Festivals

CD Review: Not Before Time. Paráic Mac Donnchadha.

I normally don’t do CD reviews of Irish music. Firstly I am friends with many of the musicians involved so it is an area that is fraught and secondly the vast majority are brilliant expressions of the variety and many nuances and interpretations of Irish music today so reviewing them is pretty pointless.

I do make exceptions though. The recent release by Páraic Mac Donnchadha Not Before Time, is one of these. First I have to declare some conflicts of interest.  Páraic is a friend and has been very supportive and welcoming to me on my own musical journey and I am grateful to him for that, and secondly he has used one of my photographs on the CD. But having said that I love this album. I was lucky enough to be at the first launch concert at the Feakle Festival and got my copy there. More on that concert later.

Páraic’s playing of the banjo is a revelation the first time you hear it, and a wonderful advertisement for the much maligned instrument. The first thing that strikes you is his gentle tonality and the unadorned clarity of his music along with his steady pace where the musicality takes precedence.  There is always a wonderful rhythm and pulse that is hypnotically engaging.    Primarily a session player he surrounds himself with players with a similar musicality. A lover of small sessions where each musical layer can be clearly heard and contributes to the whole and where he explores unusual keys and instrumental pairings. I have had many memorable experiences listening to Páraic.  Who could forget a session with Cormac Begley in A-flat at Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, in 2015 I think, that lasted 11¾ hours? Or in Friels in Miltown Malbay, during Willie Week. There is a generosity in his playing that comes out when he is sharing with like-minded players.

If that feeling was what Páraic was trying to capture in this album then he has been wildly successful. Much of it is recorded in Pepper’s Bar at Feakle and I was lucky enough to be there for one of those recording sessions. For this album Páraic has involved many of his most recent sparring partners. And that’s when his playing shines. Whether it is the sublime fluidity of Claire Egan’s fiddle or viola or the insistent rhythmic pulse of Cormac’s bass concertina or the wonderful ensemble playing of Graham Gueren, Colm Murphy, Noel O’Grady and Libby McCroghan, Páraic’s banjo is there at the heart of it. Crisp, clean and simple. No distractions. It’s all about the tune. He also plays to great effect with his brother Mac Dara and sister Sinéad and in a tribute to his roots, honours his father Séan by revisiting one of his songs. But there are a few tracks where he is on his own, and this is where his mastery comes to the fore.  He plays with just the subtle and supportive bouzouki of talented young Waterford player and instrument maker, Macdara Ó Faoláin or the gentle guitar of Terence O’Reilly.

The tune selection is fantastic. Really, really good.  Many are familiar, some not, but they always come up fresh with Páraic’s playing approach or with his local versions or the unusual key selections.  Sometimes it ensnares you and you just don’t want the track to end.

The CD itself is brilliantly presented with a comprehensive and informative book integrated into the cover. Paraic’s musings on his musical journey and influences reveal a man who writes as well as he plays. And I found the thoughtful and well researched tune notes by Graham Guerin added considerably to my listening enjoyment.

The concert to launch the album was held in the marquee at the back of Pepper’s Pub during the Feakle Festival. Gracing the stage were (almost) all the musicians who played on the album.  With the wonderful bonus of a guest spot from Martin Hayes who spoke eloquently of Paraic’s music and its East Galway roots and the connection with East Clare.  Having all this amazing music served up to us in a venue packed with appreciative fellow musicians, had me salivating!

So on the drive from the concert to my home at Quilty, a drive of well over an hour, I listened to the album.  Such a generous slab of music reflects the man.  Eighteen tracks took me to my front door!. And I listened again the next morning . This time on a good sound system. Just beautiful.  And it hasn’t come off the player since.

How could I fail to love this music.  It has truly captured the spirit that Páraic engenders when he shares his music making with his fellow musicians.  Now he has shared it with us.  We can all sit in.

Not before Time. 

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Macdara Ó Faoláin, Paráic, Claire Egan and Terence O’Reilly

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Paráic Mac Donnchadha

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Macdara Ó Faoláin and Paráic,

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Macdara Ó Faoláin

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Terence O’Reilly

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Macdara Ó Faoláin, Paráic, Mac Dara Mac Donncha and Terence O’Reilly

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Paráic Mac Donnchadha, Mac Dara Mac Donncha

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Paráic and Claire Egan

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Claire Egan

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Claire Egan

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Martin Hayes launches the CD

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Paráic and Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Noel O’Grady, Paráic, Graham Guerin and Colm Murphy

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Colm Murphy

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Noel O’Grady

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Graham Guerin

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Martin Hayes and Cormac Begley

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Paráic and Cormac Begley

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Cormac Begley

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Cormac Begley

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Libby McCroghan

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Sinéad Nic Dhonncha

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An appreciative audience.

Categories: Festivals, 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

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

Achill Island – a story of butterfly collections, Jehova’s Witnesses and old postcards.

During late July I spent a week on Achill Island in the west of Co Mayo. My reason for being there of course was music, a Summer School called Scoil Achla. This was my third time and I have spoken at length about it in my previous blogs. Indeed raved about it, so I won’t repeat that here. Just type Achill into the search box!  This time though I didn’t attend classes and to say I needed a break after the summer touring would be putting it too mildly. This was the perfect place to spend time away from the music but to have it on tap at the same time. At least that was my intention.

After my previous visits I thought I knew Achill. But what I discovered here was another Achill, not the one I had written about before. Oh that was all here too, the wonderful music and the undeniable beauty of this place as a Summer holiday destination.  So let’s get that over with.  Here are some shots that showcase Achill Island.  Hopefully you will hop onto the internet, book your accommodation and plan your trip as soon as possible.  But before you do read on……

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This time I got to know the people.  I met some genuine Achill characters, people that shape the place now and reflect where it has come from.  In particular there was John O’Shea, quintessentially Ireland and quintessentially Achill. A more delightful person you will struggle to meet. He lives in the appropriately named “Beach House” and he welcomes you to his house with his whole being. Never short of a quip, or a quick riposte, or a yarn he would entertain and educate for hours given the chance. I was introduced by a friend and we connected straight away. He has a passionate interest in the history of Achill and collects photos, postcards, books and ephemera relating to this. This parallels my own interest in the early history of the Goldfields of Western Australia as well as our similar collecting interests.

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So I spent quite a bit of time in his home as he generously allowed me to view his collections and we swapped stories.  He talked of the original settlement and the sale of the Island to the Rev Nangle and the establishment of the first village. Paintings by Alexander Williams and postcards dating  from 1903 to the First World War speak eloquently of an Achill which though much has disappeared is readily identifiable today. IG3C4770IG3C4778

One story that stuck with me was of a cruel landlord. Many of his tenants were killed in a tragic accident that took 25 lives. Because these families had lost their breadwinners and could not pay the rent they were evicted. This was 1847! in the height of the famine. He showed me a wooden bowl and a spoon made of horn, from this time, used to eat soup. This puts stories like this into harsh reality.IG3C6257

John is a truly charming man with a great line of patter and is quite one with the ladies. He is legendary for inviting visitors to the island to view his ‘butterfly collection’.  So for his 77th birthday his many friends on the island got together and created a butterfly collection for him. Each butterfly is cleverly designed to tell a story and is an individual work of art and he now proudly displays his ‘real’ butterfly collection.IG3C4755IG3C4744

He is also a man of spirit, a spirit I suspect comes from a harsh life in a remote place. He single handedly appealed a decision of his home insurers following their refusal to pay for storm damage and has taken it all the way to the High Court where he has tasted victory against the whole legal system railed against him. What we would call an Aussie Battler.

A lasting memory for me was of how he handled a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at his front door. They arrived moments after me so I was standing in the foyer listening. There was a father and his daughter. Two other daughters in the car if they needed the heavy artilery. They said they were from Germany but initially didn’t say what they wanted. The man’s first question to John was whether he had a God. A man of faith, John answered he did. “Does your God have a name?” John was well aware where they were headed and he dodged around the answer, quoting passages from the Bible, which completely threw the evangelist’s well rehearsed patter. The man was searching for passages to respond with on his tablet (that’s the android version not one of stone!) but was not able to recover. At the same time he charmed the daughter with handshakes and blessings and she could do nothing but smile. He had them on the ropes now as he asked whether they were Jehovah’s Witnesses knowing full well they were. When they affirmed, “Yes”, he said, “I have read the Watchtower and I think you have a different view of God to me”.  As the man tried to fight back then came the knock-out punch. “I’m so sorry I don’t have time to talk with you, my Australian cousin is here”.  I bet they don’t meet many like that.

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There were so many highlights of my time on Achill. Here are a few that randomly jumped into my brain

  • Having a sean nós dancing lesson in one of the local pubs, from Pauline, a local artist and then being joined by some random punters for an impromptu performance.

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  • Fired up by this I then did two proper sean nós dance workshops offered by the School. Thanks Pauline for dragging me along.

  • And then a bit of a dance on Keel Beach.IG3C6400
  • The Red Fox Gallery and Press and Frances and Antic-Ham who run it. Two people in such obvious harmony and in harmony with their special place over looking Doogart. Francis collects polaroid cameras and they produce the most stunning Polaroid photography and art in book form.IG3C5493

  • A walk on Keem Beach, one of the most beautiful in IrelandIG3C4870IG3C4910aIG3C5206

  • The constant mist that hangs over the hills; lifts like a dancer lifting her skirt and just as quickly letting it fall.  And occasionally she puts on a spectacular show in the evening light.  IG3C4617IG3C5555IG3C5469IG3C6091IG3C5549IG3C6301IG3C5313

  • Impromptu sessions in quiet pubs.

  • Noisy sessions in packed pubsIG3C5411IG3C5410IG3C5414IG3C5349

  • A lovely vegetarian meal with my new friends at Pauline’s house with views over Keel and then songs and tunesIG3C6282IG3C629413918672_10153802382657634_1999679985_o

  • Hot soup in the Beehive CaféIG3C6106

  • the labyrinth at the end of Keel beach. Mirroring the twists and turns of life and our endeavours to reach the centre.  IG3C6442IG3C6430

  • The evening light turning the cliffs yellow and red and reflecting on the shallow strand.IG3C6321IG3C5908IG3C5920IG3C5930IG3C5947

  • Fish and chips for my birthday at Geilty’s Pub. The best I have tasted in Ireland.  And at the same meal, my introduction to banoffee!

  • Nutella and banana pancakes sold from a caravan at the camping ground at Keel. No pictures sorry.  Too busy scoffing them down.
  • The sound of Paul Dooley’s Brian Boru harp,  Absolutely entrancing to all ages….IG3C5685a

  • Brendan Begley singingIG3C5579

  • Sessions in the Wave Crest Hotel, which only opens for the Scoil Acla week.IG3C5595

  • The Richview Hostel and the many international visitors who inhabited it

  • A swim in Keel Beach with Bridge and Siofra. Everyone else was wearing wetsuits! Still can’t believe I did that.13879371_1016935231760452_1295093538081463806_n

  • And I was still talking to Bridge afterwards so it was pizza with them at Pure Magic CafeIG3C5545

  • A visit to the workshop of Johnny Butler who took the time to show me how Uilleann pipes were made. A true craftsman.

  • A couple of hours at the Inishbiggle Festival including tunes in the tent and skipping rope.

Actually there’s a whole lot more but that gives you the gist.  I have said enough.  If you have lasted this long then you deserve a medal.  Achill is a special place and a special time.

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

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉirean. Ennis 2016

I usually don’t do diary-type blogs.  But for the Fleadh in Ennis I will make an exception. This is essentially a rehash of my daily posts on Facebook but many of my blog followers are not on Facebook so I am repeating it here for you. Apologies to those who have read it before.

August 13th 2016.  Day 1

Just the beginning…  The first night of the Fleadh for me was at PJ Kelly’s Pub.  Mental. Pub was packed by 9:30 for the regular Saturday session with room for only half a dozen musicians. Great craic but I can only guess what it will be like later in the week.

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August 14th, 2016.  Day 2

I’ve said this before, but what happens outside a festival can be as good as being there. This night was a completely different chilled out experience with songs and tunes at one of my favourite haunts, Cornerstone Bar Lahinch. With Eoin O’Neill, Brid O’Gorman, Willie Cummins, Noirin Lynch, Lorraine Battersby and Luka Bloom seeking respite from the mayhem.

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August 15th, 2016.  Day 3

There is a great buzz in Ennis and today I felt it for the first time. It was a glorious sunny day and the town looked a treat. Streets adorned with bollards. Ha. No seriously; shops were painted, there were window displays everywhere, some pop-up shops selling music stuff and there were people on the street. I went to a concert in glor with Christy McNamara, Yvonne Casey and Eoin O’Neill.  Great music. Narrowly missed Martin Hayes, doing a spot for FleadhTV, looked in at Knox’s, played some tunes at Cruises with Denis Liddy and family, Brid O’Gorman, Lorraine Battersby, Caoilfionn Mooorhead, Veronika von Ruden and Kathleen Bremer and listened to The Fiddle Case in the Sanctuary. In the process I wandered around town and caught a bit of the vibe. Like a street carnival.

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August 16th, 2016.  Day 4

The sun beckoned; so today I ended up on Lahinch Beach with my Fleadh houseguests from Czech Republic (Iva and Tereza) and from Germany (Katherina). It was a very high tide and the sea was rough and smashed against the rocks. The red flag was flying so there were just a few mad surfers in the water. I now see why Lahinch brings the surfers. We found a patch of sand near the river mouth and I ended up in the water for my second swim of the summer. Hardly the sun bronzed Aussie but it was a perfect tonic. Eventually we ended up in town for Supermacs and to catch the last of the evening light. Crowds are bigger today and the buskers have hatched. They are everywhere. Then the rain came around 930 and scattered them and the pubs filled. It was tunes at Cruises again and then we ended the night with Los Paddys de las Pampas. Thanks Lorraine for dragging me onto the dance floor. I hope the bruises have recovered. There’s no doubt about where this Fleadh is being held. Ennis is writ large. Thanks to Tereza for the photos with me.

 

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August 17th 2016, Day 5.

Stayed away from Ennis today but not away from the music. My cottage was filled during the afternoon with the fiddle and pipes of house guests Haley Richardson  and Keegan Loesel from New Jersey in the States practicing for their Competition spots. Keegan had entered eight! JC Talty would have been very pleased. And in the evening a very special session at Duggan’s at Spancil Hill where Haley and Keegan and I joined in with Yvonne Casey, John Weir, Christy McNamara and a few other lucky people. There were some some gorgeous songs and a sean nos dance from Kristen, another visitor from Boston. Back into the mayhem tomorrow.

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August 18th, 2016.  Day 6

Every day is different, Today started with threatening weather and a battle with the Fleadh traffic. Eventually I found a park miraculously two minutes walk from town but it still took half an hour to get through the throng at 3.30 to the Tune Challenge organised byBoston-based Tommy McCarthy. We were supposed to play Humours of Tulla but we played some reels and barn dances and listened to some songs and then just as we were all ready to launch into it the  rain came. Ten minutes later it was fine again. Oh well. This is Ireland. Then I had the most fabulous time dressing up in ridiculous clothes and rehearsing for the Chapel Gates Wren Boys gig (All Ireland Champions you know) and then on to the Gig Rig at 9pm for the absolute highlight for me, of the Festival. What a thrill playing in front of the jam packed street. Many thanks to all the wonderful people who allowed me to participate. Too many to thank but in particular Grainne Fennell and Joan Hanrahan.  Thanks also tomy friend from Boston, Kristen, for grabbing my camera and taking some amazing shots. The street party continued until late in the night as the rain held off. Even the security guards were getting into the silent disco!

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August 19th, 2016.  Day 7.

At the heart of the Fleadh is the All Ireland Competition. It’s why Comhaltas started the whole thing back in the 1950s. Today I went to the Fiddle Competition. I watched extraordinarily talented kids perform with aplomb in the Under 15s, with my house guest from South Jersey in the US, Haley Richardson coming in second. And then second again in the Slow Air. Congratulations Haley. Amazing playing. There were sessions everywhere like at Nora Culligan’s with Claire Egan, Jack Talty and Paraic Mac Donnchadhna and  Friends but try finding a seat! Dodging the showers I settled in for the night at PJ Kelly’s with Eileen O’Brien and Deirdre Mc Sherry etc. Great tunes in a great pub. The picture of the lad with the massive trophy is of William who had just won the U15 Mouth Organ!

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August 20th, 2016.  Day 8.

No tunes for me today. Just caught the end of the Under 15 Ceili Band Competition. Absolutely jam packed tent. Congratulations to winners Tulóg Ceili Band from Tulla. Up the Banner! Another showery day but the music continued in the pubs and on the street, in tents, in a caravan at the back of the Old Ground Hotel and even in the shops where I stumbled on the Toyota Ceili Band from Japan. The ferrets were captivated. The crowds were a real challenge and by 9pm many pubs had closed their doors and just weren’t letting anyone else in. So I settled into a corner of Cruises with some new friends and enjoyed the party until the small hours. A quiet day tomorrow? Maybe!

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August 21st, 2016.  Day 9.

Wet, wet, wet. So not a lot of time on the streets today. I spent the afternoon checking out the merchandise tent (been there, done that, got the t-shirt) and catching some of the sean nos dance competition. Class. The evening I headed to Miltown Malbay in the pouring rain for a concert by the Tulla Ceili Band. Except it wasn’t a concert it was a mini-ceili. With a few guest acts. This was such a wonderful contrast to the streets of Ennis and very few of the Fleadh visitors made the trek. This was real. No need for the whoop-whoop of FleadhTV. I even got up and danced the Siege of Ennis (appropriate?) A first for me. Then a mighty session at Friels Lynch’s with Joanie Madden and couple of the other Cherished Ladies and Haley Richardson.  I like to think of this Fleadh as a Plum Pudding. A great big blob of delicious sweetness but with explosive surprises dotted through it. This was one of those plump little raisins……..

Thanks to Kristen and an anonymous punter for the last two photos.

 

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August 22nd, 2016.  Day 10

The Final Fling!

Monday was such a glorious day of sunshine I didn’t make it in to Ennis until 6.00pm. After saying goodbye to my Fleadh houseguests, Donn and Haley and Lynette and   and Keegan, the afternoon was spent on the shoreline at Caherush but I needed just one final fling. So I headed to town. It was quieter on the streets but the pubs were still doing a roaring trade until the rain returned and Ennis regained some semblance of normality. I played a bit in Nora Culligan’s before doing a final wander and returning home well sated.

Some final words. There is something different about a Fleadh in your own home town. I enjoyed it so much more than Sligo. This was a truly unique week. OK I didnt play much and I went to very few concerts but just being part of something like this was enough. Despite the occasional cold and wet there was warmth and welcomes everywhere. It didn’t matter that you couldn’t move in the pubs or get a seat. Everyone was here to enjoy themselves and they did.  This is the natural home of the Fleadh.

See you next year. And 2018?

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Sometimes it’s not the destination.

I love the Summer in Ireland.  Not because of the weather, obviously although as I write this 28 degrees is predicted for Drumshanbo and the Irish Met Office has issued a Yellow Weather Alert for the heat!  No, it’s Festival road trip time. From early June to the end of August I am hardly at home.  There’s Dungarvan in Waterford, Doolin Folk Festival, the Spiddal TraidPhicnic, Willie Week of course, Tubercurry, Drumshanbo, Achill, Glencolmcille Fiddle Week, Feakle Festival and the Fleadh.  At least this year the Fleadh is close to home in Ennis.  It’s an exhausting time but there is time for rest in there at places such as Achill.  I have attended classes in the past at all of these places but for now I just go to the odd workshop or find a quiet place for some tunes until the mayhem of the evenings.

But of course as I have said before sometimes the most enjoyable parts of Festivals are the this things that happen around them.  Including the journeys.

A case in point.  As Tubbercurry wound down I was inundated with requests for lifts from visitors wanting to go on to Drumshanbo.  I could have filled the car twice.  This year I found myself in the company of three delightful ladies.  Miki from Japan and Stephy from Switzerland, regular travellers to Ireland for the dancing  and tunes, and first timer Julia also from Switzerland.

I love their stories.  The passion for the music, their discovery of the Irish tradition in far away places and their pursuit of it in both their homelands and Ireland.  They become part of the Irish scene as they are welcomed back year after year to renew musical connections. 

So here I  was heading out of Tubercurry for what should have been a short one hour drive.  The price of travelling with me though is that you can expect a short one hour drive to be anything but. this time I had three willing partners.  We stopped at the old churchyard at Gurteen and at the impressive ruins of Boyle Abbey.  I managed to convince the attendant that the Japanese and Swiss girls were my daughters and he let us in on the Family ticket.  Of course he knew they weren’t.  The quiet ambience there was disturbed by the three girls performing a sean nos dance they had just learned to the strains of the Battle of Aughrim.  I dout if the Monks would have approved and we fully expected to be shut down but we were in fact welcomed by the Administration and patrons alike.    

This day was full of surprise as summer fleetingly arrived to provide blue skies as  a backdrop.  I’ve said it before and I never refuse an invitation and this time the day ended with us being joined by Satoshi from Japan at the end of a remote boreen near Carrick-on-Shannon at the house of one of Stephy’s dance friend’s for a magnificent three course banquet with, believe it or not, a choice of beef or fish for main followed by a house concert and session. 

And then normal transmission was resumed with tunes in one of the local pubs in Drumshanbo until 3 am.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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, https://singersongblog.me/2015/06/04/dungarvan-tradfest-and-danu/  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.

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It’s a long, long way from Alburquerque to Clare

I hope you don’t mind me telling this little story.

I was busy doing what I do, juggling the camera and the fiddle, at a café session on Tuesday, 24th May at the Fleadh Nua. Session leaders were Cyril O’Donoghue and Blackie O’Connell. These Café sessions are a tradition now and for me one of the highlights of this festival. During a break I was approached and asked “You’re not that blogger are you?” After establishing which blogger she meant, Jeanne went on to say I was the reason she was here in Ennis at the Fleadh Nua.  She was here with three of her four nieces, all musicians, and other assorted family all the way from Albuquerque, New Mexico. A mini-bus full of them.  She filled me in on the story. They had been searching for information on Festivals in Ireland and google directed her to my blog on Fleadh Nua from 2015. What they read and saw there was enough to convince them to come to Fleadh Nua and Ennis.

They managed only one day there in a hectic short trip but, for sure, they made the most of that day. Joining in enthusiastically with Cyril and Blackie and doing a duet there with fiddle and bodhran and later singing a wonderful version of Orphan Girl at Frank Custy’s afternoon session. Following that with a mesmerising version of The Sally Gardens. Their fresh, energetic sound and gospel-like harmonies was warmly received.

I was grateful to meet Jeanne, Natasha, Evelyn and Gabrielle and the other travellers and more than humbled that my blog touches people such as them all around the Irish Music world.

That’s why I blog. Thanks guys.

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

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