Monthly Archives: February 2016

Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh 2016, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry

This is my second time at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, held in February at Ballyferriter on the beautiful Dingle Peninsular.  I said in my blog a year ago that it was one of the best and nothing has happened to change that view.

What was different though was that this year the Festival lost its funding from the Arts Council .  This was a heavy blow and there was some doubt about how the quality of the festival would be affected.   The organisers however redoubled their efforts and raised the extra money from various sources so there was no real visible evidence of the funding cuts.

it was great to catch up with the many familiar faces that make an annual pilgrimage to this Festival and the quality of the musicians attracted to the Festival remained outstanding.

The Scoil is actually two distinct events.  There is of course the school which runs for three days and finishes with the traditional performances in the Church  on Saturday at lunch time and parallel to this is concerts and events with a strong Irish cultural focus centred around the West Kerry music and dance tradition.  And there is the bonus of the sessions which are legendary.

I will say a few words about the School.  I had Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh as my tutor.  He is an inspirational character and for three days we explored the fiddle and what it was capable of.  how to discover new ways of expressing ourselves.  So many variables that come in to play and the many choices we can make in playing each note.  He has made me think quite differently about my approach.  I also had a master class from Paddy Glackin.  This was a nerve wracking experience as we were each asked to play a tune which he then proceeded to critique.  It was a bit of a buzz for me spending a couple of hours with Paddy.  His album with Jolyon Jackson, which I have on vinyl is one of my all time favourites.

I only went to a couple of events this time.  I enjoyed immensely  a presentation of songs, poetry and music which told the story of 1916 written and performed by Mike Hanrahan and Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich.   And the concert on the Saturday night was a cracker though I was not familiar with any of the acts other than Dermot Byrne and Florianne Blancke.  This led to some wonderful surprises.  The standard was incredibly high and included a virtuoso performance of Scottish fiddle from Ian MacFarlane.

Mark my words Ballyferriter is different.  It is a festival where everyone comes away happy.  Musicians, singers, dancers, listeners.  It is a festival for the locals and they embrace it and it is a festival for the loyal visitors who come year after year.  The sessions are never so crowded that you can’t find a seat and there is huge respect for the music.  The Irish language is everywhere  and many times announcers would forget (?) to translate.  It didn’t matter.  It is in a spectacular location; though other than the first Wednesday there was no sunshine until the Monday when everyone had Ieft.  More than anything else for me though, it was the quality of the sessions and accessibility of the musicians.  Leading by example the Begleys were everywhere.  Breandann, Seamus, Maibh, Cormac, Neil;  as were the headline acts who all participated.  There was no session trail and sessions popped up organically.   The four venues were all so close you could check them in a minute or two and decide where to settle.

This one is a permanent fixture on my Calendar.  We have a year to work on the Arts Council to restore funding to make it bigger and better.

Congratulations Breandann and Niamh and team.








Not everyone likes the bagpipes




Hands and hearts.  


Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trip to Ballyferriter. Over the Conor Pass.

I had  been to the Dingle Peninsular three times before and each time the weather was so bad I was warned off crossing Conor Pass.  Not this time.  I am off to a music festival in Ballyferriter and as I crossed the water to Kerry via the ferry from Kilimer there was glorious sunshine.  And then there was rain.  And then sunshine.

I could see the Slieve Mish mountains and they were snow-capped and so enticing I decided to risk the Conor Pass.   I pulled into a garage to fuel up and the guy behind the counter in a rich Kerry brogue says,  “So where are you headed?”  “Dingle”.  “Ahh.  You’ll be going over the mountain then.” I could only agree.


The Pass is the highest in Ireland.  It is a winding,  often single lane road and  buses are banned.  At one point the road climbs continuously for over five kilometres.

It didn’t take long for the cloud to descend and by the time I reached the Pass it was snowing.  Just light wonderful flakes drifting hither (and thither).  Not enough to settle.  My fingers were numb but I clicked away furiously.  It was around 1oC but I was charmed by the beauty.    The landscape had been scoured by glaciers in the most recent Ice Age and all the features I had learnt about at Rock School were there.  U-shaped valleys, tarns (or as they are known here corrie lochs), a string of them in fact (called a paternoster) and moraines and deposits of glacial till.  One corrie sits well above the valley floor in a perched valley (cirque).  There was a perfect glacial pavement with striations caused by the scraping of rocks carried along the bottom of the glacier.   Check the photos. Aside from being a geological wonderland it was a place of extraordinary beauty.  The one lane road crept up the mountain to the top of the pass where to the north I could see Castlegregory and across to the Blaskets and to the south Dingle stretched before me.


Conor Pass.  Glacial moraine in the foreground.



Glacial pavement with striations, Conor Pass


Corrie lakes, U shaped valley, cirques.  Conor Pass


Top of Conor Pass


How hard is it to build a straight wall?


View towards Dingle from the top of the Conor Pass



On to Ballyferriter and I was greeted by an intense hailstorm .  Just a couple of minutes but enough to create a temporary whiteout.  Four seasons in one day.  Was I in Melbourne?

I will talk about the music festival that took me to Ballyferriter in my next blog.

Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kevin Burke in Concert, Ennis 2016


As a young geologist my first job was in the far west of New South Wales in outback Australia at a place called Cobar.  It was a small mining town of 5,000 in the middle of nowhere.  A highlight was a regular three hour drive to Dubbo for a shopping trip.  Sydney was 8 hours away.  This was 1979 and I was already heavily into the fiddle so as often as I could I would drive down to Sydney and head straight to Folkways Record Shop in Paddington.  There I would check the latest imports from Ireland and buy most of them on spec.  This is how I discovered Kevin Burke.  And right through the 80’s he was my inspiration.  From the solo If the Cap Fits to Promenade and Portland recorded with Mícheál Ó Domhnaill and then the collaborations with Jacky Daly and Andy Irvine and Patrick Street.

Fast forward to February 2016 and I am sitting in the back bar of Lucas Bar in Ennis.  I have never been here before and the place is not renowned for music.  Indeed this is a first for the Pub.  A small but enthusiastic crowd had gathered to hear Kevin play. Solo. No distractions.   Just the clear clean sound of a fiddler on his own.    I looked around.  There were many well-known fiddlers in the room and they treated the master with absolute respect and reverent silence.  It was hard to believe that nearly forty years after discovering him I was hearing him live for the first time.

Burke’s playing has both breadth and depth.  His interpretation of traditional Irish music is rooted in the Sligo tradition but has absorbed so many influences from his days in London and the US. Personally I love the fiddle on its own.  Nothing wrong with ensemble playing and his many collaborations are testament to his skill at that but a masterful player such as Burke can bring out the internal rhythm of the tunes without the need for other instruments or backing.    He displayed this virtuosity with over 90 minutes of reels, polkas, slides, jigs and airs.  And we also got some bluegrass, some Yiddish music (via Sweden), some Quebecois and some musette.

It was a captivating and rewarding performance.  The tunes were linked together with some delightful stories and restrained banter and perhaps the biggest cheer was reserved for his song about his days in London.  There were many highlights for me though.  An outstanding rendition of Maudabawn Chapel, the haunting Frielach, and the wildness of the Boys of Malin and Stenson’s reels stand out.

Kevin is in Ireland to receive the Gradam Ceoil for 2016, the Irish Musician of the Year award from TG4.  What a worthy recipient,  having given us four decades of inspirational fiddle music.  Thanks.


Categories: Concerts, My Journey, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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