Irish Culture – Beyond St. Patrick’s Day

Detail of stain-glassed window depicting St. Patrick in St. Bennin’s Church, Kilbennan, Ireland. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en), or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

As today is the day many people of Irish and non-Irish heritage will march up 5th Avenue in honor of Irish saint Patrick (who’s also the patron saint of New York City), here’s a short run-down of Irish cultural activities in the Big Apple.

New York  boasts a number of Irish performing arts/cultural centers. The Irish Arts Center hosts theatrical and musical performances, as well as classes in Irish music, dance and language, not to mention lots of programs for kids!

The Irish Repertory Theatre is back in its renovated space, presenting a full calendar of classic and contemporary works by Irish and Irish-American playwrights.

Just across the East River (and only one stop from Grand Central) in Long Island City, Queens is the New York Irish Center, an intimate space that’s great for concerts,  films and theatre, and has low ticket prices.   The Center also hosts classes in Irish music and language.

The American Irish Historical Society hosts lectures, seminars, readings and performances throughout the year. Its library and archives contain a wide variety of rare books and artifacts from the 17th century to the present.

Glucksman Ireland House NYU hosts concerts, films, and talks, as well as readings by writers, poets and playwrights throughout the year, many of which are free, the others of which are really low cost.

In the fall, Origin Theatre produces 1st Irish, a festival of Irish plays, readings and films that’s simply wonderful.  Every year I attend several of the performances, and they’ve all been great.  Mark your calendars NOW!

The Yeats Society hosts events related to the great poet, and also sponsors an annual poetry competition.

If you’re down by Battery Park, stop and visit the Irish Hunger Memorial at Vesey Street and North End Avenue. It blends very well into its surroundings, and you may take a moment to realize you’ve found it.  Designed by artist Brian Tolle, this calm and pastural site representing  a rural Irish landscape, contains a rebuilt 19th century Irish stone cottage, set in a field with walls made of stones from all across Ireland.

ENJOY!

Theatre Review – Quietly

img_1227It’s very strange when life seemingly imitates art, which happened to me this past Saturday; when the bomb exploded on 23rd Street, I was in the Irish Rep on 22nd Street watching Quietly, a play with a character who threw a bomb when he was a teenager.  If you haven’t seen this play by Owen McCafferty, be sure to see it before it closes this Sunday.   Set in a bar in Belfast, there are only three characters – Robert, the Polish bartender, and  two bar patrons, Jimmy and Ian, who were on opposite sides – and hence enemies – during The Troubles.  Now Jimmy and Ian are meeting to revisit that time – what they did, what they didn’t do, who they lost, how it changed their lives.   

The tension unfolds softly, steadily, then  erupts as old events are relived, and Jimmy and Ian are forced to come to terms with their actions and consequences, and say “sorry” for inflicting wounds that will never heal.  The play illustrates how our unwillingness to see someone else’s point of view, or to even try to understand it, leads to a cycle of violence – societal and personal – that can only be broken when individuals are willing to face up to what they have done, and their victims are willing to try to reconcile.  Quietly also clearly demonstrates how easily youth are recruited and coerced into doing monstrous deeds by adults intent on political gain.  The economical writing and acting make for a superb production (this subject material could easily be over-written and over-acted);  you feel like you’re in the bar with the characters. I heartily recommend seeing it.

Quietly  runs through September 25th, and is part of the 1st Irish Festival.

A Novel Evening Indeed

Tony Macaulay (top) and Daniel Mallen

Tony Macaulay (top) and Daniel Mallen

One of the things I love about festivals in New York, is the chance to hear new voices alongside more established ones.   That’s what happened earlier this month, at a reading by two Irish authors, at the National Arts Club, sponsored by 1st Irish  and the WB Yeats Society of NY.   First up was Tony Macaulay  who hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he grew up at the top of Shankill Road during “The Troubles.”  Tony spoke with understanding and humor about growing up in such a dangerous, divided place, and how those years provided the fodder for two of his three memoirs:  Paperboy, about his experiences as a 12-year old delivering The Belfast Telegraph in his neighborhood; and Breadboy which recounts  his experiences  from age 14 to 16, delivering bread for the Ormo Minishop in Belfast.  His third book, All Growed Up, follows him as a university student in Coleraine.   In addition to writing, Tony lived on the “peace line” in Belfast for many years, working with youth on a community development project, and he’s also worked conflict resolution in post-conflict countries such as Montenegro and Bosnia.  Yet, he is hopeful for humanity, and hasn’t lost his keen wit and sense of humor.

Then Daniel Mallen, a firefighter in Cork, a published songwriter, and a first-time novelist, read from his book, The Judging of Abigail Perdue.  The story revolves around Abigail Perdue, who has just died, and now finds herself in a place called Stasis, where she will be judged by five other new arrivals, who will examine her life and vote on her fate – and she will have a vote on theirs. However, there are only three outcomes: eternal peace in Heofon; rebirth on Earth; or destruction in Gehenna…

Being a firefighter made Daniel realize how quickly life can be taken, and how little we know about each other.  It also started him thinking about what happens in the afterlife, and led to this book.  He recounted some of the coincidences which arose while writing this novel. I’ll tell you one.  A character in the book is a firefighter named Michael Roberts, who has a sister named Karen. Daniel took this name from a t-shirt one of his colleagues gave him that is inscribed with the names of the firefighters from Engine 214, Ladder 111 who died on 9/11.  It wasn’t until after the book was published, that Daniel was contacted by the real Michael Roberts’ mother, only to discover she was the  woman who brought the t-shirt to his firehouse some ten years earlier, and that her late son’s sister is named Karen. 

It was delightful to listen to both authors, who, having dealt with people under very trying circumstances, evince a strong empathy for their fellow human beings, and maintain a positive outlook.  I’m looking forward to reading their books! 

SPOTLIGHT Ireland!

IMG_0515In New York, we’ve not only got people from just about every country, we’ve also got a number of foreign cultural institutes.  Throughout the year I’ll be featuring a different one, and we’re starting off with Ireland.  Now I know some of you are scratching your heads, since March, with the Saint Patrick’s Day parade would seem a more logical place, but last week I was at the Irish Consulate for their monthly First Friday breakfast reception where Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade spoke.  2016 is a centenary year for Ireland and a number of events are planned across the US to commemorate the 2016 Proclamation of the Republic.  You can find a list of events on the website of the Irish Consulate General in NY  

New York also boasts a number of Irish performing arts/cultural centers.  The Irish Arts Center NYC   hosts wonderful theatre and musical performances.  Right now, they’re co-presenting Enda Kenney’s “The Last Hotel” which is playing at St. Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn through the 17th.  At the end of February, they’re bringing back “The Man in the Woman’s Shoes” and in April, the singer Camille O’Sullivan will be performing there.  The IAC NYC also runs classes in Irish music, dance and language, and has lots of programs for kids!

The Irish Repertory Theatre   is currently using other space while it’s own is being renovated.  Through March 6th, you can catch Burial at Thebes, Seamus Heaney’s reworking of Antigone (I’ll be going to see it on the 23rd, and will post a review), and on January 29th, a reading by playwright Jennifer O’Grady of Charlottes Letters.

Just across the East River (and only one stop from Grand Central) in Long Island City, Queens is the New York Irish Center,  an intimate space that’s great for concerts,  films and theatre, and has low ticket prices.  This Friday, they’ll be showing a documentary on the late Luke Kelly of the Dubliners.  Every month, they host a Ceili:  an evening of traditional Irish set dancing.  The Center also hosts classes in Irish music and language.

The American Irish Historical Society  hosts lectures, seminars, readings and performances throughout the year. On January 25th, it will host a lecture on Edward O’Meagher Condon;  on January 27th, a concert with Israeli pianist Tomer Gewirtzman, and on February 25th, the launch of a CD of Yeats poems set to music. Its library and archives contain a wide variety of rare books and artifacts from the 17th century to the present.

At Glucksman Ireland House NYU  you can enjoy concerts, films, and talks, as well as readings by writers, poets and playwrights throughout the year, many of which are free, the others of which are really low cost.

In the fall, Origin Theatre produces 1st Irish, a festival of Irish plays, readings and films that’s simply wonderful.  Every year I attend several of the performances, and they’ve all been great.  Mark your calendars NOW!

If you’re down by Battery Park, stop and visit the Irish Hunger Memorial  at Vesey Street and North End Avenue. It blends very well into its surroundings, and you may take a moment to realize you’ve found it.  Designed by artist Brian Tolle, this calm and pastural site representing  a rural Irish landscape, contains a rebuilt 19th century Irish stone cottage, set in a field with walls made of stones from all across Ireland.

I’ve only covered the tip of the iceberg here, so to speak.  There are many other organizations who will be having events throughout the year, and I’ll post information on them when I get it.  In the meantime, I think you’ve got enough here to get started…

Enjoy!

European Theatre in the Big Apple

I first met George Heslin, Artistic Director of Origin Theatre about 10 years ago, when I attended a reading he produced by a young playwright in the Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Since George founded Origin in 2002, they’ve been presenting US premiers of European plays. In addition, for the last 7 years, George has put on First Irish, which presents works from playwrights in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. First Irish has grown from a week-long showcase  to an almost month-long festival,staged in venues ranging from 59 East 59th to the Cell, to tiny walk up theaters in the Village. Whether a rough reading or a polished performance, the works are of an amazing quality – I’ve gone every year, and haven’t seen a dog yet. So keep your eye out for First Irish later this year.

You can get a taste of Origin’s work at their Mondays of May annual readings of new plays from Europe.

If you know any emerging playwrights, find them fast and tell them about Origin’s WB Yeats Emerging Playwrights contest; entries are due June 30th.

Origin’s Annual Benefit will be held June 18th, which is a great way to support Origin and have lots of fun!