MAYS LANDING - The Irish spirit was alive and well at the Mays Landing Branch of the Atlantic County Library System on March 14 during the library’s annual St. Paddy’s Day Sing-Along.

People of all ages and backgrounds attended the annual singalong where they were treated to, and learned a bit of the background of, some traditional Irish songs and dances.

“It really celebrates the Irish spirit of coming together through music,” said librarian Nancy Wessler. According to Wessler, who has been at the library for about five years, the St. Paddy’s Day Sing-Along has been going on at the library for at least as long as she has been there.

Music for the singalong was performed by Joseph McGonigle, who performs under the name of Grandfather Joe. “I have been doing this for 12 years, maybe longer,” said McGonigal. He said he began learning new Irish songs after retiring as a way to keep his mind active.

McGonigal now travels around performing for libraries, churches and various other venues. “I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said.

However, no Irish party is complete without a wee bit of dancing, which was provided by several students from the award-winning Emerald Isle Academy of Irish Dance. Dancers stepped, twirled and kicked their way through several intricate Irish dance routines that captivated the audience.

“My dad wanted me to do it [Irish dance] since I was born,” said Emerald Isle dancer Gwen Resch, 17. Resch, who has been doing Irish dance for 10 years, plans to continue Irish dancing even when she goes to college. “I’m going to college next year, which may make it tough, but I want to continue it.”

“I have been [Irish] dancing for six years,” said Emerald Isle student Luke Sooy, 10. Before coming across Irish dancing, Sooy was interested in other activities. However, once he saw Irish dancers in action, he was hooked. Sooy has even performed in front of arguably the most famous Irish dancer of all, Michael Flatley.

Sooy’s sister and fellow Emerald Isle student, Maria, 11, also danced at the library. Maria, who has been dancing for four years, said her journey to Irish dancing was slightly different from her brother’s. “I wanted to do it because he was doing it. I thought it looked easy, but it wasn’t,” Maria said laughing.

After their own performances, Resch and the Sooys taught a few Irish dance steps to the children who attended the singalong. One little girl, Aurelia Pedano, 2½, in particular was enthralled by the dancing, even getting up and joining the Emerald Isle students during their dances. The dancers did not mind and they all agreed that Aurelia was a natural.

According to Wessler, that is exactly why events such as the St. Paddy’s Day Sing-Along are so important.

“I can’t say for certain whether or not Aurelia would have been exposed to Irish dance otherwise or what the future holds, but I think the ability of these events to expose kids to different experiences is also part of what makes them valuable,” Wessler said. “For all we know, the future Irish Dance World Champion just had the spark lit within her.”

For more information on Grandfather Joe or to contact him about a performance, please visit

For more information on the Emerald Isle Academy of Irish Dance, please visit

For more information on the Mays Landing Branch of the ACLS, please visit

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