Irish Lore on the Blue Ridge

Mike Heivly's studio in Charlottesville, Virginia, filled with the essence of Ireland.

Mike Heivly, Kevin Donleavy, and Dave Chance at Mike’s art studio in Charlottesville, Virginia — filled with the essence of Ireland.

The fragile gift bag I toted from Ireland sheltered two vinyl records by Jerry Crilly’s old band, Rakish Paddy.  Jerry sent one home as a gift for me and the other for his friend Kevin Donleavy, who we managed to locate in mid-November.

This vinyl record is a collector’s item, Kevin tells me.  He played the CD version on his radio show a few weeks back.

Incidentally, he has a new show airing this Saturday, December 29 on the UVA radio station.  Click here for directions on how to listen online.

The vinyl records were both a heartfelt gift from Jerry and a plausible excuse for me to find Kevin — who, I’d informed Jerry, Dave and I would be driving right past on our holiday trek across Virginia.

We met Kevin at his colleague’s studio in Charlottesville.  Mike Heivly has filled the studio, located in a church’s unused classroom, with fascinating poems and images of Ireland.

Mike is as enamored with Irish lore as the rest of us, as you can see by the images of his work.

It turns out, Kevin has enlisted Mike to help with documenting the railway in Charlottesville that was built in the 1850s by about 2,100 Irish and 90 slaves.  A full account is posted by The Blue Ridge Railway Project (at, which explains “Clann Mhór – which in Gaelic means the Great Family – wishes to honor the history of these forgotten railroad workers.”

Mike also has beautiful images of Newgrange and the famine village near Dingle town.

Although Dave and I were instrumental in re-connecting Jerry and Kevin, it turns out that Kevin himself is a master at connecting people. Particularly around subjects of Ireland.  Here’s an email I received from Kevin after our visit:

Hiya, Shannon agus Dave,

That was a pleasant enough event at Mike’s studio Saturday.  You two seemed to enjoy it, too.  Pretty neat projects that Mike gets into.
Thanks for bringing the 33 lp of the Rakes.  Very kind of you to drag it across the western ocean. Lovely songs on it, just as I had dimly recalled.
Am including some info about Iroid sculptor Mark Connelley. Hope his work interests yiz and catches your eyes. Strange, isn’t it, that everybody who goes to Ireland gets caught up in aspects of its culture ? Mirabile dictu, and that ! (Did you know I taught h.s. Latin for years ?)
All the best, Kevin

Dear Kevin,

I am happy to have made a connection with you.  While I hope that a variety of people like my work, I particularly want to make an impression on folks of Irish influence. Much of my work is inspired by the many ancient treasures found in that part of the world. There are some who feel the same connection that I do to this culture, and it is always comforting to hear from them.
The best way to learn about my work is through my website: I have images up of most of my work with stories of how each piece was influenced. You can also follow my business page on Facebook (click the ‘F’ below.) I post images there of installations like the one in Charlottesville. I also post discussions and images of other artwork.
I look forward to browsing your links and learning more about your group. I am a big fan too of traditional music. Our local radio station, WNCW, has a show on Saturdays named ‘Celtic Winds.’ They do a fair job, but it consists of too many reels for my wife’s taste. I disagree, but that is the joy of music.
Thanks again for contacting me. I look forward to meeting you in person sometime too.
All the best,



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On Nov 7, 2012, at 8:22 PM, KEVIN DONLEAVY wrote:
Hi, Mark,

Was driving in the Emmet Street neighborhood here in Charlottesville the other day and saw your sculpture of  The Storyteller. Very nice work, and in an a propos siting, too, since the street is named after heroic Robert Emmet’s nephew:  John Patten Emmet was chosen by Thomas Jefferson to be on the initial faculty of the new U. Va. in the 1820s. 
Several of us will help spread the word about your sculpture within the Irish mini-community here. There is BRIMS, the Blue Ridge Irish Music School;  you can google them.  I myself do a regular program of Irish trad music on-line and FM on  here  (next show is Sat., Dec.1, from 10 am till 12 noon).  Have a gander at our website,, where our collective is documenting the 2,100 or so Irish and the 90 slaves who built the railway here in the 1850s.  
Why don’t you e-mail and tell me more about your ogham-sculpture and other efforts, which will give us some background to this work of yours.  If you are ever in Cville, especially on a first Sat any month, I can have you chat on the radio program.  How’s that ?
Hope to hear from you,