Young Bostonians are big winners at Comhaltas May Fleadh

The annual Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, held the weekend of May 8-10 in Parsippany, NJ, saw a number of Greater Boston musicians – especially younger ones – enjoy success.

The CCE Boston music school’s Realta Geala youth ensemble earned first place in the U15 (under age 15) ceili group competition. Sean Clohessy and Kathleen Conneely were the ensemble directors this past year.

Other Boston/Eastern Massachusetts-area first-place finishers included: Rory Coyne, melodeon (U12); Molly Quinn, tin whistle – slow airs (U12); Seamus Noonan, both solo flute and whistling (U12); Torrin Ryan, uilleann pipes (Over 18); Kyle Forsthoff, bodhran (O18); and Rory Coyne, Seamus Noonan and Bram Pomplas, trios (U12).

Second-place finishers included Rory Coyne in the newly composed tunes category, and Seamus Noonan in tin whistle (U12); the pair also placed second in duets (U12); Cormac Gaj, uilleann pipes (U15); Torrin Ryan, tin whistle (O18); Josie and Lisa Coyne, duets (O18); and Josie Coyne, Lisa Coyne and Mariel Wamsley, trios (O18).

Oisin Coyne, concertina (U12), and the trio of Cormac Gaj, Mary Kozachek and Elizabeth Kozachek, trios (U15), had third-place finishes.

In addition, students of local dancer and teacher Jaclyn O’Riley had a part in a history-making event: the first known sean-nós dance competition ever staged at a regional American fleadh. Overall, some 20 children and a handful of adults competed in four age categories.

In the under-12 category, O’Riley’s students Mary Kozachek and Rhys Boyd finished first and second, respectively, while the top three places in the under-15 were all O’Riley protégés: Ida Mihok, Elizabeth Kozacheck and Alex Marston. The O’Riley Dancers also took first in the half-set competition.

O’Riley was proud of her students’ accomplishments, as well as “the spirit and generosity” they showed during the weekend, and equally happy that sean-nós dance was added to the program. In fact, it was O’Riley, along with Washington, DC-based dance teacher Shannon Dunne, who had approached the fleadh committee on the matter in the first place.

“Sean-nós dancing has been a part of the fleadhs in Ireland for a while now,” says O’Riley. “In the US, the sean-nós dance competitions were ‘on the books,’ so to speak, but there had not been enough of an interest prior to this year to hold them. So when Shannon and I told the fleadh committee we had students who would love to take part in the weekend, they were happy to work together with us and introduce sean-nós dance in the fleadh.”

The importance of adding sean-nós dance to the program went beyond competition, she explains: “For young musicians, the fleadh is a chance to meet and connect with other young people playing Irish music, as well as to have a goal to practice towards. This has been missing for young sean-nós dancers, so for our students, it’s an important development that the fleadh now has a place for them.

“The best part of the weekend for me was watching my young sean-nós dance students meeting and hanging out with other dancers and musicians, trading steps, and sharing what they love with each other.”

O’Riley says the change is a reflection of the dramatic growth of sean-nós dance in the US over the past decade, particularly among younger dancers, many of whom also play Irish music: “With sean-nós dancing, the dancer is part of the music, and this really appeals to people of all ages. “

Given this trend, she says, “I expect that sean-nós dance will be even more popular next year, as the competition had quite a buzz around it, and was such a pleasure to watch.”