"How do I get to Tara Feis?"
"Practice, kid. Practice!"
For Maeve Flanagan, who sings and plays fiddle and tin whistle, a career in Irish music was inevitable. Her mother is Rose Flanagan, one of the founders of the all–female Irish music and dance group Cherish the Ladies.
Young Maeve and her sister Bernadette (piano and bodhran) are part of the eight–member group Girsa (it’s Gaelic for “young girls”), headlining the 2012 Tara Feis celebration March 10 in Emmet Park. All eight of them are college–age or younger.
It was all Ma Flanagan’s doing.
“She made me practice a lot, which I didn’t want to do,” Maeve Flanagan explains. “But I loved the music, obviously, my whole life. I grew up with Cherish the Ladies. My dad played the concertina, and my brothers and sisters and I would dance around the house to it.
“When I got older, I started competing, so my mom made me practice even more. So what I did, I would record the tunes on the little tape recorder I used for practice and stuff. I’d play them a couple of times and record them, then just put the tape recorder right near the door so she’d think that I was playing.”
Together, the eight members of Girsa play traditional Irish music “with a twist,” according to Flanagan. “Because we definitely do try to stick to traditional music, but on our newest CD we have Dobro on one of the tracks. On our first CD, we have African drums. We just kinda do what we feel like doing, but still sticking to the tradition.
“If any of the girls were to play by themselves, it would be strictly traditional. But when we get together, we like to experiment and mess around. So it’s our own sound.”
One of the highlights of the group’s self–titled debut album is a heartbreaking cover of the Guy Clark song “Immigrant Eyes.” Girsa filmed a video for the song on Ellis Island, where Clark’s lyrics are set. They also do Steve Earle’s riveting “Galway Girl.”
All the girls live in or around Falls River, N.Y. “We’ve been pretty much playing together our whole lives,” says Flanagan.
“My mom grew up with some of the other girls’ moms. My mom teaches the fiddle, and she taught the girls in the band who play the fiddle how to play. So we’d end up competing against each other, and with each other in bands.
“I was probably 13 or 14 when one of the other girl’s mom, Pamela Geraghty’s mom Pat, was like ‘You girls really need to start a band.’ So she’s the one who assigned everything. She kind of forced us into the band ... but it was great that she did that.”
Sure, Maeve hated all that practice, “but I appreciate it so much now. The friends that I’ve made, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Although Girsa has yet to perform in Ireland as a group, most of the girls have competed there in the Fleadh, the all–Ireland competition held each August. As soloists, duos and trios, they’ve come home with many a prize.
For the time being at least, Girsa is just something the girls do when they’ve got the time. Flanagan, as a matter of fact, is in law school.
“I would love to be able to just do Girsa,” she says. “Law has always been a passion of mine, too. I’m the oldest — the rest of the girls are younger than me, and three of them are studying abroad right now. So it’s kind of not feasible to do anything full time with Girsa until everyone’s graduated.
“I don’t want to say that law school is a backup to music, but I do need to have a real job, I guess, along with music. My uncle is Brian Conway, he’s one of the most prominent fiddle players in the United States. And he’s also an ADA right near here where we live.
“I interned with him, and I saw that he was able to do it, so I was like, I’ll go for it.”
Where: Emmet Park, east end of Bay Street
When: 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, March 10
Main Stage Schedule
11 a.m. Opening Ceremony
11:20 am Savannah Pipe and Drum Corps
11:30 am Irish Dancers of Savannah
12:15 pm Plunkett’s Fancy
1:15 pm Girsa
2:30 pm Glor na Daire Irish Dance School
2:45 pm Meet the girls of Girsa (Autograph signing at the ticket tent)
3:20 pm Harry O’Donoghue
4 p.m. Girsa
4:55 pm Closing remarks
11:30 am Conrad Hartz Puppets
Noon Savannah Pipes and Drums
12:15 pm Glor na Daire Irish Dance School
1 p.m. Magic Marc
1:30 pm Irish Dancers of Savannah
2:15 pm Conrad Hartz Puppets
2:45 pm Magic Marc
3:15 pm Irish Dancers of Savannah
3:45 pm Conrad Hartz Puppets
4:15 pm Glor na Daire Irish Dance School