I’m writing on behalf a dear friend we share in common, Danny O’Flaherty. If you know Danny like I do, you know he is full of compassion, grace, enthusiasm, and love. I asked Danny if I could send this email, because I know you will be as moved by this as I am.
You may have heard the news that Danny was recently in a car accident. His wife, Lisa, tells us that after multiple tests, he has been diagnosed with a severe concussion and post-concussion syndrome, and he will have to have an MRI to rule out any further head/neck trauma.
His doctors expect him to make a full recovery, but they have told him he needs serious rest for the next several months. Of course, Danny has been a traveling musician his whole life, sharing the joy of his Irish music to the rest of the world with boundless energy. So you can imagine how difficult it is for him to rest!
Danny and Lisa have asked me to thank everyone for the outpouring of support they have received,and to let you know that Danny will have to cancel his shows for the next several months. This includes his popular Celtic Christmas celebrations, which would have been in their 25th year. As you can imagine, this is a huge blow, on top of everything else.
Danny has given me so much over the years, that I have decided to give back. There is no pressure, but I know many of our friends will want to help out like I have. It’s easy to do – you simply follow this link, and make your donation, in whatever amount you choose:
Danny also loves all the emails, Facebook messages and calls he has received. He is not well enough yet to respond, but he tells me how much it means to him to have support from so many wonderful people.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, about someone we both love who needs our help. God bless.
Elizabeth H. O’Connor
This month marks the 10 year anniversary of HURRICANE KATRINA, the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record at the time, only to be surpassed by Hurricanes Rita and Wilma later in the season. She ravaged NEW ORLEANS with a 28-foot storm surge and 2 feet of rainfall. The water easily breached the city’s old levee system in about 50 places and damaged half its water pumping stations. By the time the storm had passed, 80% of the Vieux Carré was submerged under water. There would be over 1500 deaths, and many more people displaced from their homes. Some have never been accounted for. But through her resilience and spirit NEW ORLEANS rebounded.
I am originally from Connemara, Co Galway, but have lived in the US for the past 40 years. I am a singer, songwriter and entertainer, and have have spent much of my life dedicated to preserving and promoting Celtic Culture, particularly in the South. Hurricane Katrina was devastating to many, many people, myself included. In 2005, I was living in New Orleans and was heavily involved in teaching about and celebrating the Celtic culture to Irish Americans, and to anyone who was interested. I owned and operated O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Centre. O’Flaherty’s was my dream come true. It was a place where we could teach Irish dance, speak our native Gaelic language and listen to and play Celtic folk music. We had a courtyard where we would have special outdoor concerts and weddings, and even held Mass there on occasion. There was a restaurant and a pub, and many famous musicians came to play in the Ballad Room, including Tommy Makem, Eric Bogle and Danny Doyle.
Soon that would all change. While we didn’t know it at the time, the 2005 hurricane season would become the most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history shattering numerous records. On Tuesday August 23, the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, issued its first advisory about the tropical system that would become Hurricane Katrina. By Sunday, August 28, Hurricane Katrina has mushroomed into one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to form in the Atlantic and The National Hurricane Center described Katrina as a “potentially catastrophic” hurricane. That day my son Liam and I were at O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub in the French Quarter. I remember looking at the sky and it was full of dark, menacing colors. I knew then that we had to leave the city as this was going to be dire, like nothing else we had ever experienced. The sky was an ominous mixture of reds, blacks, yellows and greens. It looked wild and crazy. The winds were picking up and the highways were jammed. Thousands had already left, and many thousands more had left it until the last minute. I was one of those. At 4:00 pm we hit the road. It would be 8 hours before the hurricane hit landfall.
I went east toward the hurricane, thinking most people would drive away from the danger. Along the way we could see fisherman frantically taking their boats out of the water, and people boarding up there homes. There was a sense of foreboding in the air. I started to realize I had stayed too long and should have left days before. The highway going east was jammed with traffic, and I started to believe we would be caught on the highway, with no protection and no way to stay safe. I started to feel hopeless, and scared for our safety. My son, Liam, was just 14, and was trying his hardest to be brave, but I could see the tears in his eyes. Just when all hope seemed gone, my daughter Tara called to see how we were doing. At this point the winds were blowing, the waves getting higher and the skies darker and I had run out of ideas of how to get us to safety. Like an angel, Tara used satellite imagery to guide us to safety. She directed me on which roads to take to get us to safety. She continued this for 5 hours, taking us through neighborhoods and towns until finally at 0300 we pulled into Monroe, Louisiana, which was 300 miles North of New Orleans. I have thought about that many times over the years, how from thousands of miles away, my daughter directed her brother and I to safety, potentially saving our lives. There are no words to express how grateful I am to her for that.
That night we stayed with friends. We were thankful to get a few hours sleep, and when we woke at 9:00 am we were relieved! It seemed that New Orleans had been spared. Katrina had passed through, but caused no significant damage. It seemed we would be able to return to our beloved city the next day. However, the worst was yet to come. At 12:00 noon, a news report stated there was a breech in the levee. An hour later, another levee breeched. More reports of more breeches followed. New Orleans sits in a bowl, and it is below sea level.The levees were built to keep water out. Once they are breeched, there is no way to stop the flooding. I knew at that moment that life as I had known it was over, that New Orleans would be devastated, her people scarred forever. My hopes and dreams of continuing to spread the Celtic culture through rowing, regattas, concerts and so much more were destroyed. I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.
It was a week later before anyone was allowed back in to the city. My first thought driving into the city was that it was like a war zone. There was death and destruction everywhere. If you think about what it would look like at the end of the world, this was it. Over 1600 people were dead or dying, and thousands more had fled, many never to return. There was no light, just darkness-no sounds, just deafening silence. Everything was under water, people were on their rooftops waiting to be rescued. You could smell the decay in the air. Toxic poisonings from the refinery and the chemical plants had bled into the standing water. To this day, anyone who was exposed to this poison are still experiencing health problems.
The National Guard were riding around the city in army jeeps, armed and ready to fire. Multiple police departments from around the country had come to help try to resist order and peace because there was no law and order. There was widespread looting. The LA National Guard had just been deployed home from Iraq. They were quoted as saying that what they witnessed in their home city was worse than anything they had experienced in the war torn country of Iraq. Hospitals were loosing their generator power, there was no food. There were no sounds of life…no birds, no music, no anything. Just death and decay and devastation.
As a singer and song writer, I was able to turn to music to ease the pain slighting in the clean up phase of Katrina. In the years that followed I wrote an album called Secret Garden. The album celebrates the magic and mystery that continues to live on in a city full of secret gardens and magical courtyards. So many people lost so much in the natural disaster, yet in the face of adversity, they found the strength to start over. I wrote “Droch Sceal Go New Orleans“ which means “Bad News for New Orleans”. I wrote it in my native Gaelic language because I wanted people at home in Ireland to understand the trauma this city had experienced. It was part of a documentary I did for Irish TV. Coming Home to You is another song on the album and was written when Liam and I were evacuating the city that Sunday as the black clouds rolled in. The line “Will We Ever See You Like You Were Before?” makes reference to the fact that, as I looked back over my left shoulder, I knew the city we would come back to would not be the city we all Knew and loved. The album is dedicated to the beauty and magic of New Orleans. It is about the city’s hope, rebuilding and triumph over the destruction and despair. The magic’s still there.
There were many losses, many tears and many fears in the months and years following Katrina. I lost my home and O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub was forced to close. I relocated to another state to start over. There were also many lessons to be learned. No matter what life hands you, you have the ability to rise above it. Never let adversity dim your light and your love for life. Keep singing and dancing and most of all, always remember to do good whenever you can. Ten years later the city is still rebuilding. The magic’s still there!
New Orleans was home to me for many years. Her soul and spirit have etched a place in my heart that will always remain. Here’s a song to reflect the magic of New Orleans ~
Dads and Stepdads have enormous power and potential in their daughters’ lives from the time they are born. This bond is especially strong on a daughter’s wedding day. One of the beautiful highlights of any wedding is the father- daughter dance. Many years ago Noel Nash and I co-wrote Blushing Bride for my uncle’s daughter, Mary-Ann, to dance at their wedding. Since then, I have recorded this song for other brides, personalizing it with their own name.If you are looking for a special song for your daughter to dance with her father at her wedding and would like a customized CD of Blushing Bride, please email me at email@example.com As the wedding season approaches, I would like to extend sincere congratulations to all the mother and sons, fathers and daughters and brides and grooms. May you have many years of happiness and love!
C’ead Mile Failte means A Hundred Thousand Welcomes in Irish Gaelic! Gaelic is the ancient and modern language of Ireland and is also my native language. Irish was once the majority language in Ireland and its decline began under English rule in the seventeenth century. By the early 19th century, Gaelic as a spoken tongue had died out except in isolated rural areas; English had become the official and literary language of Ireland. The introduction of a primary education system, in which only English was taught by order of the British government while Irish was prohibited was one reason for the decline of the Irish language. The Great Famine (an Gorta Mór) which hit a disportionately high number of Irish speakers, especially in the Gaeltacht areas of the western seaboard, resulted in the deaths of over a million people and caused a tidal wave of emigration, which was also a major factor in the decline of the language. By the turn of the century, only about one percent of the population spoke Irish Gaelic in Ireland. Most emigrants traveled to England, America, Canada & Australia and had to learn English to survive. I myself left my home in Connemara when I was sixteen and emigrated to England for work. Before leaving Ireland I remember having someone write out how to ask for a bus ticket in English and I practiced it over and over so that when I got to the bus station I would know what to say.
The late 19th century saw a renewed interest in the Irish language. Many writers and scholars felt that the Irish language was very important for maintaining an Irish identity. In 1893, the Gaelic League was established. Its main goal was to revive the Irish language and protect its status. It also promoted the development of national literature, music, and theater. In 1937, with the birth of the Irish Constitution, Irish was declared the ‘first official language” of the county, with English being second.
Today, Irish as a first language is spoken mostly in the Gaeltacht areas of rural western and north-western parts of the country, where it is estimated that approximately 30,000 speak the language, while another million or so Irish people can speak more than just a few words. It’s wonderful to see the Irish language develop outside of Ireland. Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at Notre Dame University, The Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and The center for Irish Programs at Boston College have excellent Irish study programs. The North Texas School of Irish Music in Dallas teaches the traditional folk music of Ireland. I was invited to perform there this past Christmas and it was so heartwarming to hear American children speak and sing in Gaelic. In Canada, St. Francis Xavier offers a Celtic language program with the literature and history of the Celts from about 800 BC to the present and Memorial University of Newfoundland teaches an Irish Gaelic program. Newfoundland remains the only place outside Europe that can claim a unique Irish name (Talamh an Éisc, meaning Land of the Fish). Tamworth, Ontario, is also home to the first Irish Language speaking area, or Gaeltacht, to be announced outside of Ireland. This is an important symbol of hope for the struggling minority language. Plans for the site include cabins to house upwards of 100 people, classrooms, and a museum.
It is my hope that the Gaelic language continues to flourish, both in Ireland and around the world. Several years ago, my brother Patrick and I recorded a video known as A Night In Gaelic It was filmed at O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub in the French Quarter in New Orleans. I am currently in Nashville, Tennessee, recording a song I have written in Gaelic and have plans to do an entire album in Gaelic. In my children’s programs, I teach the kids how to count to ten in Gaelic, and they always love learning a new language! If you are interested in learning the language, visit your local college or university or click on the links above. As well, there are many online programs available. In May, 2016, I will be leading a tour to Ireland and will visit the Gaeltach area where Gaelic is alive and well. There we will meet with seanchai ( storyteller, pronounced sha-na-kee), learn how to Sean-nós dance (an older style of traditional solo Irish dance), and so much more. Details can be found by clicking here!
Go raibh maith agat!
Danny (Donal Ó Flaithbertaigh)
The Pink, White and Green flag is one of the oldest still-recognized symbols in Newfoundland & Labrador. It predates the Irish flag by several years, and is the oldest flag in the world to use the color pink. The first documented reference to the tricolor is when St. John’s captain Walter Dillon flew the flag from the mast of his schooner, circa 1845, as he sailed between St. John’s NL, and Waterford, Ireland. In 1848 the schooner was moored in front of Thomas Meagher’s merchant premises. Meagher, who had been born in Newfoundland, was then the Mayor of Waterford. His son, Thomas Francis Meagher, gave Ireland its own tricolor –the Orange, White, and Green, believed to be inspired by the Pink, White and Green! Thomas JR. was eventually deported to Tasmania, escaped to the United States, and ending up as Governor of Montana!
The pink, the rose of England shows,
The green St. Patrick’s emblem, bright
While in between, the spotless sheen
of Andrew’s Cross, displays the white.
Then hail: the pink, the white, the green,
The NL Tricolor is believed to be the inspiration behind the Irish Orand, White and Green
Our patriot flag! long may it stand. –
Our sirelands twine, their emblems trine,
-Michael Francis Howley, 1903
Imbolc, also known as the Feast of Brigid, will soon be upon us. On February 1, we celebrate the arrival of longer, warmer days and the early signs of spring.
Saint Brigid of Kildare (also known as Bridget, Bride, or Brigid of Ireland) rivals St. Patrick for premier saint status in Ireland. Her ability to intercede with God for special favours in legendary. Born near Dundalk in Louth around A.D. 450, Brigid was born to a pagan chieftan believed to be named Dubhthach. Her mother was one of his slaves, and Brigid herself was born into slavery. One of her many chores was milking her father’s cows, and churning the milk into butter. She poured gallons of milk and churned pounds of butter and gave it to the poor so that they would have something to eat and drink. The miracle was that the cows continued to produce milk for Brigid so that she could have milk and butter to give away to anyone who was in need.
Brigid is well known throughout Ireland for her ability to heal the sick or dying and was legendary in her compassion for them. She was especially gifted in her ability to cure minor aches and pains such as toothaches, earaches and headaches. Today there are some 15 Holy Wells said to be connected to Brigid. The water in these wells are believed to have miraculous powers to heal. I recently visited one nestled between the Cliffs of Moher and Liscannor. It is revered place of local pilgrimage on the 1st of February, but really anytime of the year you can see people visiting. Whenever I visit, I bring home several bottles of Holy Water for anyone who believes in the healing powers of the water.
When Brigid took her vow to become a nun, it is said the wooden alter in Kildare came to life, and flowers and leaves sprouting from it. To this day, it is believed to hold healing properties, and many people continue to make the pilgrimage to there to be cured of various illnesses. A fire burns in the Kildare chapel to this day, and some say it has burned continuously since the day Brigid died.
One of the most widespread Irish customs associated with St. Brigid/ Brigit is the making of the Cros Bríde ( St Brigid’s Cross). On February 1st, many Irish people will adhere to an ancient tradition of making St. Brigid’s Cross and placing in their home, usually above the door. It is believed the cross offers blessings to all who come in or go out, and it also protects the home from fire and illness.
Another custom we celebrated in Ireland was to eat “Boxty” on St. Brigid’s Day (click for recipe). It’s a traditional Irish potato pancake and the word is from the Irish “Bacstai” and refers to the traditional method of grilling over an open fire.
One my most recent tour to Ireland this past September, we spent a beautiful day in Carrigallen, Co Leitrim. This is where Margaret of New Orleans was born on Christmas Day, 1813. The town of Carrigallen welcomed our group with craft people, music, songs, dance, drama and art. Above is a photo of one of the many talented people from that area making Boxty for us. And let me tell you, it was delicious! I can’t thank these people enough for everything they did for us. We ended the day with a delicious meal and even more dancing and singing. It was a truly incredible time.
So on Febuary 1, as you welcome the start of spring, I hope you will take a moment to think of St. Brigid. Perhaps you can start a new tradition of making a cross in her honor, or cooking some boxty for supper!
* Click on highlights for more info *
Happy Winter Solstice, a day celebrated for time immortal. Now held on Dec. 21-22, while on ancient calendars, it took place on Dec. 25. For the Celts it marked the celebration of both the shortest day of the year (and hence the day with the most darkness) and the rebirth of the sun. One of the reasons for the rapid propagation of Christianity was the willingness of Christian leaders to incorporate the rituals, beliefs and customs of other religions. Few of the ancient displaced religions were more assimilated than the Druids, Wiccans and Pagans. After the Viking invasions, the Winter Solstice also became known as Yule, derived from the Anglo Saxon “Yula” or “Wheel of the Year”. Originating in Scandanavia, “Yultid” was the festival celebrated at the twelfth month and was the twelfth name of Odin, was, according to legend, came to earth in December, disguised in a hooded cloak. He would sit awhile at the firesides listening to the people, and where there was want he left a gift of bread or coins, much a like our modern day Santa Claus! Even his elves are the modernization of the “Nature Folk” of the Pagan religions!
Decorating the Yule tree was also a Pagan custom. Bright colored decorations would be hung on the tree (usually pine) as a symbol of various stellar objects of significance to the Pagans….the sun, moon and stars, and also to represent the souls of those who died in the previous year. Later, burning candles were placed on the tree. Also, the practice of gift giving evolved from the Pagan tradition of hanging gifts on the Yule tree as offering to the various Pagan Gods and Goddesses. The custom of burning an ash Yule Log was performed to honor the Great Mother Goddess. It was lit on the eve of the solstice, using the remains of the log from the previous year, and was burned for twelve hours for good luck!
Most of the greenery we use today for our Christmas decorations is associated with Winter Solstice. For instance, the Holly tree flowers in summer and bears its fruit in the winter.
It is guardian of the waning year and holds the wisdom of the dark time. It symbolizes the strength of the hearth and home, and its prickly leaves offer protection against hostile energies. The Druids would put it out as a kind gesture to tiny faeries who might use it as a hiding place! So when you use holly the Christmas, while honoring your Celtic heritage and making your house look nice, you may be providing the invaluable service of providing shelter to tree fairies and protecting your home from malevolent spirits! The Mistletoe is regarded as extremely sacred, and means Àll Heal`because of its special powers. It is associated with productiveness, trustworthiness, fertility and overcoming suffering and difficulties. Ancient Celts believed the Mistletoe possessed miraculous healing powers and held the soul of the tree. It was also believed to be a bit of an aphrodisiac, hence the modern day use of hanging it overhead to receive a kiss from your love!
These and more customs are still practiced today. Usually we don`t know where they came from or their significance. But these ancient customs and traditions are a celebration of ancient times. Tomorrow, the day will be a little longer, the darkness a little shorter! So whether you hang holly and mistletoe, burn a Yule log or wait for Santa with your family, you are doing as your ancestors may have done centuries ago! How beautiful is that! Merry Christmas and Nollaig Shona!
I’ve been on the road a lot these last few weeks for performances and events all over TX and LA. I love seeing towns and cities come to life with twinkling Christmas lights and decorations. But when I see a single candle in the window it takes me back to being a boy growing up on the West coast of Ireland. All the Celtic countries have a similar custom of lighting a candle at Christmas to light the way of a stranger. In Ireland, we have the lovely tradition, passed down from ancient times, of “The Candle in the Window“. On Christmas Eve, just after dark, the youngest child named Mary or John would be the one to light the candle, often using a scooped out turnip for the candlestick! In every household there was always a Mary or John….(if God forbid there wasn’t, the honor would fall to the youngest child). The last time I was home in Connemara for Christmas, it was so heartwarming to see villages come alive with the flickering glow of candlelight in every window, saying “Welcome Home”. Nowadays, people continue to place candles (usually battery operated or electric for obvious safety reasons) in the window, echoing the message of our ancestors of reaching out to our fellow man, to help light the way for him or her in some small way. The candle in the window is sign of welcome, and of the love and warmth of the home and the people in it. It is a symbol of safety and peace. Wouldn’t it be grand if we would continue this ancient tradition year round, and always remember to reach out to our fellow man.
I wish each and everyone of you a blessed Christmas and may there always be a light to help light your way.
Looking for that perfect Christmas gift for someone special? Here’s an idea ~ Music, dance, song, Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras all rolled into a week long tour of the warm Western Caribbean on our Irish Folk Music Cruise!
The details (click on red links for more info): We have put together a midwinter getaway on the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn leaving New Orleans Sunday February 8, returning a week later, Sunday February 15, just before Mardi Gras!
Entertainment features the one and only Jed Marum, The Irish Lads, Ralph O’Brien (from the Sons of Erin), Irish Dancers, Constant Billy and myself! We will visit Cozumel, Belize, Honduras and Costa Maya along the way. How can you miss this cruise!
In addition to all activities and events that are included with the cruise, our guests get exclusive access to over 30 hours of musical performances, dance & music workshops, Gaelic lessons, pub quizzes and lots more! And mingle with the Irish entertainers every day and night of the cruise. Also included, two complimentary open bar cocktail parties and a bottle of house wine! There will be much revelry and the nicest kind of debauchery as we celebrate Mardi Gras, Celtic style, at the annual O’Houligan’s Ball, where we will party like royalty and in decadence! Bring your most glittery gown of purple, green and gold, the colors of Mardi Gras colors. Boas, beads and masks will have even the mermaids dancing!
So raise your glass of Guinness to a week of Magic, Mystery and Merriment and join us as we set sail. It’s more than a cruise, more than a concert, more than a Mardi Gras Ball; it’ll be a week of Folk Music, Fun, and Wonderful Memories! And don’t forget- when you return you’ll be in N’Awlins right before Fat Tuesday. Maybe you’ll want to hang around town for a few days… make arrangements accordingly!
Our rates have dropped and there are still some spaces available. If you want to learn more or make your reservation, please contact Kevin Donovan at iCruise 1-800-427-8473, ext. 7853 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org and he will be more than happy to answer your questions or help you with your booking. Hope to see you there. Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler and Slainte!!
I’m getting ready to hit the road for the next 5 days for Celtic Christmas performances and I got to thinking about our Christmas traditions growing up in Ireland. One of the biggest ones was using Holly and Ivy to decorate our home. My brothers, sisters and I would gather it up and our mom would decorate the doors and windows with the greenery and bright red berries.
For thousands of years, Celtic people decorated their homes with the mystical plant during Yuletide or winter solstice because it was believed the Holly symbolized the strength of hearth and home, while the prickly leaves offered protection against hostile energies! So as you hang your Holly and Ivy this season, you will be taking part in a custom that is thousands of years old and still done today! If your ancestors were Celtic people, they would have taken part in this tradition for many, many generations! Nollaig Shona Duit! Danny
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