilís that introduced a new generation of musicians and dancers to céilí dancing while also bringing them into contact with older Irish community members. Frequently held at the Snelling Avenue Commercial Club, these photos show a unique NorAid dance held in Mendota in honor of musician and poet Patrick Hill. Terence “Cuz” Teahan was visiting from Chicago and even wrote a tune commemorating the event!

In the excerpt below, Mike Whalen and Sam Dillon recall the Irish Northern Aid benefits and their role in the community.

The Plough and the Stars (late 1970s)

Seated from left: Martin McHugh, Sam Dillon, Jamie Gans; Standing from left: Patty Bronson, Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll

Photo contributed by Sheila Jordan

Plough and the Stars

In this excerpt, Ann Heymann recounts the early lineup of the Plough and the Stars and Sam Dillon explains the group’s name change to The Northern Star Céilí Band.

Ray MacCafferty and Other Guests at the Heymann Wedding Party

(Odd Fellows Hall, St. Paul, Oct. 30, 1976)

Front: Raymond MacCafferty. Back: Charlie Heymann, friend of Ann Heymann’s, Josie Vaughan, Bernie Roe.

Photographer: John Corrigan, contributed by Ann and Charlie Heymann

More of John Corrigan’s photos from Charlie and Ann Heymann’s 1976 wedding party:

The wedding cake.
Marie Ladwig & Mary (Hedlund) McNeive
Len & Sue MacEachron sitting in with the band.
The Plough and the Stars with Tom Dahill
Kathleen & Martin McHugh
Jim Rogers

In the excerpt below, Mike Whalen and Sam Dillon recall the Irish Northern Aid benefits and their role in the community.

Pete O’Brien’s Broom Dance

(Heymann Wedding Party, Odd Fellows Hall, Oct. 30, 1976)

Dancer: Pete O’Brien; Musicians from left: Sam Dillon, Dick Parker (standing), Jamie Gans, Martin McHugh, Tom Dahill, Laura MacKenzie, Barbara (Dahill) McDonald, Melissa Trier

Photo contributed by Ann and Charlie Heymann

Broom Dance

Many in the community remember the brush dances sometimes performed locally by Connemara native Pete O’Brien.

In this excerpt, Laura MacKenzie and Ann Heymann talk about special solo dances that would happen at local céilís and some of the characters at Ann and Charlie’s wedding.

John McCormick and Bob Sweeney Behind MacCafferty’s

(St. Paul, September 1981)

John McCormick, Bob Sweeney

Photographer: Mike Fitzgerald, Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

O'Garas

“Marty was there and

he was playing the box…”

Members of Mooncoin Céilí Dancers and the Plough and the Stars Practice Before a Performance

(Decorah, Iowa, May 1, 1977)

From left: Laura MacKenzie, Patty Bronson, Jamie Gans, Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll

Photo contributed by Jenny Bach

South Bear

Musician Ross Sutter started the South Bear Retreat Center in Decorah, IA with two friends he met at Luther College. Ross fell in love with Irish music in 1976 while living in Rochester, MN and invited the Mooncoin Ceili dancers to perform at South Bear the next May.

On porch from left: Jamie Gans, Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll, Patty Bronson, Sam Dillon; Dancing “High Cauled Cap” from left: Mary (Hedlund) McNeive, Jim Mangan, Jenny Bach, Sheila Jordan, Kevin Kline, (Laura MacKenzie behind Kevin), Roger Doyle, Sue O’Leary

In these excerpts from their oral history interviews, Laura MacKenzie and Jenny Bach talk about musicians, dancers and callers learning together and supporting one another.

Last Northern Star Show at MacCafferty’s

(Grand Ave., St. Paul, May 1983)

From left: Patty Bronson, Dáithí Sproule, Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll, John Anderson, Laura MacKenzie

Photo contributed by Jenny Bach

MacCafferty's Pub

“…just the right time

and the right crowd.

Everything kinda

clicked.”

Dancing at MacCafferty’sJenny Bach (in red), Katie Long, Mary (Hedlund) McNeive, Carol Peterman, Eileen McIsaac, Cathy Peterman

Andy McGann & Joe Burke During a Residency at MacCafferty’s

(St. Paul, c. 1980)

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Late Night Sessions

“we literally could not

leave if they were

playing music”

In these excerpts from their oral history interviews, Sheila Jordan and Nick Lethert talk about the magical late night sessions in the apartment above MacCafferty’s where visiting musicians would stay.

Mike Whalen Dancing (c. 1980)

Mike Whalen, unknown

Photographer: David Aronow, contributed by David Aronow

Minnesotans for a United Ireland

In the excerpt below, Mike Whalen talks about integrating politics and Irish dance through Minnesotans for a United Ireland (MUI).

House Party with Green Fields of America Touring Group

(Jenny Bach’s house, May 1979)

Front, L-R: Mary (Hedlund) McNeive, Jack Coen, Roger Cuthbertson, unknown, Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll, Pete Tritz, unknown, unknown. Center, L-R: Sean McGlynn, Cindy Tritz, John Moriarty, Jenny Bach, Msgr. Charlie Coen, Virginia McBride, Liz Carroll; Back, L-R: Katy Long, Tim White, John Anderson, Laura MacKenzie, Beth Vance, Bill Ochs, Nick Lethert, Mick Moloney, Sue Golvish, unknown, Jamie Gans, Myron Bretholz, Tom Dahill, Dáithí Sproule, Patty Bronson, Sam Dillon, Ann Heymann, Charlie Heymann

Photographer: David Aronow, contributed by David Aronow

Public Céilí at Odd Fellows Hall (c. 1979)

Couple on left: unknown, unknown; Couple on right: unknown, Nick Lethert

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Céilís

“that St. Patrick’s Day there was a céilí

 . . . above the Green Grass Grocer . . .

it was packed!

In these excerpts, Mike Whalen and Jenny Bach describe the first public céilís at the Odd Fellows Hall.

The Mooncoin Céilí Dancers

(Prior Ave., St. Paul, c. 1979)

Back Row from left: Pat Vance, Jennie Bach, Sheila Jordan, Nick Lethert, Mary Coy, Roberta Williams, Virginia McBride. Front Row from left: Mary (Hedlund) McNeive, Greg Gross, Carol Gross, Kevin Kline, Jane Michaels

Photographer: David Aronow, contributed by David Aronow

Mooncoin Céilí Dancers

The Mooncoin Céilí Dancers were founded in November 1976 by Mary (Hedlund) McNeive and Marie Ladwig. From its beginning, the group was closely tied to the local music scene–dancing at MacCafferty’s, performing (and learning) alongside the Plough and the Stars and helping to bring Irish musicians and dancers to the Twin Cities from out of town.

Photo of women in matching costumes carrying a large Mooncoin sign, crowds are behind them and include people holding an Irish flag.

Mooncoin Céilí Dancers in the St. Paul St. Patrick’s Day Parade, 1978: Virginia  Mcbride, Mary Coy, Jenny Bach, Mary (Hedlund) McNeive, unknown (Contributed by Carol Gross) 

Session at Palmer’s Bar on the West Bank

(Minneapolis, c. 1979)

From left wrapping around table: Jamie Gans, Dáithí Sproule, Barbara (Dahill) McDonald, Tom Dahill, Bill Hinckley (standing), Patty Bronson (standing), Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll, Ann Heymann, Charlie Heymann, unknown

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Late 70's Session Scene

“…it only works when you’re

squished together and

there’s no room to move.

That’s the best.”

In the excerpts below, Nick Lethert, Laura MacKenzie and Jenny Bach recall the thriving session scene of the late 1970s.

Session at the Four Seasons (Dublin, Ireland, 1978)

John Riordan, Joe Ryan, John Kelly

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Travels to Ireland

In these excerpts from our oral history interviews, Ann Heymann, Laura MacKenzie, Pete Tritz and John McCormick talk about the importance of visiting Ireland and their experiences there.

The Blackthorn Band at Landmark Center

(St. Paul, St. Patrick’s Day, 1980)

From Left: Phil Platt, Tom Quinn, Dick Reese, Bill Hinkley, Tim White, John Haggerty, Pete Tritz, Roger Cuthbertson

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Blackthorn Band

Poster for a United Ireland Céilí featuring the Blackthorn Céilí Band. 
(Contributed by Sheila Jordan)
Poster for a United Ireland Céilí featuring the Blackthorn Céilí Band.  (Contributed by Sheila Jordan)

In the excerpt below, Pete Tritz recalls the group of friends that set out to learn to play Irish music and became the Blackthorn Band.

The Northern Star Céilí Band at the Coffeehouse Extemporé

(Minneapolis, early 1980s)

From left: Patty Bronson, Laura MacKenzie, John Anderson, Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll, Jamie Gans, Dáithí Sproule

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Northern Star Céilí Band

In this excerpt from her oral history interview, Laura MacKenzie talks about the Northern Star Céilí Band’s choice of tunes.

Mary, Ann and Charlie at Palmer’s on the West Bank

(Minneapolis, c. 1979)

Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll, Ann Heymann, Charlie Heymann

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

The Heymanns

In the excerpt below, oral history interviewer Dáithí talks about the authority that comes from staying true to yourself and Charlie and Ann Heymann laugh about their attempts to influence one another over the years.

Dáithí Sproule and Jamie Gans at O’Gara’s

(St. Paul, early 1980s)

Foreground: Dáithí Sproule and Jamie Gans; Background: Nick Lethert and friends

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Recordings

In this excerpt from his oral history interview, Jamie Gans remembers the scarcity of Irish traditional music albums and tells a story about recording Liz Carroll and Jimmy Keane in Chicago.

Dáithí Sproule, James Kelly and Paddy O’Brien at The Mixers

(Washington Ave., Minneapolis, early 1980s)

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Paddy O'Brien

In the excerpt below, Charlie Heymann talks about his admiration for Paddy O’Brien’s unique approach to accordion playing.

Patty Bronson and Laura MacKenzie (c. 1979)

Photographer: David Aronow, Photo contributed by David Aronow

Two Flutes Melting Together

In this excerpt from her oral history interview, Laura MacKenzie talks about the supportive musical partnership between her and Patty Bronson.

Oral History Project Interviewer Dáithí Sproule and  Photographer David Aronow with friends at Milwaukee Irish Fest

(1982)

From Left: Dáithí Sproule, Mary (MacEachron) O’Driscoll, Patty Bronson, David Aronow

Photographer: Nick Lethert, Photo contributed by Nick Lethert

Official Photographer

In the excerpts below, Martin McHugh and Sam Dillon recall the roles of David Aronow and other “unsung heroes” of the scene.

Mary, Marty & Marie at the Heymann Wedding Party

(Odd Fellows Hall, Oct. 30, 1976)

Mary (Hedlund) McNeive, Martin McHugh, Marie (Ladwig) Kelly

Photo contributed by Charlie and Ann Heymann

Martin McHugh

“He’s the guy that

would play

‘The Wise Maid’

fifty times so

you would learn it.”

Performance at a Local Parade (c. 1975). Laura MacKenzie, Martin McHugh, Jamie Gans (Courtesy Jamie Gans)

In these excerpts, Sam Dillon, Laura MacKenzie, Nick Lethert and John McCormick talk about Martin McHugh’s generosity, wit and immense contributions to Irish music in the Twin Cities.