Rose Conway Flanagan

Honored May 11, 2013 

This year’s induction of Rose Conway Flanagan represents a milestone. She joins her older brother Brian, inducted in 2006, and their father Jim, inducted in 1996, as the only family with three members currently in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Mid-Atlantic Region Hall of Fame. To suggest the Conway clan has a fiddle gene may be an understatement. Rose’s oldest brother, Sean, played fiddle, and his daughter Kristen, who still takes lessons from Rose, is a fiddler in the 2012 All-Ireland under-12 champion Pearl River Céilí Band. Rose’s own daughter, Maeve, won an All-Ireland junior fiddle title in 2001 and is a member of the band Girsa. And Rose’s mother, also named Rose, played classical violin in her youth 

Last year’s hall of fame inductee, uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan, is a big admirer of Rose Conway Flanagan’s fiddling and describes it this way: “You are hearing music of incredible power and subtlety that were also hallmarks of Martin Wynne’s fiddling.” Jerry’s linking of Rose’s style to that of revered Bunnanaddan, County Sligo, fiddler Martin Wynne (1913-1998) is a high compliment indeed. 

Rose herself, however, believes her fiddling is closer in style to that of another legendary Sligo-steeped fiddler, New York-born Andy McGann (1928-2004). “I still listen to his recordings and play along with them,” she said. In either case, Rose was the direct beneficiary of the frequent Friday night visits by Wynne and McGann, along with other skillful players, for spirited music-making at the Conway home in the Bronx. 

Born there to parents from County Tyrone (her father came from Plumbridge, and her mother hails from Newtownstewart), Rose first took a week of stepdancing lessons before trying piano accordion and then switching to fiddle. She initially went for lessons at Martin Mulvihill’s music school and received additional help from Martin Wynne and from her brother Brian when both siblings were a little older. 

In 1985 Rose joined button accordionist Patty Conway Furlong and eight other woman musicians to record the jig “Cherish the Ladies” on the landmark album titled after that tune. On that release, a precursor of the band Cherish the Ladies, Rose also played a solo track of reels, “The Lads of Laois/The First Month of Summer,” accompanied by Mick Moloney on guitar. Twenty-four years later, Maeve Flanagan would pay tribute to her mother by recording the same pair of reels on Girsa’s debut CD, Traditional Irish Music. 

On Craic in the Catskills, a double-CD album in 2011, Rose demonstrates her preference for performing with others on the track “The Old High Reel/Toss the Feathers,” where she’s joined by Jerry O’Sullivan, button accordionist John Whelan, flutist Linda Hickman, and pianist Brendan Dolan. Rose occasionally performs concerts with Jerry and John as well as with Maryland flute and whistle player Laura Byrne, and regularly performs as a member of the Green Gates Céilí Band, featuring flutist Eileen Goodman, button accordionist John Kennedy, keyboardist-vocalist Denis O’Driscoll, and drummer Brendan Fahey. 

Still, teaching the fiddle remains Rose’s principal passion. She’s been doing it formally since 1994 when she began with five students at her home in Pearl River, N.Y. Today she provides fiddle instruction for her pupils in the Pearl River School of Irish Music, which she oversees with Patty Conway Furlong and flute-whistle player Margie Mulvihill. Among Rose’s past or present students are all the fiddlers in Girsa and Pearl River Céilí Band, three-time All-Ireland fiddle champion Dylan Foley, and 2012 All-Ireland under-18 fiddle champion Sarah Buteux. 

Rose’s reputation for teaching excellence has spread across North America. She has been a fiddle instructor at the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week in North Carolina, Fiddle & Pick in Tennessee, O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat in Texas, Anchorage Folk Festival Music Camp in Alaska, and Céilí Irish Music and Dance Camp in British Columbia. Rose has also taught at the Catskills Irish Arts Week in her home state and at Scoil Éigse in Ireland. “I try to keep the lessons uncluttered and fun,” she explained. “I teach the tunes and my own way of bowing them, but I also give my students the leeway to develop their own style once they nail down the basics.” 

With the strong help of her husband Mike, a fiddle, concertina, and whistle player whose parents came from Miltown Malbay, County Clare, Rose has guided their four children into the personal fulfillment of Irish traditional music: Maeve on fiddle and whistle, Bernadette on piano and bodhrán, Liam on céilí band drums and whistle, and Kieran on piano, whistle, and flute. No doubt they will expand the musical legacy of the Conway and Flanagan families in the future. 

– Earle Hitchner, The Wall Street Journal

Rose Conway Flanagan, left