Trad Irish Music

Frank Custy. A Legend. “The best day of my trip”.

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Frank Custy is a legend in Clare music.

Never moving far from his birthplace at Dysart the man has nurtured and inspired hundreds to play and participate in Irish traditional music. A visionary who, as a schoolmaster at nearby Toonagh, integrated music into the teaching day and beyond.  Many came under his spell.  Sharon Shannon, Gary Shannon, Siobhan Peoples, Sean Conway, Yvonne Casey, Tola Custy and Mary Custy and hundreds who are not household names – all going on to make their own mark on Clare music. His work was recognised with the Mór glor award for his contributions in 2016.

But the thing is he is still doing it.

At Fleadh Nua held in Ennis in May Frank runs the Foinn Seisiún, held every afternoon during the Festival.

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Frank on the banjo and friends

This is a slow session aimed at developing musicians where they can get confidence in playing or singing in front of others in a supportive environment. It is always well attended. Anything could happen. Everyone gets a go to try out a new tune or a song.  No matter the age.  There are no barriers. You might even get an Australian singing the Clogher Road.

Or you could get a Connemara Set or a Seige of Ennis, with unsuspecting visitors being cajoled into it.

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The joy on the faces of Jo from Birmingham or Megan from Texas, new to Irish dancing,  as they are swept up onto the floor,  says it all.

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Jo from Birmingham in good hands

 

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Megan from Texas and Jo from Birmingham, learning the steps for the Siege of Ennis.

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All ages enjoy it.  

I met TJ,  travelling here with Megan from Texas.  They dropped into Ennis for a day.    As TJ said. “the best day of our trip”.

Who knows how many have gone on to play Irish music or learn to dance after having heard Frank and having the “best day of their trip”.

A big thank you to Frank Custy.

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Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oysters and Trad Music. And sunshine. Sound like Ireland?

May Day weekend in Ireland is one of the busiest music weekends of the year. There is too much choice and if you live in the west you probably think of going to the Cuckoo Fleadh at Kinvara or the festival at Louisburgh. I am sure the Carrigaholt Oyster and Traditional Weekend does not come into your consideration. Well it should.

To be honest I didn’t even know it existed until I prepared the listing of Festivals, which you can find elsewhere on this blog (A Feast of Festivals) but I decided to eschew the larger festivals and the jam packed sessions and head south to this tiny village.

Carrigaholt is not a name that immediately springs to mind and, in fact, I suspect that many, even Clare, people only have a vague notion of where it is, tucked away in the very south west of the county.  Many visitors come to nearby Loop Head but most, indeed including myself, seem to miss Carrigaholt.

I was attracted by the mention of oysters among other things.  Just love fresh oysters.  Sunday arrived with a clear blue sky and a positively balmy 15 degrees so guess where I went.

Carrigaholt is located on the shores of the Shannon Estuary but is a struggling village, like many in the west of Ireland. Population of the village itself is down to 40 and I am told that of that there are only two children. There are four pubs, a small shop inside one of them, a restaurant with brilliant food and a gift shop. But not much else. Oh, and there is Carrigaholt Castle, one of the most elegant tower houses in Clare, which sits on the water’s edge, and a stunning coastal drive towards Kilbaha with some beautifully exposed geology as well.

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The imposing entrance gate to the Carrigaholt Castle

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Another view of Carrigaholt Castle ruin.  One of the most beautiful in Clare.

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West of Carrigaholt on the Coast Road.  Pink Thrift in the foreground and Loop Head in the distance.

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Gently folded strata.  Looking across to Loop Head

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Stunning scenery on the Coast Road from Carrigaholt

Yet for this weekend the streets were jammed and the pubs crowded. Little local festivals like this are the heartbeat of the traditional scene and mean so much to these isolated villages and I love them. I found myself as possibly the only person in town who had traveled there specifically and who didn’t have some connection to the village. Most were either locals, former residents or family visitors. But I was welcomed fulsomely; like joining a family party as the long lost cousin from Australia.

The weather helped of course. Everything was out on the street. An early so-called Junior Session was the first event of the day. ‘Junior’ is the wrong word. The session was led by members of the Maguire family from Wicklow and the music was anything but kid’s stuff. I was stopped in my tracks by Aiofe Maguire doing a concertina solo that showed a truly phenomenal mastery of the instrument. Playing with her were sister Emma on fiddle and Sean, still only 11, wowing all with his fiery bodhran playing. I had another chance to see them later in the day at the Long Dock.

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The ‘Junior Session’.  Some were more interested in other things

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Aoife and Sean Maguire on the street at  Carrigaholt

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The Maguires perform in front of the Long Dock

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The Maguires

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Robbie Walsh with Emma Maguire

The afternoon and evening was filled with sessions at all four pubs. Mainly local musicians from the district, including members of another talented family from west Clare, the Brownes, with some sensational sean nos dancing in the street from Colm Browne.

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In my element.  Thanks Pat Keating for the photo.

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Sean nos dancing on the street from Colm Browne

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Colm Browne with grandfather Tommy Browne.  A musical dynasty continues

I watched a bodhran workshop on the street led by the renowned Robbie Walsh and his Bodhran Buzz. I had to fight mightily the temptation to grab one and have a go but I resisted.

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Joining in the Bodhran Buzz

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Wherever you can find a seat

And later I joined Clare musicians Geraldine and Eamonn Cotter and their extended family for a marvelous couple of hours of tunes and songs.

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The Cotter family plus

Everyone was clearly enjoying themselves in their own way but for some ice cream was the order of the day.

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Totally absorbed.  A family day out.

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I scream and you scream.

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Let out of the Convent for the day or a very Irish Hen’s Party?  Your call.

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Paparazzi.  Can’t escape.

 The party continued at Keane’s Pub well into the night but after 9 hours of playing I made a quiet exit and left them to it.

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Oh and by the way I got my free plate of delicious local oysters!

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Fiddling with oysters

Categories: Festivals, My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Springboard Fiddle Retreat 2018. A Dive into the Unknown.

I had high expectations. An intensive four days of workshops from Caoimhin O Railleagh, Four nights of ‘luxury’ on the shores of Bantry Bay. Meals. All the ingredients were there. Food, fellowship and fiddle.

Would my expectations be met?

I am a bit of a workshop junkie and I am guessing that over the past four years I have had instruction from well over forty different fiddlers while living in Ireland. But Springboard Fiddle Retreat sounded different. Workshops in Ireland generally follow a set pattern, in place since the Willie Clancy Festival started nearly fifty years ago. Bring in a name fiddler, for up to a week. Three hours a day; usually a mixed class of fiddlers or wanna-be’s of all ages and stages. The teaching is based around learning new tunes but there is rarely time for individual instruction or to gain a deeper understanding of the instrument.

But Springboard did not follow this formula.  As I said it is residential and there were only a dozen of us.  It was a Thursday afternoon and fiddlers from all over Ireland, a couple from Scotland and from the  US and a couple of ex-pat Aussies joined others at Linden House on the shores of Bantry Bay in West Cork.  The location was hard to find but stunning.   I have separately blogged on this little corner of Ireland and the beauty of Glengariff and the surrounding forest, so you can see more HERE.

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The calm waters of Bantry Bay at Glengariff

But it wasn’t just the location. The house was purpose designed to accommodate up to 20 people. There were two wings and multiple stories and it made a beautiful architectural statement as it stepped its way down the contours of the land melding into the forest and surrounded by beautifully tended gardens and tall gaunt oaks.  There were a number of large living spaces with giant picture windows taking in the vista and plenty of nooks to meet and play fiddle in small groups or withdraw for some quiet time. Everything was provided for a wonderful livable escape.

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Linden House.  The venue for the retreat

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The view from the main living area

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A perfect place to think, read, and play.

Then there was the food. Oh dear. Expectations regarding this weren’t that high when I read it was vegetarian. Nothing against vegetarianism, but I will be honest, I do enjoy the  meat-and-three-veg world . But as it turned out absolutely nothing to worry about here. We were incredibly well looked after by chef Jenny and her assistant Anda. The food was truly a marvel. It was prepared with great thought and obvious love. A riot of colour and flavours with some ingredients I have never even heard of and others used in ways you wouldn’t have imagined.  All combined with skill and originality. The food was indeed part of what was a total experience We were constantly reminded of the parallels between our explorations with music and the eating experience. Each day one ingredient was chosen as a theme and dishes reflected different and sometimes surprising approaches to the use of this. Just as we would choose a theme for the day on our journey with the fiddle.

Speaking of the fiddle that’s what we were there for, so let me talk about that.

Caoimhin is an accomplished and widely respected traditional Irish fiddler. His collaborations are many and include musicians from wide backgrounds such as piper Mick O’Connor, West Kerry box player, Breandan Begley,  sean nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Clare fiddler Martin Hayes and musician/physicist, Dan Trueman.  He plays with The Gloaming.  His music is rooted in the traditional world of piping and Sliabh Luachra but he has explored Norwegian and Icelandic music, the Hardanger fiddle and plays in various cross tunings.  He has always been seeking new ways of voicing the fiddle.  As a result he has developed a unique and recognisable playing style.

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Instructor Caoimhin O’Railleagh as a snow shower passes through

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A reflective moment

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The beautifully carved scroll of Caoimhin O’Railleagh’s Hardanger violin

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Caoimhin O’Railleagh’s violin.  Five strings are just not enough.

Very quickly I realised this fiddle workshop would be different. Caoimhin is a brilliant, relaxed and engaging teacher with an innovative approach. The time available and the ambience allowed plenty of space to explore concepts that were very new, to me at least. We spent little time actually playing. But always new concepts were put in the context of playing traditional music. We spent a day on cross tuning. For myself I stuck with GDGD but others went off in all directions. Indeed people were playing together with wildly different tunings producing surprising outcomes. There were no boundaries. We were encouraged to play tunes we knew opening up new possibilities and to then try our hand at composing melodies.

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Caoimhin O’Railleagh makes a point.

Another day we looked at tempo and the concept of expanding and contracting time. We were introduced to the Cyclotron, software by Daniel Trueman, that enables you to vary the space between notes within a tune and ultimately the rhythm and feel. We looked at discovering amazing sounds by exploring the real estate of the fiddle and the bow. We looked at difference tones – notes that only exist in the mind, and we looked at poly-rhythms.

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Sounds heavy but it wasn’t. There was were five hours each day of classes, but it went so quickly.  And it wasn’t all work.

Afternoons were filled with activities; organised or less-organised. There were ad hoc workshops including ‘dalcroze eurythmics’, yoga, role play games or you could brave the cold (it actually snowed one day) for a swim with the seals. Or you could just go off and practice.

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A quiet place to play 1

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A quiet place to play 2

 

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A class in ‘dalcroze eurythmics’?

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Or time for a dip?

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Jotting down some wise words.

The evenings sometimes went in surprising directions; activities including table rugby and games that totally messed with the brain in quite different ways.

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Ireland vs the Wallabies in Table Rugby.

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A highlight was the Dining in the Dark experience. On this occasion we were treated to a wonderful five course degustation menu prepared and presented by Jenny and Anda, who were the only two ‘sighted’ residents of the house for the night. There were plenty of surprises with our taste buds made keener by the darkness.  A butter tasting. Who would have thought? Kale served three ways. A colcannon to die for. A sweet dish which baffled me but turned out to be carrageen pudding and a cheese plate highlighting how good Irish cheese actually is. The meal was interrupted at one point by a spellbinding soundscape of wild fiddle from Coaimhin the sound coming from everywhere as he strolled around the house. Then there was what seemed like an eternity of silence. This was brought to an end by tentative noises made by just one or two at first but then by the full ensemble with whatever came to hand, ultimately turning into an untamed cacophonous symphony of sound and noise of Dada-ist proportions rising out of the darkness.

It is hard to quantify what one gets out of such an experience. I didn’t learn any tunes. There were no sessions in the traditional sense. But I didn’t come for that. What I did get were immeasurable experiences of sharing music and musical thoughts, new ways of looking at timing, rhythm and tone, An insight into new paradigms of playing music and lifetime friends.

A true springboard.  Definitely a dive into the unknown.

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The Springboard Fiddle Retreat was held on 15th to 19th March 2018.  Check their site http://www.westcorkmusic.ie/retreats/springboard for info on 2019.

 

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

Ireland. A Feast of Festivals

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Visiting an Irish Music Festival should be on the must-do list for any visitor to Ireland.  It is not easy however to find information on these, especially the smaller ones.  I am often asked by my friends in the blogosphere what is on and when during their proposed visit.  I’m happy to help where I can but I thought a list might be useful to anyone planning a trip.  On researching this I found a number of sites where festivals are listed but they are incomplete or not up to date.  I am sure I too have left some out and I’ve only included those from March through September 2018 but if you are aware of a festival that I’ve missed let me know and I’ll add it.

Do try and incorporate a festival on your next trip;  you’ll be made very welcome.

Festival Location Start Finish
Shannonside Winter Music Festival Six Mile Bridge, Clare January?
TradFest Temple Bar Dublin January?
IMBOLC International Music Festival Derry January?
Packie Duignan weekend Drumshanbo, Leitrim January?
Feile na Tana Carlingford, Louth February?
Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh Ballyferriter, Kerry February?
The Gathering Traditional Festival Killarney, Kerry February?
Concertina Cruinniú Miltown Malbay, Clare February?
Russell Memorial Weekend Doolin, Clare February?
Welsh Annual Singers Weekend Ballyvaughan, Clare February?
Mount Leinster Traditional Music Festival Borris, Carlow February?
Tionól Niocláis Tóibín An Rinn, Waterford February?
Éigse an Spidéil, Spiddal, Galway 14 Feb 18 18 Feb 18
Corofin Traditional Festival Corofin, Clare 27 Feb 18 4 Mar 18
Aran Celtic Music Festival Inis Mor, Galway 9 Mar 18 11 Mar 18
NYAH Traditional Music Festival Cavan 10 Mar 18 17 Mar 18
Kilkenny Tradfest Kilkenny 17 Mar 18 18 Mar 18
Ceardlann Earraigh Celbridge, Kildare 23 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Inishowen Singing Festival Donegal 23 Mar 18 26 Mar 18
Blossom Harp Festival Tuamgraney, Clare 23 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Feile Patrick Byrne Carrickmacross, Monaghan 24 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Maurice O’Keefe Weekend Kiskeam, Cork 31 Mar 18 1 Apr 18
Carlow Pan Celtic Festival Carlow 3 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Clifden Trad Fest Clifden, Galway 5 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Cruinniú na bhFliúit Flute Meeting Ballyvourney, Cork 4 Apr 18 7 Apr 18
Consairtin Ennis, Clare 6 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Ballydehob Traditional Music Festival Ballydehob, Cork 13 Apr 18 15 Apr 18
Kilfenora Music Festival Kilfenora Clare 27 Apr 18 30 Apr 18
Feile Neidin, Kenmare Irish Music Festival Kenmare, Kerry April?
Fleadh nagCuach (Cuckoo Fleadh) Kinvara, Galway 4 May 18 6 May 18
Joe Heaney Festival Carna, Galway 4 May 18 7 May 18
Cup of Tae Festival Ardara, Donegal 4 May 18 7 May 18
Feile Chois Cuain Louisburgh, Mayo 4 May 18 7 May 18
Carrigaholt Oyster & Trad Festival Carrigaholt, Clare 5 May 18 7 May 18
Cos Cos Sean Nos Festival Drumcliffe, Sligo 7 May 18 13 May 18
Fiddle Fair Baltimore, Cork 10 May 18 13 May 18
Feile Chnoc na Gaoithe, Tulla Trad Music Festival Tulla, Clare 11 May 18 13 May 18
Skerries Traditional Music Weekend Skerries, Dublin 18 May 18 20 May 18
World Fiddle Day Scartaglin, Kerry 18 May 18 20 May 18
World Fiddle Day Glenties, Donegal 20 May 18
Fleadh Nua Ennis, Clare 20 May 18 28 May 18
Michael Dwyer Festival Allihies, Cork 8 Jun 18 10 Jun 18
Doolin Folk Festival Doolin, Clare 15 Jun 18 17 Jun 18
Con Curtin Festival Brosna, Kerry 23 Jun 18 25 Jun 18
Jim Dowling Uilleann Pipe and Trad Festival Glengarriff, Cork 25 Jun 18 29 Jun 18
Craiceann Summer School Innis Oir, Galway 25 Jun 18 29 Jun 18
Blas International Summer School Limerick 25 Jun 18 6 Jul 18
Cross Traditional Music Weekend Cross, Clare 29 Jun 18 1 Jul 18
An Chúirt Chruitireachta (International Harp Festival) Termonfechin, Louth 1 Jul 18 6 Jul 18
Feile Brian Boru Killaloe/Ballina, Clare, Tipperary 4 Jul 18 8 Jul 18
Traidphicnic Spiddal, Galway 6 Jul 18 8 Jul 18
Scoil Samraidh Willie Clancy Miltown Malbay, Clare 7 Jul 18 15 Jul 18
Ceol na Coille Summer School Letterkenny, Donegal 9 Jul 18 13 Jul 18
South Sligo Summer School Tubbercurry, Sligo 15 Jul 18 21 Jul 18
Fleadh Cheoil Na Mumhan (Munster Fleadh) Ennis, Clare 15 Jul 18 22 Jul 18
Ceili at the Crossroads Festival Clarecastle, Clare 15 Jul 18 22 Jul 18
Joe Mooney Summer School Drumshanbo, Leitrim 21 Jul 18 28 Jul 18
Fiddler’s Green Festival Rostrevor, Down 22 Jul 18 29 Jul 18
Meitheal Summer School Ennis, Clare 23 Jul 18 27 Jul 18
Scoil Acla Summer School Achill Island, Mayo 28 Jul 18 4 Aug 18
Donegal Fiddle Summer School Glencolmcille, Donegal 30 Jul 18 3 Aug 18
Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music Belfast 30 Jul 18 3 Aug 18
Sliabh Luachra Summer School Rockchapel, Cork July?
Laois Trad Summer School Portlaoise, Laois July?
Phil Murphy Weekend Carrig-on-Bannow, Wexford July?
Kilrush Traditional Music and Set Dancing Festival Kilrush, Clare 1 Aug 18 7 Aug 18
Sean McCarthy Weekend Festival Finuge, Kerry 3 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
James Morrison Traditional Music Festival Sligo 4 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
O’Carolan Harp Festival Keadu, Roscommon 4 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
Feakle International Traditional Music Festival Feakle Clare 8 Aug 18 13 Aug 18
Scully’s Trad Fest Newmarket, Cork 9 Aug 18 13 Aug 18
Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann Drogheda, Louth 12 Aug 18 19 Aug 18
Feile Ceol Na Locha Tourmakeedy, Mayo 13 Aug 18 17 Aug 18
Masters of Tradition Bantry, Cork 22 Aug 18 26 Aug 18
Crotty Galvin Traditional Music Weekend Moyasta, Clare 25 Aug 18 27 Aug 18
Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival Ballyshannon, Donegal August?
Seachtain Ceoil Chois Fharraige Spiddal, Galway August?
Fingal Fleadh and Fair, Swords Castle, Dublin 6 Sep 18 9 Sep 18
Gig’n the Bann Portglenone, Antrim 13 Sep 18 16 Sep 18
Johnny Doherty Music & Dance Festival Ardara, Donegal 21 Sep 18 23 Sep 18
Ceol Na gCruach The Glen Tavern, Donegal September?
Dingle Tradfest Dingle, Kerry September?
Tuam Trad Festival Tuam, Galway September?
Gerry Whelan Memorial Weekend Cootehill, Cavan September?
Feile Cheoil Larry Reynolds Ballinasloe, Galway September?
Frank Harte Festival Dublin September?
Music Under the Mountains Wicklow September?
Cork Folk Festival Cork, Cork September/October?
O’Carolan Harp Festival Nobber, Meath 5 Oct 18 7 Oct 18
Glenties Fiddlers Weekend Glenties, Donegal 5 Oct 18 7 Oct 18
Ed Reavy Traditional Music Festival Cavan 19 Oct 18 21 Oct 18
Foxford Traditional Weekend Foxford, Mayo 18 Oct 18 21 Oct 18
Sligo Live Folk Roots and Indie Festival Sligo 24 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Cooley Collins Festival Gort, Galway 27 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Willie Keane weekend Doonbeg, Clare 27 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Feile Strokestown Strokestown, Roscommon October?
Achill International Harp Festival Achill Island, Mayo October?
Scoil Cheoil na Botha Scotstown, Monaghan October?
Patrick O’ Keeffe Traditional Music Festival Castleisland, Kerry October?
Ennis Trad Fest Ennis Clare November?
William Kennedy Piping Festival Armagh 15 Nov 18 18 Nov 18
Drogheda Traditional Music Weekend Drogheda, Louth November?
Éigse Dhiarmuid Uí Shúilleabháin Ballyvourney, Cork December?
Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair Gweedore, Donegal December?
Trá Buí /Pearse Holmes memorial Traditional Music Weekend. Dohooma, Mayo December?

And for those interested in a different experience you can attend any of the County or Provincial Fleadhs, which are to enable qualification to the All Ireland Fleadh, which is in the list above.  Here are the dates.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Clare Kitchen Sessions. Radio with pictures.

There is a widespread view that the Pub is the natural home of Irish Music.  And don’t get me wrong, many a wonderful musical moment can be had there. But indeed Irish music can be comfortably at home in the Home.  There’s a long tradition of the ‘kitchen session’ where the dining table is pushed to one side, local musicians gather and the flagstones clatter to the insistent battering of hard shoes.  A story might be told.  There will certainly be some songs, generally of a local flavour and there will be endless cups of tea and sandwiches.  There will be folk of all ages jammed in or listening from outside the door. This is how the tunes were handed down after all.  And if instruments were in short supply a lilter might be called on.  Nothing will stop the dancers.

Now, Irish cottages are not large so one can well imagine that not that many could be crammed in to experience this.

My how times change. As the chill of winter strengthened its grip, late November saw me at a kitchen session in my good friend Oliver O’Connell’s house in the heart of the Burren in County Clare. There were about 60 people there for the evening along with the virtual presence of many thousands of others.  It was broadcast live into homes all over the world through the organisers, ClareFM, and it was streamed live via Facebook.  So everyone could truly be part of this monumental night.  You could make comments in real time from Boston, Berlin or Belfast and hundreds did. Some were even read out on air during the show. Everything that makes this aspect of Irish Culture so unique was there, in a brilliant programme of music, song and dance provided by a gathering of Oliver’s friends from the Tubber-Gort-Crusheen-Kilfenora-Corofin areas of East and North Clare. There were so many wonderful surprises. Three pipers, Blackie (Oliver’s son), Tara Howley, taking time from her commitments with Riverdance and Eugene Lamb, a piping legend. There were recitations from Oliver and an emotional moment as father and son combined for a tune. There were spirited half sets with Oliver in the thick of it as you would expect and cameos from a host of Clare greats – old and young. Names like Richie Dwyer, Des Mulkere, Tony O’Loughlin and up-and-comers like the Clancy family from Tubber. Especially inspiring were two lilters maybe sixty years apart in age showing that core traditions, that are hardly known about outside rural Ireland, are being maintained.

This is radio with Heart from the heartland of Irish music. So well co-ordinated by Paula Carroll on air and Joan Hanrahan marshalling everyone behind the scenes. But it was live radio and yes there were glitches and it was so much better for that. This wasn’t a concert, and it wasn’t in the studio, so the music was energetic, spontaneous, entirely natural and completely in context.

After it was all over some didn’t want to leave. And those who remained watched in awe as four accordions,  Oliver, Clive Earley, Martin Ford, and Tony O’Loughlin joined Des Mulkere on banjo for a rare opportunity to play together.

I will be posting some video, so keep an eye on my You Tube channel. But here are a few photos I managed to sneak in which will give you some flavour of the night.

There will be more of these I am told. In fact ClareFM is promising one every week right through the Winter. I am hopeful of being able to be there for a few to document the occasion.  These will be special events. A different kitchen each week with each person opening their home and sharing their music with world.  Each will be in a different musical context and each will have the personality of the host stamped on it. They will be chalk and cheese but I expect the full depth of musical expression and the soul of Clare will be on display. You can’t apply a formula to Irish Music especially in this county and I am sure these Kitchen Sessions will demonstrate this over the coming weeks. Where ever you are on Sundays – 6pm Irish time, you should be listening to Clare FM.

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Apology to Turlough O’Carolan

Driving through Keadue in the very north of Co Roscommon, as I was on this crisp, clear Autumn day, you are reminded everywhere of Turlough O’Carolan. There is what seems to be a new sculpture in the main street of this spotless town with a harp at the centre and there is a Heritage Park with monuments to the man. A carved coloured stone with the music for Sí Beag Sí Mór sits in a rotunda that looks out over the village to the Arigna Mountains.  And if you come back in August next year you can attend the 40th O’Carolan Harp Festival.  Though born in Co Meath, the blind harpist and composer lived in and around Keardue/Ballyronan so this is definitely O’Carolan Country.

 

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The village of Keadue

 

 

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Tribute to O’Carolan?  newly installed statue in Keadue.

 

And just out of the village, there is the Kilronan Cemetery where he was buried. The elaborate entrance proclaims this with a carved stone mounted over the gate.  His grave lies within the family crypt adjacent to the ruins of the Abbey.

 

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Entrance gate to the Kilronan Cemetery

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Detail of the front gate.

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Kilronan graves

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Kilronan Abbey ruins.

 

The sun was shining when I visited and of course I had to take a ‘selfie’ of me playing Sí Beag, Sí Mór at the grave site. Now I am not a superstitious person but I swear that as I played the last note a black cloud came from nowhere and filled the sky. The heavens dumped for about three minutes as I retreated to the safety of my car.

 

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The headstone of the grave for Turlough O’Carolan. 

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Sí Beag, Sí Mór

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One minute later the heavens dumped.

 

I get the message, Turlough. I have to admit that a friend warned me not to do it. Now seriously, I’m sure it wasn’t the worst you have heard, but I promise never again.

Sorry.

If you’re in that beautiful part of the world. Go visit. Just don’t play Sí Beag, Sí Mór.

Categories: My Journey, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ryan Young. A CD Review.

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It’s not everyday that an album comes along that completely stops you in your tracks. That you just listen to over and over again and keep discovering something new. There was a real buzz at the Traditional Irish Music Festival in August 2017 about this album and the room was packed out at Peppers Bar on the Thursday evening with people peering in the window to get a look.

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He was supported by Clare ‘royalty’ Mary MacNamara and Dennis Cahill and I listened from outside the door along with the others who couldn’t get in.

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I didn’t remember meeting Ryan Young. But he assured me we did, two years ago at Feakle at a Martin Hayes workshop. And we have been Facebook friends since then so we must have met.   In 2015 Ryan was visiting Ireland for the first time from his home in Loch Lomond in Scotland and meeting Martin also for the first time.  Too shy though to speak to his idol he sat through the three days silently.

A lot has happened for Ryan since then. I met him again this year at Feakle and as before he sat in on Martin’s workshop. This time though it was a different matter.  Martin was well acquainted with him.  In the last two years he has achieved second in this year’s BBC Musician of the Year, supported Martin and Dennis Cahill at Celtic Connections and produced a CD after a You Tube clip was spotted by renowned producer Jesse Lewis.  And he deserves every ounce of this success.

Although hailing from the Highlands he is an adherent of the Clare style of fiddle playing, particularly East Clare. He had grown up with recordings of PJ Hayes, Paddy Canny, Bobby Casey and Martin. It was inevitable that he would bring this style of playing to his native tunes.

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And that’s what his eponymous CD does. But for me it is done in an extraordinarily sensitive and sensual way. The clarity of sound and the sweet accoustics reflect that it was recorded in the Opera Theatre at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  This, with the brilliant controlled and expressive playing make this an outstanding recording.

The music is sometimes irresistibly Scottish but, even though all the tunes are ‘Scottish’, it often doesn’t sound like it. One can imagine purists would not be too impressed. Many of the tunes though are familiar sounding;  I am sure I heard elements of Rakish Paddy in there somewhere.

It is of course hard not to reference Martin Hayes while you are listening but there is so much originality and thought in the music that it does take on a life of its own.  There are a number of longer tracks that explore different rhythms and textures in the same way that Hayes and Cahill do and the use of the piano at times is particularly pleasing.

But for all this, it is not Clare Music, it is not Scots, it is Ryan Young. That’s quite an achievement.

 

 

Categories: Stories, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Music Today 3pm.

This is a little story of a hidden Ireland. It’s not really hidden you just have to take the blinkers off every now and then and follow your nose. Sorry about the mixed metaphor.
I spend quite a bit of my time in County Clare just driving around some of my favourite places, the Burren, the coast around Spanish Point, the hills behind Doolin. Just looking. I love to head down a boreen I’ve never been or follow a hunch in the hope of finding something new.
As I was doing just this on a wet and not terribly inviting midweek day in July, I drove past the beautiful Kilshanny House just outside Ennistymon. A sign caught my eye. Music Today 3pm.   How could I drive past that. I always have the fiddle with me. I live in hope.

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I have been here many times. I know host Mary Butler and it is a great venue for a session though these day they happen rarely.   But this was really unusual.  Of course I went in. Mary explained that she was having a busload of visitors, from New York as it happened, and she was putting on a meal and entertainment, She was happy for me to stay and even to put up with me taking a few photos.

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The coach arrives

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, As the bus pulled up driven by the irascible Gerry, the visitors entered Mary’s wonderful stone-walled and comfortable space, lined with books, ephemera and priceless reminders of Irish culture, heritage and especially music. And speaking of music They were greeted by fiddles and piano and songs provided by two Clare musicians of the highest quality, Sharon Howley who plays with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, probably the most famous Ceili Band in the world, and Therese McInerney, who has just released a cd.

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Clare musicians, Therese McInerney and Sharon Howley

 

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I watched as the guests took their seats and feasted on Mary’s wonderful food, home made Irish bread and a choice this day of fillet of salmon or loin of pork, fuelled by liberal supplies of Guinness and wine.

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Host Mary Butler serves home made bread.  

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Your salmon sir.

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Or the pork

 

 

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Dinner in the library

 

Gerry, ever the perfect host turned out to be a great singer and he cajoled other singers from the floor including yours truly.  I well and truly gate crashed the party and joined the musicians for a few tunes with my fiddle. Now that was fun.

 

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The multi talented Gerry.  Bus driver, singer and raconteur

 

 

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Bliss

 


This is Ireland. An afternoon of pure music, food and good company that came out of nowhere. These tourists, who lingered over the meal for three hours, went away very happy and I am sure many will be back.

Music Today 3pm.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tom Carmody – Home in a box.

I first met Kerry accordion player Danny O’Mahony in Birmingham in 2016 at a Festival, where he surprised with an amazing set in concert with renowned fiddler, Liz Kane. I then heard him again more recently at Ballyferriter in West Kerry. It was here he played his mighty Tom Carmody accordion. It was hard not to notice it. As dazzling as his playing.

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Intrigued, I chatted to him afterwards about this instrument, and my interest was piqued so we agreed to meet at the Rowan Tree Café in Ennis for a chat. I want to write here about the story that unfolded. It is a story of a tradition that spans time and continents. Of happenstance and passion. Of connections and stewardship. And of rescue and revitalisation.

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I have to start somewhere so who was Tom Carmody? Danny explains. Tom is not well known today but he was a master accordion player born in 1893 in Dromlought near Listowel in Kerry and emigrated to New York in 1925. He immediately made an impact and during the Irish recording boom of the 1930s appeared on many 78s with James Morrison.  New York was a melting pot of Irish melodies; and new tunes and new influences made for a vibrant scene. Indeed, Danny says that Tom introduced James to the tune “Stick across the Hob” which was to become the famous ‘Morrison’s Jig’. One can only assume Tom was in much demand as he became the first to play Irish music at the Waldorf Astoria and was employed to organise music there.

Flashy players required a flashy instrument. And Tom had the flashiest. He commissioned an Italian maker in New York, F Iorio, to make this instrument for him. It was loud and brash as was its exterior. Gaudily decorated with the Irish and American flags and detailed inlays in mother of pearl on the fingerboard incorporating a harp and shamrocks. The name TOM CARMODY is boldy emblazoned across the instrument where it will have maximum exposure. It is a work or art. But the story behind it is just as interesting. It was nearly lost.

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Tom returned to Kerry in the 1970s and died in 1986. This was the year Danny started to play the accordion. Danny grew up with no knowledge of this Kerry man, despite the fact he was a distant relative. He is a grand nephew. Growing up, Danny tells, his father was an accordion player with a overriding passion for the instrument. There were three gods in his house. As in most Irish homes silence was demanded for the Angelus when it came on the radio but in the O’Mahony home, silence was also demanded if there was a tune from Joe Burke or Tony McMahon.

Twenty years later Danny discovered the legacy of Tom Carmody and in 2006 he found the location of the Tom Carmody box. Following the death of Tom’s wife in the 90s it had passed to Denis Moran, her nephew. Denis did not play and it lay forgotten in a shed behind his cottage.

Danny approached Dennis to ask if he could borrow it with a view to photographing it. What he discovered was the accordion in its original case in a very sad state. It was all there but held together with binding twine and caked in dust and grime and a home for live insects.

It was almost too late. Its fate was somewhat ironic. From what we know about Tom and from contemporary photos he was a very dapper and meticuluous man, always well presented and his instrument always in immaculate condition. No doubt he would not have been pleased to see it now.

Denis agreed to let Danny take it away. It was cleaned it up and this revealed it to be in marvellous condition externally but totally seized up. Seeing it now Danny, was desperate to get it back to playable condition. Further negotiation ensued and with some trepidation it was agreed to let Danny take it for two weeks to see what he could do. With the help of accordion guru from East Clare, Charlie Harris, they feverishly went to work and brought it back to life, carefully cleaning and tuning the original reeds which were underneath it all in perfect condition. The only part that needed replacing was the left hand leather strap!

It must have been a remarkable experience to hear that box sing again just as it did in the 1930s.

Danny was concerned that it would continue do deteriorate if kept under the same conditions. He broached this with Denis asking him if he, Denis, could keep it in his bedroom with him so it was not subject to extreme temperature variation. The answer was “Oh no, I couldn’t do that”.  But Denis had done his homework and was happy that Danny would be a suitable custodian of the instrument and gave it to his care.

Danny also obtained valuable material on Tom including photos and all his recordings so since then he has researched his legacy and Tom’s tunes on Tom’s box are a feature of some of his concerts. The work of this forgotten box player lives on.

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I love stories like this. But it could have been very different but for Danny’s persistence and a little bit of luck. If you get the chance to hear him, go listen.  You might be lucky and hear him play the Tom Carmody.

Meanwhile you can check out his website at http://www.dannyomahony.com/

 

Categories: Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tour through Sliabh Luachra. Russian Collusion?

Anton Zille is from Moscow. He plays the fiddle, is a regular visitor to Ireland and is totally obsessed with Irish music. Not just Irish music but music from Sliabh Luachra. He runs Sliabh Luachra sessions and dances in Moscow and is a fund of knowledge on the genre.

Sliabh Luachra  is an ill defined area in the heart of Munster, straddling the Cork-Kerry border. Here a unique musical and dance tradition evolved, perhaps, due to its isolation. Perhaps also because of this isolation it remains preserved to this day. Numerous dance sets survive with local variations and with local tunes for accompaniment.

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Catherine Mosksovskova and Anton Zille outside Padraig O’Keeffe’s house, Glentaune.

 

Oh yes, Anton.  I had spent the week with him and another visitor from Moscow, harp player Catherine Moskovskova,  at the Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh in Ballyferriter, near Dingle.  This was back in February 2016. When I mentioned to Anton that I knew nothing of Sliabh Luachra, he seized the opportunity. “Oh there’s a session in Newmarket you might like on Monday. Why dont you give me and my friend Catherine, a lift there?” “And I will show you Sliabh Luachra”.

It did cross my mind that there was something ironic about being shown the hidden secrets of an area, that most Irish know nothing about, and having the culture explained to me by a fiddling Muscovite.  Naturally I agreed.

Mea culpa time. I have already admitted I knew nothing about Sliabh Luachra.  Its music, its geography, the culture. Of course I had heard of Padraig O’Keeffe and Johnny O’Leary and Jackie Daly and Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford (I even own a copy of Star Above the Garter on vinyl). But growing up in the Australian trad music scene, such as it was, no one played polkas except beginners and if they did play them they didn’t know how to play them properly. This was reinforced when I moved to Ennis, where it is rare to hear a polka or slide in a session.  When you do, often as not, someone would raise their fingers forming a cross as if to ward off vampires.

But Sliabh Luachra is not just polkas and slides. Reels, hornpipes and jigs get a good look in. There is a wonderful book on Johnny O’Leary’s music by Terry Moylan. His repertoire showed a surprisingly even distribution of polkas, slides, jigs, reels and hornpipes, though slides and polkas together made up nearly 50%.   This pie chart shows this.

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Tune types in Johnny O’Leary’s repertoire.  Data from Johnny O’Leary of Sliabh Luachra by Terry Moylan.

 

In fact the arrival of polkas and slides was probably in the late 19th Century.  Prior to this manuscripts from Sliabh Luachra are devoid of these tunes and dominated by reels, jigs, airs and programme music.

The name Sliabh Luachra. One translation is ‘mountain of rushes’ which would be fairly apt as it is covered by bog and beds of rushes.  Another says the name comes from Ciarraí Luchre,  a pre-celtic god who also gave Kerry its name.   In any case the area was largely uninhabited until the 16th Century and then stayed a remote outpost away from the gaze of the authorities.  It wasn’t until the 19th Century that roads were built and the area became noted for butter production.

Culturally the area has a unique heritage. Famed for it’s literature and poetry as well as its music.

So Monday night in Newmarket found us in Scully’s pub.

 

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Scully’s Bar Newmarket.

 

Behind the simple unpretentious façade is the perfect session pub. The music is in the back room as it has been for over forty years. Large enough to accommodate twenty musicians comfortably. This night there were a dozen.

The pub has been in the Scully family for over nearly 100 years. Sessions started at the behest of Jackie Daly, who lived five minutes away in Kanturk, in the early 70s and have been held every Monday since.

It became THE gathering place with Jackie Daly joined by Johnny Leary, Julia Clifford, Jimmy Crowley and many others. With many of the attendees being taught by Padraig O’Keeffe there was a direct link to the master. It is kept alive today by stalwarts like Timmy O’Connor, who unfortunately wasn’t there this time, and Ray O’Sullivan and John Walsh, who led the session this time.

This was a gathering of musicians who wanted to play together for the sheer fun of it. So of course it was a bit up and down. There were some beginners and they were given quite a bit of scope to start tunes. There was Marie Forrest on the piano; she’s been coming for 36 years. This added a strong rhythmic element and you could just imagine the floor filled with dancers.

Of course there were polkas and slides but there was a good mix of all the old standards. Many of the polkas I didn’t recognise, but many I did.  It certainly helped that I play regularly with Jackie Daly, who now lives in Miltown Malbay in County Clare and plays in Friels Pub every week. What I really loved was the sharing culture of this session. If people didn’t know the tune then it was played again, slower, for people to pick it up. Perhaps this was a hangover from the days when people such as Jackie and Johnny O’Leary were the custodians of the tunes and passed them to the next generation.

The pace was gentler than I expected. Sweeter. Not at all like the West Kerry version with its preponderance of accordions and driving rhythm (Cooney/Begley influence?) .

This seems to be the only regular session in the Sliabh Luachra region which was surprising for an area with such a rich tradition.  A bit like East Clare I suppose where it is hard to find a session outside of Feakle.

Next day Anton, as promised, was my guide on a tour of the area. There were so many familiar town names. Ballydesmond, Scartaglen, Newmarket. All with polkas and slides named after them. Apparently the local set dances had no names and the early collectors identified them by the locality. The tunes attached to these sets were then somewhat arbitrarily named also. Many tune names became attached to towns only as a matter of convenience so not too much can be read into the name.

We had to visit the holy shrine. The birthplace of Padraig O’Keefe. The house where he was born in 1887 is at Glountane Cross. It is still there. Just. He lived there until he died in 1963.

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Padraig O’Keeffe’s house.  Another view.

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Commemorative plaque at Padraig O’Keeffe’s house

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Padraig O’Keeffe’s house.  Beyond repair?

 

His father was the headmaster of the nearby national school and Padraig became a teacher there in 1915.  We visited the school which is also a crumbling ruin.

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National School at Glountane. 

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Interior of National School, Glountane

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Anton Zille at National School Glountane

 

He was not happy in the job and left about 1920 to become and itinerant fiddle teacher.  For the next 40 years he walked up and down the hills of Kerry/Cork sometimes as much as 30 miles a day.

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General view Sliabh Luachra

 

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Padraig O’Keeffe walked these roads for forty years

 

By all accounts he was a good teacher and developed his own style of notation.  A system of 4 spaces between 5 lines to show the strings and the numbers 0 1 2 3 4  to show the fingers.  A number of his manuscripts survive and are housed in the Irish Music Traditional Archive.  These images come from their online copies.

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From a manuscript showing Padraig O’Keeffe’s unique notation.  Courtesy ITMA. 

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Another page from the same manuscript.  Courtesy ITMA

 

He frequently played in Jack Lyon’s Pub in Scartaglen which is still there.

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Lyon’s Bar Scartaglen.

 

Among his pupils were Denis Murphy, Murphy’s sister Julia Clifford and Johnny O’Leary.

Sliabh Luachra is not just Padraig O’Keeffe and the music.  There are a lot of interesting things to see.  It gets quite hilly to the south with the Paps of Anu dominating the landscape to the south.  The name originates from the similarity of the two mountains to the shape of the breasts of the legendary pre-Christian goddess Anu (Danu).  THis is the same Danu that gave her name to the Well known traditional band, the River Danube and Denmark!  You can drive through these mountains though the roads get a bit rough.  We visited Shrona Lake.  Ruggedly spectacular.

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The Cork and Kerry Mountains

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The Paps of Anu

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Walking in the Paps

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Lake Shrona

 

Then there is An Cathair Cubh Dearg.  Also known as The City, this site with the Paps as a backdrop is said to be the first place populated in Ireland and the  oldest centre of continuous worship in the world!  Tuatha De Danann (descendants of Danu) settled here 10,000 years ago.  The ring fort wall dates from this time.  It was later used as a place of Christian worship.

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Ring fort wall at The City.  Paps of Anu in the background.

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An Cathair Cubh Dearg, showing ancient wall and Christian elements. 

 

So that’s it.  Sliabh Luachra.  Great music, heritage, landscape.  And thanks to Russian ‘collusion’ I now understand it better!

Categories: My Journey, Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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