Music, Dance and Poetry Performances Celebrate Irish Arts at Kentlands Mansion

Photo | Submitted Ring of Kerry Dancers perform during the Gaithersburg St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The group will demonstrate and teach some ceili dances at the Kentlands Mansion on March 15.

Photo | Submitted
Ring of Kerry Dancers perform during the Gaithersburg St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The group will demonstrate and teach
some ceili dances at the Kentlands Mansion on March 15.

Not only Irish eyes will be smiling on the evening of Friday, March 15 at the Kentlands Mansion. The City of Gaithersburg’s Arts on the Green staff is confident that a celebration of the Emerald Isle’s arts will bring out everyone’s inner Irish—not coincidentally at the start of the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

The program of music, dance and poetry was put together by former Community Arts Program Coordinator Monica Harwood, a coloratura soprano who also will perform that evening. “My goal for the event is that we offer a new perspective on Irish art, while still cherishing Irish tradition,” she said.

An aficionado and performer of new and unusual music, Harwood looked for unique music that would engage a mainstream audience for the event. Her voice teacher recommended that she explore folk song settings.

“I was so surprised to find that there existed such a large body of work in folk songs by classical/famous as well as new composers,” she said. “In exploring folk song arrangements by composers like Haydn and Beethoven, I stumbled upon some really fun and accessible Irish folk song arrangements.”

As part of the program, Harwood will perform some contemporary arrangements of Irish classics. “Of course, I did not want to stick to the usual renditions of ‘Oh Danny Boy’ and such, so I sought out some contemporary art music,” she explained. “I discovered Donnacha Dennehy, who creates really unique and unusual pieces that mix things like traditional sean nós singing (a highly ornamental style of unaccompanied traditional Irish singing) and electronics. I also discovered that John Corigliano—one of my favorite composers—wrote Irish art songs, and in his usual style, melds the avant garde with classical conventions.”

Accompanied by pianist Kathy Detwiler, Harwood will sing selections by Dennehy, Corigliano as well as Beethoven.

For traditional Irish music, Harwood reached out to The Bog Band, which began about 15 years ago at the Washington Waldorf School where band director Mitch Fanning taught violin. “I was blown away by the talent and amount of repertoire that his ensemble—primarily made up of youth (metropolitan D.C.-area middle and high school students)—put out,” she said. The band, she noted, will perform a few traditional selections during the concert and accompany the post-show dance demonstration.

Finding Irish dancers was easy for Harwood because she had been dancing with the Ring of Kerry Irish Dancers (RKIDs), which she described as “a community ceili dance club—social group dancing.” The group’s mission is, she said, “to promote
the appreciation of Irish culture, and they do so by performing demonstrations, holding lectures and discussions, and maintaining an active presence in the community.”

At the celebration, Gaithersburg-based RKIDs will demonstrate a few set or ceili dances during the show, then lead a class afterwards.

For Irish poetry, Harwood’s resource was the DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry, where she found Gaithersburg poet, teacher and mother of two Kristin Ferragut. “My great grandparents on my paternal mother’s side hailed from County Sligo, Ireland,” she said.

Ferragut plans to read one Irish-inspired original piece, “Magic Found in Old Jars,” which she said, “is a nod to Irish family lore and music, planted so deeply in memory that I don’t even remember that I know it until singing along. It’s a fun one to read!” She also will read a poem by contemporary Irish poet Louis de Paor.

Following the performances, the poet will take advantage of the instructional Ceili (set dancing) class with the Ring of Kerry group. “I grew up knowing the Irish jig, but am afraid I don’t remember it now. I’m looking forward to enjoying the dance instruction with my kids.”

And, asked Harwood, “What Irish event would be complete without an Irish beer?” A cash-only Irish pub—for those who are
21-plus and have photo ID—will be situated in the mansion’s parlor both before and after the show.

Arts on the Green’s Irish Arts Celebration will start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 15 at the Kentlands Mansion, 320 Kent Square Road. For tickets, $12, visit