Irish Arts Week celebrates heritage and tradition

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

A day of Irish musical performances on Saturday capped off a week of Irish arts in East Durham. Liana Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

EAST DURHAM — Hundreds of musicians, singers and dancers headed to East Durham for the annual Catskills Irish Arts Week, a celebration of the Emerald Isle and its heritage.

The week of festivities was held July 10-16, with the grand finale — a series of performances by Irish bands and other artists — held Saturday at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural & Sports Centre.

Brooklyn resident Leo Quigley traveled from New York City for the week’s festivities.

“One of my friends is an accordion player so we drove together and shared a room,” Quigley said. “This is my first time here — I love it.”

Quigley is a big fan of Irish music and has also attended one of the genre’s biggest festivals in County Clare, Ireland, a region known for its traditional Irish music.

Catskills Irish Arts Week was conducted virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so this year was the first in-person event in three years.

The Saturday festival was preceded by summer intensives for artists of all kinds. There were classes and jam sessions for musicians who play traditional Irish instruments including banjo, fiddle, accordion, guitar, concertina, tin whistle, harp, bodhran, Uilleann pipes and more.

Others attended classes in Irish dance, poetry and literature. An instructor from Ireland, Michael O’Maille, taught basic and intermediate classes in Irish language, according to the organization’s website.

Three workshops were offered each day.

Musician Ann Dillon traveled from Vero Beach, Florida, to jam with fellow musicians.

“I come every year and play in sessions. I play the accordion and concertina,” Dillon said. “Musicians just like to get together and play, and this is a great venue for that.”

For those not quite ready to immerse themselves in a class, there were also nightly concerts during the week, as well as a series of performances all day Saturday.

Visitors enjoyed a day of performances at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural & Sports Centre at the conclusion of Irish Arts Week. Liana Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Hundreds of students and teachers typically attend the week’s workshops and classes each year, culminating Saturday in the East Durham Traditional Fest, a day of music and performances for all to enjoy.

“I love the music here,” said Patrick Byrne, of Connecticut. “The festival really creates a sense of heritage and keeps the Irish traditions alive and well.”

Twenty-five instructors came to East Durham for the week from around the country, and 16 traveled all the way from Ireland.

The annual festival is also an economic driver for the town, Reidin O’Flynn, artistic director and a board member at the cultural center, said in an interview earlier this year when the festival’s in-person return was announced.

“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.”

The week of events bring in hundreds of people to the community who spend money in area restaurants, taverns, gas stations and more, O’Flynn said.

“It’s one of the biggest weeks in East Durham,” she said.

Irish music and musical instruments were offered for sale by vendors at the festival. Liana Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media
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