Gaelic Roots Festival Brings Sounds of Ireland to Campus

(6-30-98) -- The trill of penny whistles and the tap of step-dancers' heels echoed throughout campus the week of June 21-27 as Boston College hosted Gaelic Roots, an annual summer school and festival of Celtic music, song and dance.

The festival brought to campus some of the world's top performers of Celtic music and dance, who joined in a grand finale Masters Concert at sold-out Robsham Theater on June 27.

They also led classes in traditional Celtic music, dance and language which attracted 300 students from across the United States and Canada as well as from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Finland.

"We believe this to be the best summer school of its kind in North America," said the festival's organizer, Irish Studies Music Programs Director Seamus Connolly, widely regarded as one of Ireland's greatest living fiddlers.

Artists on the teaching roster included Joe Burke on accordion; Tommy Hayes on the bodhran, or Irish drum; Noel Hill on concertina; Paddy Glackin on fiddle; Tony Cuffe on guitar and vocals; and Mick Moloney on banjo and mandolin. Others lending their talents included harpists Kathleen Guilday and Maire Ni Chathasaigh, singer-songwriter Robbie O'Connell, and step-dancing instructor Michael Smith, a part-time member of the Irish Studies faculty.

Phil Coulter -- one of Ireland's premier singers and songwriters, and a visiting professor in Irish Studies -- led a song workshop and headlined at a June 25 concert in Robsham Theater.

The festival atmosphere that prevailed on campus for the week was part Tanglewood, part Irish pub.

Inside Gasson 100, the incessant clack of step-dancers' shoes on the wooden floor sounded like the salvo of exploding firecrackers. Outside, the lawn had the air of an orchestra pit, with bagpipers practicing under a tent and tin-whistlers under a tree.

In a corner of the lawn one afternoon, Pat Whelan of Glastonbury, Conn., sat adjusting his uillean pipes. The Dublin native, an accomplished player of the Highland bagpipes, had come to the summer school to take instruction from master Kevin Rowsome in the smaller Irish pipes. "This is the closest thing you can find to going to Ireland for a week," Whelan said of the festival.

On a bench in the Quad, Bob Dudney and his 11-year-old son, Jack, of McLean, Va., practiced their bodhrans while awaiting the start of their beginners' class.

"It's all in the wrist. It's hard to get - like throwing a baseball," said Dudney, a former US News & World Report Pentagon correspondent who now edits Air Force Magazine, as he thrummed his hand-held Irish drum. "I'm getting to where I can do triplets. Hear that extra note in there? I couldn't do that yesterday."

The Dudney family had traveled en masse from Northern Virginia for the festival, with wife Gretchen enrolled in step-dancing and penny whistle courses, and daughters Andrea, 4, and Jordan, 16, taking instruction in dance.

"We're not even Irish," said Dudney. But since his oldest daughter took up step-dancing as a girl, he said, his family has embraced Celtic music with a passion.

That Celtic culture appeals not only to Celts was illustrated by the classes in beginning Gaelic taught by Donna Wong, a Chinese-American who came to love the Irish language as a Berkeley undergraduate.

"Modern Irish is the most beautiful language I've heard," Wong said after a class in the Jenks Honors Library. "For one thing, it's hard. I like the sound. The vowels have the most gorgeous sounds."

She offered a saying in Irish that described the flavor of the Gaelic Roots Festival: Seinneadh suantrat, goltrai, is geantrai, agus nior stad an rince go stad an ceol, which means, "Music to soothe you, music to make you weep, and music to gladden you were played, and the dancing didn't stop until the music stopped."

The Gaelic Roots event has grown beyond organizers' expectations since its beginnings as a weekend music festival in 1993. This was the second year that a summer school was offered and the number of registrants for the program was up by a third. The Coulter and Masters concerts both filled 591-seat Robsham Theater.

Making sure the expanded festival ran without a hitch were Connolly, Irish Studies graduate student Theresa Hanley and a handful of volunteers. "It's a real challenge," said Connolly, "but for me, it's what I like doing. It's a labor of love."

Invited artists gave the event and its organizers high praise.

"Seamus and his staff have created a very welcoming, traditionally Irish atmosphere," said banjo player and folklorist Mick Moloney of Limerick. "It's a very, very friendly atmosphere, one that is hospitable in the very best sense of the word."

Said fiddler Maire O'Keefe of Tralee, County Kerry: "It's brilliant. It has to be one of the best organized events I've ever been to."

Back to InfoEagle Home Page

Back to News and Information from Boston College