Like a real-life character from lilliput, the young fiddler Sean McCarthy valiantly faces his audience and steadies his little fingers for the Mississippi Stop Stop and Larry O’Graff.
The five-year-old wonder, whose Irish ancestors were once kings of Munster, marshals his cohorts – all of whom tower above him – and leads them into a magnificent display of traditional music.
With each bowhand driving the rhythmic pulse, and each tune refueling the magic of the living tradition, the ensemble winds its way through a treasury of Irish music, song and dance. When the final reels strike their peak, the rotunda of the Sheldon Concert Hall, in the St Louis theater district, resounds with thunderous applause.
As the sixty member troupe of traditional performers from the St Louis Irish Arts school, aged four to twenty, stand to take their final bow, their Limerick-born Director Helen Cannon is beckoned to the stage by her charges. Their gift of roses is more than a mere show of gratitude for a year-end concert. It is a symbol of appreciation for an epic journey in cultural rejuvenation that has flourished among the Irish American community in St Louis for a quarter of a century.
Above all, it is an affirmation of Irish ethnic identity that has been woven into the cultural tapestry of Missouri since the end of the eighteenth century.