2014-02-21 / Front Page

Dancing Kicks Off Irish Celebrations

By Jack Kelly

To mark the opening of the 37th annual Newport Irish Heritage Month, the Irish Heritage Association is hosting its annual Dancing at the Forty Steps event at the east end of Narragansett Avenue on Sunday, March 2, at 2 p.m. This celebration of life, music, and dancing honors the memories of Newport’s Irish immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries, who gathered at Forty Steps to socialize, play music, and most of all, dance.

Donal Lehane, president of the association, and his wife, Mary, have led the dance since 1999. The Lehanes immigrated to the United States from Ireland and settled in Newport’s traditional Irish neighborhood, the Fifth Ward, in 1996. “We discovered the history of the Irish people who came before us and in 1999 became involved with the Irish Heritage Association. We wanted to celebrate all that was here and also wanted to give of ourselves,” Lehane said.

The Lehanes and other dancers will demonstrate traditional Irish set dances and then invite members of the crowd to join in the fun. Lehane explained, “We love doing this. With the help of our friends Rick and Joan Kelly, Meghan Corr, Jimmy Mahoney, and other supporters, we always have fun.”

The event will feature live traditional Irish music from local musicians

A.O. Gutierrez, Tom Perrotti, and Tim May, and may include guest appearances by other performers. Last year’s guests included Tom Maguire on the whistle, as well as Debbie Spitznagel on the Bodhran (hand drum) and whistle. Maguire brought some members of the crowd to tears with his rendition of the ballad, “When Newport Was Irish.”

“This year our scheduled special guests are The AOH Singers, a group of men from the Hibernians who will delight listeners,” Lehane said.

Weather conditions in early March can be fickle, but Lehane adamantly declared, “We are diehards and will dance despite bad weather conditions. We do this in honor of the people who danced at Forty Steps in the past, carrying on their traditions. The parents of one of our members, Jimmy Mahoney, met and courted while dancing at Forty Steps.”

Last year’s dance was held under a cloudy sky with a chilly wind off the water. Despite the cold, people laughed and enjoyed the spirited traditional Irish music and, of course, the dancing. Many who were there felt the presence of Irish ancestors celebrating their new country at Forty Steps all those years ago.

For more information about Irish Heritage Month and activities during March, visit aohnewport.org.

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