Island FogNew York Musicians

The heyday of Irish music in America was brought on by the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1800's. This famine created a wave of immigration that changed the nature of America. Thousands of musicians were part of that exodus and many landed here, in New York, or in Chicago, Philadelphia, or Boston...the seeds of a musical sub-culture that has lasted to this day.

Andy Mcgann, Johnny Cronin, Paddy Reynolds In New York City the most popular type of tune by far is the reel. Today this is probably true of Irish music everywhere, in some small part due to the great influence of New York players in the 1920's and after. These players included Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran, James "Lad" O'Beirne, James Morrison, John McGrath, Charlie Mulvahill, Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, Larry Radican, Felix Dolan, Jack Cohen and Jerry Wallace, among others. This group of musicians had or were highly influenced by the Sligo style (from County Sligo in Ireland) which also favored reels, played fast for dancing. As a result, New York playing has always had a Sligo accent in its playing. The most notable band of the late 50's was the New York Ceilidh band, which included many of the above players. The Sligo influence continues in New York today, Brian Conway (A Westchester district attorney, no less) being one of the most notable proponents of the style.

Eugene O'donnel As was (and still is) the tradition in Ireland, the music in New York was played in bars and in social halls. In social halls (like Corliss Hall) it was usually a band of semi regular members. In the bars (such as Roger Feeley's Pub and Killoran's bar under the el at 138th St.) it tended to be a "sessiun". This is not a performance as such, but a kind of drop-in jam session. This tradition is ongoing and I have heard most of my Irish music in a bar. Amongst musicians the favored venue, however, is the house party. The advantage is its quieter and its by invitation (keeping the rude and tasteless at bay). In the 1920's through the 1940's the center of gravity for Irish music in New York was probably around 149th St. and Third Ave. Also of import was the music club that met in the Central Opera House until 1941.

This Irish music scene began to diminish with Irish immigration in the 1950's and 60's. Traditional music in Ireland had also fallen out of fashion in the urban areas. The folk music revival here in the U.S. in the 1970's brought an upturn of interest in the music and an influx of "revivalist" players to the New York music circles. (This is where I fit in and found the Irish Arts Center). This revival was aided in no small part by Dan Collins who started Shanachie records, a label once dedicated to traditional Irish music. Abroad, the Chieftain's and the Bothy Band became international in their appeal. Over the last decade there has been an increase in Irish immigration again, and the children or grandchildren of the players of the first half of the century have come of age, musicians themselves. This has again invigorated the NY music. Today, traditional music's influence has seeped into the most unlikely places, from mall music to new wave to the Uillean pipes in the opening credits of Xena. And then there's the amazing interest Riverdance has stirred.

Snug Hatbor Festival
Eugene O'Donnel, unknown, Andy McGann, Johnny Cronin, Paddy Reynolds, Brian Conway, unknown, Marueen Dougherty(?) at a music festival at Snug Harbor, S.I
Jimmy Devine, Tom Hourican, Tim Britton
Jimmy Devine, Tom Hourican, Tim Britton in Leeds, N.Y.
Charlene Corbit, Johnny Cronin, Jimmy Devine
Charlene Corbitt, Johnnny Cronin, Jimmy Devine in Leeds, N.Y. Charlene's mother stands behind her.