by John Kearns
Photos by Cat Dwyer

On Friday, June 7th, the IAW&A Salon took its second road trip, this time to Philadelphia. Despite heavy rains, traffic,  wrong turns, and assorted mishaps, we all made it safely to the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute at Rittenhouse Square in time to enjoy the lovely reception provided by the Irish Consulate and our gracious hosts.


A welcoming spread at the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute

As in our first road Salon in Fairfield, Connecticut, I was asked to say a few words about the IAW&A.  I explained that the IAW&A is primarily an arts organization and that our purpose is to promote the art of Irish-Americans living and dead.  We are not associated with any religion, any County, and not even necessarily with Ireland.  The IAW&A focuses on the Irish-American experience, and, although the Irish have a long history in America — including several signers of the Declaration of Independence about 15 blocks from where we were gathered — what we are doing with this organization feels new.  I urged the people in attendance to join us in our groundbreaking endeavors.

I also tried to express the gratitude that I and the other New York artists felt toward Marie ReillySiobhan Lyons, and all the organizers of the road Salon for arranging the event and for the warm welcome.


Pre-Salon Reception

On a personal note, I  added how significant it was for me to take part in this Philadelphia Salon.  I had gone to high school and college in the city of Philadelphia, and worked in the mail room of my father’s reinsurance office just a couple of blocks away.  I remembered walking the streets right outside of the  Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute struggling with my early efforts to answer the call to be a literary artist and trying to come to terms with what such a vocation means.

Then, it was enough of my yacking, and time to get started with the Salon …

Fiddler Paraic Keane started with a jig called “Humours of Ennistymon.” He followed that with a set of reels, “Bonnie Ann” flowing into “Jinnie Bang the Weaver.” He concluded with a hornpipe set, “Caisllean an Oir agus the New Century.”


Paraic Keane

Kevin McPartland read the first chapter of his brand-new book, Brownstone Dreams.  In the chapter, Bobby Dutton decides to steal the gun of Vincent Casseo, a local criminal, which Bobby knows is hidden by the schoolyard.  This theft sets off a series of events that gets Bobby deeper and deeper into trouble. This was the world-premier of Kevin’s book, and he sold some copies after the Salon.


Kevin McPartland with Brownstone Dreams

Maura Mulligan read from her memoir, Call of the Lark.  She read that heart-wrenching excerpt about leaving the family farm at age fourteen to work as a live-in maid . . . “I fixed my eyes on the roadside and put the thoughts that made me feel I was being given away out of my mind.” This led to her telling (not reading) the story of her last night before leaving for America when friends and neighbors came to say a last goodbye and her mother reminding her that in her time this night was called, “The American Wake,” because emigrants never returned.  After the presentations, audience members from the Philadelphia Mayo Society wanted signed copies of the book. They identified with Maura’s experience of leaving home in the 50s.


Maura Mulligan

After two readings, it was time for me to bring up some actors from Philadelphia’s Inis Nua Theatre.  I introduced Tom Reing who introduced the theatre and the scene from Jared Delaney’s play.


Tom Reing of Inis Nua Theatre Company


Inis Nua players

Delaney’s play, “The Hand of Gaul,” was a comical portrayal of the night when a certain French soccer player (whom I won’t name) handed the ball and got away with it, an illegal play that cost Ireland it’s place in the World Cup.


Mark William Butler

Mark William Butler read a monologue called “Mickey Mouse Is A Mexican,” which is about one New Yorker’s evolving attitude toward the rogue costumed mascots that work the tourists in Times Square.  It’s from his theatrical revue in progress, Talking To Yourself On the Streets of New York.  He then introduced his brother, actor/director Richard P. Butler, who sang a stirring rendition of one of Mark’s original songs, “Holiday Sale”, from his upcoming musical Bad Christmas Sweater.


Richard Butler

We took a brief break before returning with more music and readings ….


A few laughs during the break

First up during the second half was award-winning, Longford-style fiddler, Marie Reilly, accompanied on guitar by Gabriel Donohue.  In addition to some jigs and reels, Marie played some quadrilles.  Marie comes from eight generations of County Longford fiddlers and always presents music that is beautiful, unusual, and skillfully played.


Gabriel Donohue and Marie Reilly

Following the music, I read three short pieces. The first was the ending of my short story, “Flight,” from my collection, Dreams and Dull Realities, about a young boy who wants to fly off of his swingset into the sky.  The second was an excerpt from my novel, The World, in which a young artist wanders the streets of Center City Philadelphia, trying to escape the pain of his unrequited summer love, only to be reminded by the back of a girl’s blonde head.  The third was a poem based on a passage from my novel in progress, Worlds, connecting the hangings and last words of Nathan Hale and Robert Emmet.

Memoirist and saxophone player, Jon Gordon, had been kind enough to volunteer to drive Malachy McCourt to Philadelphia and back.  He said he was content to remain in the audience.  However, during the break, I encouraged him to get up and play,  He did a version of “Danny Boy” that amazed the crowd and was a true highlight of the Salon!


Jon Gordon 

Guenevere Donohue performed an excerpt of her theatre piece, Killer is My Name.  With Irish language/history and keening, this Bronx/NY Story thrilled the assembled with its originality and scope.  Guen has a voice like no other, and her presence in Philly helped rock-out our 1st Salon in the City of Brotherly Love.


Guenevere Donohue

Dr. Marian Makins took to the stage next with Gabriel Donohue. She began by reciting a monologue in Attic Greek from Sophocles’s tragedy, Ajax.  She then sang beautifully in English and Irish to the accompaniment of Gabriel Donohue’s guitar.


Marian Makins

Gabriel Donohue concluded the duo’s set by singing and playing a humorous song on his own.


Gabriel Donohue

Malachy McCourt brought the evening to a rousing conclusion with an hilarious excerpt from his book, A Monk Swimming.  The excerpt tells of how Malachy got revenge on a barkeep who insisted the just-visiting  Malachy check his coat before receiving a drink.  Malachy went out to his car, took off all of his clothes except the overcoat, returned to the bar, and obligingly, checked the coat.


Malachy in full flight (and fully clothed)


Dr. Kevin Kearns, Jennifer Kearns Adams, Daisy Kearns, John Kearns

After selling and signing some books, we headed out into the wet night to enjoy the comfort and conviviality of some local Irish pubs.  Check out the presenters’ bios from my previous blog post.

Salon presenters, more road Salons are coming soon — and your turn is coming as well!


More fun with our new friends from the City of Brotherly Love: