The “Father” of the Concertina
Red Hook’s Monsignor Charles Coen: an icon of traditional Irish music
Photo by Robert Hansen-Sturm
What is a concertina? Well, it looks very much like an accordion that stopped growing too soon. But without this small squeezebox, Irish music would sound very different than it does today. Invented in the early 1800s, it became a key instrument in the small bands that performed at cÃ©ilis (pronounced KAY-lee), the informal house parties where Irish music and dance flourished. Over the years, though, it fell out of favor and nearly disappeared in the early part of the 20th century. But the concertina has made a comeback, coinciding with the worldwide Irish music revival of the past few decades. And one of the instrument’s true masters, Monsignor Charles Coen, lives right here in Red Hook.
Unfortunately, Msgr. Coen doesn’t play all that much any more. As pastor of St. Christopher’s Catholic Church, “I am pretty busy in the job I have,” he says. And at 75, his musical glory days are behind him. But glorious they were.
Msgr. Coen’s father played the concertina (which “sounds like a cross between an accordian and a harmonica,” the monsignor says) at cÃ©ilis held near their farm in East Galway. As a child, Msgr. Coen played flute and pennywhistle. But when he moved to London for a brief time at age 21, he decided to have a go at his pa’s favored instrument. “Here was an old traditional instrument that was dying out, and I wanted to continue the tradition, like my father,” he says. “Plus, it’s easy to carry around.” He got so adept at playing, he won the All-Ireland Championship three times. (He also won one flute and pennywhistle championship each.)
Msgr. Coen came to America in 1955, living first in the Bronx and then moving to the Catskills. His music career really took off after he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1968, and became the assistant pastor of a church on Staten Island. He played in a band with his brother Jack. “We were most busy in the 1970s,” Msgr. Coen says. “We used to run around performing concerts.” In 1976, they recorded an album called The Branch Line, which remains a cherished example of traditional Irish music.
He recorded his last album in 1978, and — with the exception of an annual festival — he hasn’t performed in concert for quite some time. “I only play about once a week now, on my day off,” he says. But if his musical career has slowed, his renown hasn’t. He was inducted into the Irish Music Association Hall of Fame in 1998, and won a Dutchess County Executive Arts Award in 2001.
He hopes to spend more time making music once he retires in the next year or two. And not just with the instrument that made him famous. “Actually, I prefer to play the flute,” he admits. “But I suppose I am better at the concertina.” — David Levine
Caption: Play ball: St. Brendan’s under-10 Gaelic football team with coaches Sean O’Hanlon (left) and Stephen O’Shea
The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade — while loads of raucous fun — is certainly not the only game in town. If you don’t feel like hopping on a Metro-North train, show your St. Paddy’s pride at these local parades instead:
March 1st: Dutchess County Parade in Wappingers Falls (1 p.m., www.saintpatricksdayparade.com/dutchess_county/index.htm)
March 9th: The 45th annual Pearl River St. Patrick’s Day Parade: The second largest St. Patrick’s parade in the state, this celebration features many of the same bands and organizations that later appear in the New York City parade. (1:30 p.m., www.saintpatricksdayparade.com/pearl_river/pearl_river_parade.htm)
March 9th: The 32nd annual Putnam-Northern Westchester St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Mahopac: This is the third largest parade in the state (2 p.m.).
March 9th: The Kingston St. Patrick’s Day Parade: Marchers step off at 1 p.m. at Kingston Plaza, following the two-mile Shamrock Run (www.ulsteraoh.com).
March 16th: The Mid-Hudson St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Goshen (www.aoh4ocny.org/id15.html).
Are You Ready for Some Peil Gaelach?
Gaelic football gains popularity with Orange County kids
When Stephen O’Shea left County Kerry for the United States in 1980, he was interested in experiencing new things. But one abiding passion he couldn’t leave behind: Gaelic football.
Combining elements of soccer and rugby, Gaelic football pits two teams of 15 players against each other on a rectangular grass pitch with H-shaped goals at each end. It is one of two sports considered exclusively Irish (the other is hurling). “It’s more aggressive than soccer,” says O’Shea, “but not like rugby or hockey. It’s a contact sport, but very regulated.” It’s his homeland’s most popular sport, he says, bigger even than soccer: “It was my favorite, for sure. We always played it as kids.” Every county in Ireland has a team, according to O’Shea, and the league championships rival the Super Bowl, drawing more than 80,000 fans to Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium.
After emigrating to
The club is for boys and girls ages 8 and up. You don’t have to be Irish to play; in fact, only about half of the team members are Irish-American, O’Shea says, and most are kids who got into the sport through their parents. The others come from all backgrounds. “They see their friends playing, and it looks like fun, so they try it. Then they are hooked.”
St. Brendan’s plays against nine other Gaelic football clubs in the tristate area. O’Shea coaches the 10-year-olds, and also serves as the club trustee. The money needed to run the league comes from sponsors and fund-raisers, which allows everyone to play for free.
More and more kids are taking up the sport, and O’Shea would like to give them the chance to continue. “One of my goals is to get Gaelic football into the schools in Orange County,” he says. He’s been talking to local district superintendents, and hopes to make Gaelic football the soccer of the 21st century. “Soccer wasn’t very popular a few years ago,” he says. “Now look at it. Where soccer was ten years ago, that’s where we are now.” If O’Shea has his way, today’s soccer moms soon will be replaced by Gaelic football moms.
— David Levine
Registration for the club’s 2008 season begins April 1. For more information, E-mail Club President Sean O’Hanlon at email@example.com or visit www.sbgfc.com
A Most Unlikely Lord of the Dance
A Rockland County boy gets jiggy with it
When you think of Irish dancers, a few names immediately come to mind. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Dance himself.
And, of course, the Shapiro kid.
Shawn Shapiro, 11, of Blauvelt, is one of five local dancers who qualified for the World Irish Dance Championships, to be held in Belfast this month. He is the only boy from the area, and one of the few boys nationwide, to earn a spot in the event.
Yes, Shapiro is Irish — on his mother’s side. “Like most non-Irish people, I knew nothing about Irish dance until Riverdance came out,” says Ron Shapiro, Shawn’s father. Later, Ron met and married a lass named Tara O’Brien. When Shawn showed an interest in dance at school, Tara asked if he wanted to try Irish dance. He was five — and he was hooked.
“I loved it,” Shawn says. “It’s really fun. I got to learn more about Irish culture, and it builds really strong leg muscles. People say they can’t jump as high as me.”
“He has perfect rhythm, and that’s what it’s all about,” says Ellen Riordan-Ross, Shawn’s teacher and director of the Verlin School of Irish Dance in Pearl River. “And he is a very focused child. He even knows all the girls’ steps, which he isn’t supposed to learn.”
Shawn is Riordan-Ross’s first male student to qualify for the Worlds in about 10 years, she says. (He also will compete in the national championships in Nashville in July.)
Although he receives some teasing, he says he doesn’t mind being the rare male in a mostly female environment. “It makes me more of an individual,” he says. That he is. When not dancing, he also plays soccer, attends religious school (though Ron is Jewish, the kids are being raised Catholic), and plays saxophone in the school band. Lately he’s taken up chess, which worries Riordan-Ross. “Another thing to impede on my time with him,” she grumbles. “It happens with every kid. But never before with chess.”
But for now, at least, Irish dance takes center stage. After Shawn earned his spot at the Worlds by finishing third at the qualifying competition, “he climbed up on the podium, looked out at our group, and gave us the thumbs up with both hands,” Riordan-Ross says. “It was adorable. I wish I had a picture.” — David Levine
Hip E Living
You’ve heard about “going green” and understand the need to have a more eco-friendly lifestyle. You may use a coffee cup made from recycled cardboard, or have a printer filled with recycled paper. But how about picture frames and bottle openers made from recycled bike parts, cheese trays from melted-down glass, and a wallet from old billboards? At Woodstock’s Hip E Living, you’ll find all of this and everything else that’s “green” and fashionable.
Joanna Black and Matt Garrison, the co-owners of this “eco meets style” boutique, have made it their mission not only to sell environmentally friendly merchandise, but to enlighten consumers as well. “We want to educate the person who thought they could never buy a glass made from recycled glass,” says Black, who is also the president of G Squared Group, a company that provides “green-minded” marketing and communications services.
Inspired by the beautiful landscape and “clean living of upstate,” the Manhattan-based couple moved to the Catskills in the summer of 2006. The gallery-esque store opened the following May. “We wanted to grow a business and Woodstock is a good place to start,” says Black. “So many amazing things have started here.”
Virtually everything in the store is eco-friendly: organic, natural, sustainable, recycled, or energy smart — even the store itself. “The countertops are made from recycled paper; the floors are bamboo; the lights are Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL); and the paint is produced without toxins,” says Black.
And this is just the beginning. Garrison and Black have plans to open other stores and design their own clothing line (slated for 2009). And once they begin selling cabinets, shelving, and floors (like the ones furnishing their store), they will become the only retailer in the country to sell sustainable and recycled building materials as well as lifestyle merchandise, all in one store. “The challenge is having access to the products,” says Black about the everyday consumer’s lack of buying “green.” “Our goal is to make products accessible in more places.” — Elizabeth Stein
Hip E Living. 65 Tinker St., Woodstock. Open Thurs.-Mon. 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. 845-679-2158 or www.hip-e-living.com
Bicycle Bottle Opener
Resource Revival’s bottle opener is crafted entirely from recycled bike parts $10
Mark the time with this wall clock made from old bike parts $64
For the Eco-savvy Tot
This 100% organic cotton biker tee for baby is oh-so-soft $24
This laptop protector has been fashioned out of reclaimed billboard vinyl $66
Keep Clean with Caldrea
These household cleaning products use plant-derived ingredients and essential oils $8-$16
Want to try something different this St. Paddy’s Day? Head to the Irish-American hamlet of East Durham in
March 15-16. Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Sticking With It
Girl’s lacrosse gets some well-deserved attention
Nearly ten years ago I picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time. I had no idea how to hold it, let alone how to catch a ball with it — and the words “scoop” and “cradle” were as foreign to me as those contained in my French textbooks. But there I was, trying out for the fledgling junior varsity team at North Rockland High School — along with a slew of other inexperienced players. If I recall correctly, we won one measly game that year.
But lo and behold, what a decade will do. During the 2004-2005 season, the NRHS girl’s varsity was undefeated in
Several years ago, Coach Borchers formed a youth league for second- through eighth-graders. He’s not alone. New leagues and clubs — like the one in northern Dutchess County for girls in grades four through eight — are popping up all the time. The Hudson Valley Hurricanes, a girl’s club created in 2002 by John Callahan (head coach of Suffern High School’s powerhouse girl’s varsity team), has been very successful in sending alumnae to top-level NCAA programs. So successful, in fact, that now the boys want in on the action: their club kicked off in 2006. And speaking of boys, there are several differences between girl’s and boy’s lacrosse — the most noticeable being that boys are allowed to make physical contact, but girls are not. That’s why girls don’t wear helmets (although they do don goggles and a mouthguard). Also, the nets of the women’s sticks are more shallow, making the ball harder to catch and keep. That’s why you’ll see the girls “cradling” (or moving the stick from side to side) much more frequently.
But besting the boys shouldn’t be the only thing on a young female lacrosse player’s mind these days. “The chance to play lacrosse as a female now is incredible,” says Borchers. “There is an enormous amount of Division I scholarship money out there. There are more collegiate teams every year.” — Elizabeth Stein
Did you know?…
The first women’s lacrosse game was played in 1890 at St. Leonard’s School in Scotland, and in 1926, the first women’s team was established at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore
One Spunky Soldier
Iraq veteran Marissa Strock moves on after her life-changing injuries
By Shannon Gallagher
You could say that Marissa Strock is a glass-half-full kind of girl. An Iraq war veteran, the straightforward 22-year-old from Lansingburgh, near Troy, lost both legs in 2005 when an IED explosion destroyed the Humvee she was riding in, killing two comrades and leaving Strock in a coma for nearly a month. And while Strock’s sacrifice garnered national attention when her photo appeared on a 2007 Newsweek cover as part of a piece entitled “Failing Our Wounded,” failing just doesn’t seem to be a blip on her radar. With extraordinary gusto, Strock has met her post-army life head on, admirably staying focused not on what she’s lost, but what she has gained: perspective, courage, and a lot of new hobbies.
You recently participated in Windham Mountain’s Adaptive Sports Foundation “Support Our Troops” Event. How was it?
It was an absolute blast! I snowboarded. I got involved through Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project. Last year they invited me out to a weekend of skiing, boarding, hanging out. I got hurt [snowboarding] last year and spent the rest of the weekend sit-down skiing, but this year I was like, â€˜I am snowboarding!’ I loved it, I want to go again before this season is over.
Did you snowboard before you joined the army?
No, I never had.
Well, snowboarding is hard to learn for anyone…
You tell someone “I’m a double amputee” and they’re like “How can you even walk?” And I can say I walk, I snowboard, I rock climb, and after this summer, water ski and wakeboard. I can do anything.
So you’ve been adapting to your prosthetics really well.
I randomly forget that I don’t have ankles anymore. I was stepping off the curb last night to walk to my car, didn’t bend my knee, and almost fell on my face! Sometimes now I just forget.
Are you working or going to school?
I’m looking for a job now. Something part-time. I kind of want to bartend — it seems like a fun job. And I definitely want to go to school. I’m looking at schools in Boston. I have a friend who is in Iraq right now, who’s from Boston. So it seems like the perfect situation, to get out of the town I’m in and have someone I know to move in with there.
Do you live alone now?
Not if you count my furry, four-legged son, Bruiser [her bulldog]. My friend calls him Fugly — he’s so ugly, he’s cute.
What was the hardest thing about coming home?
Jumping back in with a group of friends I hadn’t seen in three years. I didn’t do the best job of keeping in touch when I was overseas, or even when I was in Washington, D.C.
Aside from the physical changes you’ve gone through, what’s the biggest change you see in yourself since you enlisted?
Pre-war I didn’t have the bigger picture — I was worried about myself, my friends, my family. But now I know there’s a world out there beyond mine right here. I have a less selfish picture now, maybe.
What do you think about what’s going on in Iraq now?
I try to keep my nose out of it. I know we need to be over there and that the Iraqis need help keeping their country together. But we’ve lost too many people. There has to be a point where you say “Okay, if they don’t want our help, then we should go.” Obviously we can’t do that.
How do you feel about the upcoming elections?
I try to pay attention. But then all the candidates, every one, have hit a point and said something where I just can’t like them anymore. So I’m like, “I’m just goin