Monthly Archives: May 2015

Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 9

Phew! After 9 days Fleadh Nua 2015 is over.

I really hit the wall last night – totally Fleadhed Out! No formal events, just quiet (?) sessions, firstly in the afternoon at The Diamond with Siobhann Peoples, Murty Ryan. Cyril O’Donoghue, Caroline Keane, Niamh Parsons and the few remaining foreign stragglers (sorry Steve, Juan, Tony  etc – just a figure of speech).

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Then to Knox’s for a couple of hours with Eric Healy, Tom Delaney, Caroline Keane, Brian O’Laughlin, Seamus MacMahon and Anita Broderick. Despite the many continuous days of music for all these musicians there was still energy and lift and the (now much smaller) crowds enjoyed it thoroughly.

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Then I finished up at Ciaran’s with the mighty Joan Hanrahan and Andrew MacNamara and Bríd Long. And there was a bit of Breton dancing (!), singing (!!) and guitar playing (“*?) thrown in. We were joined at the end by the irrepressible Tony Cullinan but by 1.30am fatigue set in and, with the Gardai hovering outside, with a rousing rendition of that old traditional Irish waltz, the Yellow Rose of Texas, I sadly said goodbye to an amazing week of music, song and dance.

See you next year.

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Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 8

Sunday. A late start.

Got to town about 3pm and managed to catch the last of the session at Knox’s with the Healeys, Tom Delaney, Derek Hickey, Caroline Keane, and heaps more, but there was a long wait for a seat. And when I did get one it finished. C’est la vie. Nice to listen though for a change. Lovely rousing version of Black is the Colour from Niamh Parsons.

So off to the CD launch at The Old Ground for Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha’s new recording. She had enlisted Eoin O’Neill, Jack Talty and Michael Hynes to help out and then we were progressively joined by flutes and fiddles from the floor until there were maybe 30 musicians. This was something else. It was a Who’s Who of Clare music with a number of welcome visitors from other counties and other worlds. Richie Dwyer, Danny Meehan, John Carty, Tony Smith, Denis Liddy; and that’s just the fiddle players. To hear Lord McDonald played by so much talent was a special experience. There was some great dancing and a wonderful recitation from Oliver O’Connell who was the host for the event. I could have stayed and listened all day and it was all I could do to stop myself running back to the car to get my fiddle and join them!

Downstairs the music continued with Eileen O’Brien, Mary MacNamara, Sorcha Costello and Geraldine Cotter, But I had to drag myself away from there for the Bobby Casey Tribute concert and CD launch. A four hour extravaganza with an incredible array of musicians who knew or were influenced by Bobby. I won’t list everyone but check out the photos. I am sure you will see many familiar faces.

On the way home I popped into Cruises for Los Paddys de las Pampas and they had the crowd bopping as usual and then it lifted a notch when three quarters of the Four Winds joined them on stage. A fitting way to end the day.

The Festival is winding down. Monday brings Recovery Sessions and time to reflect on what has been a wildly successful Festival. It augurs well for the Fleadh Cheoil next year. I kept visualising the streets pedestrianised and packed with thousands and music coming out of every pub. Good luck Alan and the team!  Ennis is definitely the right place!

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Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 7

It’s Saturday and the Festival is in full swing. Ennis is buzzing. People everywhere. So much choice. For me the day kicked off with another Café session. Rowan Tree is an amazing location on the river with bay windows and high ceilings and music led by Eoin O’Neill and Joan Hanrahan. The usual Fleadh Nua Family were there and it was great to catch up with some old friends. I left early so missed a song from Luka Bloom on his birthday. You can’t be everywhere.

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Off to the CD launch where Caitlín Nic Gabhann and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh delighted us with their fiddle and concertina and of course the effortless and extraordinary sean nos dancing of Caitlin. This is dancing fit for a President (she has).

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In contrast an hour later we were rocking to the sounds of Four Winds at the launch of their cd. They are Caroline Keane on concertina Daoiri Farrell on bouzouki and vocals, Tom Delany on pipes and whistles and Robbie Walsh on the bodhran. A band without a fiddle? How could I possibly like that? But these guys nailed it.l   The explosive energy of Tom’s pipes and the driving rhythms of the bouzouki and bodhran carry the music forward. Surprisingly Caroline’s concertina does not get lost and merges perfectly with the pipes. It reminded me a bit of Moving Hearts…..

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Then the session search began and I found a few beauties. There were quiet tunes in Queens with Eileen O’Brien, Martin O’Connor and Thierry Masur, a cracking session at Faffa’s with Blackie O’Connell, Damien O’Reilly and Cyril O’Donoghue and great tunes at Knox’s with Kevin Finucane, Martha Clancy, Kieran Kissane with, Nicole, Maureen, Steve, Fu, and the lovely Cliona and Abby from Cork. A couple of great dance sets and some sean nos from Suzanne Leahy. Didn’t want it to finish. How on earth do you beat that?

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Well, you go to Kelly’s. I’ve raved about this pub before. I go every Saturday night I am in town and just love playing with the regulars there. This night it felt like a giant party to which the whole of Ennis were invited. Kelly’s is Irish for “good time”. Coming a bit late there was already no space and I was surprised to see Eileen O’Brien with Andrew MacNamara and Jack Talty on piano rather than the usual. Great tunes indeed but not what I expected. Then there was a shift change. Eileen left for another gig and Joan Hanrahan and Brid O’Gorman joined us. And then Carmel O’Dea and then Geraldine Cotter. Let the party begin. Just a few lucky visitors were there to experience this including Tony Illanes, Steve Brown and Beannie O. The session ebbed and flowed from one glorious set to another. Impromptu dancing from the omnipresent Suzanne Leahy, and then when you thought it was all over, a singing session that went to 2.30 am led by Alan Hogan and the inimitable Hanrahan sisters. You knew it was a good night when they started singing Scottish songs! This was another of those magic moments I spoke of in an earlier blog. I could write a book on the nights at Kelly’s alone.

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I heard the craic was continuing at O’Keefe’s so I headed there but a frustrated doorman wouldn’t let me in saying they were closed and he was trying to get rid of everyone. Fat chance! A sneak look in the door and the place was packed. Oh well there’s always tomorrow. You can’t be everywhere.

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Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 6

Friday and the Festival proper has begun. A struggle after getting to bed at 4am but I made it to the Café session at Bia Agus Caife. This is a great spot tucked around the back near the Abbey but Yvonne Casey and Eoin O’Neill really gave us a treat. It was more like a big house party or a family reunion than a session. And in many ways it was. The tune selection was brilliant ensuring that everyone could play along and the joy was evident everywhere, dare I say even among the session leaders!

On then to the Sanctuary for some terrific music from Conor Keane, Johnny Ringo, Kevin Finucane and Dave Harper. The Riches of Clare concerts continue to be packed out. Excellent move to relocate it to the Queens.

Then sessions. And there were some beauties. Just caught the end of some tunes at Fawls with Cormac Begley, Jack Talty and Claire Egan. Wow. I would walk across hot coals to hear these guys. Too short. Then stayed at Fawles with Moya Fitzgerald and Dave Harper.

After dinner I ended up at Knox’s for the early session. Hugh Healy, Brian O’Lauglin and Johnny Kelly among others. Love playing with these guys. And so did the audience. In fact this tall Texan (I’m assuming here) dressed in black and with a black Stetson threw $200 on the table as a tip. There was a stunned silence! No one had ever seen a tip of this size. God bless Americans.

Then I took a break and had a wander, popping in to sessions at Ciaran’s, Faffas, Old Ground, Fawls and Temple Gate, Check out the photos.

Today (Saturday) promises a lot with three cd launches, wall to wall sessions and a concert. Some hard choices coming up.

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Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 5

Thursday. Every festival has its magic moments. Today was one of the magicest!. More about that later. I decided to take the day off so I can’t report on the Café concert or the lunchtime concert. Sorry about that. Instead I took friend Maureen from Australia on a road trip that included the Cliffs, Poulnabrone and the Sheela-na-gig at Kilnaboy. The Cliffs were a complete white out with just the occasional glimpses through the cloud. Ah well ! that’s Ireland.

Back to Ennis to catch the last of the Fionn Seisun with Frank Custy and then an impromptu session at Cruises with visitors from Czech Republic, Wales, Germany, USA, France, Spain. You get the picture. I had the choice of staying there with Brian Mooney and friends or going to Ciaran’s or Faffa’s. How am I going to be when there are 20 sessions to choose from at the weekend?

I decided to go to Cairan’s, got myself a prime seat and soaked up the sound.  Andrew MacNamara was accompanied by Nuala Hehir and Paolo Cerato.  Three boxes!. And Brendan Hearty on guitar.  It was truly great music with rhythm and lift and I so enjoyed playing along.  And there was a guest appearance from Sean Smyth from Lunasa.   I was in my element. Andrew was in top form which augurs well for the Dungarvan Festival next weekend where Boruma Trio are headlining. See you there!

I popped in to Faffa’s briefly where Siobhann Peoples and Blackie O’Connell were in full flight but there was no chance of a seat in the tiny space in the window. So I took some photos instead.  No real surprise there I suppose.

Back at Ciaran’s it wound up soon after midnight and when I thought it was all over I was packed up and almost out the door, when a friend whispered in my ear to stick around as Tony Cullinan was going to play. The name meant nothing to me. I had never heard of him but minutes later the fiddle exploded in the hands of one of the great characters of Ennis. Here was as unorthodox a fiddler as you will see. He holds the fiddle vertically and almost behind his head. The hand leaves the fiddle regularly. He may not be a fiddler’s fiddler but there is passion and there is ‘nyah’. As my friend said “it is like he’s not playing the fiddle, it’s playing him”.   I could see what she meant. Along with the small crowd that remained I heard him accompanied by Nuala and Brendan and then solo. I was so happy just to listen but then he called me up to join him. It is funny how I had no nerves and playing with him lifted me to a level I didn’t think I was capable of. It was a special experience. I drove back to Caherush in the fog getting home totally exhausted at 3 am. Like I said every festival has its special moments,  I make no apology for including quite a few photos of Tony.  He is a dream to photograph and has a huge variety of expressions.  Hope you see it the same as I did.

Just an afterthought. We sometimes think the world revolves around music (well, I do!) but there are a lot of other facets to Ennis. I’ve included a few photos at the end that show some different sides of Ennis on Thursday. Party town?


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Fleadh Nua Ennis Day 4

Wednesday and struggling to get myself up early enough to get to the Café session at 11.00 am. Glad I did though. Eamonn and Geraldine Cotter at the Tea Cosy. Just brilliant. With the sun streaming (occasionally) in the front window and just a lovely atmosphere with free tea and scones. A lunch time concert at the O’Connell statue by kids from a local school. So much music. And what was also brilliant was seeing these kids dance. Many of them are of obvious non-Irish extraction but they were throwing themselves into it with enthusiasm. What a wonderful way to feel part of your adopted homeland.

A bit of a break for me then until the evening at Knox’s again for a reprise with the Healys and Brian O’Loughlin. Just great driving tunes. Joined for this one by friend Maureen just arrived from Perth. A great introduction for her to the music scene in Ennis. Finished the night with some tunes with Siobhann Peoples, Murty Ryan and Desi Kelliher at a packed Dan O’Connells.

What will tomorrow bring?

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Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 3

A much brighter day Tuesday with the storms and freezing wind of the day before somewhat abated. So off to the Café session at Food Heaven. This is a large modern café with plenty of room for the musicians, today led by Murty Ryan and Desi Kelliher. These sessions continue to be well received by the punters.

The Riches of Clare concert was moved to the Sanctuary Night Club behind the Queens Hotel due to overcrowding at the Museum. I had misgivings about how an acoustic gig would work in this cavernous space but the sound was great. It certainly helped having musicians of the quality of James Devitt, Christy Barry, Conor McCarthy & John Faulkner. It really was lovely music with two terrific songs from John. Great to hear Christy play Christy Barry Nos 1 and 2.

I skipped the Fionn Seissun today but there was an early session at Knox’s with Hugh and Eric Healy, Brian O’Laughlin and Caroline. Brilliant stuff. Clogher Road got yet another airing! Then it was on to Cruises again to finish the evening with Quentin Cooper and Eoin O’Neill and the usual mob of reprobates.

You can feel the build up to the weekend as more musicians arrive every day.

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Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 2

It’s Monday and the day kicked off with a brunch session at Cafe Aroma. You had to get there early to get a seat even though no one knew who the musicians would be. What a nice surprise to get Blackie O’Connell and Cyril O’Donoghue. The foreign contingent lapped it up and Blackie made everyone feel welcome.

I missed the lunchtime Riches of Clare concert with Niamh O’Dea, Anne Marie McCormack and friends but my spy on the ground tells me it was brilliant high energy entertainment.

Another permanent feature of Fleadh Nua is the afternoon Fionn Seissun. The venue has moved but the format remains the same. Frank Custy and his friends lead the beginner’s session and everyone gets a go at starting a tune or song. I even sung; giving the Clogher Road an airing.

The evening concluded with tunes at Cruises led by Yvonne Casey and Brid O’Gorman, with musicians from France, Japan, UK, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Wales, USA, and Australia and hardly an Irishman to be seen. Lovely to see an ovation from the appreciative audience at the end.

All roads lead to Ennis.

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Baltimore Fiddle Fair

Baltimore lies in the very southwest corner of Ireland in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland – West Cork. It is a very pretty town nestled on a protected harbour with a strong maritime heritage. Very popular with the yachty set but for one weekend a year the sound of clinking gins-and-tonic is replaced by fiddles and pipes. That is the Baltimore Fiddle Fair and that’s where I headed for the last Festival of my first year in Ireland, which is rapidly coming to a close. And a fitting way to end the year it was.

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Four days of music centred on the fiddle and covering many genres. We heard Old Timey, Cape Breton, Bluegrass, Swedish, Gypsy Swing, Scots and a variety of traditional Irish. There were fiddlers of the class of Gerry O’Connor, Zoe Conway, Liam O’Connor, Danny Diamond, Dermot McLaughlin and Shane Cook. The core of the festival was the concerts though I have to admit I only attended one, so I can’t really comment on them but the one I did attend was a show stopper. Warmed up by the fiddle and pipes of Liam O’Connor and Sean McKeown the crowd was blown away by Swedish superband Väsen.  I had never heard of them (shame on me) but I know them now.  Slick and professional and as tight a sound as you will ever hear, with five string viola, nyckelharpa and guitar combining effortlessly. This music was a revelation with its dynamic range and variations in tempo and rhythm. I was truly ‘polskafied’.







I attended five workshops. A big stretch but I was able to get exposure to Donegal style, Old Timey and Cape Breton as well as picking the brains of Gerry O’Connor and Zoe Conway. I never tire of these workshops. Every time I learn something.







But of course as always it was the sessions that kept me occupied. Every day from around 1 pm there was continuous music in the venues around the Square and in the evenings, after the concerts, Casey’s Hotel raged with as many as four sessions until at least 4am every night. There were visitors from all over the world and I met some wonderful new people including John from Wales, Patrizia and Angelica from Austria, Julie from Denmark, who is cycling around Ireland (, Liam from Queensland, Kathleen from Boston, Larry from Tipp, the delightful, Joleen, Karen and Lorna who make up the Henry Girls from Donegal and caught up with old friends again such as Trish from Dublin, Clare from Cork and Aina from France.














You meet all kinds at a festival such as this and for me that is what makes travelling to them worthwhile. Every evening, we were joined at Casey’s by Jeremy Irons. Self-effacing and just happy to sit in on the edges of the session and find his way in and out of tunes. Clearly revelling in the craic and a world that is a long way from Hollywood.



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And I had the great pleasure to meet renowned Danish artist Claus Havemann. I chatted to him outside Bushes Bar as he stood there having a cigarette and staring across to Sherkin Island where he has had a home for thirty years and spends his time when not in Denmark. He told me of his journey in art over the last forty years which took him from Surrealism to Realism to Modernism to Minimalism to his current works which reinterpret the masters. He told me that he once painted a picture during his Minimalist period called ‘Yellow’ which was essentially dozens of layers of blue paint. The title made perfect sense to me when he explained that yellow is opposite blue on the colour wheel. I have included a couple of his paintings. I especially like the Velazquez ‘copy’, one of a series in which he paints in the style of the master but puts in modern references such as a Picasso and Miro on the wall and his interpretiaon of the Vermeer as a portrait of his daughter.  See more at

Click for a closer look and zoom

Click for a closer look and zoom

Speaking of Sherkin Island, one of the highlights of the Festival was a session at the Island Rest Hotel. Sherkin is only a few minutes by boat and has about 90 residents. I met many of them that night as they lapped up the seriously good music from the visiting musicians shipped over (literally) for the event. There were some great contributions from locals also including songs and some impromptu dancing from Mary and her artist friends. I have never been to a session where I was picked up and delivered back by boat and the memory of this one will stay a long time.









I was intrigued by the Algiers Bar where I also played, having spent quite a bit of time in Algeria during my geology days. Turns out this pays homage to the notorious event in 1631 known as the Sack of Baltimore when Barbary pirates (comprising Dutch, Algerians and Ottomans) attacked Baltimore and captured 108 English settlers who were transported back to North Africa as slaves. Funny how we think of slavery in terms of Africans being sent to the new world, but in the century from 1580 to 1680 there were up to a million Europeans taken as part of the Barbary slave trade. Baltimore was abandoned and the village deserted for generations.

The face of the festival is Declan McCarthy.  It was his brainwave back in 1992 and he is still running it. And what a trooper he is. Everything  (well nearly everything) ran smoothly. The venues, the workshops and the support of the town. Hat’s off to him! Speaking of the venues some of the workshops were held at the magnificent stately home Inish Beg and at the famous Glebe Gardens. Along with the church, sailing club and a specially erected marque they really got it right with, of course, the fabulous location.  And unlike many other festivals where you’re lucky if you can buy a bucket of chips there were great food options with the Glebe Café a standout.IMG_9923



I was absolutely shattered at the end of this week. Workshops every morning and some afternoons, sessions all day and surviving on just a few hours sleep. To fiddle a bit with the words of Richard Thompson in Beeswing “you wouldn’t want it any other way”.


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O’Sahara at Lahinch

What a lucky man I am.

Last week it was Christy Moore. This week Luka Bloom and his new band O’Sahara.

The venue was Kenny’s Bar in Lahinch and this was the postponed concert from a few weeks back. It was well worth the wait, especially as we got some new songs that he had written since. It was an informal, relaxed gig though Luka confided at one stage he was more nervous than the previous week in Belgium playing with 80 musicians and a 20 person choir.

O’Sahara is Luka supported by Quentin Cooper and Jon O’Connell. Both are local musicians rooted deep in trad but known also for their catholic musical tastes which encompass rock, reggae, blues and various ‘world’ music. Both are highly skilled musicians and accomplished on a variety of string instruments but for this gig, Quentin stuck to his Gibson electric and Jon was on the double bass.

Luka was very much in his element. He was playing in front of his adopted home crowd. Indeed it wouldn’t surprise if he knew everyone there. They all certainly knew him and they were here to hear him. Jon and Quentin provided great support. Most of the songs had Luka playing his nylon string acoustic so having an electric guitar in the mix was risky. But in the hands of Quentin Cooper it worked brilliantly. Sometimes there was distortion and even a little feedback but it never dominated. Sometimes there was bottleneck slide and at other times delicate finger picking. But occasionally the inner rock star was unleashed and we caught glimpses of what Quentin was capable of. Jon O’Connell’s bass playing, as with his singing, is spot on. Smooth and relaxed and well and truly in the groove and his bass really added depth to the sound the boys were able to achieve.

From the first song Luka threw himself into the performance and by the end of the night the sweat was rolling down. At times Luka’s guitar playing reached such intensity that even the sound man had words with him. Much of the material was new. But there were still plenty familiar from his huge body of work. In fact the selection highlighted what a good songwriter Luka is. We heard City of Chicago, I’m a Bogman, and Don’t Be Afraid Of The Light That Shines Within You along with some wonderful new songs including an heartfelt song to a lost love from Fremantle in Western Australia, a very clever song about the population explosion on the Burren (Reels and Jig-Jig-Jig?) a song called Frugalisto about stuff and when ‘enough is enough’, a song he wrote 44 years ago and had not performed in public before O’Sahara and a song (autobiographical?) about a musical journey through Hamburg, Athens and Morocco from which the name of the band ‘O’Sahara’ seems to have come.

Luka is a consummate performer and gave a polished and rousing show in the intimate venue that is Kenny’s and was rapturously received. We are so lucky to have him living here in Clare and this concert is a reminder that we should not take him for granted.  And a great way for Jon to celebrate his birthday.


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