Carrying on the Tradition of Celtic Music

By Norah Machia

Jim Sheridan, Don Meixner, and Jimmy Flynn. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sheridan

The three members of the traditional Irish group, The Flyin’ Column, have 86 years of collective music experience between them in the band — and they’re not planning to slow down anytime soon.

“We were Celtic before Celtic was cool,” is the motto of the Syracuse band, known for its catchy folk music sound. The group performs at numerous venues and festivals throughout Central and Northern New York, including a tradition of playing the last Sunday of each month at Coleman’s Irish Pub in Syracuse.

Celtic music originated from the countries of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Those who lived in these countries were often referred to as “Celts,” and that’s how their music came to be called “Celtic.” It’s often described as a type of folk music, with its own distinctive sounds and lyrics.

“We’ve been all over the place,” said member Jimmy Flynn. “The only time we took a long break was during COVID-19.”

The Flyin’ Column is made up of three retired professionals whose love of Celtic music has kept them performing together for years with both their voices and their instruments. They’ve even mixed it up — occasionally adding in some rock and roll to the band’s set list, said Flynn.

“There have been many great trips around New York state and there are the lasting friendships of band mates and our many friends that continue to follow us wherever we play,” he said.

Even with some physical challenges, the band members have continued to perform on a regular basis.

Flynn, 70, who plays the bass guitar, retired from Carrier Corp. He is a double leg amputee and has been in the band the longest (44 years). There have been times when he has been out for several weeks, including after having open heart surgery in 2000, but he’s been able to find other musician friends to temporarily “sit in for me,” he said.

Irish band musicians are a close group in the Syracuse area and “we all help each other out,” Flynn added.

Don Meixner, 72, who plays guitar and banjo, retired from the Enable of Central New York organization. He has chronic back problems, but has continued to perform with the band for 34 years.

The “rookie” of the band is Jim Sheridan, 65, who plays the guitar and bouzouki (a special string instrument used for Irish music). He recently retired from Cornell University and wears two hearing aids. Sheridan started playing with the band eight years ago.

“We’re still plugging along,” joked Flynn. “We’re going to continue to perform as much as we can and have a great time doing it.”

The group has even recorded three CDs at Subcat Studios in Syracuse.

They have regularly performed at annual events, including the town of Camillus outdoor concert series (they kick it off), the St. Patrick’s Church Irish Festival in Syracuse, and at several programs sponsored by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians in Auburn. They also play at weddings and other private events, including traditional Irish wakes.

The original band traces its origins back to a bad snowstorm, which resulted in a cancelled performance more than 50 years ago. The “Tom Dooley Choraliers” from Camillus were scheduled to perform at a dance in Pulaski, but the poor weather conditions kept them off the road.

Although not all of them.

Some of those singers ended up at the Green Gate Pub in Camillus and decided “to brave the trip to Pulaski,” to give their own performance, along with one of the accordion players, Flynn said. They needed a name, so they called themselves Dooley’s Flyin’ Column, because they were a smaller part of a larger Irish singing group. “A flying column is a small, independent Irish military land unit capable of rapid mobility,” Flynn said. “So the name fit.”

The group later changed its name to The Flyin’ Column and its membership has undergone several changes throughout the years. But its mission has stayed the same — sharing Celtic music with the Irish and non-Irish alike throughout the region. “A lot of folks will ask us for new songs, and we’ll try them out at Coleman’s Pub,” said Flynn. “Sunday is always Irish day at the pub.”

Coleman’s Irish Pub has been in the historic Tipperary Hill neighborhood of Syracuse since 1933. It was first established as a working man’s saloon, and later expanded to include a restaurant.

The area was largely settled by immigrants from Ireland, including many from County Tipperary.