Thursday, February 24, 2011

Finding a Place of Origin for Your Irish Ancestors

"Finding a Place of Origin for Your Irish Ancestors" is the title of a presentation to be given by Lisa Dougherty, a volunteer at the National Archives. The presentation will be from 7:00 to 8:30 PM on March 14, 2011 at the Record's Community Media Lab in their offices at 501 Broadway in Troy (the entrance is on 5th Ave. and there is parking at the rear which you can enter from Broadway or 6th Ave.).

She has helped people at similar events, such as in Pittsfield. She specializes in Irish genealogy. Also, she comes highly recommended by Jean Nudd, an Archivist for the National Archives in Pittsfield.

I am personally interested in Lisa's talk because I know my great great grandfather, Captain James Burke, came from Limerick Ireland and a couple other factoids about his time in Ireland, but that's it. I reliably gotten back any further in Ireland. I don't know if he came from Limerick City or County Limerick.

I suspect others don't know how to reach back further "over there" or even, as comes from her talk's title, how to determine the place of origin in Ireland.

If you're Irish, chances are great you'll learn a lot at this one. Please join us.

Finding Your Irish Ancestors at the National Archives

Do you want to learn about your Irish ancestors who lived in the USA?

"Finding Your Irish Ancestors at the National Archives" is the title of the talk to be given by Jean Nudd on March 10, 2011, from 7:00 to 8:30 PM at the The Record's new Community Media Lab at 501 Broadway in Troy (the entrance is on 5th Ave).

After her presentation, Jean will take questions from the audience. Jean is a master at explaining how to trace family roots. She shares each questioner's enthusiasm, and kindly steers each questioner through the maze of resources. She knows what research techniques are available and which techniques really work.

Jean Nudd is an Archivist for the National Archives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. She was recognized by the National Genealogical Society (NGS) at its 2010 conference with the Award of Merit.

Ms. Nudd received the Award of Merit for her work as the archivist in Pittsfield. She not only completed her own responsibilities there, she recruited a team of volunteers which multiplies the assistance available to people researching their ancestors. The Friends of the Archives, which she was critically important in founding, have many helpful outreach projects, such as:

  • the quarterly Archival Anecdotes publication

  • a website

  • a bookstore

  • training opportunities for genealogical researchers,

  • an annual autumn full-day genealogy conference, “Life in the Past Lane.”

She gives frequent lectures and has written numerous articles.

So come listen to Jean and learn how to nail down your own Irish family history. Who knows? Maybe you'll learn something to share with your friends on St. Patricks day?


To see a graphic announcement: click here and scroll down to the Irish flag!.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Connections of Egypt with Ireland

The whole world is watching the Egyptians these last few days, as they have insisted on the departure of their despotic ruler - Hosni Mubarak.

So far, the military seems to be the only broad based force for keeping order, but we haven't seen anyone in the military with an urge to appoint permanent military rule. The military, along with the vast majority of Egyptians seem to be oriented around transitioning to democratic rule.

I started looking for connections between Ireland and Egypt, and was surprised at the connections.


Reports say, back in the 1950s, Dr. Sean O'Riordan of Trinity College found faience beads buried at the Mound of the Hostages at the Hill of Tara with skeletal remains. These beads were made from a paste of minerals and plant extracts that had been fired. This was an early way to make glass-like beads. The combination of materials made a self-forming vitreous coating. The faience beads at the Hill of Tara resembled Egyptian faience beads in manufacture and design. Reportedly, the skeleton was carbon dated to approximately 1350 BC. These beads at this location in association with a skeleton that old were latched onto by those who knew the oral history of Scota, a daughter of a pharaoh, who is thought to have settled in Ireland, perhaps by way of Scotland. The fact that faience beads have been found across Europe and the Mediterranean should throw some cold water on the theory, especially given the power of economic trade to spread small beautiful items or the technology to make such items. Still, the fact the same type of beads have been found in Scotland could be cited as support for the Egyptian connection to the misty isles.

Coptic Christian Missionaries

The Coptic Christians which originated in Egypt appear to have established some of the first monasteries and had an influence upon the development and spread of monastic life. The Coptic monks got at least as far as the Island of Lerins off the coast of Gaul. Some think Coptic monks were in Ireland even before Saint Patrick (Naomh Pádraig). Others think Saint Patrick actually spent time with Coptic monks at Lerins after escaping from slavery in Ireland and before he went back to proselytize back in Ireland.

What Follows Revolution

The Egyptians of today and the Irish of early in the last century have another thing in common – revolution.

The government and others in Ireland enjoy talking about the pre-Revolution, the 1916 Easter Rising. The great Irish patriots Patrick Pearse, leading the Irish Volunteers, and James Connolly, leading the smaller Irish Citizen Army, along with 200 members of Cumann na mBan, seized the Post Office and key locations in Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic independent of Britain. They lost rather quickly, but they inspired the Irish War of Independence which began with a declaration of independence in January 1919. Both sides agreed to a truce in July 1921 and the Anglo-Irish Treaty formally broke off most of Ireland from Britain.

The Republic of Ireland government likes talking about the Easter Rising and celebrating the War of Independence, but they are strangely silent about what came next.

With the Anglo-Irish Treaty accomplished, a civil war broke out between two groups of Irish nationalists: the Provisional Government and the Republican opposition. The Provisional Government forces supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty, while the Republican opposition thought the Treaty compromised the Irish Republic. The Free State forces won, but the Civil War was bloodier than the War of Independence. Two political parties in the Republic of Ireland: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are descended from the opposing sides in the Civil War. The bad feelings in Irish society from the Civil War persisted for decades.

So, the Irish example shows while Independence is something to be striven for, the aftermath is just as important as the struggle.

I hope and pray justice, fairness, and peace can reign in the conversion of Egypt to a democratic state.

Post Script: I heard on the Academic Minute, carried on WAMC Public Radio, the modern day Coptic Christians, whose ancestors I spoke about above, were important in the recent uprising in Egypt. Dr. Dyron Daughrity, Pepperdine University said, "The New Year's Day church bombing this year killed 21 people and sent large numbers of Coptic Christians to the streets in protest."

Dr. Dyron Daughrity maintains the Coptic cry for justice was part of the perfect storm which led to the ouster of Mubarak. Find out more by clicking here.

For something lighter, why not check out my post of an interview with the sean nós singer: Brían Ó hAirt.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Brían Ó hAirt Interview at Catskill Irish Arts Week

Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart) the wonderful singer, sean-nós singer, concertina player, and sean-nós dancer, honored me with an interview early Friday afternoon in the Catskill Irish Arts Week 2010, just after a sean-nós teaching session at the gazebo just outside the Irish American Heritage Museum in East Durham, New York.

Brian is from Saint Louis, Missouri. He came into Irish music through the language. He actually was exposed to Irish when he was in Junior High, 12 or 13 years old, probably through Clannad or Enya, who were both mainstream Celtic groups. The language caught his interest because he never had heard of the Irish language. He didn't even know there was a language other than English that was spoken in Ireland, so once he knew of it, he started studying it on his own. Because he was already a singer, he decided to listen to some Irish language singing. During his intial exposure, he heard Darach Ó Catháin, a singer from Connemara and Rath Cairn Gaelteachs. When Brian heard him sing, it touched his heart and affected him in a way which directed his engagement with the Irish language.

In college he developed in the language and lived in Ireland immersed in an area where the language is spoken. Then he started performing and singing with other sean nós singers living up in Chicago, in the Midwest, and on the east coast.

He came to Irish on his own, without parental influence. His parents are from southern Indiana, so his family is not Irish in the cultural sense. His family has Irish ancestors, but they would not consider themselves Irish Americans. His parents knew about their Irish relatives, but this had no particular meaning to them, no cultural significance.

His parents were neutral but supportive about his delving into the Irish culture. His mom is interested in the music, but his other siblings and his dad aren't really interested. They love him for who he is, but since it's different from where they come from, they don't participate themselves. However, they still support Brian in his explorations and experiences.

Brian is a member of the musical group Bua. He joined the group about four years ago but was not a founding member. The founding member were Jackie Moran and Chris Bain. They were both in the Chicago area. Jackie was from Ireland, but he's been living in Chicago for approximately 20 years. Brian was living in Ireland when he was invited to join. Brian Miller, Brian Ó hAirt knew very well and Seán Gavin, he knew of. Brian Ó hAirt had been so much into Irish language and music, he thought that returning to the US, the band would be a good segue. He could start doing things with the music scene here in the United States.

He had gone into Irish language immersion in Ireland as an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin to study the language and to do field school. But he also did it to engage in the music more and to engage in the language community there, particularly the community in Connemara. A lot of his language and his repertoire songs come from there because of his interaction with sean nós singers in the States.

Brian finds this type of singing very personal among the participants. The passing along of the tradition is really important in sean nós and Irish singing. There are a lot of selfless teachers out there who will support you in any form – learning the language, the songs, the dance, or the music.

To get the group started, they organized sets and performed that material. When it came down to it, they had only performed twice when they recorded their first album. It's titled “Live at Martyrs'” for a pub on the north side of Chicago on Lincoln Avenue. They wanted to record their CD as early as possible so they could get their CD passed around. They wanted to gain and keep momentum. The others had done a lot of touring before, as well. They wanted to re-enliven the group, get the CD done, and start touring. They started getting more gigs.

They did a studio album early last year (2009) called, “An Spealadóir” which is on the Mad River Records label. They signed Bua on for their first studio album project.

Chicago has a big Irish community, and it shows in competitive Irish dance for young people, for instance. The Chicago community has been receptive to Bua, but there has been a little of the “a prophet is never welcomed in their home town” aspect. Bua hasn't gotten a lot of opportunities to perform there. They've played a few times in Chicago, but there are so many musicians in Chicago, their group is just commonplace. Outside of Chicago the interest can be stronger. Chicagoans are supportive of the band being from Chicago, but when there, it's hard to stand out from the crowd of options.

During the summer tour (2010), they are piecing together material for another studio album. They are focusing on the quartet. Jackie, the drummer, has a lot of familial obligations. Both Chris and Jackie have two young baby girls. Jackie Moran also does other stuff with a band called Comas. So he'll be making music with Bua less. He'll be a part of Bua but on a less significant level. They plan to make a studio album in the fall or winter months.

They had planned appearances in Poughkeepsie, in Maine, and at the Lowell Folk Festival. Their schedule and other news of the group can be found at .

Brian had planned a tour with Len Graham in late August starting in the Pacific northwest (Seatle, Portland, Eugene), after a kickoff at the Irish Fest in Milwaukee. Len Graham is a traditional singer from Antrim. He's a well known older generation singer.

The northwest and Canada are receptive to Irish music. Canada is receptive to folk music in general. Irish Americana is unique to certain parts of the United States. Brian says the further west or the further south you go in America, the less Irish Americana you find. It seems to be a northeast and Great Lakes region mentality and culture. So out in the northwest, it isn't so much an interest in Irish American as it is an interest in folk music in general. They have lots of old time music, bluegrass, jazz, blues, and world music.

Brian won the All Ireland competition in Men's Singing in 2002. The singing was ballads in English. He was doing his summer immersion program in Galway and he had mis-figured his length of stay. He discovered he had a whole extra week after he had finished his program and before he was supposed to go back to the United States. The fleadh (pronounced approximately as “flah” in English, and a fleadh is a festival, usually involving music, and potentially involving instruction and competition) was on and he qualified for it by competing in the mid-west of the United States. At the All Ireland, he won!

Brian used to visit Ireland three or four times a year. Now that he's with Bua, he has less time because they are touring in the summer months. In the winter months, he's teaching. He might make it in November.

He teaches Irish Gaelic at Washington University. His classes are part of the liberal arts education there. Irish study courses of other types are taught, such as literature and folklore.

Bua hasn't yet played as a band in Ireland. They've all performed there separately. Seán Gavin's parents are from Ireland. Jackie Moran is from Ireland. Chris Bain's wife's father is from Ireland. Brian Miller and his wife are in bands in Ireland, as well. Brian Ó hAirt, himself, has lived in Ireland. They are all connected to Ireland. They all go there and back, but they haven't toured there as a band. There is certainly interest, but it takes out of pocket expenditures to get there, and once there, they would have to line up gigs. The problem, then, is that traditional Irish music is as common there as old time country music is here. Also, many Irish are into US country music or rock, as in U2, and such. There is plenty of traditional Irish music in Ireland though - you just have to know where to look for it.

Brian first came to the Catskill Irish Arts Festival when he was living in Chicago. Paul Keating travels lots of places doing PR work for the Catskill Irish Arts Festival, so he came to Chicago. When Paul visits places he's also looking at musicians in the area. At the time he came to Chicago, John Daly, who is a fiddler from Cork, was the artistic director at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago. Brian was housing with John then because Brian had just moved up to Chicago and was looking for his own place. Bua was part of the scene and Brian thinks Paul heard about the members of Bua. Paul invited both John (Jackie) Moran and Brian to be part of the teaching program at the Catskill Irish Arts Week.

Brian enjoyed this week. He ended up coming a day late, but he had a great time once in the Catskills. Last year he was driving around Len Graham and a lot of the singers from Armagh, which had many benefits, but this year he had more freedom to do what he wanted to do, to come and go.

He's not sure if he'll be back to the Catskill Irish Arts Week because it is by invitation. But there are many great gatherings across the summer, so he knows next summer he'll be busy.

Brian looks forward to the Saturday concert (Andy McGann Traditional Music and Dance Festival). There is a full day of collaboration between artists and the cream of the crop of Irish music from both sides of the Atlantic appear. They play all day and it's fantastic to witness that. Albany is just forty something minutes away. If that were in his back yard, he'd definitely be there!

More about Brian Hart, and Bua, is here: Brían Ó hAirt .

Or you can read interviews with:

- Bernadette Nic Gabhann

- Aoife Clancy