Celebrating the Irish at Belmont

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Steve Duggan has a vision.

Like many other Irish in New York City, the County Cavan native fondly remembers the Guinness Fleadh, which was the premier Irish music festival for several years in the mid 1990s.

And the College Point resident is trying to pick up where the Fleadh (pronounced “flah”) left off with the New York Irish Festival, which will take place at Belmont Racetrack in Elmont, L.I. Friday through Sunday.

“This is the festival, it is the place to be,” Duggan proudly proclaimed. “I’m quite confident we’re going to be taking over for the Fleadh.”

Duggan, who also runs the famed Paddy Reilly’s bar in Manhattan and manages the bar’s equally famous namesake, started the New York Irish Festival eight years ago.

“I wanted to bring Irish to Irish people who haven’t been home in 40 or 50 years,” Duggan said. “I’ve met people here who haven’t been home since the 50s and 60s.”

Duggan, who has lived in the United States since 1983, would also like to compete with the largest Irish festival in the country in Milwaukee, where 120,000 celebrate Irish culture over four days.

“If they can do it in Milwaukee, why can’t we do it in New York?,” he said. “My vision is to become another Milwaukee.”

With an impressive musical lineup — including landing the hugely popular Saw Doctors for two nights this year as well as acts such as Black 47, Eileen Ivers and Dropkick Murphys — Duggan appears well on his way.

The three-day festival, which will take place at the paddock area of the racetrack, has a little bit of everything, including three stages of music, ample children’s rides, the seventh annual Eamonn Coghlan Classic Run, the New York City Feis (pronounced “fesh”) under the direction of master dancer and instructor Donny Golden, an attempt at setting a Guinness World Record for the largest number of step dancers on a floor at the same time, a film presentation by Connor McCourt, son of Malachy McCourt and an antique car show.

The highlight though is the music.

Headlining the festival is the Saw Doctors from the town of Tuam in County Galway. The group, which has a solid following in New York and played one night at last year’s festival, just started a North American tour in support of their fifth CD, “Villains?.”

With sing-along hits like “N17” “I Useta Lover” and “Never Mind the Strangers,” the Saw Doctors brand of bar-band rock has excelled at large outdoor festivals, like the now-defunct Guinness Fleadh.

While the New York event, held at Randall’s Island, was headlined by mega-stars such as Elvis Costello, Sinead O’Connor and Van Morrison, it was the Saw Doctors that stole the show.

The Saw Doctors are scheduled to take the Pepsi stage Friday at 9:45 p.m. and Saturday at 9 p.m.

“New York is a home away from home for us in a lot of ways,” said Saw Doctors guitarist/singer Leo Moran from his hotel room in Asbury Park, N.J. before a show last week. “New York is one of the special cities, there’s always a good time to be had in New York.”

Moran, who has an uncle who lives in Staten Island as well as other relatives in Brooklyn and New Jersey, said the simplicity of the band’s music seems to especially come across well in larger outdoor settings.

“It’s really worked out quite well for us,” he said. “When we play outdoors during the summer, we get to play to some extra people who might not pay for a ticket to see us at a smaller club in the winter.”

After the success of their set at last year’s New York Irish Festival, Moran said the band decided to add a second date this year.

“It was great, it was a lovely warm evening and a great crowd,” he said. “As long as the evening stays warm this year, it’s sure to be a great night.”

The New York Irish Festival is the final two shows of the first leg of the Saw Doctors East Coast August tour. The band opened the tour in Keane, N.H. on Aug. 2, their first of a string of 10 shows in 13 nights before the festival.

“Once we get here its always busy, but it works better for us,” Moran said.

Following the shows at Belmont, the Saw Doctors are off until Aug. 31 when their U.S. tour resumes in Yosemite, Calif.

Another wildly popular band scheduled to appear at the New York Irish Festival is New York-based Black 47. Formed in the Bronx in 1989, Black 47 — a fusion of rock, reggae, hip-hop and Irish traditional music — made a name for themselves with their weekly gigs at Paddy Reilly’s.

Headed by Larry Kirwan, the band’s singer/songwriter, Black 47 is known for their rousing live renditions of such hits as “Rockin’ the Bronx,” “Funky Ceili (Bridie’s Song) and “Maria’s Wedding.”

Black 47, whose eighth CD “On Fire” was released last October, will take the Pepsi stage Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and will close out the festival Sunday at 8 p.m.

Also slated to perform is Dropkick Murphy’s, who were formed in Boston, Mass. in 1995. The band, an eclectic mix of punk, rock, Irish folk, rock and hard-core, is scheduled to appear Saturday at 7:15 p.m. and Sunday at 6:15 p.m. on the Pepsi Stage.

Two more local bands famous for their gigs at Paddy Reilly’s are The Prodigals and The McCabes and both are sure to excite the crowds at the New York Irish Festival.

The Prodigals, a New York based jig-punk quartet made up of two Americans and two Irishmen who occupy the Friday night slot at Paddy Reilly’s, is another band known for its infectious live shows and recently released their third CD, “Dreaming in Hell’s Kitchen.”

The McCabes are the most recent band to play the now famous weekly Saturday night gig at Paddy Reilly’s. Headed by singer/songwriter/guitarist Sean McCabe, The McCabes, whose debut CD is appropriately titled, “Live at Paddy Reilly’s,” are a mix of traditional Irish, American bluegrass, ska and rock.

If you’re looking for a break from the rock music at the Pepsi Stage, head over to the Guinness Stage Saturday at 5:45 p.m. for Eileen Ivers, a master of the Irish fiddle.

Ivers, an eight-time All-Ireland fiddle champion who hails from the Woodlawn Heights section of the Bronx, was a session musician on albums by Paula Cole, Patti Smith and Hothouse Flowers and has toured with Luka Bloom and Hall & Oates. Ivers recently released, “Crossing the Bridge,” her second solo album.

Other musical acts scheduled to perform are Shilelagh Law, who open the festival Friday at 6 p.m. on the Pepsi Stage, Highland Rovers, Finbar Furey, Susan Gillespie, Jeff Conlon, Deirdre Reilly, Elders, Tony DeMarco, Eamon and Marion, Martin Reilly, John Dillon, Sister Mary Beatta, the NYPD Pipers and the All-Star Ceili Band.

For more information and for tickets on the festival, go to

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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