Martin McHugh, an accordionist who kept Irish traditional music alive in Minnesota after a previous generation of players disappeared and, over the decades of music-making that followed, inspired an extraordinary revival with his soulful renditions of jigs, reels and other tunes, died this past week at his home in St. Paul. He was 92. McHugh emigrated from rural Ireland in the 1940s, joining a community of traditional musicians already playing for immigrant crowds in St. Paul’s pubs and dance halls. Over the following two decades, however, older Irish players died, moved away, or indulged other pursuits.
A gathering place for nearly two decades of music sessions and craic, Keegan’s Irish Pub on University Avenue was one of the first restaurant casualties of the pandemic, closing its doors in June 2020. Fortunately, the dedicated crew of traditional Irish music lovers and Center for Irish Music students who met there every Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. for the Keegan’s Learners Session has hardly missed a beat.
It was the All-Ireland competitions that prompted us to go to the Fleadh Cheoil in the first place. After returning from Ireland for each of the past two years, many people would often ask us, “How was Ireland? How did your kids do?” Meaning, did they win? As you probably know, despite lots of Center for Irish Music success at the regional competition (the Midwest Fleadh), very few of our young musicians received any formal recognition in the form of a trophy or a medal from the All-Ireland competitions.