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Irish and Celtic Week at the Augusta Heritage Center, Elkins, West Virginia
Twenty-seven years ago, Mick Moloney, Billy McComiskey and Liz Carroll pioneered an Irish music week program at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia. Since its modest start, the Augusta Heritage Center’s Irish/Celtic Week has grown into a 250 student summer camp that attracts musicians, dancers and singers from groups such as De Dannan, Cherish the Ladies and Solas, as well as tradition bearers from the Aran Isles, West Cork and New York City as its teachers. The program features classes, concerts, céilís and a seemingly never-ending set of informal sessions at which the famous and novice generally hobnob at ease.
Two years ago, Mick Moloney resigned from the coordinator position to pursue academic research interests in Asia during the summer, and tin whistle and flute player Joanie Madden, sparkplug leader of Cherish the Ladies, was hired to take his place. This year Joanie assembled a remarkable faculty of teachers including Connemara flautist, Marcus Herndon, seminal bodhrán player Johnny ‘Ringo’ McDonagh, banjo whiz, Angelina Carberry, bouzouki ace, Alec Finn, uilleann pipes great, Jerry O’Sullivan, Ballyvourney set dance master, Timmy ‘The Brit’ McCarthy, former Solas singer-guitarist John Doyle, the scintillating fiddlers Yvonne & Liz Kane, U.S. National Heritage Fellow, step-dancer Donny Golden, who trained both Michael Flatley and Cara Butler, and singer-songwriter Robbie O’Connell, of the famous Clancy family. Each teacher - and there were many more, including the author - immersed his or her students in as many songs or tunes or steps as could be absorbed, and prepared their classes for a final performance attended by the entire camp.
Part of the considerable charm of Augusta’s Irish Celtic Week comes from the fact that it takes place in West Virginia, a beautiful, fascinating and less frequently visited state almost wholly within the Appalachian Mountains and at a crossroads between the North and South. Searching for an Irish parallel, one might liken West Virginia to Sliabh Luchra. The spoken accent and the topography are very different indeed but strong commonalities exist.
For centuries, people in each area have gotten by modestly typically, and both possess a great love of their homelands and traditions, including stories, dancing and songs. West Virginia was settled principally by Scots-Irish who brought songs and fiddle music to the hills, and traces of the Ireland are still to be seen in the native ‘flat-foot’ dancing and heard in old ballads and dance tunes. Augusta Irish/Celtic Week is held directly after the Catskills Irish Week in New York State and offers a perfect follow-on fortnight Irish-American experience for those IMM readers who can never get enough and why should we settle for less!
Dates for Irish/Celtic week are set for July 19th - 24th, 2009. For further information:

Permalink - Posted: November 28, 2008 at 1:36 pm