DURHAM – County Greene had not seen the East Durham Irish Music Festival since 2019 with two years of the pandemic. This Memorial Day weekend, the festival celebrated its 45th year. This year’s festival was organized by Seamus Balfe and Andy Cooney.
The Irish Music Festival took place at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Center. Cooney played for over 35 years with the Paddy Noonan Band and then his own band. He headlined the East Durham Irish Music Festival for years and provided music for the annual mass. Cooney sold out Carnegie Hall nine times, released 20 albums, was featured on PBS, formed the New York Tenors and toured the United States. , Ireland and England.
“We are very proud of this year’s festival,” said Cooney.
The festival honored Tom McGoldrick, Jack Gavin and Donal Gallagher for their dedication to East Durham and Irish traditions. McGoldrick was director of the East Durham Irish Music Festival for 38 years. The festival started in the late 1970s under the leadership of McGoldrick. McGoldrick continued in this role until 2015.
Gavin served as the festival’s first president. He had been inspired by an “Irish Fest” in 1977 and had approached Mary McKenna to do something similar in East Durham. McKenna then owned East Durham Vacationland. She agreed it was a great idea and sponsored East Durham’s first Irish Festival in 1978.
Gallagher helped develop the Irish Cultural and Sporting Center in East Durham. The cultural center was later renamed and dedicated to Michael J. Quill, founder of the Transport Workers Union of America. The union was created to represent New York City subway workers. Gallagher served as president and general manager of the cultural center. Under Gallagher’s direction, the Michael J. Quill Cultural Center built two pavilions and bathrooms.
The cultural center has a regulation size football pitch and is the only football pitch in the United States that perfectly mirrors Croke Park, Dublin. A Donegal cottage was also acquired by the center and brought from Ireland to East Durham. The chalet is being re-thatched. This year’s festival featured an extensive musical line-up. The festival has four stages. Bands such as the Narrowbacks, known for their modern take on traditional Irish songs and fusing them into a sound all their own, keep the audience entertained.
The Narrowbacks blurred the lines of classic Irish songs and punk. Other notable performers were the Andy Cooney Band, the Young Wolfe Tones, Ronan Tyman, the Young Dubliners, Kilmaine Saints and Tom Comerford.
Get Up Jack played an energetic set, but it was Tucker Callander’s violin playing that left the audience wanting more. The Pipes and Drums of Green played standard Celtic pipe music. Performers wore traditional piper uniform kilts.
New York Wildlife Rescue Center, Inc., had a booth with different breeds of owls as well as different hawks. All the birds had been permanently disabled in some way. The birds were all rescued by the wildlife center. Not all birds are able to survive on their own in the wild anymore. The rescue center assists wildlife in need and is a great hands-on resource for educators in the Greene County area.