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Founding Principals

That teaching Irish music is a viable a career that someone can do without having to be in a bar late at night, playing to people who aren’t listening—it’s phenomenal. I’m so happy they can do it. It just overflows my heart.

Kate Dowling

The Girl That Broke My Heart/Paddy Ryan's Dream (reels)

by The HiBs, featuring Dáithí Sproule on guitar | 40 Acre Notch

For CIM co-founders Kate and Jode Dowling, it’s all about the joy

Kate Dowling grew up in Chicago playing the flute and whistle – one of six children learning traditional Irish music and dance. When she moved to St. Paul, she was surprised to find there wasn’t a school focused on passing down the music traditions of Ireland. And so she decided to fill the gap. “I thought, ‘If I can ever figure this out, let’s start a school for kids…’ That was really our vision; to help make a place to grow up having fun and learning this great, life-long joy.”

After more than five years of thinking about it, Kate and her husband, Jode, took the plunge in 2004 and got the Center for Irish Music off the ground. “I quit the best job in the world,” working as an administrator at Walker Art Center, Kate recalls, “but I thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will.’” The rest is history, as the Center for Irish Music celebrates its first decade as a thriving community music school.

As the nonprofit center the Dowlings first envisioned has grown, the CIM has launched a new generation of traditional music players in Minnesota, shared the joy of Irish music with new audiences around the region, and even created a steady source of income for master artists in the Irish tradition. “That teaching Irish music is a viable a career that someone can do without having to be in a bar late at night, playing to people who aren’t listening—it’s phenomenal,” says Kate. “I’m so happy they can do it. It just overflows my heart.” While the Dowlings returned to demanding corporate careers, they are still playing it forward—joining in at sessions during the Minnesota Irish Music Weekend, performing around town in their traditional band The HiBs, and passing their mastery of Irish music to their two sons, Martin, who plays fiddle, flute, piano and mandolin, and Fergal on guitar and drums.

“As traditional musicians with world wide reputations, Kate and Jode were able to attract other amazing Irish musicians to come see what was happening at this little community music school in Minnesota,” says Maeve O’Mara, on of CIM’s founding board members. “One of the CIM’s continuing strengths is the great reputation it has in the larger Irish music community, and there’s no question the Dowling’s skill and generosity were essential to making those connections.”

Instructor Dáithí Sproule agrees, “I do believe the Center for Irish Music is a great gift to this community that wouldn’t have gotten started without Kate as commander in chief. I’ve just never seen anything remotely like it, in character or success.”

“Our vision was to have a school for children, but it doesn’t matter how old or young you are,” says Kate. “They’ve made it into a center for all ages now, which is great. Irish music is a place in life where your age doesn’t matter. We are delighted for Norah, the board and the staff. They are doing great stuff and we’re really happy to have had a part in creating it for the Twin Cities. “We hope the Center for Irish Music is here forever and ever.”