Named in honor of Turlough O’Carolan (Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin), who was born in 1670 and died in 1738. O’Carolan was a blind harper and composer and a singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition. He was the last of the great Irish harpers and composers.
The traditions of harp playing and composition along with poetry stretch back to the earliest periods of Gaelic culture in Ireland. In the twilight years of the Gaelic Order in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these served as a bridge between art and folk music, paving the way for the revival of Gaelic music which began in the late nineteenth century.
O’Carolan’s compositions followed the traditions handed down to him from previous generations and much of his work followed traditional Gaelic lines. It was the influences borrowed from continental composers in the Baroque period, in particular the Italian composers Vivaldi, Corelli and Geminiani, that gave to much of O’Carolan’s compositions their unique style.
The Council of Irish Associations of Greater Bergen County is honored to present an annual award to an outstanding individual whose devotion to the music and dance of the Irish gives entertainment to countless people, and serves as an inspiration to future generations of musicians and dancers who will continue the traditions of the past and shape them to the future.
Just as Turlough O’Carolan was not isolated from the world and brought into his music influences from outside the Gaelic tradition to enrich his compositions, we look to the musicians, composers and dancers of the present day continuing in O’Carolan’s footsteps, following the ancient music of the Gaels, always open to the sounds of the world around them.
Award winners listed below by year
Rose Conway Flanagan
Rose Conway Flanagan originally began Irish music lessons with Martin Mulvihill while growing up in the Bronx. She then further developed her New York Sligo style of fiddling with the help of family friend and mentor Martin Wynne and her older brother Brian Conway. Rose was recently inducted into the Mid Atlantic Region CCE hall of fame alongside her father Jim and her brother Brian.
She currently has a large music school in her hometown of Pearl River where she is hard at work preparing the next generation of great traditional musicians, which include several All-Ireland winners and medalists. Among Rose’s past students are all the fiddlers in Girsa and senior fiddle champion Dylan Foley.
Rose has been an instructor at many Irish music camps - among them, the Alaska fiddle camp, The Catskills Irish Arts week, and The Swannanoa Celtic Gathering. She has also taught at the DeDanaan Dance Camp in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Scoile Eigse in Cavan and Sligo Ireland. She has also taught workshops at the Northeast Tional, Cape Cod Ceili Weekend and at various CCE conventions. Rose also runs seisúns, plays with her group the Green Gates Ceili Band, and performs in various concerts throughout the area.
Rose recently released a duo cd with flute player Laura Byrne from Baltimore, Forget Me Not, which was met with great reviews.
Eileen grew up in a household that was steeped in Irish culture and music, having parents that immigrated to New York City from West Clare in the ’50s. They were members of the Clare-based Doonbeg Social Club and brought her to their monthly Sunday night socials as a young child where she was first exposed to live traditional music and set dancing. At age 10, Eileen took up the piano accordion and tin whistle under Martin Mulvihill and later Maureen Glynn Connolly. She competed at regional Fleadhanna and Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and played in a variety of groups. She was soon playing at the Doonbeg club as a regular and still plays there to this day.
Through her 20s, Irish music was put on the back burner as Eileen went to college, began her career at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, got married and started a family. In the mid-’90s, she dusted off the accordion and began playing at sessions. Around this time, she acquired her first timber flute and began learning in earnest from Pat Casey and through listening to countless flute recordings of the greats.
Also at this time, Eileen began teaching whistle and met with Rose Flanagan and other musicians that were active in and around the Pearl River area. Eileen had a passion for teaching and began partnering with Rose, Patty Furlong, Margie Mulvihill, John Nolan and others on musical endeavors with students. At her peak Eileen had 20 students, many of whom placed at the Regional Fleadh and Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Unfortunately, the challenges of managing work and family demands with playing and teaching forced her to put teaching on hold in 2007.
In the mid ’90s, Eileen began playing for ceilithe around the tri-state area and in 2000 became a founding member of the Green Gates Ceili Band. She also has been part of the house band for the Dumont Ceili and the Rafferty-Madden Branch Ceili for over 20 years. Eileen had the privilege of playing alongside the late flute player Mike Rafferty, who helped her successfully transition from primarily an accordion player to a flute player. Eileen loves ceili playing, as she prefers to play in a group setting and truly enjoys the camaraderie and interplay between musicians and the dancers.
Eileen has worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Fed for 32 years and is currently Vice President in the Financial Services Group. When she retires, Eileen looks forward to getting back to teaching music and plans to pursue learning to play the concertina. Eileen’s husband of 30 years is Tom Goodman, whose roots go back to Kerry, Monaghan, and Cavan. They have three daughters: Meagan (26), Siobhan (23), and Maeve (15). Meagan studied fiddle under Rose Flanagan and Siobhan studied piano under Ann Marie Acosta, and both participated in regional Fleadh and Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Siobhan is still active playing ceilithe with Eileen.
Willie Kelly was born in the Bronx to a strongly musical family. His grandfather on his mother’s side, James Nolan, was a noted fiddler from Ballygar, County Galway, who immigrated to New York to work as a train motorman. In time he passed his love of music on to his daughter Eileen, Willie’s mother, who was known as a great judge of Irish music. On his father’s side, Willie’s grandfather William Kelly was also a famed fiddler, a blacksmith from Fuerty, County Roscommon. William’s son Joe, Willie’s father, followed in his footsteps and taught himself the fiddle at a young age.
Willie’s father and mother, who shared a love of music between them, brought up their children to carry on the musical legacies of their two families. Willie and his four siblings were exposed to traditional Irish music at an early age, and were encouraged to become musicians, continuing the tradition of their grandfathers. In the 1980s and early 1990s Willie and his brother Joe played fiddle duets together as the “Kelly Brothers” and became known for their outstanding performances in-person and on the Celtic Hour radio show.
Willie also spent much time playing with and learning from masters from the West of Ireland, among them Mike Rafferty and Martin Mulvihill. In 1989 Willie met his wife, the flute player Siobhan Moloney, and the two began making trips together to Clare, where they further developed their musical style.
In addition to the fiddle, Willie also plays the uilleann pipes and the flute. He has continued to perform and record on multiple instruments, keeping the great tradition of Irish music alive and thriving. In 2009, he recorded an album called The New Broom with his friend and mentor, Mike Rafferty. His music has also appeared on two Mike and Mary Rafferty CDs, The Road from Ballinakill and Speed 78. In 2010, Willie appeared on a series called The Kitchen Sessions, which was broadcast on ClareFM radio.
Willie has also helped to spread a love of Irish music through his teaching, and has been teaching the fiddle for more than 20 years. He and his students have often performed at Irish events in Bergen County and elsewhere, captivating their audiences. Willie currently lives in New Jersey, where he enjoys playing music with his wife and children.
John Kennedy was born in Inwood, NY and raised in Dumont, NJ. He is the second of four children born to his mother, Margaret, from Claremorris, County Mayo, and his father, Gerry, from Inagh, County Clare. John graduated from Ramapo College in 1985 with a degree in Business Administration. After working in business for a time, John decided to follow in his father's footsteps and began training in the field of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration. He received his Engineer's license in 1990, and has been working as an HVAC Engineer in a New York City building for 26 years.
Irish music was always part of John's childhood. At the age of 9, he began taking music lessons from the renowned teacher Maureen Glenn. His father took him to Brooklyn for years to take individual lessons and to participate in ceili bands. John went on to win many North American championship competitions and participated in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil numerous times.
John was an original member of the Bergen Irish Accordion Marching Band, with whom he played in parades in NY and NJ, as well as numerous shows and the Irish festival in Baltimore. He also co-founded the Green Gates Ceili Band.
Eventually, John was approached by a fellow musician and asked if he would consider teaching the button accordion to beginners. He took on several students, some of whom went on to win at the national level and competed in Ireland. One of his students placed in the All-Ireland three times. John also taught workshops, which allowed him to share his love of music. He is always ready to offer tips and encouragement, and above all, share Irish tunes.
John is proud to be an active member of the Mike Rafferty-Joe Madden Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, and has been playing at its monthly ceili for almost twenty years. In addition, he is one of the musicians who regularly plays at the Doonbeg Social Club, the Pearl River Ceili, the Dumont Ceili and others.
In 1999, John met his wife, Donna (Guilfoyle), a nurse whose parents come from Donegal. They live in Hopewell Junction, NY, have 23 nieces and nephews, and love to travel. John has shared his love of music his whole life—from the East Coast to Chicago, and as far away as New Zealand and Australia. He is very proud of his heritage and is devoted to keeping the tradition of Irish music alive. It makes John so happy to bring the joy of music to others!
Joanie Madden was born into a musical household in New York and was exposed to Irish traditional music by her father, Joe, an All-Ireland Champion accordion player from Galway, whose music formed a central part of family gatherings and events. Joanie began taking lessons at a young age from award-winning flutist Jack Coen, and was soon an award winner herself, winning the world championship in Irish music for both the concert flute and tin whistle. She also became the first American to win the coveted Senior All-Ireland Championship on the whistle.
Joanie is now the top-selling whistle player in history, with solo album sales surpassing 500,000 copies. In her thirty years with Cherish The Ladies, she has reached audiences worldwide and has attained both a devoted following and a number of prestigious awards. The group has recorded fifteen albums, including their latest, An Irish Homecoming, which was also videotaped for an Emmy-winning public television special. In addition to headlining many Irish music festivals, Cherish The Ladies has also performed at the Olympics and the White House.
Joanie was the youngest member inducted into both the Irish-American Musicians Hall of Fame and the Colmhaltas Ceoltóirí Hall of Fame, and has received the Wild Geese Award, which has been bestowed upon the likes of playwright Brian Friel and Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. She has also received the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which honors the immigrant experience and the contributions made to America by immigrants and their children.
Joanie Madden can be seen performing regularly across the country and around the world with Cherish The Ladies, as well as on the Joanie Madden Folk ’N Irish Cruise, where she performs with top musicians from the U.S., Canada, Scotland, and Ireland in a week full of traditional music events on the high seas.
The Council is proud to honor Joanie Madden with the Turlough O’Carolan Award in recognition of her passion for Irish music and the work she has done to share an integral part of Irish culture with the world.
The son of James and Ann Higgins, Jimmy Higgins was born and raised in Ringsend, Coleraine, County Derry, where his only sister Phyllis and her husband Joey McIntyre still live. Jimmy attended grammar school in Ringsend and moved on to study at Coleraine Technical for two years. Using his training, he took an apprenticeship as a mechanical fitter for EW Stanglish and Company in Coleraine.
Jimmy immigrated to the United States in February 1957 and worked for the National City Bank of New York, investigating stolen traveler’s checks worldwide. After two years at the bank, Jimmy changed occupations and became an apprentice carpenter. He also joined the New York National Guard 42nd Division, 71st Regiment, serving six years and achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant. While serving, he played with the Regiment Bagpipers.
Jimmy met Miss Mary Cullen in 1960, around the time he entered into the bakery business, and they were married in October 1962. They raised a family of three girls and one boy, all of whom are married. Jimmy and Mary are now the loving grandparents of twelve grandchildren ranging in age from four to twenty-one.
Jimmy started playing bagpipes at the age of 12 with the local AOH pipe band in his home parish in County Derry. Upon coming to the United States, he played with the Donegal Pipe Band in New York, the New York Police Department Pipe Band, and the Inis Fada Pipe Band in Mineola, New York. Jimmy founded the Bergen Irish Pipe Band in 1986 and became the piping instructor and organizer. The band traveled to Ireland to compete in 1992 at the All Ireland Pipe Band Championship in Dublin and again at Wexford Castle to start the new century. Jimmy still competes with the Bergen Irish Pipe Band.
Jimmy has been involved in a variety of Irish activities since moving to Bergen County in 1972, including coaching the under-10 boys with St. Joseph’s Football Club in the eighties. He has been a member of the Bergen Irish Association since 1973 and served as a trustee for 15 years, and is also a member of the County Derry Society of New York.
Deirdre Connolly was born and raised in Queens, New York, of Irish parents. Her mother Bridget hails from Connemara in County Galway and her father Mattie is a wonderful singer and All-Ireland champion Uilleann piper from County Monaghan.
When Deirdre was five years old, her parents began her involvement in Irish culture by simultaneously sending her to study Irish step dancing with teacher Donny Golden and tin whistle lessons with the famed music instructor Maureen Glynn. Over the course of the next twelve years, Deirdre rose to championship level in both her music and her dancing.
Deirdre toured extensively for two years throughout America and the United Kingdom with Cherish the Ladies as their lead singer. The all-female group of Irish American and Irish musicians has been performing since 1985. Deirdre also plays the flute and bodhran.
Her solo album "A Song in Turn" has received great reviews. In 2009, Deirdre and her father Mattie released their first ever recording together called "The Kylemore Pass."
Deirdre holds a BA from Fordham University and is currently working as a Registered Nurse and teaches music in Woodlawn, Long Island and Queens.
Mattie Connolly was born in New York City and moved to Ireland with his family when he was just six years old. He grew up in the Scotstown area of County Monaghan in the midst of a very musical family. His mother, Mrs. Helena Connolly, was a noted fiddle player and it is her he credits in large part for his background in traditional Irish music.
Mattie, however, decided to play the uillean pipes when he first heard the renowned County Fermanagh piper Sean McAloon. Through the efforts of the Rev. Bernard Maguire, a pipers group was formed in Our Lady of Fatima hall in Knockatallon. Then in the early 1960s, Mattie, like many others he knew, found himself on board the steamship bound for his place of birth in the United States.
When he arrived in New York he was amazed at the high standard of music he heard. Mattie had trouble finding people who played the uillean pipes or who knew how to maintain them. This posed a big problem for him and he stopped playing them completely for about eight years. In 1963 he formed the Majestic Showband, which included his sister Mary, his brother Peter, brother-in-law Arthur Sherry, Martin Mulhaire and Johnny Hanley. They were the resident band at the Red Mill in the Bronx, playing three nights a week for ten consecutive years. In 1970, at the invitation of the late John C. Mulligan and the late Louis E. Quinn, he joined the Mineola branch of Comhaltas, under the chairmanship of John C. Mulligan.
One of the many highlights of Mattie’s musical career came at the 1980 Fleadh Cheoil in Buncranna, County Donegal, where he won the senior all-Ireland uilleann pipe championship. The following year, in 1981, he was a member of the Comhaltas tour of the U.S.A. and Canada. In 1986, he was honored by the American Irish Musicians Society (AIMS) for his commitment and dedication to the music. He has played many festivals and conducted many workshops throughout the United States and Canada. He resides in Norwalk, Connecticut, with his lovely wife Bridget, and has four children, Brian, Matthew, Patrick and Deirdre, all of whom love and play the traditional music of Ireland.
The Council of Irish Associations of Greater Bergen County is honored to recognize Mattie Connolly for his outstanding achievements in the world of Irish music and for his lifetime involvement in music and commitment to passing on the traditions and love of the music of the Gaels to future generations.
Born in The Bronx, New York, Margie is the oldest child of Mike and Peggy Mulvihill, both from North Kerry, the region in Ireland known for its wonderful polkas and slides . Margie has two brothers, both lieutenants with the New York Fire Department. Margie is a wonderful whistle and flute player. Married to fiddler John Reynolds, they are often heard performing in the Tri-state area with their Pride of Moyvane Ceili Band. Margie is the mother of four musical children, Erin Loughran, Blaithin Loughran, Neidin Loughran, and John Paul Reynolds. The family was recently featured on the HBO series “The Music in Me.”
Margie was thrust into the Irish music and dancing scene at an early age by her granduncle and popular dancing teacher Jerry Mulvihill, She also took music lessons from her cousin and fiddle legend Martin Mulvihill and played in his All-Ireland champion band, The Glinside Ceili band. Though starting lessons early in life, she feels it was her mother’s stories and her passionate singing of mostly rebel songs that she learned from her mother (Margie’s grandmother, a member of Cumann na mBan) that instilled in her both a deep love for Ireland and all things Irish and an abiding love for the music. In those early days, she went to Ireland many, many times with family, and on several occasions with Martin Mulvihill himself and the All-Ireland-winning Glinside Ceili Band.
Margie and Carmel Glendon eventually met up with Kerry singer Mary Courtney, and together formed the group Morning Star. They played festivals and concerts all over the country and even provided music for Harold Prince’s play Grandchild of Kings. She never thought Morning Star would last for more than a couple of years, but the group remained together for twenty. Many musicians passed through the band’s ranks. One of these members became her husband. Margie met John Reynolds at a mutual friend’s wedding in 1996; he later joined the group full-time and was a member for five years.
Those days with Morning Star were the craziest of good times, especially around Bainbridge Ave – the old Village Pub, the Phoenix and elsewhere. But her best and most rewarding work as a musician was yet to come. After she’d left Morning Star, she took up the wooden flute and studied the great Mike Rafferty’s style. She got tunes from Mike directly, through his albums and through several cassette tapes he made for her, and she excelled on the instrument. Later on, she began sharing the music with a couple of local children. Her reputation as a exceptional teacher grew quickly and in a way she never dreamed could have happened. This experience teaching led her to playing at céilithe, a source of joy she and John participate in frequently.
The Council of Irish Associations of Greater Bergen County is honored to recognize Margie Mulvihill not just for each of her outstanding achievements in the world of Irish music, but for her lifetime involvement and devotion to music and her commitment to passing on the traditions and love of the music of the Gaels to future generations.
Born in New York City, James Early studied music for many years with Martin Mulvihill and in 1974 he became the first North American to win the All-Ireland Championship on the Piano Accordion. During his competitive playing he is an eight time U.S. Champion and holds seven All-Ireland medals, including being part of the Garryowen Ceili Band, the U.S. Junior champions in 1973.
Jimmy taught music in New Jersey, The Bronx, Rockland County and Philadelphia for many years. He was one of the first musicians to record music for dancing – Music for the Feis, recorded in 1978 with Felix Dolan and Tommy Mulvihill, and in l983 – More Music for the Feis, recorded with Maureen Glynn.
A Champion Irish dancer, Jimmy started dancing with Peter Smith, and then continued with his sister Patsy McLoughlin when she opened her school in 1968. He joined the school as a teacher in 1977 after passing his T.C.R.G. (Teacher, Commission Rince Gaelacha) exam in Ireland. He still actively teaches classes.
Jimmy is a member of the Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America, serving as Assistant Regional Director for many years and since 2010 as Regional Director of the Mid-Atlantic Region. He is a Grade Examiner for the Irish Dance Commission. Jimmy attained his A.D.C.R.G. (Adjudicator, Commission Rince Gaelacha) from the Irish Dancing Commission and has judged many prestigious dancing competitions throughout the world.
The Council of Irish Associations of Greater Bergen County is honored to recognize James Early not just for each of his outstanding achievements in the world of Irish music and dance, but for his lifetime involvement and devotion to music and dance and his commitment to passing on the traditions and love of the music of the Gaels to future generations.
Mike Rafferty is one of the great exponents of the old lyrical and flowing flute playing style from the East Galway region of Ireland. He was born in 1926, one of seven children, in the village of Larraga in Ballinakill parish, in the heart of a locality filled with great flute and fiddle players. Mike learned his music from his father, Tom “Barrel” Rafferty, a flute player and uilleann piper.
In 1949, Mike emigrated to the United States, where he has lived since. He has performed at concerts and festivals throughout the country, including the Smithsonian’s Bicentennial Festival in 1976. In addition to teaching privately and at various workshops and summer schools, he has also taught through the New Jersey State Council on the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program. He has been a guest on many recordings and has recorded 3 albums with his daughter Mary: “The Dangerous Reel,” “The Old Fireside Music,” and “The Road From Ballinakill”. He released his solo CD “Speed 78″ in 2004 and his most recent recording in 2009, “The New Broom” with fiddler Willie Kelly.
Mike has devoted a lifetime to exploring, performing, and teaching traditional Irish music and has inspired many of today’s leading Irish musicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 2003, he was named Irish Echo’s Traditional Musician of the Year and in September 2010 received a National Heritage Fellowship Award — the highest honor bestowed upon Traditional or Folk Artists from the United States Government.
He resides in New Jersey with his wife Teresa – now married 58 years. They have five children, Kathy, Terri, Michael, Patrick & Mary, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
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