By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
DURHAM — For the first time in two years, some of Greene County’s most popular cultural events will be back this summer and in person.
The return of several in-person festivities is also expected to be an economic boon to the area, bringing an infusion of tourism dollars and economic activity.
The week-long Catskills Irish Arts Week was conducted virtually in both 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the event is now in the works for in person this July.
The return of the festival, which runs from Monday through Saturday, July 10-16, is a most welcome development, Reidin O’Flynn, artistic director and a board member at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural Center, said.
“I think it’s going to be absolutely amazing because our students call themselves a family, and with very good reason,” O’Flynn said. “They come here over and over and over again. For them, it’s almost like returning home.”
Catskill Irish Arts Week is a summer intensive for individuals of all ages interested in studying music on traditional Irish instruments like fiddle, tin whistle, harp, accordion, guitar, concertina, Uilleann pipes, bodhran and more. There are also classes in Irish dance, literature and poetry.
“We offer classes all week long,” O’Flynn said. “We offer workshops from 10 a.m. to 11:30 in the morning, and again in the afternoon from 1:30 to 3 p.m. So we have three hours of workshops each day.”
There is also a big “barn dance” with traditional Irish dancing on Wednesday, which draws quite a crowd most years.
For members of the public who aren’t ready to immerse themselves in a class, there are nightly concerts, and a full schedule of activities and performances Saturday at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre.
With more than 400 students and upwards of 65 teachers — not to mention the countless visitors who attend the concerts and daylong festival on Saturday — the week is an economic boon to the area, O’Flynn said.
“It’s one of the main incomes for the year — it brings in a lot of money for the community,” O’Flynn said. “We work hand in hand with the town — the classes are held in homes, and barns, and garages, and bars.”
Some local homeowners rent rooms to the teachers who are staying for the week, and everyone who comes each day eats in local restaurants, buys gas and spends money while in Durham, O’Flynn said.
“The whole community gets involved,” she said. “The houses and businesses all prepare — it’s one of the biggest weeks in East Durham.”
After two years of holding the festival virtually, O’Flynn said being in person will be wonderful.
“We are hoping to do what we normally do,” she said. “We have quite a large faculty, like we always do, some of them from Ireland. This year we have more young teachers. We like for them to work with the older teachers because we are known for the oral traditions. The oral tradition is handing down the music orally. By bringing in some younger teachers, we are hoping that they will learn the technique and how it is done from the older teachers.”
Instructors, students and members of the public attending Catskills Irish Arts Week will be required to show proof of vaccination and a booster shot, O’Flynn said. The need for face masks will depend on what health experts deem necessary at the time of the festival.
“It depends on what the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] says in July,” O’Flynn said. “People can wear masks for their own health, that is up to them, and if the CDC requires them, we will obviously have to abide by the Health Department and the CDC.”
Also returning to in-person festivities this year is the East Durham Irish Festival, which will take place on Memorial Day weekend, May 28 and 29.
The festival, now in its 44th year, will also be held at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre, 2267 Route 145, East Durham.
Each year, the festival includes Irish music, dancing, foods, vendors and other activities.