Corrections or additions?
This article by David McDonough was prepared for the September 12,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The Emerald Isle in Drama, Music, & Song
According to the latest census figures, more than
people in New Jersey identify themselves as Irish, making this the
second largest ethnic group in the state. A theatrical production
being launched in Trenton, and an Irish music series at the State
Theater in New Brunswick, literally reflect the state’s growing
in Celtic culture.
The Irish American Theater Company (IATC) brings its production of
"The Hunger Grass" to the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton
on Saturday, September 15, for performances at 3 and 8 p.m. The
drama, written and directed by award-winning playwright Deirdre
concerns the impact of the Irish Famine on one family and on
Ireland. The show is sponsored by the museum and by the area division
of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
In an interview from New York, McNamara say her involvement in this
project came about by accident. "Tom Henry (the founder of the
IATC), had planned an evening of Irish ghost stories and his author
bailed on him. He had just done a tribute to my late husband, Dermot
McNamara, co-founder of the Irish Players, and he asked me to come
through," she says.
"It was the sesquicentennial of the Great Famine, so I based three
stories on that famine and how it had impacted the history of
Over one million people died in the Irish famine of the late 1840s,
and another million migrated to North America, never to return.
One of McNamara’s stories, "The Hunger Grass," is set in the
time of the famine. McNamara says it was inspired by a painting given
to her by Father Dan Cullen of Tenafly, of the Society of African
Missionaries. When the Hibernians approached the playwright about
a full-length play for Trenton, she says she agreed that the subject
deserves two acts.
She set part of the play in contemporary Ireland and part of it during
the historic time of the famine that altered the course of so many
lives. "The subtext, which I have come to realize by watching
rehearsals, is a kind of war between the old Ireland — the real,
European Ireland — and how the `Celtic Tiger’ (the nickname for
the high-tech economic boom in modern Ireland) is trying to move away
from old Ireland. I think the hope for Ireland is in American Ireland
for the survival of Irish culture per se."
"Ireland has lost a writer, actress and director of note,"
lamented an editorial in Ireland’s leading national paper, the Irish
Independent, when McNamara returned to work in New York some years
ago. She was nominated by Dominic Riordain as "one of Ireland’s
outstanding young poets."
In 1972, with her husband, Deirdre McNamara established the world’s
first theatrical celebration of Bloomsday at the White Horse Inn,
brought Joyce to the stage of Symphony Space Theater, and inspired
Bloomsday Festivals around the world.
McNamara joined the Irish American Theatre Company after its
of her one-act play, "The Waiting Room." She is also the
of a book on homeopathy to be published in Italy this fall.
Five New Jersey-based actors head the cast of "The Hunger
including seasoned Broadway actor Sam Adams, Thomas Kimmins, Scotty
Servis, Derek Straat, and Patricia McNamara.
"We have extraordinary performers from many different states,
and our New Jersey cast is more than holding its own," enthuses
McNamara. "Performing in their state capital is very special to
them, and I hope their home state audiences give them a great
Even today in Ireland, you’ll hear people talk about the Great Hunger
as if it were yesterday. And it remains an emotional subject.
"The Famine isn’t just talk about numbers, it is about
says McNamara. "Each individual suffered to an unimaginable
Non-Irish have said they didn’t understand the famine before. It’s
the playwright’s job to touch humanity."
The State Theatre will hit a somewhat less somber note
with its new Irish Series — four celebrations of Irish music and
dance that are offered during the 2001-20002 season. The international
hit Gaelforce Dance will give two performances, October 6, at 3 and
8 p.m.. With dance, light, sound, and music, the company tells the
story of two lovers torn apart by family jealousies and ultimate
In the tradition of Riverdance, and using traditional Irish music
fused with jazz, percussion, and newly-composed songs, the show has
been a sensation around the world since its inception in 1997.
The Chieftains, the world’s most famous Celtic traditional music group
that has been together for 30 years, return to the State on March
8. They’ve played all over the world (including Irish jigs in China)
and guest artists on their albums have ranged from Mick Jagger to
Tom Jones. An evening spent with the Chieftains is like sitting in
on the greatest pub session in the world. And maybe Paddy Maloney,
the Chieftains piper, will play something from the symphony he has
been composing for years, a piece that commemorates the Great Famine.
Ronan Tynan, best known of the original three Irish Tenors, goes solo
for his April 5 concert. Tynan, who has struggled with serious illness
throughout his life, has been one of Ireland’s leading singers since
he won the BBC/RTE Go For It talent search in 1994. In 1998 he formed
the three Irish tenors. Their concert tours, CDs, and videos have
won millions of fans in America and the British Isles. Performing
standards like "Danny Boy" and "The Lass of Aughrim",
Tynan may be the most popular singer to come out of Ireland in this
century. John McDermott, another of Ireland’s celebrated tenors,
his "Remembrance Tour" on November 10.
Concert goers at a Cherish the Ladies show tend to blink twice after
the show, when they realize that the six women standing in the lobby
shaking hands with everyone are the same incredible musicians who
just dazzled them with their unbelievable musicianship.
Appearances by Cherish the Ladies have become a staple at the State
Theatre. This season’s show takes place April 26, and features as
an opening act Celtic fiddle virtuoso Doug Cameron. Founded in 1983
by musicologist Mick Molonoy, all the "ladies" of Cherish
learned their music at their father’s knees. Their latest album,
Girls Won’t Leave The Boys Alone!" features all six of their
as well as friends. The legendary Irish singer Liam Clancy calls the
group "incredible instrumentalists… and ebullient, lovable and
dynamic troupe." And you haven’t lived until you have seen the
group’s leader, the extraordinary flute and whistle player, Joannie
Madden, do her dead-on impression of Michael Flatley.
Whether you trace your family roots to Ireland or you just feel Irish,
the Garden State should keep you on your toes this season.
— David McDonough
205 West State Street, Trenton, 609-586-9696.$18.51 for adults, $10
seniors & children. Tickets at the Cross and the Shamrock, Clover
ticket and reservation information for the Irish Series, call toll
free: 877-782-8311. On the Web at www.StateTheatreNJ.org.
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