The All Female Irish Band GIRSA comes to York, PA October 7th at 4 P.M.

Girsa, an all-female traditional Irish band that is staking out a “new” form of New York Irish music, comes to York on October 7 for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at the Marketview Arts Center, 37 W. Philadelphia Street. Girsa  is eight young women who grew up together in the Pearl River, NY, area. Opening for the group will be the Srour family band Irish Blessing. The concert will be preceded by an Irish Session and a reception; both at 2:45.

The members of Girsa come from musical families, with their parents having learned Irish traditional music from such greats as Martin Mulvihill, Maureen Glynn Connelly, and Pete Kelly. Members of Girsa are Maeve Flanagan (fiddle/whistle), Deirdre Brennan (fiddle/mandolin/vocals), Kristen McShane (fiddle), Margaret Dudasik (fiddle/vocals/low whistle/dancing feet), Blaithin Loughran (accordion), Bernadette Flanagan (piano/bodhran/dancing feet), Pamela Geraghty (accordion/vocals/guitar), and Emily McShane (piano/vocals/bodhran/guitar).

Recently I caught up with Maeve Flanagan and had a chat with her about the band and her experience growing up in this thriving Irish-American Community.

Folkmama: So how do you pronounce the name of your band and what does it mean:

Maeve: It’s Girsa. It’s pronounced as though it has an “h” in it. The name Girsa comes from Northern Irish slang for “young girls”. One of the girl’s grandparents is from Armagh and she used to call the young girls “Girsa” when she was younger.

Folkmama: How long has the group been together?

Maeve: Around eight years now. We started when we were really young. I was about 14.

Folkmama: So what’s the average age of the group right now?

Maeve: Probably 21. I’m 22 and I’m the oldest.

Folkmama: In the eight years that you’ve been together have you had a lot of different people come through the band?

Maeve There has been a core. There have been two or three that have come and gone, just because they have had other commitments. But we’ve never really added anyone to the band.

Folkmama: I know the band has been to some pretty exciting festivals in the last couple of years. Could you just let me know a few of the places that our readers would probably know about?

Maeve Yeah, we’ve played at the Milwaukie Irish Festival and the Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival, the Kansas City Irish Festival and we have played at a couple of places in Wisconsin where we have a big fan base which is surprising since we are from New York. We played in Savanna last year from St Patrick’s Day. That was one of the best places we’ve ever played. It was so awesome!

Folkmama: What made it so good?

Maeve Just the hospitality in Savanna I guess. Everyone was just so nice to us. Plus it was during March so it was really nice to get away from the cold weather.

Folkmama: So, have you played in Ireland?

Maeve: We’ve played in Ireland separately, but we’ve never played as the group Girsa. We’ve played in ceili bands together, which is a group of ten people who go over. There is a drummer, a piano player and then pretty much any type of instrumentation that you want. So we’ve all played together in Caili bands but along with other people.

Folkmama: So tell me more about Pearl River, NY where you all come from. Where it’s located, and I’m curious if a lot of the Irish Americans that live there came from a particular place in Ireland, and also are you influenced by the Irish Americans in New York City?

Maeve So Pearl River is about ½ hour to 35 minutes outside of New York City. And pretty much everyone here is Irish. There is no particular place in Ireland that everyone is from. A lot of my family is from the North; Armagh and Tyrone. A lot of people when they first immigrated to America moved to the New York City area. My parents are from the Bronx and their parents immigrated to the Bronx. And once they started having families they migrated out to the suburbs and Pearl River is one of the closest suburbs to the city. You still have the closeness to the city but it’s not quite the hustle and bustle of the city.

Folkmama: So it seems like from listening to your band that you really have a lot of respect for the traditions and the traditional style. In your area is that generally true, that there is a lot of interest in the traditions as opposed to Celtic rock or more modern styles.

Maeve I definitely think that, in Pearl River anyway. Actually in New York City as a whole. My mom was taught the fiddle first by Martin Mulvihill, a great fiddler and composer from County Limerick by fiddler Martin Wynne who was from Sligo County. So she was taught by the most traditional players, pretty much, in New York City. So she really passed it down to us.

She would never consider going outside of the traditions so she taught it to us just as she learned it. We have a huge respect for that music while also making our own compositions and learning some of the newer compositions. Because, you know, we’re young and once in a while we like to do some of the funky stuff, although we really do have a lot of respect for the traditional Irish music.

Folkmama: So have you found a lot of people in your age group that you can play with and spend time with that have a similar respect for the traditions?

Maeve:  Oh, absolutely. I’ve been going to Ireland for competitions since I was about ten or eleven, and once you go there every year you make friends; I have tons of friends in Ireland. There are a lot of friends that I have in Pearl River that play Irish music, so then more people begin to play and it wasn’t like I’m embarrassed about it. So I’d say as I was growing up all my best friends either knew about the music or played the music.

Folkmama: That’s very unusual in this day and age I think. Very unusual.

Maeve I feel that there is kinda a revival of it too. For a couple of years, below our age group, you know in their teen years there are not too many people around here interested in it, but my brother is now 12 and all of his little friends just won a Ceili Band composition over in Ireland, they got first place under 12, so once something like that happens there is a huge interest in the music. Everyone wants to play after that.

Folkmama: I know some of your group knows the Srour family; the folks in Irish Blessing. Do you personally know them?

Maeve Yes, I know them very well. We connected with them first through Irish dancing because pretty much everyone in the group did Irish dancing at some point.

One of our girls, Margaret, went to the same Irish dance school as Jonathon Srour. As for the rest of us,  Jonathon played the flute and his brother Joshua played the fiddle so we’d meet up every year at the different competitions, the different Feises (a Gaelic Arts and Culture Festival) and conventions and such. So that’s pretty much how we met and we’ve kept in touch.

Jonathon was actually dancing in a touring show, and my sister, who was studying abroad in Germany, actually caught one of his shows.

Folkmama: So it sounds like you and your friends are really the next generation. The next generation of people who are playing the traditional music and doing the traditional dancing.

Maeve: Yeah, hopefully. That is our goal.

Folkmama: So you are going to have some step dancers there, is that correct?

Maeve: Yes, Margaret Dudasik and Bernadette are both step dancers.

Folkmama: Anything else?

Maeve Some people ask us what we are doing, besides music. A lot of people don’t know that we have other lives. I’m actually in law school, I do that full time. So pretty much we are only able to play on the weekends. Deirdre is a full time nurse, and she just got a new job so she is only working during the week, which is great because she can play music on the weekends. And everyone else is still in school, either in their junior year or their senior year in college.

Folkmama: And you have two CDs out.

Maeve: Yes. Our first CD we recorded while most of us were still in high school and the second one we just came out with last summer. It’s called “A Sweeter Place”.

Folkmama: It sounds like even though you are very young, you are extremely competent with your instruments. So, are there people who look at you and say, “Oh, they are really young, they can’t be any good.” I hear really good things on your CDs, but how can we put aside anyone’s fears that you may not be quite as good as they’d like to hear?”

Maeve : We’ve all been doing this since we were like five years old. For the competitions we had to practice so much, so kind of  our own doing we wanted to get better. So we’ve just been working, and working, and working. We could have played a concert last year and listened to it this year and say, “Oh my God, we have improved so much.” We just keep practicing and keep working together to perfect our sound.”

Folkmama: I don’t want to sound negative, but I just wanted to address that because someone might be thing in those terms. Because there are so many bands out there that are amateurs and aren’t particularly serious with their music and aren’t as interested as you all seem to be at following traditions. You’ve been seeped in it since you were a child. I really wanted that to come out in this story.

Concert tickets are $20 General Admission, $16for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com. This concert is supported, in part, through grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Cultural Enrichment Fund. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society Web site at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

 

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