*Rescheduled date – BRIGID – Saturday February 18th at 7:00pm – additional details below*


LITFest: A Festival of Lower East Side Culture February 1-4


Cuala Foundation, a nonprofit that works with youth and communities on the Lower East Side, Ireland and Los Angeles, is proud to present LITFest: A Festival of Lower East Side Culture, February 1-4, 2023. The festival celebrates Lower East Side culture from the time when this part of Manhattan was a gathering place for Native tribes, through successive waves of immigrants who helped shape the unique culture we have today.

The festival kicks off on 1 February at 7PM at Mary O’s bar, 32 Avenue A with a SHEBEEN: SONGS OF THE LOWER EAST SIDE celebrating the ancient Irish fire festival of Imbolc (also St. Brigid’s Day) and the birthday of Cuban poet and national hero José Martí featuring local singers, poets and musicians Melanie Best, José Joaquin Garcia, Susan McKeown, Róisín McKeown, Sandra Loisaida Santana and special guests in a celebration of Native, Irish and Puerto Rican cultures.

Next on Friday 3 February at 4:30PM NYPL Tompkins Square on Tenth Street, a conversation with Rashidah Ismaili, author of Autobiography of the Lower East Side. Rashidah lived at 404 East Tenth Street in the late 1950s and 1960s and her book illustrates life on the Lower East Side at that time through her portrayal of the lives of individual characters and their struggles against the backdrop of the cultural movements of the time. This is the first event of the LOWER EAST SIDE BOOK FESTIVAL that will feature conversations with Lower East Side authors throughout the year.

“Ismaili charts the lower East side just prior to the turbulent, revolutionary Sixties, when the influence of Leroi Jones and the Black Arts Movement signaled a cultural sea-change. Her characters persevere through desertion, loss, abandonment and betrayal, to achieve fulfillment in a fractured society.” – Vinnie Burrows

Finally on Saturday 18 February at 7PM at LES Trinity Church (602 E. Ninth St. at Avenue B) is a staged reading of BRIGID, a new play by Maura Mulligan starring Katherine O’ Sullivan, Meg Hennessy, Tom Paolino, Thom Molyneaux, Ryan Winter Cahill with songs and a presentation about Brigid and Lower East Side Irish women’s stories from Susan McKeown.

TICKETS: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/494227195847

Join us on the Lower East Side!



• Artists will receive honorariums •

CLICK TO DONATE – we do this with the support of people like you

Interested in volunteering? Drop us a note at contact@cualafoundation.com or call 212-260-2302

WEDNESDAY 1 FEBRUARY at Mary O’s (32 Avenue A) 7PM


Celebrating IMBOLC, BRIGID’S DAY & José Martí’s birthday

• FRIDAY 3 FEBRUARY at NYPL Tompkins 4:30PM


the first event of the LOWER EAST SIDE BOOK FESTIVAL 2023

• SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY at LES Trinity Church (602 E. Ninth @ Tompkins) 7PM

BRIGID. Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/494227195847

MELANIE BEST, a poet and economic historian, has lived on the Lower East Side since the 1980s and is a direct descendant of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, arguably the greatest poet Ireland has ever produced.

JOSÉ JOAQUÍN GARCÍA is an actor and singer who was born on the Lower East Side. Most recently appeared in Harlem Hellfighters with a Latin Beat with the Puerto Rican Travelling Theatre and Three Kings at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery.

RASHIDAH ISMAILI is a poet, fiction writer, and playwright who was born in Cotonou, Benin and came to live on the Lower East Side in the late 1950s.

RÓISÍN McKEOWN is a singer songwriter who grew up on the Lower East Side (when she wasn’t on the road with her musician mother). She is featured on the album Songs from the East Village (2010 EVCS) and her first single is Soul Full of Fire (2022).

SUSAN McKEOWN, CUALA FOUNDATION’s founder and director is a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, actor and director and Irish immigrant who has lived on the Lower East Side since 1990.

MAURA MULLIGAN, a native of Co. Mayo, is a retired New York City Public School teacher, playwright, prize-winning sean-nós (old style) Irish dancer, and author of the memoir ‘Call of the Lark’.

SANDRA LOISAIDA SANTANA is a poet and singer who grew up on the Lower East Side. She was recently featured in a Lower East Side artist’s talk at Howl Happening! with Al Diaz, Lee Quinones and Pepe Flores moderated by Luis Guzman.

Further information at: www.cualafoundation.com

CualaLES ‘Witnessing the Legacy’ at Nuyorican Poets Café
On January 8 2020 we celebrated Lower East Side music culture with the launch of Jane Gabriels’ book ‘Witnessing the Legacy of Jeff Buckley’ and performances from Jane and Susan McKeown as well as songwriters and spoken word artists Annalise, Ayla Huguenot, La Bruja, Stella Padnos, Róisín, La Roka and Jordi Rosen.

CualaLES at the United Nations
On October 17 CualaLES songwriters program performed their own original song and spoken word piece at the United Nations for International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The song addressed poverty, gentrification and displacement on the Lower East Side.

Cuala’s CULTURE WARRIORS program in New York brings together youth in the East Village to learn about the impact of Irish culture in the area from the Famine church to Sin-É as part of community history that includes learning about the lives of artists who lived there such as Yip Harburg, Charlie Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay.


#IamIrish is a creative exhibition curated by Tipperary woman Lorraine Maher celebrating the voices and experiences of Irish people everywhere who happen to be mixed race. Begun in London in 2016 and shown in Dublin in 2017, this growing movement’s exhibition runs at NY Irish Center November 8 – 30. Viewing times vary: please e-mail iamirish@newyorkirishcenter.org to schedule an appointment.

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In November 2018, New York artists Annabelle, Annalise, Antonia, Devin, Fionn, Jonah, Lionel, Madeleine, Malik, Omi, Róisín Dubh and Zach participated in songwriting workshops and gave a public performance at Tompkins Square Public Library in the East Village on November 29. The program culminated in recording sessions at Mission Sound, the Brooklyn recording studio owned by Oliver Straus (also known as King Princess’s dad). The songs will be released through Cuala Music fall 2019 to coincide with public performances in the East Village.

For Cuala, a Shebeen is a central meeting space beyond the Pale of mainstream culture where the patrons express themselves through stories, songs, political conversations and poetry. It represents a sense of community, identity and belonging.

WOMEN’S SHEBEEN, An evening for women of all ages with poetry, song, story and humor and Mary’s soda bread. Featuring Cáit O’Riordan, Honor Molloy, Tara O’Grady and more.
26 November  7PM at Mary O’s, 32 Avenue A.

Musician and writer Cáit O’Riordan was a founder member of London-Irish punk band The Pogues, going on to play and sing on albums including the classic Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash (one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time). She moved to Dublin in 1989 and has since played bass for many acclaimed Irish acts including The Radiators from Space, Hothouse Flowers, Mundy, Jerry Fish, and Gavin Friday. After getting sober in 2007, Cáit went back to school and graduated from UCD in 2013 with a Master’s degree in Psychological Science. She is currently based in New York City, performing regularly at the Irish Arts Center in Hell’s Kitchen.

Photo credit: Cáit O Riordan photo by Johan Vipper

Honor Molloy’s plays include Crackskull Row (the cell, Irish Rep, NY Times Critics’ Pick); and in my heart (International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival); In Pigeon House (Irish Theatre of Chicago); Madame Killer (Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney; Clubbed Thumb, NYC); Rehearsing the Granda (Public Theatre / BACA Downtown, NYC); among others. An alumna of New Dramatists, Molloy has received support from the NEA, NYFA, NYSCA, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. As part of the cell’s 2018 Residency Program, she recently completed the play Round Room and is halfway through Unknown – a play about how the dynamics of abuse and mental illness play out in Manhattan’s past and present.

Tara O’Grady & The Black Velvet Band perform weekly in Manhattan at jazz clubs and combine celtic, folk, funk, blues, and especially jazz in their unique lickety-split swing sound that has been described as eclectic, authentic, timeless and nostalgic. This Irish-American jazz powerhouse writes original music that sounds like it was composed for Ella Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong, but also performs traditional songs with fresh arrangements meant more for a prohibition swing dance hall than an Irish pub. Her stellar musicians have shared the stage with legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and even Lady Gaga. Together, they are a musical force of nature that inspire audiences to imagine the magic of days gone by with Tara’s timeless voice at the helm.

Photo credit: Tara O’Grady photo by Richard J.Velasco

TEANGA SHEBEEN, an evening of talk and performance in Gaeilge, the Irish language, bilingual. Performances, stories, interviews and a quiz to help you learn a little Irish. Featuring Aaron Radford-Horkan, Michael Brunnock and more.
28 November 7PM 11th Street Bar, 510 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10009.

LGBTQ SHEBEEN LGBT Center, a variety night of LGBTQ stories, songs, comedy and more. Featuring Eileen Myles, Colleen Meenan, Saints & Tzadiks (Susan McKeown & Lorin Sklamberg), Michael Brunnock and more.
30 November 8PM LGBT Center, 208 West 13th Street.

Eileen Myles is a poet, novelist, public talker and art journalist. Their twenty-one books include evolution (poems), Afterglow (a dog memoir), a 2017 re-issue of Cool for You and I Must Be Living Twice/new and selected poems, and Chelsea Girls. Eileen is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andy Warhol/Creative Capital Arts Writers grant, four Lambda Book Awards, and the Shelley Prize from the PSA. In 2016, Myles received a Creative Capital grant and the Clark Prize for excellence in art writing. In 2019 they’ll be teaching at NYU and Naropa University and they live in New York and Marfa, TX.

Colleen M. Meenan is the proud descendant of Irish immigrants, born and raised in New York City. Colleen’ s life has been dedicated to public service and advocacy for basic human rights and equality. Colleen worked as a community organizer in the Bronx before joining the New York City Police Department in 1982. She retired from police service in 1989 to complete her legal education at the City University of New York Law School at Queens College and graduated in 1991. She began practicing law shortly after graduation and is currently the principal of a small law firm handling a range of legal matters, many involving issues of importance to the LGBT community including family issues, civil rights and employment discrimination.

Cuala’s executive director Susan McKeown was commissioned by NGO ATD Fourth World to write a song for International Day for the Eradication of Poverty based on the testimony of people living homeless in Dublin. She performed the song at the UN with Michael Brunnock on 17 October 2018.