Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson going to North Korea

Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the US, and Mary Robinson, the seventh and first female President of the Republic of Ireland, are going with two other political leaders to North Korea. The other leaders are the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari and Gro Harlem Brundtland, a past prime minister of Norway.

They are part of a group called The Elders which was announced the first time in a speech by Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 89th birthday. The Elders offer their wisdom and independent leadership to address the world's toughest problems. Mary Robinson is one of the founding members.

Robinson was President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997. The President of Ireland is directly elected by the people for a seven year term, and can serve at most for a maximum of two terms. The President is largely cermonial because the government of the Republic of Ireland is parliamentary. Some of the solely discretionary powers include:

  • the ability to refer a bill to the Supreme Court to ascertain its constitutionality

  • allows ministers to sign international treaties in her name

  • the right of pardon, although it is exercised rarely

The President has a number of other functions but these are at the permission or direction of some other branch of the Irish government.

Robinson is given credit for changing and invigorating the presidency. She reached out to the Irish 'diaspora' around the world. She also was the first Irish President to meet Queen Elizabeth the II at Buckingham Palace.

With regard to the opposite end of the spectrum, she met with the local MP, Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Féin on one trip to Belfast.

In addition to the intense tension between North and South Korea, the North Koreans are holding an American who was taken into custody in connection with illegal religious activities in the North.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Event in Troy, NY: Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland

Rod Aldrich will relate his eight days in Northern Ireland on a United Methodist Church sponsored Volunteer In Mission trip to promote peace between the two faith-identified cultural communities. His eyes were opened to the daily and annual influences that prolong conflict and make reconciliation more difficult than most Americans assume. Join Rod on Thusday, April 28th at 7 PM in the Sanctuary of the Pawling Avenue United Methodist Church at 520 Pawling Avenue, Troy, NY. for a slide show. Listen to the stories forever written on his heart by the people and places he visited.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Interview with Kevin Roe, Manager of Celtic Cultural Center On Concerts, Exhibits, & Bingo

Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center, 430 New Karner Road, Colonie, New York gave us a wide ranging interview on March 4, 2011. In this fourth in a series, Keven discusses concerts, exhibits, and bingo:

Q: Does Albany have more Irish as a percentage of total population than Boston?

A: Yes, that's correct. That comes from the US Census. The form people fill out has a space for ethnicity and national origin in the optional questions section. Of course, if you go to Boston, which is a big city, you can find places that have very high percentages of Irish. For instance, South Boston, which may have more people than the entire Capital District, is very high in people of Irish heritage.

Q: There really is an audience for Irish Americana here, isn't there? As much that, as folk music appreciators.

A: Yes, in our neck of the woods, the people often know the Irish songs.

Regarding concerts at the previous Hall location in East Greenbush, we brought in four or five national touring acts in Irish and Scottish traditional music to play at the Hall, open to the public at very reasonable fees. They were expensive for the Hall. We had to underwrite all of those. We would have had to draw in 500 people to break even, and we never planned that we would. Each concert cost us between advertising, sound and lights, performer fees, etc. between $3,500 and $5,000. With the reorganization of the Hall, we cannot justify such concerts at this time. We will be presenting top notch Irish and Scottish traditional music again, but it won't be until the fall before we can justify that kind of expense. Maybe we can find some of our old musician friends who will appear for a discounted fee. I am talking to a couple of groups who are willing to do that, and it's a matter of finding times and dates.

But we feel good that the active Celtic arts are going well. We wanted to promote the learning of the arts before we turn to the concerts and presentations. They go hand in hand in a circle, but we wanted to be sure we have the learning established first.

We did participate in the Irish perceptions lecture series. We paid a fee to the Irish American Cultural Institute, which is a not for profit partnership between the cultural organization and the Irish government and academia. They would send lecturers over from Ireland: usually two in the spring and two in the fall. We would still be doing that if it were available. It was dropped and it was unfortunate because it was great.

We do have two speakers committed for speaking on cultural matters and we hope to set that up for the fall. Tom Hetterman, who is an Irish dance teacher, is going to do an overview and history of the Irish language.

Q: What is the exhibit that Chrissy (a young woman near us working with prints during the interview) is working on here at the Hall?

A: For some time, the Irish American Heritage Museum has provided the Hall with a revolving exhibit from the museum. The one most people remember concerned the American Presidents who had Irish ancestry. Adams was the first one and he was our second President. They showed from Adams all the way up to Clinton.

I was in Ireland right after President Clinton visited there. With my gray hair, with me being an American in Belfast, and me being there probably six weeks after Clinton, all the kids were convinced I was President Clinton!

But back on this installation coming in now, it's a thirty panel display of the Irish in music. The exhibit demonstrates the influence of Irish music on American culture. A lot of people don't know how much rock and roll comes from Irish rhythms and how much jazz and tap dance were influenced by Irish music. Certainly tap dance is almost directly related to Irish step dancing. The early Irish immigrants and their interaction with African Americans produced tap dance.

Q: How often do you do bingo here at the Hall?

A: We do bingo every Friday night and Sunday night at 7 PM. It's a $6,000 game, meaning the regular prizes add up to $6,000, and there are two share-the-wealth games. The average amount of money we give away is between $9,000 and $10,000. A share-the-wealth game involves a split prize based on the money spent on that game. One of those games has a 70 / 30 split and one has a 75/25 split with the larger percentage going to the winner and the smaller portion going to the hall. Doors open at 4 PM and games begin at at 7 PM.

Q: Where does the Celtic Hall want to be in five years?

A: We want to be right here!

We like the location. The building is certainly adequate. We have an option on land next door if we need it.

We'd like to become a regional cultural center for the northeast. We want any program that comes to New York City or Boston, to also come here. Theater, music, everything. We cannot draw the numbers New York does – put on an Irish play and have 2,000 attend. But we can expect a couple hundred people. This can be a thriving Celtic cultural center with devoted locals and far traveling fans!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Interview with Kevin Roe, Manager of Celtic Cultural Center On Instrument Lessons and Dance

Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center, 430 New Karner Road, Colonie, New York, gave us a wide ranging interview on March 4, 2011. In this third in a series, Keven discusses instrument lessons and dance:

Q: What about musical instruments outside of bands?

A: In addition to the piping and drumming on the music side, we have always offered a wide variety of Irish instrumental lessons: flute, fiddle, bodhran. In the two year layoff that we had between properties, those teachers have found opportunities elsewhere. We hope to have them back and teaching by the fall. We hope to be offering those lessons again at some level. At certain times, we had 20 to 30 students taking Irish music lessons here. Currently, it's a one off type of thing. A couple of teachers come in from Boston or New York and they use this space to teach. They schedule their lessons throughout a day, then go back. When they need space again, they come back. But that's not a regular program right now.

Q: And dance?

A: On the dance side, we have the Braemar Highland Dancers that is also a multi-generational dance school that's older than you or I. There are women older than me who come up and tell me I was a Braemar dancer. But literally, it's true. It's been around 70 years. There are three instructors and they are all under 30 years old.

Yes, we were Scottish bagpiping and Irish dancing to start, but one of the first programs we had was Scottish dance. The Scottish dance students, their parents and their grandparents have been instrumental in keeping us going because they've hung in through thick and thin. If I need something, I know I can rely on them.

That school has 20 to 30 dancers. They just brought in a new class of 5 and 6 year olds and they included nine young women. They teach kids from 5 to 18. There is a progression through, so as they get older, they learn more, they dance at higher levels.

The same with Irish dance, which very recently we were able to obtain a certified Irish Step Dance teacher for here at the Hall named Lex Hickey. We've taught dance for eight years with teachers who were like grad students, who weren't quite certified yet. They either went on to other things or when they became certified, they decided this wasn't where they were going to teach. So this new teacher is young and certified. She is already teaching here, as she took over the existing students.

The Irish Step Dance is what you see on River Dance. This is the main activity for Irish-American young women. There are certainly some very talented boys and young men who do it, but approximately 85 percent of the participants have thus far been young women. In September with the beginning of a new year of classes, the couple will take over all of the Irish dance instruction at the Hall. We are very pleased that has occurred and are really optimistic about where that is going. We have kindergartners and first graders coming every week.

Irish Dance became very popular when River Dance came out. We had to put caps on competition numbers. It's been on the decline, over the past 5 years or more, but it has plateaued by number of participants. I know that because I work with the Feis Commission. A Feis is a dance competition. The Feis Commision knows the numbers of participants and tracks the numbers from year to year. The participants have not declined over the last two years.

Besides the young ones learning their first few steps, we have a number of college age young women who are returning. They gave up competition when they were in late high school. Now that they are back from college, visiting home from college, or going to college here, and they are doing Irish dance for fun, exercise, and social aspects.

The other program, that I know is dear to your heart, is the Irish language program. We had twenty or more beginner and intermediate students in Irish language programs. There are a couple of teachers around. Bairbre McCarthy lives north of Saratoga Spa and has a career over and aside being an Irish language teacher. She is a writer, and an Irish story teller in performance, besides her full time career as a public school teacher. She's welcome to teach here any time. We are looking for someone to lead at least a beginner or introductory course this fall, which is when we are planning to gear up the full panoply of courses here in the fall.

Q: What about the Scottish dance school and eventually the Irish dance school: where and when can people see their performances?

A: The Irish dance school is currently doing performances. Our existing students are great at dancing before the public. They have what is called a “dance out” which is a performance that is not competition. They are having a dance out tonight (the evening of the interview).

For the next portion where Kevin discusses concerts, exhibits, and bingo at the Hall, click here after this link goes live in a couple of days!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview of Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center on Pipe Bands

Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center, 430 New Karner Road, Colonie, New York gave us a wide ranging interview on March 4, 2011. In this second in a series, Keven discusses the pipe bands which call Celtic Hall home:

Q: Please tell me about the pipe bands? Aren't they a big thing here? I don't know a thing about them, except they are here.

A: Neither did I because I've never been a piper.

There are four pipe bands that call Celtic Hall home, currently.

Scotia-Glenville Pipe Band has been around for 15 years or more. They are a youth band with no member over the age of 18. When members age out, they go to other bands. You would think it would be a training band, but in competition it regularly beats the adult bands. They don't compete in a separate category. They are very good and they work very hard. As the name suggests, they were organized out in Scotia-Glenville which is a school district which covers two towns – Scotia being one town and Glenville being another. Scotia is, of course, named after Scotland. It's right outside of Schenectady which had a large Scottish population around the turn of the last century – 1890s to 1900. The Scotia-Glenville Band has 30 to 40 players who are at the Celtic Hall a couple of times a week for their practices. Most of them are in each week again for lessons or meetings.

Schenectady Pipe Band is one of the oldest pipe bands in North America. I think they are either just coming up on, or just passed their centennial. I hope I didn't miss it!

They are one of the most well known pipe bands having been around so long. They play a number of public appearances they've been doing for years and years. If you go to the Union College commencement, that would be the Schenectady Pipe Band. They play at Hudson Valley Community College. They play all over.

There is another youth band which is the Twin Rivers Boy Scout Band. Twin Rivers is what they call the local Boy Scout Council because they cover both the Mohawk River and Hudson River. There are approximately 15 to 20 young men who form a non-competitive band. They are a learning and educational band. We are very pleased to have them here. We believe the more we can do to promote young people getting into Celtic, both Irish and Scottish cultural arts, the better off we'll all be.

There is a band here called Oran Mor. They are a Grade 1 pipe band, which to someone outside of the piping world, which would be you and I, means very little. Grade 5 is the beginning and Grade 1 is the top, the highest level of competition. There are only three Grade 1 pipe bands in the United States. There are three in Canada. In the US, there is one here, there is one in Los Angeles, and there is one in Washsington, D.C.

Q: Are members brought in to Oran Mor by invitation or tryout?

A: Both. You can tryout to get into the band, but you end up having to be invited anyway. The piping at that level is pretty close knit. The people who organize the Oran Mor Band know and invite good players from all over the East Coast. Anybody from the Northeast, if they are playing in a band, they are playing here. There are members from southern New Jersey, from Maine, from Plattsburgh, and even some Canadians who come down and play in this band. They are here two if not three days a week. They have to practice a lot because there is a lot of work that has to go into maintaining that level of skill.

We also have a school here at the hall for the teaching of piping outside of the pipe bands. Anybody wishing to learn the bagpipes or the drums can contact the Hall. Currently, the first three lessons are free. The nature of bagpiping is if you don't like it after three lessons, you won't like it anyway, so why charge them? If you do like it, you are going to be doing it for a lifetime.

Q: I believe I've seen some of the beginning lessons.

A: Yes, they are given on chanters. The instrument looks like the flute or whistle the snake charmers use. That's what people learn on. You don't get your pipes until you are fairly proficient on the chanter. You can buy pipes before promotion if you want to, but any good teacher is going to make sure you are proficient on the chanter before teaching you on actual pipes.

For the next portion where Kevin discusses instrument lessons and dance at the Hall, click here after this link goes live in a couple days!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Interview with Kevin Roe, Manager of Celtic Cultural Center On Its Founding

Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center, 430 New Karner Road, Colonie, New York, gave us a wide ranging interview on March 4, 2011. In this first in a series, Keven explains how the Celtic Hall, as it is known, came to be:

Question: How did the Celtic Cultural Center or Celtic Hall as it's known informally, get started?

Answer: The Association (Capital District Celtic Cultural Association Inc.) founded the Celtic Cultural Center in late 1997 and the beginning of 1998. A group of dance parents, some of whom were also pipers or drummers involved in pipe bands, and I were lamenting there was no mechanism to raise money for the dance schools or the pipe bands. Also, the support of the exiting Irish and Scottish organizations was nowhere near the task.

We decided to put together a small not-for-profit organization to do bake sales, maybe shows or concerts. The first fund raiser was selling hamburgers under the bridge at a Troy Flag Day event. We raised $500 and we thought we were very successful. Then we did a concert at which we were lucky to draw in some acts that became national acts, who came without guaranteed fees and only wanted modest fees. The concert did very well and we had $10,000. We thought we'd book a big concert in March in the Egg, and the weather got us. We lost a little money at that point.

We slowed down our activity somewhat and started looking for other opportunities. We were fortunate to be offered an opportunity to run Bingo at the Troy Atrium, and we took it.

We began to do bingo and at the end of the year we had $50,000. We opened an office in Troy with five rooms making up about 2,000 square feet. Peter Jones, an Irish musician, owned the building at the time and he leased to us. We did Irish dance, some language, and music.

After a few years we realized we were paying an inordinate amount of rent in a space we could use for only four hours on any particular day, because it wasn't ours. That's when we decided to create our own home. We leased a space in East Greenbush. That lease was bought out as someone wanted the space enough to do that. We received compensation to terminate our lease early. With the proceeds from that we bought the wonderful building on New Karner Road (430 New Karner Rd, Colonie, NY) and of course we have a mortgage to pay.

The cultural programs themselves have built up over time. They've been impacted by the ups and downs of us having a space and not having a space. We were without space for two years. We are now in the process of revitalizing the programs we have.

Q: How many square feet do you have here?

A: We have 22,500 square feet of interior space. The main halls are a total of 12,000 square feet. The balance is office space, music studio, dance studio, storage, bathrooms and kitchen.

The programs are affected a lot by the space. Our programs have grown by five times what we were doing in East Greenbush, because of the more central location, and we've gotten wiser in what we do and how we do it. The organization is a little more experienced now.

Q: Before we learn more about the Celtic Hall, do you mind explaining your Irish history, Kevin?

A: I go back to Ireland through both sides of my family. The sides go in different directions. My father was the only son of an only son, so we don't have a lot of uncles and aunts; it's a pretty direct line. We've been able to trace our émigré ancestor on the Roe side to Galway. Unfortunately most of the Irish records were destroyed during the rebellion in 1916 or before that. What few are left are in parishes, and much of the country was very rural in the mid-1800s when my family came here. We did find the parish and did talk to the parish priest in person. Turns out the bartender in Town was also a good contact as the bartender knew everyone in Town, and the Town is less than a hundred people. We spent about two hours talking to the bartender who had been the village bartender for the last 50 years, but he had never heard of my family.

On my mother's side, there is a completely different story. They were Ulstermen. Some refer to them as Scotch Irish. They were just as Irish as Paddy's pig, but Orangemen. Their fealty was to the crown and to Scotland. When I go to see my great uncles and aunts in Canada, they are very much identified with Ulster and they are Unionists. The Roe side of the family would naturally identify with Nationalist, Republican positions. When I figured that out about ten years ago, I was surprised. My mom said you have to go meet Uncle Billy, the Orangeman. He literally went through his whole life known as Billy The Orangeman. He was somewhat radical in his political stripe even in his own family. There is a lot of cross over in the Irish in America and I guess I'm a perfect example. With my Ulster heritage, when I need to be Scottish here at the Hall, I can at least pretend!

For the next portion of Kevin's talk where he discusses the pipe bands at the Hall, click here after this link goes live in a couple of days!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thoughts on Spate of Violence in Northern Ireland

Thoughts on Spate of Violence in Northern Ireland

The rejection of the killers of Officer Ronan Kerr was widespread and from all communities and quarters:

Prime Minister David Cameron

Gerry Adams

Fr John Skinnader

First Minister Peter Robinson

Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Rev Ken Good, and Dr Seamus Hegarty, Catholic Bishop of Derry

And the investigation seems to be developing so perhaps those with information have come forward:

Third arrest over Ronan Kerr murder

However, that same article states the dissident groups are targeting Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) members in spite of the public rejection of their methods.

And most recently, a 500 pound bomb was planted in a van under an overpass on the Belfast to Dublin motorway.

In these cases, the key seems to be dissident Republican groups. The peace makers in Northern Ireland have to ask themselves why haven't the people in these dissident Republican groups been reached when so many in Ireland have? The integration of the police force seems to be making them insecure and angry. Would more public statements by Catholic / Republicans who want the PSNI integrated reach them? Somehow the peace process passed by these dissidents. What steps can be taken to turn their hearts and minds so they have no desire to resort to violence?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Shannon and Matt Heaton Concert on April 9, 2011

Shannon and Matt Heaton were back at Cafe Lena in Saratoga Springs last night, Saturday, April 9, 2011, and were in fine form.

But before we get to their performances, Matt and Shannon blessed us with a new and wonderful opening act - Hannah Sanders and Liz Simmons. These two were unfamiliar to me, and probably to the vast majority in the audience, yet it was love at first chord. From Hannah's “limbo” to get through a tight spot in the microphone stands as they first stepped on stage, they were relaxed and engaging with their interpersonal stage banter and their real story intros.

They sang some traditional pieces, then turned to personally penned creations which each deserve to become well known traditional pieces; they were that good. One original composition by Hannah features a Sufi poem.

Their singing voices are an obvious strong point as they are clear, complex in undertone, and they use their voices' full dynamics. Their harmonies are rich and supportive – never distracting.

Yet, I noticed another strength. I feel men singers seem to be strong in their guitar work, as a rule. Maybe it's the whole raging guitar hero thing teenage boys go through. A higher percentage of female vocalists either play their guitars themselves in basic mode, or seek the accompaniment of a player of guitar or other instrument. While there is nothing wrong with these approaches, Liz and Hannah have strong guitar skills and the match of instruments well played with voices is special.

Turning to the Heaton's, their nearly seventh month old son Nigel has joined the act with his sparkling eyes. He's lucky to have such skillful musicians and singers as parents and he seemed happy about that.

Back on instruments for a moment, Matt's skill with guitar and bouzouki (safer to refer to it as a “banjo” in airport talk), and Shannon's expression on whistle and flute are tremendous. Occasionally, I've sometimes heard a bit of friction between traditional Irish instrument musicians and Irish singers, but when you see Shannon and Matt, you know the two sides of Irish music are a complete package.

I apologize to all for not taking complete notes, but some of the songs they performed were “The Bird in the Bush,” “The Heartland,” “Lily of the West,” “Where the Moorcocks Crow,” “Giant of the Road,” and “Botany Bay.” I'm sure the rest will pop into my mind in the next few days as the tunes I just named are circulating in my mind.

They were joined by Sam Zucchini of Saratoga environs playing the bodhrán. He masterfully added depth and Celtic authenticity.

Then not once, but twice, the masterful story teller Bairbre McCarthy treated us to a story. The first was about a tinker on the Cork peninsula who heard a voice in a dream telling him to go the Ha'penny Bridge over the Liffey in Dublin. The second was about how Cuchulainn (The Hound of Ulster) got his name. Her magic transported us with words while the musicians added a touch of atmosphere.

For the encore, all the musicians (and Nigel!) were on the stage at once. We will have the memories of that wonderful blend to hold us over until they return.

More about these fine artists is available at:

Matt and Shannon Heaton

Hannah Sanders

Liz Simmons

Bairbre McCarthy

Bairbre McCarthy's Books

Sam Zuchini
More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)
- Bernadette Nic Gabhann
- Aoife Clancy
- Matt and Shannon Heaton

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Libyan Revolutionaries Apologize to Victims of IRA Bombings

The Government of Free Libya announced an apology to lawyers representing almost 160 victims of Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombings for the Semtex supplied by Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The Government of Free Libya is an interim authority presently headquartered in the town of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

Jason McCue from the London-based H2O Law, the firm which successfully sued four men over the 1998 Omagh bomb, speculated large amounts of Libyan supplied Semtex, which was unaccounted for after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, may be in the hands of dissident republican groups and even may have been used in the bomb which killed Officer Ronan Kerr last Saturday.

Allegedly Irish IRA paramilitaries were trained in the 1970s in the Libyan desert.

Families of those killed by IRA bombings involving Semtex or having other connections to Libya are planning to bring legal suits against the former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa who recently defected from Libya and is now in Britain.

The United States dropped financial sanctions on Monday against Moussa Koussa saying the move might encourage other senior aides to abandon Colonel Qaddafi, the country’s embattled leader.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Irish victims of violence, Scottish authorities want to interview Moussa Koussa about the airplane bombing over Lockerbie in 1988 and other issues “in the next few days.”

Read about Ronan Kerr here.

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/libya-rebels-apologise-to-families-of-ira-victims-15138654.html#ixzz1InKnSzQE

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bomb Kills a Policeman in Northern Ireland

A bomb exploded under a car and killed an officer in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on the afternoon of April 2, 2011 in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Omagh is the main town in County Tyrone.

Cover of the Belfast Telegraph:

The officer was a 25 year old Catholic who had recently joined the PSNI and had just graduated from the PSNI training college. The device detonated outside his home on Highfield Close, off the Gortin Road, shortly before 4PM.

No other casualties are reported at this time. Neighbors report the officer was in the Ford Mondeo car alone.

The killing is the first in Northern Ireland since March 2009 when a dissident republican Continuity IRA group shot dead a policeman in Armagh.

In February 2011, 29.7% of the 7,200 officers in the PSNI were from the Catholic community. This is a large change from 2002 when the PSNI predicessor organization, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), had more than 90 percent of it's officers from the Protestant community.

Politicians have condemned those responsible for the bomb attack.

You can more here:

Belfast Telegraph: Funeral held for murdered policeman

Irish Times here

RTE here