Irish music trio focuses on tradition

Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2000

The Irish tunes echoing off the walls at Northern Light United Church on Saturday will be the same ones that filled Patty Furlong's childhood home.

She and fellow musicians Michelle Bergin and Eamon O'Leary picked the jigs, reels, polkas and hornpipes for their Alaska tour from the music they grew up with in Dublin and among New York's Irish immigrants.

"It's very traditional. It's not what you hear in the New York St. Patrick's Day scene. It's more what you hear in Ireland," said Furlong, the accordion player for the trio An Rua. "This is more geared toward the traditional tunes that we learned from our parents and grandparents."

Furlong's father played the accordion, placing the tunes in her head before she could talk. She started learning accordion at age 10. Now she is a three-time All-Ireland champion and an original member of the all-female traditional Irish group, Cherish the Ladies. She's toured with the Chieftains and recently released her first solo recording.

"It's a lot of tradition handin' down," Furlong said of the tunes she plays.

Bergin plays the fiddle, piano and her feet. She does step dancing, a traditional Irish dance where the fancy footwork drums out a high-energy rhythm. Bergin learned at her parent's step dancing studio in New York, which is now hers.

The step dancing has been one of the highlights for audiences in Talkeetna, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer and Homer, Furlong said.

"Everybody seems to be enjoying the Irish dancing," Furlong said. "They're amazed at how quick the footwork is and how clear it sounds."

Bergin also fiddled for "Lord of the Dance," an Irish dancing extravaganza that has toured nationally since opening at Radio City Music Hall in 1997.

Singer Eamon O'Leary comes from Dublin, which may explain his fondness for songs about the sea.

"He used to sing a lot about the death, so this is good," Furlong said.

Juneau is the last stop on the trio's Alaska tour. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for seniors and children 12 and under. They are available at Hearthside and Rainy Day Books. The concert is sponsored by the Alaska Folk Festival.

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