Monday, June 25, 2012

Irish/Celtic Week at Augusta Heritage Center, Elkins, WV

Before I was even trying to learn the music I loved visiting Ireland.  Now that I have become obsessed with playing tenor banjo, if I was to go back I would likely base myself in or around Ennis, County Clare where there's lots of opportunities to hear traditional music and perhaps even get in a tune or two at an open session.  But, with current airfares being more than twice what it cost to fly to Shannon in the mid-2000’s, there’s no chance I’m going this year. 

So, I figured why not do the next best thing and attend one of the Irish music summer schools that are offered right here in the United States?  They basically bring Ireland to you for a week.  As a relative newbie to sessions and trad music in general, the promise of a week of total immersion under the tutelage of master musicians seems invaluable. 

I chose Augusta Heritage Center's Irish/Celtic Week in Elkins, WV for a number of reasons, including:
- Proximity.  It’s only a 4 hour drive from my house in Virginia.
- Curriculum.  They offer instruction in both Irish tenor banjo and bodhrán so my wife and I can attend together.
- Setting.  It takes place on the hilly, tree-lined campus of a small liberal arts college with views of the Appalachian Mountains.
- Reputation.  Founded by Mick Moloney and modeled after the famed Willie Clancy Week in Miltown Malbay, Ireland, Elkins Irish Week is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and is regarded as the granddaddy of all domestic Irish music schools.  Augusta also offers an old-time week with a mandolin course open to players of tenor banjo, so I’m also scouting it out for the possibility of attending the old-time week at some point in the future.
- Coordinator Dr. Daniel T. Neely.  I’m familiar with Dan through his writings and music and am confident that he will do a great job in this role.  Plus, having another gifted tenor banjo player there to learn from can’t hurt!
- Craic.  In addition to the class time, I’ll be looking forward to the after-hours sessions in the 110 year old ice house pub.

The tenor banjo instructor is Pauline Conneely, who studied under Brendan Mulkere and plays in the group Chicago Reel
Tenor Banjo instructor Pauline Coneely
Bodhrán is being taught by Máirtín de Cógáin, a storyteller, playwright, actor and musician from Cork.
Bodhrán instructor Máirtín de Cógáin

Valley view of Elkins, West Virginia. Credit: Jennifer Haney USFWS
Augusta Heritage Center’s Irish/Celtic week takes place July 22-27 in Elkins, West Virginia.  In addition to Pauline Connely and Máirtín de Cógáin, the staff consists of Patrick Ourceau (fiddle), Dennis Cahill (guitar), Cillian Vallely (uillean pipes), Ivan Goff (flute), Donna Long (piano), Marla Fibish (mandolin), Joey Abarta (whistle), and more.


  1. I do hope that you enjoyed your visit to Augusta Irish Week! I don't believe we met. I was in Jimmy Crowley's Ballad class and had a wonderful time. This year marked my 23rd year of attending Irish Week and it never disappoints. It was a wonderful week of reuniting with old friends while making new ones. I hope you come back next year and perhaps meet. My drive is also only about 4 hours from NE Ohio and I love Augusta for its intimate setting on the D&E campus and very walkable quality of it. If you're staying on campus in a dorm, at the Conference Center or at Graceland, you basically park your car for a week and walk everywhere. Can't be beat! And the view of the blue green Appalachian Mountains is breathtaking. Walking outside in the early morning and seeing the mist clinging to the mountaintops is a sight to behold! Lovely and magical! Truly an amazing experience! Hope you had a "grand" time and hope you come back next year!

  2. Hi Sally! Thanks for your comment. I did enjoy the week and am already considering next year. We didn't meet, but I think I know who you are through process of elimination! Jimmy Crowley is great, as were all the instructors. I'm planning on writing a post-Augusta Irish followup. Attendance was really small this time, compared to other years wasn't it? I thought Dan Neely did a good job in his first year and there are definitely some kinks that will be worked out before next year, making it even better.