Irish Musicians in The Bronx

Irish Musicians in The Bronx – a Brief Oral History

Interviews with Irish Musicians in The Bronx

Project Overview

This project was instituted to document a slice of Irish musical life in The Bronx, New York through a series of  interviews with influential local musicians – detailing their personal and family involvement with music in their own words and on their own instruments.

Initiated through and funded by the City University of New York’s Institute for Irish American Studies (CUNY-IIAS), the interviews took place at the IIAS Center for Traditional Irish-American Music at Lehman College in The Bronx.  Special thanks to Dr. Tomás Ó h-Íde, Executive Director of CUNY-IIAS for his support.

Featured Musicians (see posts below for interview information)



 Irish Music in The Bronx

America’s epicenter of traditional Irish-American music has always been in the kitchens and living rooms of the working musicians in The Bronx. From recording giants Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran at the dawn of the Recording Age to modern touring giants Eileen Ivers and Joanie Madden, musicians have learned, practiced, performed and honed their artform and cultural ties in family settings throughout The Bronx. While many of the early key players have been emigrants to America, younger generations of Irish-Americans have steadfastly continued the artform and added their own spin to the music, creating a style of playing particular to New York City. Fiddle players such as Andy McGann and Paddy Reynolds kept continuity with such early generations, playing the dancehalls of New York and passing their knowledge on to succeeding generations ofmusicians. Many of their students, such as Tony DeMarco and Brian Conway, have become internationally respected musicians – each recording for Smithsonian Folkways records and teaching the next generation. These are singular examples of the rich traditions kept by Irish musicians in The Bronx, most of who have never been interviewed for posterity.

Though the recordings of Bronx Irish musicians have been some of the most influential in the global Irish music phenomenon, (see Spencer, 2010) the musicians of The Bronx were often passed over for accolades in Ireland. This changed in the early 1960s when Sean Quinn won a coveted All-Ireland championship on button accordion in the Juniors category, and Kathleen Collins on fiddle in the Seniors category a few years later. With the Mulvihill school of Irish music and others in The Bronx preparing students for competitions in the 1970s and 1980s, a string of younger Irish-American musicians such as Eileen Ivers, Joanie Madden and Brian Conway began winning All-Ireland championships, and the cultural repository of the Bronx Irish music community became greatly respected in Ireland.

Today, Bronx musicians are some of the most influential in both America and Ireland. Flute player Joanie Madden now directs the all-female touring ensemble Cherish The Ladies, and is the artistic director of the Irish Arts week in Elkins, West Virginia. Fiddler Eileen Ivers was the first to tour with Riverdance, and is now a solo recording artist and directs the group Immigrant Soul. A great number of Irish-born musicians have come to New York for the action – including John Redmond (All-Ireland Champion on button accordion), Ivan Goff (All-Ireland Champion on tin whistle and former uilleann piper for Riverdance), and many others.

Oral Histories as a Local Resource

The medium of the oral history interview is vital to the modern documentation of local history. In the recent past, historical studies have typically documented the movement of nations, major political conflicts, and the decisions of heads of state. In the field of Irish Studies this was largely the case until Robert Scally published his detailed and thorough look into the impact of The Famine on a rural town in Ireland. The End of Hidden Ireland (1994) marked the beginning of the use of personal accounts of real people to bring to life from the inside a much larger historical event. The field of Irish Studies in particular has been at the forefront of the postmodernist historical account, embracing the idea of the ethnography and the personal interview as a vital component of any historical account, and snippets of personal oral histories now seem to be required inclusions in any academic work in the Social Sciences.


Written by bronxtunes

September 12, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Project Overview

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