Irish youth music groups head overseas

Martin O’Grady, the philanthropist behind the Woodlawn House of Music and Art.
Photo by Alex Belisle

Two Bronx-based music groups are headed to Ireland this month to compete at the largest Irish music festival in the world.

Students from Erin Loughran School of Irish Music & Arts and St. Cecelia’s Grupai Cheoil (St. Cecelia’s Music Group), both of which are based in the Woodlawn House of Music and Art, will be attending the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (The Music Festival of Ireland).

The festival

The festival and competition draws huge crowds from across Ireland, Britain, the U.S. and beyond, said Annmarie Acosta, the teacher of St. Cecelia’s. The students have to qualify in order to attend the festival, which includes intensive classes for youth before the competitions.

“It’s kind of like the Olympics of Irish music,” said Acosta.

Acosta herself attended the festival when she studied Irish music as a child, and her students have been attending for several years. She said Irish music is part of a long oral tradition that was passed down for many generations before anyone wrote it down. Although the majority of her students are of Irish heritage, she said the music has become popular across the board.

“It’s a very catchy kind of music,” she said.

The Woodlawn House

Acosta said she owes a lot to Martin O’Grady, who founded and funds the Woodlawn House of Art and Music, where arts educators teach without paying to use the space. Before she came to the Woodlawn House two years ago, Acosta said she was struggling to make ends meet with her lessons.

“I was going broke trying to pass on the tradition of Irish music,” said Acosta.

She said it means a lot to her to have the space to teach her students.

“We really appreciate what he’s doing,” said Acosta.

O’Grady carries the $900 a week costs for the studio so that teachers can offer affordable lessons in music and the arts.

“I’m trying to make it more accessible to children and adults,” said O’Grady said about arts education.

The house on 236th Street is open seven days a week and serves about 500 students through a collection of teachers. There are a wide variety of types of art and music taught at the house, with students of every instrument imaginable, said O’Grady. While there is an abundance of Irish music in the house, O’Grady said it’s very important to him that it be a multicultural place.

“There’s a tremendous amount of joy there,” he said about the house.

O’Grady said he is not a musician himself, but he cares deeply about the future of arts education, and he hopes others will take up the philanthropic torch so his mission can continue and expand.

“I think it’s terrific for the development of young people,” he said.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at
St. Cecelia’s Grupai Cheoil (St. Cecelia’s music group), who practice at the Woodlawn House of Music and Art, will be traveling to Ireland for a music festival this month.
Photo courtesy of Annmarie Acosta

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