Joyicity: November 2022
In this issue:
– A word from the President, Kevin Wright
– Origins and pursuits for the United Irish Societies of Montreal
– ‘Ripples’ – a reflection by Irish poet Rachel McCrum
– Costello Irish Dance’s coach Casey Costello is training champions
– The Soulanges Irish Society – Making Ripples Since 2019
– The Wheel Club – Then and Now
A Word from the President
The eleventh edition of Festival Bloomsday Montreal has come and gone! This year was also the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Ulysses in Paris on February 2, 1922. For James Joyce, numbers held a special significance. His work was always published on February 2 and the number 11, for him, was the number of start over. In this, our eleventh year, we got to start over with live audiences without abandoning the immense following we have across the world via Zoom. Many of our events were hybrids in the sense that we presented them to a local audience and online at the same time. These events were recorded for viewing on our YouTube channel later on.
To put all of our activities in context, be sure to watch the interview with His Excellency the Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland to Canada and Dr. John McCourt, Rector of the University of Macerata in Rome. He is the first non-Italian to hold this position. They had a lively conversation about the reception of Ulysses in 1922 and the effects it still has in 2022. Dennis Trudeau was the moderator.
Two Montreal premieres were a musical opus by the Ukrainian composer Thomas de Hartmann based on Ulysses and sung by Geraldina Mendez. The second was a play by Debra Weiss in which she imagined a second meeting between Joyce and Proust after their disastrous first encounter in Paris. The difference this time is that they are both in the after-life when they get to start over. This play has since been presented at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin.
The full list of events available for viewing on our YouTube channel is on the Festival Bloomsday Montreal website with updates at www.bloomsdaymontreal.com.
We are pleased to continue the series of origin stories begun last year in Joyicity with articles from various groups in the Irish community which explain their origins and the ripple-effect their presence has had on the community.
As president, it is my particular pleasure to welcome a new member to the Bloomsday Montreal team: Samara O’Gorman, the editor of Joyicity. She is an actress, a published author, a vocal coach and youth counsellor. She has a thorough knowledge of the Irish community and is a former Queen of the Soulanges St. Patrick’s Day Parade. A more complete profile of our new editor will be presented in the next edition of Joyicity.
Festival Bloomsday Montreal
Origins and pursuits for the United Irish Societies of Montreal
By Ken Quinn, Historian at United Irish Societies of Montreal
Montreal has been celebrating St. Patrick’s Parades since 1824. Along the way, several organizations took the lead in assuring the continuity of the Parade beginning with Michael O’Sullivan and friends from the Hibernian Society in 1824. The torch was passed to St. Patrick’s Society in 1834 with its creation. The Parade was handed to the Irish Catholic Committee followed by the Ancient Order of Hibernians before the United Irish Societies of Montreal was founded in 1928 as an umbrella organization for the purpose of making the necessary arrangements for the annual St. Patrick’s Parade, which explains the plural nature of its name.
The umbrella lasted into the 1970s as Irish Catholic Parishes and Irish community organizations sent two delegates each to United Irish Societies meetings, until individual membership was opened up to community members. The practice of sending delegates to the UIS gradually ended.
Throughout its history the UIS has involved itself in numerous non parade activities. In the late 1960s, the organization got busy in sustaining community outreach. It began organizing entertainment events where its members would visit residences to bring elderly and shut-ins a little joy through song and dance. This practice continued into the new century when lack of new members willing to share their talents brought this committee to its conclusion after the 2014 season.
Another important outreach activity the UIS has organized since the late 1960s is its annual Christmas Basket program, financed principally through a Christmas Draw, the first being held December 15, 1967 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Cavendish Boulevard. Although the proceeds that year were earmarked for welfare and social services towards the purchase of a special wheelchair for the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the annual Christmas Draw today finances roughly sixty food baskets at Christmas time.
The non-parade event that I remember with great fondness is from 2000, when the UIS partnered with Brian O’Neill Gallery and the Canadian Irish Studies Foundation to bring the University of Notre Dame Concert Band to perform at St. Patrick’s Basilica days prior to the annual parade. Funds raised from the successful evening went to the Canadian Irish Studies Foundation, which was working diligently to build the world class School of Irish Studies at Concordia that we all are aware of today. The incomparable UIS past President Margaret Healy teamed with Mr. Gallery to co-chair the event. UIS Vice President of Organization Stephen Dowd was bedecked in his tuxedo as he served as master of ceremonies for the event mere days before the annual parade enveloped downtown Montreal under his direction. More than the magic from that evening, upon reflection, the visibility received by the UIS from its involvement in this project pushed it further into the spotlight as one of the three major organizations within Montreal’s Irish community, a position it maintains to this day.
In this short article I have not delved into the two community awards it presents yearly (Simon McDonaugh Humanitarian Award and the Liam Daly Heritage Award). Perhaps expanding on these awards is for another day, however the UIS does recognize members of the community who deserve the spotlight.
What is certain is that despite the understanding that the UIS is tasked with organizing the annual St Patrick’s Parade since 1929, the UIS has also understood over time the importance in community outreach and in recognizing the good works of community members.
Everyone loves a parade and everyone loves to breathe fresh air after a long winter. Unless and until the UIS passes the torch to another organization it will continue to do what it does best, organize the best parade in Montreal and extend its hand of friendship to the community. The future is always bright within the UIS, which looks forward to 2023 as it marches towards the 200th year of parades in Montreal.
‘Ripples’ – a reflection by Irish poet Rachel McCrum
This year’s featured writer is poet and performer, Rachel McCrum. Hear her in conversation with our new Joyicity editor, Samara O’Gorman on our YouTube channel. Here, her piece reflecting on this newsletter’s theme; ripples.
By Rachel McCrum, Irish poet & 2022 Festival Bloomsday’s spotlight writer
A stone is thrown into water. Impact causes an excited splash, joyful mess. The quick gravitational descent causes liquid to be pulled into the downwards movement, then thrown up. Kinetic energy, down and up and out. The stone disappears. A repeating movement fans out. A single vertical action creating multiple circular waves. Displacement from the status quo occurs. A disturbance propagating from an initial action, wider impact across the environment.
A wind tugs across a pond. Breeze shivers in capillary waves. A dull slick of surface oil undulates into slow rainbows. A small, slight length. Dragging the water from one place to another. Hard work. Things budge, subtly. Diminish quickly.
A seductive, mischievous flicker of muscles under skin. To catch the eye.
A favoured ice cream. Violent bands of syrup spread through bland white. A disruption of the mundane.
Everything we dare to do displaces. Impact displaces stagnant water, shifts a current. A return to status quo is unimaginable. We write: the words take up space where something else previously was. We speak: the sound waves enter the ear’s shore. We teach: a newly introduced thought ripples across the environment. Shift begets shift.
We hold up hard ideas, faceted concepts. We take the airiness of thoughts and make them solid enough to hold in the hand. With care, we launch. Hope that the movement is sustained enough to reach the other side.
Costello Irish Dance’s coach Casey Costello is training champions
By Casey Costello, TCRG & Coach at Costello Irish Dance
I founded Costello Irish Dance in September 2015 in Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Since the beginning, the school’s mission has been to train champions. We believe in the dual sense of the word “champion”. We want our dancers to be champions in Irish dance, meaning that they strive for an extremely high level of excellence in technique and performance in order to win competitions. We equally want our dancers to be champions of Irish dance, meaning advocates of Irish dance. While the competitive angle is clear with our mission statement, #trainingchampions, it has been such a pleasure to see the dancers and families in the school become ambassadors of not just Irish dance, but also of Irish culture and tradition. Montreal has a very strong Irish community, and our school has been supported by the various Irish organizations. What has been so great to see is how the Irish community west of the island of Montreal has flourished. The support we’ve received from the Soulanges Irish Society, in particular, has been amazing. By working together, our two organizations have created a tremendous amount of synergy.
Another ripple effect that is really gratifying to experience is through the power of social media. Our school is the Irish dance school with the largest social media following in the entire world. We have over 65K followers across all platforms: Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. It’s amazing to see how many people from all around the world can become connected through a mutual love of Irish dance. While I never had a goal of attaining a large social following, it showed me that no matter how small or how new you are, you can achieve a high level of success by simply sharing what you love with others.
I started the dance school with a weekly class of 9 Beginner solo dancers. Since then, we’ve expanded to over 40 dancers ranging from Beginner up to the highest competitive level of Championship and we now offer over 30 hours of class every week. Our dancers have competed in solos and teams at the World, North American, All Scotland, and Great Britain Championships, in addition to local competitions. How this evolution happened was with consistent hard work and a strong community supporting us every step of the way.
My goals and pursuits for the future include expanding the school so that more people can experience Irish dance. More people can use the world of Irish dance as a channel to pursue excellence.
One of my idols is John Wooden and he has a great quote: “A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.” This is what I’m striving towards.
The Soulanges Irish Society – Making Ripples Since 2019
By Tom Whelan, Director of Communications & Media at Soulanges Irish Society
The Soulanges Irish Society exists because of a ripple. Let me explain. Way back in 2009 the first ever Hudson St. Patrick’s parade was held. That was the original pebble in the pond, from there the ripples began. Every subsequent year the little parade grew and there were more events surrounding the parade every year. Because of those events, the Irish season in Vaudreuil-Soulanges is now close to two months long.
In 2019, Jim Beauchamp, who founded the original parade in Hudson, stepped back from organizing the parade as did the other original members of the Parade Committee. It had been 10 years of an almost full-time and certainly year-round job for all of them. It was time for some fresh faces and fresh ideas. As a result, the Soulanges Irish Society was born. Jim decided to hand the reins of Parade Chairman over to Jay De la Durantaye. Jay however, had a bigger plan.
Having previously been involved with the downtown Montreal parade, Jay saw the importance of an Irish society and everything that a society can do, not only for the Irish community, but for the community at large.
He recruited (some might say coerced) a number of like-minded individuals and created the area’s very own Irish society. But Jay being Jay, an Irish society just to organize a parade wasn’t enough.
Over the past three years those ripples have kept going. To the point now where The Soulanges Irish Society holds fund raising events all year round. The society not only raises funds to enable it to stage a parade and all the surrounding events every year, the SIS also is driven to give back to the community in which it operates. So far, the SIS has made donations to charitable organizations throughout Vaudreuil-Soulanges. But, there is more work to be done. This year the SIS is holding its first ever golf tournament with an eye to starting the ball rolling on its five-year commitment to raise the funds necessary to purchase a major piece of equipment for the children’s ward at the new Vaudreuil-Soulanges hospital, scheduled for completion in 2024.
The Soulanges Irish Society, turning small ripples into waves.
The Wheel Club Then and Now
by Clifford Schwartz
Montreal’s legendary Wheel Club has been a hidden gem in Montreal’s NDG borough since 1945. One of the oldest clubs in Montreal, “The Wheel” – as it’s known by its regulars – began as a private veterans club following World War II.
At the time, the Wheel Club was frequented mainly by Canadian Navy veterans, recently returned from battles in Europe, and who would visit the club in the required formalwear. They named it the Wheel Club after the wheel that turned ships at its helm. The official name was – and still is – in fact, “Club Social des Véterans des Services Publics du Québec”.
Fast forward to 1979. Richard Hearn, a proud Newfoundlander, was a City of Westmount firefighter. Knowing that retirement wasn’t too far off, when he became the president of the not-for-profit Wheel Club he invited many of his emergency services colleagues and their families to enjoy the comforting and unpretentious ambiance of the Wheel. Indeed, military personnel, firefighters, police officers, support staff, and their families would gather at the members-only club as a place they could call their own. Once Mr. Hearn retired in 1984, he was able to spend more time developing his business.
Soon after taking the helm, Richard Hearn was approached by Bob Fuller, the founder of Montreal’s long-running Hillbilly Night. They were looking for a new home since their former showcase, The Blue Angel Bar downtown, was going out of business. The Wheel Club had exactly the kind of homey feeling they were looking for and a president who was happy to accommodate. Alongside other vintage rock music concerts, the fully-licensed Wheel Club quickly became known as one of THE places to enjoy excellent live music that would take patrons back to the days when popular music was played by true musicians.
Bob Fuller passed away in June 2018 at the age of 84. Yet his legacy lives on in the form of Montreal’s longest-running open mic night featuring old-time Country and Bluegrass music played entirely on acoustic instruments each and every Monday night. The weekly event is now run by Fuller’s right-hand, Jeannie Arsenault, who upholds the tradition of playing songs written only prior to 1969. It is indeed a unique and authentic offering that is known world-round. Famous people have graced the stage for Hillbilly Night throughout the decades including guitarist Jeff Healey and actor George Hamilton along with many local media personalities such as CBC journalists and radio hosts.
In 2019, at the age of 84, Richard Hearn felt the time had come to hand over the Wheel. As a full-time professional musician and music entrepreneur who knew just how to enhance the club’s live music offerings, I stepped up to take over the Wheel. And as a former Cirque du Soleil musician who believes there are only two kinds of music – good and bad, I decided, along with my partner, KJ Patterson, to open up the club to all styles of music, so long as it met the high-bar we set for quality. Over time we added Edmund Laflamme and Cyndi Turner as partners. As such, with a solemn promise to maintain the club’s traditions, and to promote it as a community hub, the Wheel Club lives on since, as we now know for certain, the Wheel Club has a life of its own.
This assertion was much proven during the restrictions that came along with the COVID pandemic when so many live music venues succumbed to the startling absence of business. Given my background in live-streaming video from a previous business venture, we decided to purchase four cameras that we coupled with Edmund’s expert audio recording skills to deliver live-streamed concerts directly to people’s homes during the lockdowns. This was a win-win-win for all involved: with voluntary donations offered up by viewers, we were able to pay the musicians, pay the rent, and keep our customers entertained. Indeed, we were the only gig in town for musicians for quite a while. And with the support of cultural entities such as Bloomsday Montreal, NDG Arts, the English Language Arts Network (ELAN), and other arts-based organizations who saw the Wheel Club as the ideal place to deliver on their community mandates, we weathered the storm.
We were indeed proud to host several Bloomsday Montreal events including book readings, concerts, and notably an epic record launch by Montreal’s “The Swindlers”, an Irish-music crossover quartet headed by fiddler extraordinaire, Jonathan Moorman.
We at the Wheel Club are truly grateful to Bloomsday Montreal and its excellent team for their continued support, allowing us to tell the tale of how a community has been able to come together in the noble support of the arts. The club happily lives on today with a renewed sense of enthusiasm amongst our management, our ongoing relationships with the likes of Bloomsday Montreal, our artistic community, and the patrons who flock to our weekly events.