Two Patricks and a Paddy perform
There they were on St. Patrick's Day, a Paddy and two Patricks, playing all-Irish music-but the fiddler was a Frenchman; and not a single spot of green on any of them.
"Well, the color green, the shamrocks-those are really more of an Irish-American ideal," said Paddy O'Brien, taking a break from performing March 17 at the New York Mills City Ballroom.
Nearly 100 attended the event, hosted by the Regional Cultural Center-in a town that is decidedly long on Finnish heritage, but light on Irish influence. But nevertheless, there must be a few drops of Irish blood in the area-or at least a number of "Irishmen-for-a-day" because green was spattered throughout the audience-but not on the bandstand.
In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is really more of a somber, religious holiday-with considerably less revelry and less green then we see in America, said O'Brien, who is the leader and accordion player of "Chulrua."
"Irish-Americans tend to have a more romantic view of Ireland," said O'Brien, a native of County Offaly who toured and performed extensively for more than 30 years. "The truth is, the Irish work and exist under very harsh economic conditions."
Playing guitar, and singing, was Patrick Eagan, from County Tipperary. But on violin, a fellow with an Irish first name, Patrick, and a French last name, Ourceau.
Odd is it may seem, Ourceau is one of the finest Irish fiddlers in the world, said O'Brien. He was exposed to the music while growing up in France, and fell in love with the melodies. He now lives in Toronto.
Interestingly, Cultural Center Director Jamie Robertson noted that Celtic influences are historically very prevalent in western France-where Irish and French musical styles merged.
Irish beer was served at the New York Mills ballroom, and a couple dozen of the concert-goers lined up for Irish dancing-but it was hardly a rowdy St. Patty's party.
"It's nice to be able to hear ourselves for a change," said O'Brien, adding with a smile, "on St. Patrick's Day, we play where it is usually very noisy...And the people really don't care what we play."
Jigs, reels and hornpipes were performed by Chulrua at the ballroom-virtually all played by memory and from the heart and soul. O'Brien has recorded a ten CD set of 500 Irish tunes; many of them have never been written down, and might otherwise be lost to history.
For Paddy O'Brien and Chulrua, playing the New York Mills ballroom was a pleasant break from the taverns, pubs and raucous Irish parties.
"Well, we're not as young as we used to be," said Paddy. "Nowadays, I like a nice, sedate audience. I like gigs where people are rational."