The sound of a lilting fiddle fills the room as the aroma of baking shepherd’s pie wafts in from the kitchen. It’s Irish Song and Dance Weekend at the Mohican Outdoor Center, a lakefront retreat near Blairstown, in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Along with some 25 other guests, I’ve come to celebrate all things Irish.
Irish Weekend is one of the many themed weekends at Mohican, all staffed by volunteers. In addition to hiking, the schedule includes three dance sessions with a genuine Irish caller and instructor. We learn, among other steps, the Haymaker’s Jig and the Waves of Tory, a Ceili number resembling a line dance with changing partners. It’s a great ice breaker.
“You don’t need to be Irish to enjoy this hooley,” says Tanya McCabe, an organizer from Blairstown, using an Irish term for the lively mix of song and dance.
I came to the Irish Weekend without a partner. “No matter,” says host Michael Dalton, also of Blairstown. “You won’t sit out any dance unless you want to. Even if you have two left feet, they’ll guide you through the steps.”
The Mohican Outdoor Center is the southernmost lodge of the Appalachian Mountain Club, the nation’s oldest outdoor recreation and conservation organization, dating to 1876. The AMC has operated the Mohican—a former Boy Scout camp—since 1993.
At Mohican, you’re treated like family. Everyone brings—and shares—their food, from homemade bread and cookies to a six-pack of Guinness or a bottle of wine. (The lodge is BYO.) As dinnertime approaches, guests work side by side to create a homespun feast, usually a one-pot meal like this evening’s shepherd’s pie with Irish soda bread. Cleanup is also a communal experience.
Afterwards songbooks are handed out, and everyone sings Irish ballads of lost love and life at sea. Musicians entertain with fiddles, guitars and a concertina, a delightful accordian-like instrument with bellows and buttons. An Irish dancer demonstrates an old-time shuffle, her feet flying over the lodge’s wood floor. Guests are invited to pitch in a song, a joke, a dance, a reading—anything to further animate the hooley.
On Sunday after breakfast, we head out for a hike led by Blairstown resident Ed McGroarty. The trail snakes through blueberry bushes and under pitch pines. From a high rocky outcrop, we gaze down at the valley and the long, silvery Yards Creek Reservoir. We take the Rattlesnake Swamp Trail up the ridge to connect with the Appalachian Trail.
Some in the group are seasoned hikers; others are city folk whose feet rarely leave concrete. As on the dance floor, everyone seems to fit together, no matter their level of experience. It’s all about learning and sharing and, above all, having fun.
The Mohican can accommodate up to 65 guests in its three lodges (typically four beds to a room) and three cabins, which offer a little more privacy. Campsites are available, too. Pillows are provided, but towels, linens and blankets (or sleeping bags) must be brought. All accommodations are more modern than rustic and are spotlessly clean.
This fall’s Irish Weekend, a recurring AMC program, will take place October 12 through 14. Cost is $169 for non-members ($147 for AMC members). For information, contact Michael Dalton at 908-362-5499; [email protected]. Other themed weekends this fall include a quilt retreat (October 5-7); a sketching tour (October 19-21); and Map and Compass Weekend (October 26-28). For further information, call 908-362-5670 or visit outdoors.org.
Cindy Ross, a travel blogger (cindyrosstraveler.com), lives along the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania.