The festival at Corofin is the 25th festival I have been to in Ireland since I arrived in May 2014. Is it the best? Hard to answer but for me it had everything. Some festivals have better workshops, bigger concerts, more variety, but this one to my mind gets the balance just right. Let me tell you about it.
The festival committee headed by the dynamic O’Reilly brothers have developed a tried and true formula and know better than to tinker with it. In fact the Festival won the MórGlór award last year in recognition of its contribution to music in Clare and the efforts of the organisers to put on a consistent and high quality festival.
Corofin is a small village on the edge of Clare’s spectacular Burren (see my blogs at https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/the-burren/ and https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-burren-again/) about 14 km from Ennis. The festival was held over the week 2nd March to 8th March 2015. It kicked off on the Monday night and there were events every night until the weekend when the festival proper got into full swing. I didn’t attend the opening by Eoin O’Neill on Monday (I was still enjoying the final session of the Russell Weekend in Doolin (https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/russell-weekend-doolin-co-clare/) so I can’t comment on that but Tuesday and Wednesday saw two more free events in the Teach Ceoil. This is an intimate venue where there is a great connection between the artists and the audience. On Tuesday we heard Mick, Donal and Conor McCague launching their album of mainly Mick’s original compositions. It was lovely music, a highlight for me being; yes you guessed it, the fiddle playing of Donal. Wednesday was a tribute night to the irrepressible Joe Rynne from Inagh who has had such a big influence on music in North Clare As recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, we were treated to some wonderful cameos from members of his family, from renowned flute players, Christy Barry and Brid O’Donoghue and then finishing with an all in session comprising 25 of Joe’s friends, many of them legends themselves and some previous members of the Corofin Hall of Fame. Their playing of the ‘Tulla’ set was something to behold.
Then there were three concerts on Thursday Friday and Saturday. One can’t be everywhere so the only one of these I saw was on Friday with the Yanks, a group of yes, you guessed it, Americans, led by 2014 All Ireland Senior Fiddle Champion Dylan Foley and the most gorgeous flute from Conal Ó Gráda with Colm Murphy backing on bodhran. I had never heard flute playing quite like that of Conal. It was light, full of energy and spirit and I was mesmerised. Performers at the other concerts included Angelina Carberry and Dan Broudar, Noel Hill and Liam O’Connor and Jesse Smith and Colm Gannon, and while it was disappointing not to see everyone, I was able to catch up with some of these at the various sessions.
I attended the fiddle workshop and in the allocated three hours we had an hour each from Jesse Smith, Dylan Foley and Conor McEvoy. This was nowhere near enough time and in particular Jesse Smiths’ insightful perspective was particularly helpful to me.
This festival however very much revolves around the virtually continuous sessions that take place from Friday night to the death on Sunday evening. It is a musicians’ festival and quality players turn up in droves and this brings a big contingent of international trad followers. It felt at times a bit like Willie Week without the baggage, if you know what I mean. Of course there were some sessions that didn’t deliver, just as in any festival – too much noise, too big, whatever; but there were so many that did. I played on the Saturday (not counting the workshop) from 2:30 to close at around 2am (after three hours sleep the night before) and again on the Sunday for twelve hours, exhausted but satisfied. There were both large sessions such as at Crowley’s on Saturday where despite there being possibly forty musicians, the music was fast and tight and had a good strong pulse, and there were small intimate sessions, such as with Stefan and Paolo at the Anglers Rest on Sunday or on Saturday where I had the great pleasure of playing with the incredibly talented Sarah, Ellen and Seamus O’Gorman, All Ireland champions from Waterford and the future of fiddle playing in Ireland. Great stuff. And I have to mention the Sunday evening session at the Angler’s Rest, with Derek Hickey, Claire Egan, Eoin O’Neill (box), Liam O’Brien, Dan Brouder, Angelina Carberry and Geraldine Cotter among others. This was sublime music played at a gentle pace and with wonderful restraint and despite the number of boxes you could hear each instrument clearly. It became almost hypnotic at times and a largely silent and appreciative crowd were treated to a memorable evening and a great finale to a weekend of wonderful music. Great to be part of it.
I caught up with a host of overseas musicians, some regular visitors to Clare who include Corofin on their must-visit list along with Willie Week and the Tradfest in Ennis and judging by the variety of inter-county number plates jostling for parking space there were visitors from all over Ireland drawn to this celebration of the best of Irish music. And as usual I made many new friends. Who wouldn’t want to be part of the traditional music scene?
There was not a bed to be had in Corofin as I discovered when my car was locked inside the Centra Car park, but that’s another story!
I only had one issue, and I mention it as something for the organisers to think about next time. There was a fantastic session going at Bofey Quinn’s on Saturday evening and the place was packed and buzzing. At 10pm the musicians who play at the regular scheduled session arrived and virtually mid-tune the session came to an abrupt end. As the regulars took over, the pub quickly cleared both of musicians and drinkers. This was not in the best interests of the Festival or the pub. I don’t know what the answer is but, like I say, I just mention it as something to think about.
Fair play to the O’Reilly brothers who seem to be the driving force behind this festival (I hope that’s not being unfair to others who contribute), while at the same time appear in the concerts, do MC’ing and turn up at sessions all over town as well as being at the end of the phone to answer requests for lost caps. Thank you.
So is it the best? Let me just say if it was a restaurant I’d give it three hats!
See you there next year.