QUAKER CITY STRINGBAND

23rd  VISIT TO KILTIMAGH, COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND 

BY ED MACKIN

 

The Kiltimagh Tourism Association Committee has requested that the Quaker City Stringband provide various bits of information about Mummery, The Quaker City Stringband, our origin, traditions and members. Below are the responses to the questions posed.

What is a Mummer?

The first question posed to us was “Who is Quaker City Stringband?” In order to answer this question accurately, we must first explain two broader topics:

What is a Mummer…and…What is the Philadelphia Mummers Parade (PMP)

Anyone who does research on the origin of the Philadelphia Mummers and/or our Parade, will likely find many opinions as to the exact origin of the parade. The varying opinions are very similar in that they all agree the roots of the PMP are from the same Myths and Celebrations or yore that spawned events such as Carnivale in Europe and South America and Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other southern cities in the USA. But the questions of when did they arrive in Philadelphia and exactly what ethnic or religious groups brought them to our shores is where most accounts differ (mildly).

After looking into this issue many decades ago, I thought back then, and after doing a quick Google check, I still believe today, that the scenario most well supported is that the tradition’s roots in Philadelphia were first brought and practiced here by the Swede’s, in the late 1700/early 1800 time frame. They settled in a portion of South Philadelphia known as “The Neck” and brought a tradition known as “New Year’s Shooting”.

The “New Year’s Shooter’s”, who actually fired their weapons in the air to celebrate the New Year, hence the name…..and a phrase which is still used among many long time Mummers…..would usually dress in some sort of fancy or funny dress, or perhaps play music or recite poetry in exchange for a reward.

Any idea what the reward might have been?? You guessed it…..BOOZE.

The most famous “poem” used by the early New Year Shooters was:

“Here we stand before your door,
As we stood the year before;
Give us whisky, give us gin,
Open the door and let us in.”

As you can see by the above descriptions, the early days of New Year’s Shooters (AKA MUMMERS) in Philadelphia were celebrations kind of like Halloween for drunken adults and here we are 300 years later……  THE TRADITION CONTINUESJ!!

What is the Philadelphia Mummers Parade? (PMP)

With the above background information as to “What is a Mummer”, I’ll turn to the second question of

“What is the Philadelphia Mummers Parade”?

Throughout the 1800’s the tradition of “The New Year Shooters” celebrating the New Year with their form of partying, spread to several ethnically, geographically and religiously varying “neighborhoods” in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. Soon the practice of  fancy dress,  playing music,  or simply MAKING NOISE by banging pots,  pans or anything loud which resulted in being invited into neighbors’ homes to celebrate the New Year, became a common practice in Philadelphia in the mid to late 1800’s.

In 1901 The Philadelphia City Government invited all people who practiced this type of New Year’s celebration in their neighborhoods to do it in an organized fashion ( many would say “disorganized” is a more accurate description!) to compete for prizes, donated by the City and some local businesses. They were requested to follow a parade route that ran from South Philadelphia, North on Broad St, onto Market Street, which is the location of Philadelphia’s City Hall.

With this invitation, the first Philadelphia Mummers Parade was born to welcome in the New Year of 1901. Philadelphia’s New Year’s Shooters/Mummers made its first trek “UP THE STREET” and “AROUND THE HALL” (a phrase the Mummers have used for a century to describe “the route” of the parade). The Philadelphia Mummers Parade is reported to be the “oldest folk festival” in the United States.

To support the traditions started many years before, the city broke the PMP into different “Divisions”, which today are the following:

The Comic Division

The Fancy Division

The Stringband Division

The Wench Brigade

The Fancy Brigade

It is estimated that approximately 15,000 to 16,000 Mummers march in the parade each year and the crowds assembling to watch the parade have ranged from hundreds of thousands to over a million during the parade’s hey days.

Because of the relationships forged over the past 30 years, the people of Kiltimagh would know more about the STRINGBAND DIVISION of the parade than any of the other divisions. But you may well recall the dozen or so men and woman who have travelled with us on many of the trips dressed in their “WENCH COSTUMES”, carrying their small, white Mummer’s Umbrella’s, and doing THE MUMMER’S STRUT along the entire parade route following “The Quaker’s” down Main Street in Kiltimagh.

(Of special note, Quaker City’s first visit to Kiltimagh was in 1988)

Who is Quaker City Stringband?

Now to address the original question of “Who is Quaker City Stringband?”  Quaker City Stringband (QCSB) was founded in 1921 and currently holds the title for the Most Stringband Division Championships in the history of the Philadelphia Mummers Parade with

21 FIRST PRIZE AWARDS!!

The band consist of approximately 150 members who fall into two general categories: Playing Members and Non Playing Members. Although the “Playing Member’s” provide the music and are the performers who receive well deserved accolades every time the band performs in a Parade or Concert, every single member of QCSB knows and fully acknowledges that neither of these two groups is “less important” than the other. If you go to quakercitystringband.com, and watch a couple of our performances in the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, your first question will be “WHO MADE ALL THOSE PROPS AND COSTUMES?” At that moment you begin to realize the value of “The half of the band whose job it is to NEVER BE SEEN!” It will “cost us points”, on New Year’s Day, if the judges see “Non Players” (or “marshals” or “band aids” as they are often called) during our presentation. Think of ‘Stage Hands” on Broadway or in the movies. You NEVER see them, but the event couldn’t occur if they weren’t there!

All of the funding for the costumes, props, travel, etc. is raised by member’s dues, tickets or chances to win various items that members are requested/must sell, performing jobs all year long for organizations such as conventions, company events, parades for all the traditional holidays, etc. The effort required by band members to fulfill the obligations of band membership for things such as practices, band jobs, committee meetings, building of props and costume accessories, and miscellaneous functions booked by the band throughout the year, is approximately 125-150 days per year that there is a job of some sort to be done. Since “getting a suit on New Year’s Day”, and having the honor of marching with the most winning band in PMP History, is based on the number of POINTS you garner throughout the year, the competition for the 64 Marching Positions (Maximum allowed by parade rules) is rather intense, and help increase the attendance at the jobs mentioned above.

If you do not “earn” a suit via the point system, you are still eligible to “go up the street” with the band…..BUT YOU MUST BE PART OF THE HALF OF OUR MEMBERSHIP WHO “CANT BE SEEN”! Not nearly as rewarding for a musician as getting the chance to perform in costume, in front of thousands of people and being judged based on your performance.

QCSB has performed in dozens of cities within the USA and many countries around the world. In addition to our 23 trips to Kiltimagh we have travelled to England, France, Spain, Italy, Sicily, Canada and Cruise Ships to Bermuda and Nova Scotia. The number of folks travelling to Kiltimagh for this year’s trip will be 88 of which 16 will be performing in the band.

Friendships and Memories of the 23 trips & 30 year relationship with the people/town of Kiltimagh

The final item we were asked to comment on was the “Friendships made, and memories created” over the past 30 years. That’s a complicated topic because it is of such a “personal nature” for each individual who has travelled with us over this enormous time span. I have no doubt there are hundreds, if not thousands of stories that could fill these pages by sending a questionnaire to all the attendees over all the years. However, Mike LaPergola, (whom everyone knows has been the architect for all 23 of our trips and is the MAIN REASON they have all happened), has asked me to respond to this request from the Kiltimagh Tourism Association Committee because of the amount of work he’s got on his plate preparing for 88 people to travel to Kiltimagh! As such, he said “you’ve made lots of relationships and have many memories to write about”. He is of course correct and I must apologize for focusing only on those few personal memories I will highlight.

I think the best way for me to fulfill this request is to highlight many of the thoughts, relationships, events, good times, enormous losses, regrets, etc. that come into my mind. Not much detail just kind of a list like Billy Joel did in “We Didn’t Start The Fire”

So strap yourself in for a fast, diverse ride that will have me laughing, crying and remembering some of the most memorable moments of my 75 years on earth!

Ø  There will be no Bobby Quaile or Mary Power on this trip! Ouch! Two “Parties in a bottle”! Just add people (and perhaps a drink or two) and watch the fun start! Love and miss you both immensely (along with Franny)

Ø  There will be no Brendan Killeen to greet me at the airport as he has done for every trip, along with Thomas and Francis McNicholas, Mick Munnelly, Brian Mooney, and Paul O’Shea.

Ø  There will be no Maureen McNicholas (The Queen Mother as I’ve always called her) to fill me in on her view of the enormous problems of the world. How I would have loved to have had one of our “Fireside Chats” about the American election and its outcome. Almost makes me chuckle to think of that discussionJ

Ø  No Johnny Doc ! One of the best and sadly missed! (RIP Pal)

Ø  No Billy Doc! He knew as many songs as Quailie and I! Also knew more about the Phillies than most all the way back to the 1940’s. (RIP Doc!)

Ø  They’ll be no Jack (“Muff”) Hearn who made was an “automatic” whenever there was a chance to get to Ireland, and his wife Doll (Really Annmarie but most people know her as “Doll”.)

Ø  I recall with grade fondness the night in 1997, after not making any of the first 10 trips due to issues beyond my control (she knows who she isJ) when Jack Plumley, one of the most fun people to ever walk the earth, said “Ed, if you go there with me ONE TIME you will never spend another St. Patrick’s Day in the U. S.!” I went, and until my wife’s stroke, I never spent another St. Patrick’s Day in the US. Then I missed one year and she’s been with me on every trip since. Still think of you and miss you often Jack! Thanks for the mummories! (Can never get too serious with Jack, even if he’s not here any longerJ)

Ø  Another trip with no “Lil’s Bar”, or Tom or Vera to visit! Always amazed me how a bar with “Forde’s” chiseled in the cement above the door, owned by a family named Gallagher, was known by everyone in town as Lil’s? Loved that place! Especially the “facilities”! An outhouse or a trench would have been a nice upgrade! But more fun than a barrel of drunken Mummers! Especially when Val and Quailie would take center stage with “CABARET”! Then Don would sing Old Man River and Thomas would attempt yet again, to explain to everyone assembled why “Patty wouldn’t be at work today”! Irreplaceable events indelibly printed in my mind.

Ø  Bobby McConomy will be unable to join us due to his ongoing battle with health issues. You’ll be missed Pal!!

Ø  And who could forget Richard Prendergast and his “Cabinette’s”, created one evening at Barry O’Shea’s Wood Cabin. I know I’m going to miss more than one but it was always Mary Power, Joan McArdle, Joan Whorisky, Cass Dougherty, Peg Brown, Pat Ward, Dot Rowan, Val Tuzi, Franny Cook (and please forgive me …anyone I’ve forgotten. The brain cells are dying by the minute!

Ø  The QC girls dancing in the bird cages as GO GO GIRLS in the N17!

Ø  And the night in The Railway Hotel when we taught the German Flag Throwers how to sing IT HAD TO BE YOU in English! The only 5 english words they ever learned. If I see them this trip, 15 years after that evening, they’ll yell across a street: “Eddie, eet ad to be uuu”!

Ø  Sneaking out of the Cill Aodain at 5AM like the Van Trapp Family trying to get out of Austria after a 12 hour sing along session. Jacky leading us down a back alley, over fences and out a gate….directly into the Arms of the Gendarme we were trying to avoid! Luckily we knew the cops and no further damage done.

Ø  And to as many of our B&B landlords as I can remember: I remember that in the early days, before I made the trips, Nuala & Jack Higgins played a significant role. Nuala was on the Kiltimagh Tourism Association and was the main person who, working with Mikey Lap, got this trip started. Mike says it took a year’s worth of phone calls and Faxes before this trip materialized.

Ø  Also Tom Higgins was the Public Relations Officer for the Kiltimagh Tourism Association. Tom was also very instrumental in getting this “dream” become a reality. I remember Tom visiting Philadelphia and Quaker City  on more than one occasion “back in the day”!

Ø  The Mackin and Mackin/Prendergast trips included Mary and Manus Kilcoyne, Frances Gallagher, Claire Charlton and Michael (RIP), Nancy Shannon (and her kitchen at breakfast as Bobby Quaile would be waiting to walk her grandson to school), Judy, Francie, Patria and Mary Byrne, Mary Carney and family, The Park Hotel (especially Tony and Claire McDermott who always saw after Joanne’s needs as though she was family).

Ø  Mary and Jackie from the Old Cill Aodain. Our two favorite bartenders and waitresses! Can’t wait to see you both again!!!

Ø  Can’t wait to see the entire McNIcholas Clan, the Munnelly’s, Eileen Killeen, Frances Gallagher, Mairead and Gerry King, Brian and Petua Mooney, Paul and MRS. O’SHEA, Tommy Ryan, who along with his son made the trek all the way to South Philly to honor Mary and Franny….a deed that will be remembered by many for a long time! Thanks for your friendship Tom! Joe and Nancy Lavin, without whom we’d have to walk the whole of IrelandJ!

Ø  I’ve got to close now because the thoughts are too many and too long to continue. I’m not sure any of this will ever be published but at least I’ll have a copy to serve as my “memory jogger” as the years take away the remembrances. Maybe this will be helpful!

It has been an incredible relationship between Kiltimagh and Quaker City Stringband for three decades!. I remember Francis McNicholas telling me once how difficult it would be for me to understand how important the QCSB relationship was to Kiltimagh. He said it could almost “not be measured”. I’m certain I can express the same sentiments from dozens of the Quaker City families, who have developed friendships that will literally last a lifetime, and perhaps for generations to come. Being one of those fortunate enough to have developed such relationships, I can firmly assure Francis the value of those relationships cannot be measured!

On Behalf of ALL THE MEMBERS, FAMILIES, FRIENDS AND TRAVELLERS who have joined Quaker City on any of the 23 most memorable trips to Kiltimagh, we send our love and admiration to your town, your people and for your hospitality over three decades.

All the best,

MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF QUAKER CITY STRING BAND.