Music in the Mountains: The Irish Catskills and Traditional Music, Saturday, January 16, 2010

Music in the mountains

On Saturday, January 16, The New York Irish Center, in conjunction with the Irish Studies Program at New York University, will host Music in the Mountains: The Irish Catskills and Traditional Music. The event is the first in a series of lectures that will focus on historically important topics and various aspects of Irish and Irish-American history entitled Know Ireland Better.

According to Executive Director Paul Finnegan, “we see it as a way to bring academia to the people.”

Most trace the beginnings of the Irish Catskills to the late 1930’s. However, research shows a strong Irish presence in the area as early as the 1890’s. The boom years of the region which became known as “The Irish Alps” did in fact begin in the 1930’s.

After the Depression many Irish Emigrants were entering the American middle class and happily enjoying the American notion of vacation. The sweltering New York City summers forced many Irishmen and women to the Catskills. One often cited reason for the popularity of this region was its natural aesthetic beauty, which reminded many of the rolling hills and scenery that they had left behind.

With a plethora of resorts, boarding houses, and pubs featuring top musicians and popular show bands of the time, by 1939 the Catskills was a popular holiday destination on par with Rockaway. The area became a hub of traditional Irish music and, in its prime; there were seventeen places in East Durham where one could hear music seven days a week.

Many New York City pub owners branched out into the region and a great number of those individuals were also musicians, who nurtured the art form. The tradition continues to this day, with a highly successful Memorial Day weekend Irish festival, which was organized by a community effort in 1977, as well as the Irish Arts Week, which features some of the best Irish musicians in the country.

The popularity of the region has declined some in recent years, however, most often attributed to the "three A’s": air-conditioning, airlines, and assimilation. The mark that the Irish community has left on the region is evident and countless adults have fond memories of their childhoods spent at the resorts. Many folks also met their spouses at dance halls in the area.

Brendan Dolan, a renowned traditional musician and teacher, will host a talk on the role of traditional music in this upstate mountain region as a reflection of the tastes of the Irish and Irish-Americans who created the phenomenon of the Irish Catskills. The presentation will be accompanied by a large array of photos tracing the changing face of the Irish Catskills from the 1920s to the present.

The event takes place at The New York Irish Center in Long Island City Queens on Saturday, January 16, at 7 p.m. A dinner buffet will be served and admission is $40 (seniors $30). Music will be provided by The Washington Square Harp & Shamrock Orchestra.

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