Irish Evening 2011 surpasses expectations

February 20, 2011 at 4:09 am (books, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Music, Poetry)

In his introductory remarks, His Excellency Michael Collins, Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., spoke of the current economic difficulties in his native land. The situation, he emphasized, makes the riches of his country’s culture all the more essential. Great music and literature provide a needed solace, a sense of identity, and hope for the future.

Take that, those of you who would slash funding for the arts! (Sorry – I just couldn’t help myself.)

Ambassador Collins made mention of an initiative aimed at promoting the culture of the Emerald Isle on these shores. It’s called Imagine Ireland: A Year of Irish Arts in America 2011. He then introduced this evening’s distinguished speaker, whose name I finally know how to pronounce. (It’s Collum Toe-bean, for the phonetically challenged.)

Colm Toibin

Colm Toibin chose “Two Women,” from  The Empty Family, to read to his audience  Although it does not seem so at the outset, this is actually a love story, and a deeply moving one. I had already read it, and was delighted that Toibin had chosen it. He prefaced the reading by recounting of a true life experience involving his acquaintance with an actor. The love story involves an actor and a film set designer, and this gem of the tale originated in an actual incident that was related to the author by someone he knew. The story “Silence,” in the same anthology, depicts Henry James gleaning material for his fiction in much the same way. Toibin mentioned the fact that James took the bare outline of a situation involving two orphaned children and their governess living in a remote country house – a story told to him by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1895 – and fashioned it into one of the most disturbing, not to mention terrifying, works of literature ever to see print: The Turn of the Screw.

I am reminded of this passage from Selina Hastings’s biography of Somerset Maugham:

Maugham’s attitude to James’s work over the years was to grow increasingly equivocal, a mixture of impatience and admiration, impatience with what he saw as a lack of that empathy essential to a novelist and admiration for a superb technique. “The great novelists, even in seclusion, have lived life passionately,” Maugham wrote. “Henry James was content to observe it from a window.”

Still, he saw plenty from that window…

Toibin’s reading was followed by an intermission. And now it was time for music, dancing, and poetry. The music was provided by the Narrowbacks, formerly known as Celtic Thunder

Left to right: Jesse Winch, Tony DeMarco, Terry Winch, Linda Hickman, Dominick Murray. Photo by Judy Bodman.

The above photo was taken in 2005. The composition of the group has changed somewhat since then. Tony DeMarco and Dominick Murray did not play Friday night. Singer and instrumentalist Eileen Korn Estes and fiddler Brendan Mulvihill performed in their stead.


First row, left to right: Terry Winch, Brendan Mulvihill, and Jesse Winch. Above, Linda Hickman and Eileen Korn Estes

As always, the Narrowbacks made great music. And oh, the dancers from the Culkin School!

Back to the Narrowbacks. Terry Winch is not only an instrumentalist and songwriter, but a poet as well. (He and Jesse are brothers.) One of his songs, “When New York was Irish,” has apparently become something of a standard in the Irish music repertoire:

At the Irish Evening celebration, Terry customarily reads aloud several of his poems. They can be somber, but seem more often to be gently ironic, even whimsical:


No one is safe. The streets are unsafe.
even in the safety zones, it’s not safe.
Even safe sex is not safe.
Even things you lock in a safe
are not safe. Never deposit anything
in a safety deposit box, because it
won’t be safe there. Nobody is safe
at home during baseball games anymore.

At night I go around in the dark
locking everything, returning
a few minutes later
to make sure I locked
everything. It’s not safe here.
It’s not safe and they know it.
People get hurt using safety pins.

It was not always this way.
Long ago, everyone felt safe. Aristotle
never felt danger. Herodotus felt danger
only when Xerxes was around. Young women
were afraid of wing’d dragons, but felt
relaxed otherwise. Timotheus, however,
was terrified of storms until he played
one on the flute. After that, everyone
was more afraid of him than of the violent
west wind, which was fine with Timotheus.
Euclid, full of music himself, believed only
that there was safety in numbers.

The poems he read Friday night were from the collection Boy Drinkers. I loved them and am buying the book.


  1. terence winch said,

    I just stumbled on your blog—thanks for the kind words.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      And thank you for the pleasure you’ve given so many people with your wonderful music!

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