Monthly Archives: June 2016

My First Gig with a Ceili Band

I’ve done a lot of things in Ireland that I had never done before. I’ve blogged about most of them. Participating in the Guinness World Record attempt for the biggest session, been a Wren Boy, slept in a 16th century castle; but there’s one thing I hadn’t done. Until last night.

Friday 24th June 2016 and I was on stage with the brand new Lissycasey Ceili Band under a marquee at Lissycasey, a village to the south of Ennis in Co Clare. The occasion was the first Lissycasey Music Festival, a community organised event which will showcase traditional, country and a range of other music. For the occasion they had erected a giant marquee. Not just an ordinary marquee mind you but a glass walled one complete with chandeliers. And a dance floor. And an optimistic amount of seating which by the end of the night was fully rewarded with bums on seats.

Talking to some Lissycasey locals I was told that regular marquee dances were the social events of the 1940s and 50s, with dance bands and show bands entertaining all ages. Indeed many people met and courted under the marquees. This event harked back to those days, with the majority of the patrons well old enough to have been at those dances and probably were. I imagine it recaptured many nostalgic moments. Maybe many of them met their partners there.

The event had added poignancy as it celebrated and honoured a much loved daughter of Lissycasey, concertina player, Dympna O’Sullivan, who so sadly passed away last year.

I have always had mixed feelings about ceili bands. There is some disdain towards them in some quarters but I have to say my first experience playing in one was an absolute blast. From the moment that wood block sounded its click, click-click  heralding in, in perfect unison, fiddles, concertinas, accordions, flutes, and keyboard belting out familiar tunes in perfect unison (well most of the time) at a brisk pace and with that characteristic ceili rhythm, I was flying. There was a Caledonian Set and the Siege of Ennis and some waltzing and there were smiles all around the room.

It was much faster than I usually played. Not a problem. I was carried along with the other musicians and even got most of the changes right. And boy don’t you love those tune changes. And that feeling when the music ends in perfect agreement with the dancers. I’m hooked.

After us there was a band featuring Don Stiffe and the dancing continued with plenty of enthusiasm.

Thanks to Joan Hanrahan for the invitation to play and to the many wonderful Lissycasey musicians who welcomed me, a refugee Aussie, aboard. And to the organisers who did such a fantastic job. It is amazing what people can do on their own with just the support of local sporting and cultural bodies, looking for no kudos other than to provide something to their community.

This is the real culture of County Clare.

Thanks to Martin O’Malley for the photos of the Band (photos 6 – 10).


Categories: My Journey, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doolin Folk Festival 2016 Day 2

The day kicked off with a start that couldn’t be more local.  Moher comprises many musicians resident in Clare and well known to Doolin session-goers. The group of eight musicians used their number and skill to produce a surprising nuanced and textured sound which, when it needed to, could rattle the tent pegs.


After that though I left familiar territory. Ye Vagabonds, another brotherly collaboration, grabbed a stunned audience from the first number which was a haunting and mesmerising version Barbara Allen. This was a Child Ballad reborn and what followed was a spellbinding set, perfect for a drizzly Saturday afternoon.


More surprises followed with Breaking Trad, who mixed it up with an exciting, energetic delivery and yet could slow it down beautifully, as with their version of Clare to Here.


In my ignorance I had never heard of Freddie White. Another surprise that knocked me backwards. A fantastic stage experience from a master of his craft. Beautiful songs, some his own and many known to the audience, who sang along with gusto.  An added bonus for me was that he was an absolute joy to photograph with an ever-changing face full of  life experiences and wonderful expression.


Then there was Dervish who for 27 years have been belting it out producing music from the top drawer. Kathy Jordan was in fine form and there was something for everyone. Particularly fine was her rendition of Down by the Glenside.


I was a bit dubious as to how Hothouse Flowers would fit in but how brilliant were they. A passionate, exciting, captivating performance from a truly great rock band led by Liam Ó Maonlaí .   An inspired choice for this festival, it really was a privilege to hear them live.  I have to say though it was very hard to dance while juggling two cameras I can tell you.


For me that was enough but I stayed long enough to catch the beginning of Marc O’Reilly. The crowd looked like they were settling in for a long night.



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Doolin Folk Festival 2016 Day 1

This is my third year at this Festival, which has rapidly become one of the must-attend events of the Festival year.  Day 1 delivered everything it promised.  Local stars included Tara Howley and friends (and family, Sharon Howley and Eimear Howley) and Tara Breen and the Tri Tones.  There was the extraordinary virtuosity of Cathal Hayden, Mairtin O’Connor and Seamie O’Dowd.  Luka Bloom weaved his magic to his local legion of fans and there was the surprise packet that was Scottish band Lau with its inventive mix of traditional and new instruments.  The night was capped with a return of ALDOC with Pauline Scanlon up front.  And a song from a Norwegian choir thrown in.  For those who weren’t there here are a few photos to show you what you missed.
Roll on Day 2.
Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dungarvan Trad Fest 2016

Hard to believe really that it was a year ago that I was at Dungarvan, in Co Waterford, last. This time the weather was super kind. Blue cloudless skies meant shorts and thongs all weekend. But really little else had changed. No gig rig this year as they had pulled up the streets to repave, but the same Busking Competition, same super sessions, concert by Danu and the Bucket Singing.

 I urge you to check out my blog from last year,  because I think I covered it all there. The main attraction as always was the sessions. There is no shortage of quality musicians here with some wonderful combinations. A treat was Bobby Gardiner, Matt Cranitch, Jackie Daly, Andrew MacNamara and Gerry Harrington. An amazing and unique assortment.  And Charlie Piggott with Gerry Harrington and too many others to mention. This Festival is a Hidden Secret. Not on the International circuit, like Willie Week, Feakle or Ennis TradFest,  which have their bands of loyal followers,  and that’s good in some ways, but really such depth of musicianship deserves to be seen by many more.

Only downside (?) this time was that all the pubs were mental on Saturday night due to the result of some hurling game or other  (can’t actually remember the result). Put this on the calendar though and try and get there for next year.

Here are a few shots from sessions, street buskers, singers and the Sunday concert featuring Danu.

I will put some video up in due course so keep an eye out on my YouTube channel.  In fact follow it and you’ll be notified.



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

Miltown Malbay. Who Needs Willie Week?

Miltown Malbay is my local town. It is of course legendary in the annals of traditional Irish Music as the place where thousands congregate each year to hear the best. But that’s just one week of the year. The rest of the year sessions go on with unheralded players in quiet corners playing to the locals and occasional visitors. Only occasional visitors because Miltown doesn’t have the lure of Doolin except for that one week.

I went to one of these sessions last night. About a dozen musicians were there and you would struggle to put a name to anyone. In fact for most this is their only session of the week. This was an eclectic bunch. There was one player who was hard of hearing but undaunted, struggled to play along.  We had key changes, deliberate or otherwise, in the middle of a tune, we had a singer sing a song while he played guitar in a different key, we had American tunes such as Oh Susannah, we had Johnny Cash songs and and  we had Cow Cow Yippy Yippy, we had Kevin Barry, and even an Aussie song thrown in .

Somehow none of the jarring moments mattered. It was all part of a wonderful joyous mix. There was enthusiasm, vigour and musicians and crowd were involved and supporting every effort. Of course it was noisy. The pub buzzed but the applause at the end of each number showed they were listening in that peculiar Irish way. And in amongst it all there were absolute gems. Michael Galvin and his daughters provided special moments and at the end of the night Cian  Talty delighted with songs until after 2am. This was a real hooley. It was more than a session and while the purists would probably be horrified, there was not one person who didn’t leave that pub totally satisfied.

And isn’t that what it is all about?

I didn’t have the camera so just a few photos with the phone.


Categories: Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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