According the Huffington Post, Boston College boasts one of the best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the country. Most students picture the traditional kegs and eggs at the Mods or Jameson and green beer at the bars when they think of the holiday, but the party scene does not even scratch the service of Irish tradition on campus. The Irish Dance and music scene provides everything from concerts to ceilis in order to properly celebrate the holiday.
Sean Smith, editor of the BC Chronicle and Irish Dance Club advisor, has been an active member of the vibrant Boston Irish music community for years. From guitar to bouziuki (a Celtic string instrument), Smith can play a little bit of everything.
“High school was when I figured out how to combine contemporary rock music to the traditional folk tunes of my parents’ eclectic music taste,” Smith said. “I was influenced by bands like Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and Pentangle, who played a combination of English, Scottish, and Irish.”
After his college years, Smith pursued a career in journalism, but never lost his passion for Irish music. He kept up his skills by going to “sessions,” a kind of improvisation night for Irish musicians to play collaboratively. “We kind of all get together and play some tunes on different instruments,” Smith said.
A world-famous session takes place in BC’s backyard every Monday evening at the Green Briar Pub in Brighton. Dozens of musicians of all ages come to play, drink, and socialize. The session is well-known for its welcoming atmosphere. The first part of the night is slow, for the beginner musicians and as the night goes on it becomes faster paced.
“The sessions really were a gateway to make friends when I first moved to Boston-the Irish tradition really just has the whole social element to it because, in the end, it is dance music,” Smith said.
In addition to the less formal sessions held throughout the city, the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE), an international organization dedicated to Irish society, has its biggest chapter in Boston. The CCE holds events that promote everything from Irish food to Irish poetry, and even hosts classes that teach students of all ages how to play Irish music.
“I think it is great that younger people are getting involved in more traditional music,” Smith said. “I also love getting to play with younger students because they have experiences I don’t have.”
Smith has worked at BC for 25 years and has seen many St. Patrick’s Day traditions come and go, but his favorite is the ceili, a sort of Irish dance social gathering, that the Athletic Department throws for faculty in the basement of Conte Forum where the Zamboni is stored.
“The ceili first began as a smaller gathering with recorded music and a few snacks, but it has progressed over the past few years,” Smith said. “Last year we had live music by musicians from the Boston area and a full spread of Irish food, most importantly beef and cabbage.”
Smith cited traditions such as faculty soda bread baking contests and the Burns Library Irish collections as other notable traditions.If students are looking to see Smith live in action, they need look no further than the Irish Dance Club’s upcoming showcase as Smith will be performing with two other members of the BC community, Shavne Cornyn, A&S ’14 and Colleen White, CGSOM ’18.
BC’s Irish Dance Club has been consistently ranked one of the best collegiate Irish dance groups in the country. Recently, they have performed everywhere from Fenway to BC basketball halftime shows to the Campus School. Megan McLaughlin, president of Irish Dance Club and A&S ’14, is most excited, though, about the group’s upcoming annual showcase at Robsham Theatre on March 21.
“We have 19 pieces this year, all originally choreographed,” McLaughlin said. “The best part of the club is that you don’t have to be so strict-one of our dancers choreographed a piece that is a Kanye song mixed with traditional Irish dance music.”
McLaughlin has been Irish dancing since the age of 7, as her mom was originally from Ireland. “It was always what I was meant to do,” she said.
Each year the club holds tryouts to fill their 30-person team. “We just hold tryouts to make sure people can keep up and make the commitment,” McLaughlin said.
The dancers practice four times a week on Brighton Campus all year, but now they are practicing more often in preparation for the showcase. “We really prepare all year for this one show,” McLaughlin said. “We also prepare for all of the other mini shows we have through out the year too.”
After over a decade of Irish dancing, McLaughlin finds fresh ways to keep on her toes. “Learning new, difficult steps is the most challenging part, but once you learn them it is most rewarding,” she said.