Ceili Group’s 49th Annual Irish Music & Dance Festival
America’s Longest Running Traditional Irish Music and Dance Festival Celebrates Its 49th Year October 12-14th in Philadelphia
Irish singer Niamh Parsons, once described as having a “drop-dead, stops-you-in-your-tracks, unbelievably gorgeous voice,” will be one of the headliners at the Philadelphia Ceili Group’s 49th Annual Traditional Irish Music and Dance Festival which runs from October 12th to 14th 2023 at the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center in Philadelphia. She’ll take the stage Saturday night, October 14, accompanied by her husband, noted guitarist Graham Dunne. The two will be joined by a brand new traditional music band, Reverie Road, which includes two of the founding members of the Grammy-nominated Irish supergroup Solas which has some of its roots in the Philadelphia area (co-founder Seamus Egan was born in Hatboro, PA, to Irish immigrants and many of the band members lived in Philadelphia). Solas co-founder Winnie Horan is a nine-time national Irish step dancer and an All-Ireland fiddle champion. She was also part of the all-female Celtic music ensemble Cherish the Ladies. John Williams, also a Solas co-founder, is a five-time All-Ireland champion and a multi-instrumentalist (button accordion, flute, bodhran, and piano) who has made eclectic forays into a wide variety of music, from jazz to bluegrass, as a performer and composer. Former Gaelic Storm fiddler Katie Grenna and jazz and Raga pianist Utsave Lal round out the Reverie Road group.
The music and dancing starts on Thursday, October 12, with Singers Night featuring an array of local and national Irish traditional singers gathered in the cozy pub atmosphere of the Irish Center’s Fireside Room with its stone fireplace and crackling fire. On Friday, a
traditional Ceili Dance—group dancing native to Ireland—will take over the Fireside
Room with live music and instructors to help beginners master the moves and steps. On Saturday, a tradition of Irish rural life is celebrated as Marianne MacDonald, popular
host of WTMR’s “Come West Along the Road” Irish radio show, presides over a
“Rambling House.” In Ireland, before TV and even radio, neighbors would gather in one
home for an evening of singing, playing, dancing and story-telling, over cups of tea and
a blazing fire. This entertainment went on into the wee hours before everyone would “ramble” home. The Philadelphia Ceili Group has assembled a group of musicians, singers, and story tellers to recreate the spirit of the Rambling House in front of the Irish Center’s own blazing fire. The Next Generation, a group of young musicians who meet every month at the Irish Center to learn Irish tunes, will also perform and lead a beginner tune workshop. A graduate of this 20-year-old organization is All-Ireland champion fiddler Haley Richardson, who has toured with Riverdance.
The Festival’s Saturday lineup has always included intimate and interactive workshops, some taught by the headliners, giving students a rare chance to learn from the best. Parsons will be teaching singing, Dunne the basics of accompaniment, Reverie Road fiddlers Winnie Horan and Katie Glennan, and accordionist John Williams will lead workshops on their instruments for both beginner and advanced students. Beginners are also welcome to learn a tune with the Next Generation or dip their toe into playing with others at the beginner session with our monthly session leader, Hollis Payer. Philadelphia native Kieran Jordan, one of the nation’s top dancers and dance instructors who runs her own dance company and studio in Boston, will conduct a 90-minute all level class on sean nos dancing. Sean nos is a more casual and loose form of traditional Irish dancing that predates the more familiar Irish step dancing. This “close-to-the-floor” style of dance doesn’t require the same athletic leaps nor the stiff arms as step dancing so it’s accessible to all ages and many abilities.
As a nod to the Halloween season, there will be family-friendly activities such as a costume contest at the Friday evening Ceili in addition to crafts like pumpkin decorating and Irish ghost stories on Saturday. Workshops are aimed at all ages and levels, including hands-on classes for beginner and advanced musicians as well as lessons in the Irish language for children and adults. Popular face painter Sue Foo will be offering her skin art to kids and adults. A family favorite is learning how to make St. Brigid’s Crosses out of reeds, in which the McGill family (of Ardara, County Donegal) has led attendees at the festival for many years.
All-Festival tickets are $100, $85 for PCG members. Tickets are sold individually for
events each day at various prices. Saturday concert tickets are priced at $35 when
purchased in advance, which is $5 less than when purchased at the door. Members pay
$30. Advance tickets are available by going to:
The Philadelphia Ceili Group is a non-profit, volunteer, educational organization (governed by a nine-member Board of Directors), which is dedicated to the preservation, education and promotion of Irish Culture through a variety of activities including Irish Ceili dances, Traditional Irish Music concerts, a yearly festival, instructional workshops, storytelling, theater, family friendly programming and Irish community building. Its annual festival was started in 1975, prompted by an idea floated by Limerick-born Mick Moloney, an Irish musician and folklorist who taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Moloney, who died in 2022, was honored with the National Heritage Fellowship, America’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts, given by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center, located at 6815 Emlen Street in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy neighborhood, has been the hub of Irish culture in the Delaware Valley since 1958.