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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Profile on Irish FIddler Seamus Connolly of County Clare and Boston, Massachusetts

(This story originally appeared in the spring 2016 issue of BITA's Travel & Culture Guide.)

Séamus Connolly, the Irish fiddle master from County Clare who created Boston College’s influential Gaelic Roots program, retired from the university in December, after an illustrious 25 year career as an artist-in-residence, teacher, researcher and leading advocate for the folk traditions of Ireland.

We telephoned Séamus in February and he answered from Florida, where he and some friends were enjoying themselves at a race track on a sunny, winter’s day.

Retiring in wintry December in Boston and then heading down to Florida? Connolly always did have impeccable timing.

“Sometimes you know when the time is right, and leaving at the end of 2015 was the perfect time,” he says, laughing. “I was honored to be part of BC’s Irish Studies program, working with people from the school, with visiting artists and with the students, it was all very gratifying.”

How Connolly came to BC in the first place is worth noting. Back in the 1980s, Irish studies programs at American universities were typically dryly academic, with a focus on literature, politics and history.

Thankfully, BC’s Irish Studies program co-directors Drs. Kevin O’Neill and Adele Dalsimer understood there needed to be more, and they tracked down Connolly, a well-regarded fiddler who had won 10 All Ireland championships, to teach at the college.

“Kevin and Adele were great visionaries; they understood that an academic Irish studies program without music and dance would be incomplete. I think it was in 1990 that I was with a group of American musicians at Cork University and Kevin came down from Dublin. He asked me if I would come to BC and teach fiddle. I said yes.”

BC already had a fine music department, but Connolly imbued it was a distinct flavor by making live Irish music an integral part of the campus culture. In 1990, he and pianist Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin organized the college’s first Irish Fiddle Festival. Connolly followed up with a Sean Nós singing festival with the Music Department in 1991, and finally a Harp Festival in 1992 to commemorate the famous Belfast Harp Festival of 1792.

In 1993, Connolly launched Gaelic Roots, a stellar summer music program with an international reputation that lasted until 2003.

Suddenly there were master musicians from IrelandScotlandCape Breton, French Québec and the Appalachians coming to campus to play tunes, hold workshops, talk about their music, and play sessions well into the night with local musicians and singers. Musicians traveled from as far as AustraliaJapan and Norway to participate.

“The most fulfilling part for me was bringing to America some of Ireland’s great master musicians, who personified what the tradition was all about,” Connolly says. He rattles off the names: Bobby Casey, Francie Mooney, Johnny O’Leary, Paddy Cronin, Peter O’Loughlin, Josephine Keegan…it is a long, distinguished list.

Connolly is quick to credit his colleagues on campus who helped him throughout his tenure, starting with Beth Sweeney, his former student who became a co-director for the Gaelic Roots concert series that ran throughout the school year and also serves as the Irish Music archivist at the John J. Burns Library. He mentions Dr. Tom Hachey, former executive director of Irish Studies, who advocated for the concert series. He also credits flutist Jimmy Noonan, Dr. Anne (Shapiro) Dhu McLucas, and Dr. Jeremiah McGrann of the Music Department and university librarian Tom Wall. Most of all, he thanks his late wife, Sandy Walter, who helped him build Gaelic Roots into a critical success and was also his soul mate until her death in 2011.

And he thanks G. Craig and Maureen Sullivan, who established the Sullivan-Artist-in Residence endowment in 2004, just after the Gaelic Roots Summer School ended.

The residence, which began as a four-year endowment but lasted for 11 years until his retirement, allowed Connolly the freedom to play music, conduct research and teach a new generation of students.

This summer, the Boston College Libraries plan to publish a project Connolly has worked on for 15 years. The Séamus Connolly Music Collection “contains 300 + tracks of tunes I’ve collected over the last 50 years, played by contemporary players,” he explains. “I have transcribed the tunes as I originally heard them from old masters, so students can contrast the way each tune was originally played alongside the interpretation of the contemporary artist.”

The Collection will be posted online as a digital product.

Now back at his home in Maine, Connolly has some travel and music plans lined up for the year. “I’m heading back to Ireland for awhile, then to Rome for three weeks, and over to London,” he says.
“I hope to continue working with Beth Sweeney and her colleagues at the Irish Music Archives. 
There is a goldmine of material in those collections that needs to be listened to. Someone needs to identify the tunes and the musicians who play them.

“I would also like to advocate that people donate their music collections to Boston College, where they will be well-cared for and appreciated. I believe in the preservation of these materials for future students to study and learn.”

Sunday, May 29, 2016

John F. Kennedy born in May 29, 1917

Ninety-nine years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was born on  May 29, 1917 at 83 Beals Street in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States, elected at age 43, the youngest American president.  He was also the first Catholic president. 

You can find out about President Kennedy, his life, his family and his presidency, by visiting John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, located at Columbia Point in Boston. The Library is open year round to the general public. 

Kennedy's birthplace in Brookline is a National Historic Site and is also open to the public. 

To read more about the Kennedy Family's Irish connections, click here.

For year round details on Irish activities in Massachusetts, visit

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Boston Honors Ray Flynn with Mural at Cruiseport Boston Terminal

Ray Flynn, former Mayor of Boston and US Ambassador to the Vatican, was honored this week by state and city officials and dozens of local school children.  

The children, representing the Laboure Center, South Boston Boys and Girls Club, South Boston Catholic Academy, South Boston Community Health Center and the South Boston Arts Association, painted a life-sized mural of Flynn overlooking Boston's waterfront.

The ceremony took place at the Cruiseport Boston Black Falcon facility operated by Massport, as part of the Cruiseport Boston Week celebrating the 30th anniversary of the facility, which was opened two years after Flynn became Mayor of Boston.  

Massport CEO Tom Glynn praised Flynn for preserving the South Boston waterfront and bringing it back to active use. As a youth, Flynn worked on the docks as a Longshoreman alongside his father and father-in-law.

The students painting the murals were instructed by South Boston artist and watercolorist Dan McCole, who is also co-founder and president of the South Boston Arts Association.

When Cruiseport Boston first opened it 1986, it welcomed 13 cruise ships and 11.723 passengers. This year, the terminal will welcome 114 ships and 320,000 passengers, according to Massport.  

Earlier this year, the City of Boston renamed the Ray Flynn Marine Park in honor of Flynn, who grew up a few miles away.

Read more profiles of leading Bostonians in the Irish-American community here. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tourism Ireland Video of GAME OF THRONES locations in Northern Ireland

The Dark Hedges

Just in time for the Season Six of the HBO series, Game of Thrones, Tourism Ireland has released a promotional video of the locations in Northern Ireland that are part of the show's most memorable moments.  The video showcases the beauty of Northern Ireland to the millions Game of Throne fans around the world.

"There are over 20 Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland that are accessible to everyone," said John McGrillen, CEO of Tourism Northern Ireland.  Among them: Tollymore Forest Park, the Cushendun Caves, Castle Ward, Ballintoy Harbour, The Dark Hedges, Inch Abbey, Audley’s Castle and Strangford Lough.  See list of filming locations here.

 "TV and film are recognized as strong influencers on travelers everywhere and the stellar popularity of Game of Thrones® is a fantastic opportunity for us to promote Northern Ireland to a huge audience of potential visitors," says Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland. Read more details here.

For more information about traveling to Ireland, visit and 

Find Irish cultural activities in Massachusetts by visiting

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Irish Duo David Power and Willie Kelly Perform at Chatham Fiddle Company on Cape Cod on Saturday, May 14

Uilleann piper David Power and fiddler Willie Kelly are performing from their new album, Apples in Winter, at the Chatham Fiddle Company in Chatham on Cape Cod on Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.

Suggested donation is $20 at the door.

Radio host Brian O'Donovan described the duo as "stunning musicians" and said the music they played was "the Pure Drop."

Find out more about Chatham Fiddle Company here.

For year round information on Irish cultural events in Massachusetts, visit

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Win Tix to see Cirque Du Soleil KURIOS at Suffolk Downs

Boston Irish Tourism Association is giving away a free pair of tickets to see KURIOS: Cabinet of Characters, the new Cirque Du Soleil show, opening on Thursday, May 25, 2016 at Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

Enter the contest here.  Or, you can purchase tickets to the show online.

Watch a video about KURIOS here.

Find year round information on cultural activities in Massachusetts by visiting


Skellig Michael 

Described as "just indescribably beautiful" by actor Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywaker in the renowned Star Wars series, Skellig Michael island off the coast of County Kerry was the setting for Star Wars: the Force Awakens, which opened in theaters in December 2015.

The movie has been a powerful marketing tool for Tourism Ireland's web site, and the Wild Atlantic Way visitor campaign, which highlights the coastal counties in the West of Ireland.

"To have our phenomenal landscape featured so prominently in the film filled Irish hearts with pride and gave the rest of the world a taste of what we have to offer," said Paschal Donohoe, TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

The next Star Wars movie, Episode VIII, is also being filed on Skellig Michael, according to director J.J. Abrams, who said,"It's sort of a miracle this place.  We could not be more honored to be here."

For details on traveling to Ireland, visit

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Riverdance is performing in Boston on May 10-15 at Wang Theatre

The Boston Irish Tourism Association has named Riverdance as Event of the Week in Boston for the week of May 8-14, 2016.

Now in its 20th year as one of the cultural phenomenons of our time, Riverdance is performing at the Wang Theatre in Boston from May 10-15.

You can purchase tickets online to Riverdance, or take a chance to win a free pair of tickets.

See videos of Riverdance here. 

Find year round details on Irish cultural activities at

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy Receives John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy is being honored by Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson, as the 2016 recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™.   The ceremony is taking place on Sunday, May 1, 2016 at the John F. Kennedy Library

View the Profiles in Courage Award live, beginning at 11:00 a.m. 

Amid security concerns following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Malloy courageously defended the U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees and personally welcomed a family of Syrian refugees to New Haven after they had been turned away by another state.

Here is a schedule of upcoming events at JFK Library.

For year round details on the Irish-American community in New England, visit