First Irish Studies Fulbright Scholars Arrive

First Irish Studies Fulbright Scholars Arrive

Two dancers and a musician to spend academic year at BC under new program

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Christmas arrived a day early last year for Yzanne Cloonan, Fiona Harold and Padraigin Caesar, when the three Irish women learned that they had been selected as Boston College's first Irish Studies Fulbright Scholars in music and dance.

Newly arrived on campus nine months later, the trio are clearly relishing their unexpected Christmas Eve gift.

"It's going to be a year of learning for us, not only about different music or dance forms, but a different culture," said Caesar, an accomplished harpist and vocalist who received the Claddagh Records Fulbright Scholarship in Traditional Irish Music.

Boston College's first Irish Studies Fulbright Scholars, from left: Padraigin Caesar, Yzanne Cloonan and Fiona Harold.

"This is a new territory to explore and it's very exciting to have the chance to do so," said Harold, a three-time world and all-Ireland champion who along with Cloonan was awarded the Riverdance Fulbright Scholarship in Irish Dance.

Sponsored through the Irish Studies Program, the one-year scholarships give young Irish men and women an academic and practical exposure to music, theater and dance in the US.

Caesar is studying in the Music Department under Irish Studies Music Programs Director Seamus Connolly, who helped select the scholars. Cloonan, who has been a featured dancer in the current "Riverdance" show, and Harold, formerly dance captain and lead dancer for the American tour of "Lord of the Dance," are working in the Theater Department with Jesuit Artist-in-Residence Robert ver Eecke, SJ.

For the three women, the Fulbright Scholarships offer a way to expand their development as practitioners of an ancient music and dance tradition that has attained world-wide popularity. This emergence brought new influences and styles to the tradition, they say, which in turn has created a range of creative possibilities for its performers.

"It used to be that you'd do the dance competitions and shows until you hit adulthood, and then maybe you'd teach," said Cloonan, winner of regional, national and international competitions in Irish dance. "But it's different now: You can take the tradition in new directions, as 'Riverdance' showed, and who knows where you might end up."

This semester, Cloonan and Harold have brought their experience to study in Fr. Ver Eecke's " Dance: An Invitation to the Sacred " class, which explores the relationship of dance, spirituality and religious expression.

"They are an absolute delight," said Fr. Ver Eecke, who hopes to involve the two in campus dance events such as the annual "A Dancer's Christmas" production. "This year is a chance for us to learn as much from them as they from us."

The winner of national titles in several age categories for harp, and one for singing, Caesar also has witnessed changes in the tradition - even at harp competitions, where experimentation is not always appreciated.

"You have to respect the tradition, certainly, but you can't fear the changes - look how they've helped bring Irish music to the world," she said. "I want to continue researching the tradition at BC by working with Seamus or through the Irish Music Center, for example. I also look forward to seeing Irish music from an American perspective."

Connolly, a renowned fiddle player, hopes his collaborations with Caesar may extend to the recording studio as well as the concert stage.

"The beauty of the Fulbright Scholarships is that talented people like Padraigin, Fiona and Yzanne will be with us for the school year, and any number of things are possible," he said. "We want to make this an enriching year for them. Their presence will certainly enrich us."

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