Ireland and its rich culture have long been near and dear to the hearts of many Americans, particularly here in the Northeast where many people can trace their ancestry back across the Atlantic. Despite being often several generations removed, Ireland continues to exert a strong hold on many people in this country.
Local lovers of all things Irish will have an opportunity to revisit old Ireland when The Emerald Revellers bring their “Rhythms of Ireland” program to Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers’ Church at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 1.
Founded in 1996 by choreographer Clare McMorrow as an outgrowth of her Farragher School of Dance, The Emerald Revellers are a traditional Irish folk group from county Leitrim. Members range in age from six to 50+ and in their programs, they offer audiences an evening of Irish dance, music, singing and storytelling.
The first half of the “Rhythms of Ireland” performance is dedicated to traditional Irish music and dance or “sean nos.” The second half of the show features modern step dancing moves like those made popular by Michael Flatley and the dancers of Riverdance.
“It’s exactly like what Riverdance does,” explains McMorrow. “We’ve tried some new stuff recently. One routine, I showed the younger dancers and said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ and they said, ‘Wow!’”
“Traditional music and dancing have had a big revival in the last number of years, even outside of Ireland,” she adds. “Riverdance gave it a big lift — for boys too. We have seven boys dancing — Michael Flatley was a major fashionable influence.”
Since she founded The Emerald Revellers, McMorrow and her group have performed throughout Ireland and abroad. Performers not only come from Leitrim, which is in the northwest of Ireland, but also neighboring counties Sligo, Fermanagh and Cavan. In that part of the world, singing, dancing and visiting friends and relatives to share a little music is a way of life.
“We’re close knit — there’s always music and dancing,” says McMorrow. “They all come to my house and have a sing song. There’s a lot of that.”
Many members of The Emerald Revellers have danced under McMorrow’s direction for 20 years. But they are not professionals and still hold day jobs, raise children or attend school.
“My own children dance,” says McMorrow. “I also have a grandchild now that dances.”
For their upcoming U.S. tour, which includes performances at venues in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the performers will be paying half of their own expenses.
“It takes great commitment,” says McMorrow. “They all have a social life, they all have boyfriends and girlfriends. Hopefully it will pay off. They’ve left wives and husbands behind.”
During a 2001 visit to Florida, The Emerald Revellers performed to sold-out audiences. For many of the 35 performers making the trip next week, this will be their first visit to the Northeast.
“They’re all very excited,” says McMorrow. “Many of them have never been to New York. I’ve been to Boston, but not New York. If we have time, we may be able to see some sights between shows.”
“In Florida, we got huge audiences and were so appreciative,” says McMorrow. “It was unbelievable. Hopefully people will come out in New York too.”
Coordinating a tour with 35 performers, eight showsÂ and three states is no small task, and on this side of the Atlantic, it falls to Noyac’s Bunny Jones to help facilitate the group’s visit.
Jones grew up in New York, but her mother hailed from Leitrim and McMorrow is married to Jones’ cousin. Jones, who splits her time between Noyac and Florida, coordinated the 2001 tour, and she is doing the same this time around. During their last visit, members of the group told Jones that it was their dream to perform in the Northeast where so many people of Irish heritage live.
“I decided to add Sag Harbor to the tour,” says Jones. “When people think of New York they think Manhattan. I thought it would be fantastic if they could come out here.”
Though The Emerald Revellers are accustomed to performing abroad, for members like set dancer Bridie Sweeney, coming to the United States has special meaning.
“I think U.S. audiences are different,” she says. “There’s a deeper appreciation and understanding of where we’re coming from and a connection with the group.”
Â “It possibly means more to them,” adds Sweeney. “People in America are very warm and welcoming. When you’re performing, you get a lot of feedback from your audience. You dance better, sing better play better. When we were in Florida, we got such a reception it was amazing. I hope we’ll get a similar feedback there.”
“Even those with no Irish roots or background will get a lot out of the performance,” she says. “Anybody can be touched.”
“People will go away uplifted. This is real Irish dancing backed up by really good music.”
Tickets for The Emerald Revellers’ August 1 performance are $20 ($15 for children) and available in advance by calling Bunny Jones at (631) 899-3996 or at www.emeraldrevellers.com. Tickets will also be sold at the door. Showtime is 8 p.m. The Old Whalers’ Church is at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor.