Sessions

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

A Musical Week in Clare, Ireland

I have lived for the past 2½ years on the coast near Spanish Point in County Clare. There has been a constant stream of visitors during this time. Some were family, some good friends but some were strangers. Some stayed for a night, some for more than a week. All leave as life long friends.  I have hosted 76 guests, many more than once.

They are all people I meet through music, or the music session, or during my travels in Ireland. They have come from Ireland, Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, United States, UK, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Denmark and Czech Republic and each has a story. Every single one of them has enriched my time here and it has been a joy to have met, enjoyed their company and shared a shared passion for things Irish.

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French Windows

 

Just last week I hosted three wonderful friends, Julie, Romain and Anna from Carcassone in the south of France. Of course we played tunes, that’s what they came for, but we cooked, imbibed, sampled cheese (sorry, fromage!), and exchanged stories.

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The sun came out on the last day.  Lunch on the porch.

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Cheese, wine and bread from Carcassone.  View from Caherush. 

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It didn’t matter that it rained. I am grateful that we were able to experience an ideal slice of Clare music and musicians in the week they were here. This is what is so special about this place. So many memorable moments, but come next week and it will be the same, but completely different.

So many highlights. Sunday. A pub session in Miltown Malbay at Hillery’s with Conor Keane and Jackie Daly firing on all cylinders, Julie and Romain brought some elegance to the proceedings as they danced a mazurka, French style. Monday.  Fitz’s Bar in Doolin, Tuesday. The cosy Cooley’s House in Ennistymon. On Wednesday a trip to Ennis – a chilled out session at Brogans did little to prepare my guests for the madness of Moroney’s in Ennis where the victorious young Clare hurling team were in full voice and there was some fiery sean nos style dancing from Canada, US and Ireland. A visit to the Burren Thursday and sharing some tunes stories, songs and poems in the kitchen of the irrepressible Oliver O’Connell . And they joined in on my regular Thursday house session with some local West Clare musician friends. The craic went until 4am.  Situation normal.  Oh and what a way to finish! A phalanx of pipers led by Blackie at the Friday Piping Heaven Piping Hell session in Ennis.

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Sunday.  Jackie Daly, Conor Keane and Dave Harper at Hillery’s Bar in Miltown Malbay.

 

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Sunday. A French mazurka in an Irish pub.

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Monday.  Tunes in Fitz’s Doolin.  Photo Anna. 

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Monday.  Fitz’s

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Tuesday.  Cooley’s House.  Ennistymon.  Photo.  Anna.

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Wednesday.  Eoin O’Neill, Brid O’Gorman, Jon O’Connell.  Brogan’s Ennis

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Wednesday.  Anne Marie McCormack, Marcus Moloney and a member of the young Clare hurling team.  Moroney’s Ennis.

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Thursday.  Joining Oliver O’Connell in his kitchen.  Photo Anna.

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Thursday.  House session at Caherush.  With John Joe Tuttle, Ciaran McCabe and J-B Samazan. 

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Friday.  Piping session, Blackie O’Connell, Tom Delaney and friends.  O’Connell’s Bar, Ennis,

 

For me these musical experiences are enhanced immeasurably when I am joined by those who approach the music with the same ardor as me. It is my privilege indeed to host such people.

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New friends.

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Blue and green. 

 

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Glenties and the Blue Stack Mountains; The beating heart of Donegal fiddle music.

I hadn’t planned on going to Glenties. Don’t get me wrong it’s a delightful place in the west of Donegal set in mountainous country and its lovely leafy village setting is a surprising contrast to the treeless wild of this part of the world.

I had just spent a wonderful week of music at the Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair (a winter school for traditional music at Gweedore) and was ready to go home. It was the last night and the final session was coming to a natural exhausted conclusion. I was saying my goodbyes when Sile Friel of the renowned Glasgow/Donegal based Friel Sisters asked if I was interested in attending a session the next night. This is how the conversation went.

Sile        “I’m trying to organise a session with a few of us and the Campbells at Glenties”

Me         “Um. Who are the Campbells?”

Sile        “You’ve never heard of them? Jimmy and Vince are fiddling royalty up here”

I felt embarrassed by my ignorance. But my interest was of course piqued and my travel plans instantly changed.

Next morning I headed south taking a detour to the Glengesh Pass (between Glencolmcille and Ardara), which ironically I had visited earlier in the year on a miserable summer day in stark contrast to this glorious winter’s day. Well worth the detour.

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Glengesh Pass.  On a sunny day in the middle of winter.  January 2017

 

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Glengesh Pass.  The same view on a foggy day in the middle of summer. August 2016

 

But my main objective was a little pub a few kilometres from Glenties in the middle of the Blue Stack Mountains.

I spent the afternoon discovering the Blue Stacks, also known as The Croaghgorms. It is the most significant mountain range in Donegal, separating the north from the south. Typical bare, rounded hills with the characteristic remote wilderness feel to it that makes Donegal so appealing. The special winter russet colour which takes on a red tinge when the sun shines.  And not a tree, except the occasional pine forest.  I took random roads, which turned into random lanes and then random boreens. It was beautiful but scary. The roads were so narrow that there was no chance for two cars to pass and there was bog on either side. And being so remote there were few houses and fewer laybys. I drove in fear of meeting someone and having my reversing skills challenged over distances measured in hundreds of metres.  This world though is well off the commuter trail and the major road traffic was of the four footed kind.

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I arrived at the Glen Tavern (everyone calls it Dinny’s despite that name not appearing anywhere on the building) a respectable period before the nominated time of 7 pm. Of course I should have known better.

I had plenty of time to get to know the owners, Annie and Mary because it was at least an hour before the first patron arrived let alone musician. And then some. Of course, I was made to feel very welcome. I guess an Aussie fiddler tuning up was a bit unusual.  Or maybe it wasn’t.

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Mary and Annie.  Mine hosts at Dinny’s

 

The first surprise is that you enter the pub through a little shop. Just your basics mind you, but a shop nonetheless.

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Open for business.

 

As well as a shop and a bar it is also a residence. A door to the right took me into the now empty bar. Cosy and inviting with those corner lounges so typical in Ireland just waiting to be filled with musicians. This looked like a great place for music. But not right now.

I settled down for a chat with Mary and Annie and a glass of Jamieson and heard the stories of this place and its music. In my ignorance I had not realised that these mountains and this pub were at the beating heart of Donegal fiddle music.

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A bar with an house fiddle is my kind of pub.

 

The legendary itinerant master tinsmith and fiddler Johnny Doherty lived in these parts and played here and the Campbells (who Sile had mentioned) are a direct link to that legacy. Vince and Jimmy learnt their music from their father who played with him. Johnny had stayed with the Campbells as he had in many houses across the mountains.  I had inadvertently walked into this time capsule.

Gradually people arrived. Peter Campbell, Jimmy’s son, also a fiddler and Condy Campbell; not sure where he fitted in but he took up what looked like his regular spot in the corner and settled in for the night.

Two hours now and the musicians who were coming from Gweedore had yet to arrive. Occasional texts from the Friels advised they were ‘on their way’. But this is Ireland. Turns out they called in to visit Danny Meehan, another legend of Donegal fiddling and he wouldn’t let them go. I’m sure there’s a great story there.

So it was well after 9.00 pm when they finally arrived and then another half hour before the tunes began.

The place had gradually filled (I’m sure there were a few more Campbells among the crowd) as the pipes and fiddles took over. Joining Sile Friels on pipes and sister Clare on fiddle were brothers Fionnán and Iarlaith Mac Gabhann, from Dublin, on pipes and flute.

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Peter Campbell, Fionnan Mac Gabhann, Clare Friel, Sile Friel and Iarlaith Mac Gabhann at Dinny’s

 

The music was sensational. We were in full flight with, of course, a heavy smattering of highlands, mazurkas, flings and a waltz or two, which , for the most part, I had to sit out. We even played Donegal’s only polka. Well that was what I was told. We got the story of that tune from Condy but I have to be honest, I can’t tell you any of it because with his thick, but delightful, brogue, I didn’t get a word.

The musical visitors had decided to move on so about 11 they started to pack up ready to go. Then Jimmy Campbell arrived. That changed everything. “Just one for the road”.  Jimmy insisted that they keep playing and he just sat and listened. In that peculiarly endearing Irish way he would interject with “lovely”, “lovely”, which is surely the ultimate accolade. And it was meant.

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Jimmy Campbell watches and listens.

 

He was persuaded eventually to grab a fiddle. “I can’t play” he said wryly. “I can’t play like that”.

But he did and he could! No one joined. It was our turn to admire and just listen. He played solo and he played with son Peter.  The boys from Dublin had never been to Donegal before and I could see the reverence and joy writ all over their faces at hearing this music. I felt the same. Here was a whole world of playing I knew nothing about.

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Father and son.

 

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A good tune followed by a good laugh.

 

Of course no one left and the musical conversation continued until 1:30 am. Even the goodbyes took an hour.

I had the chance to sit and chat to Jimmy. A nicer gentleman would be hard to find. Nearly 80. He had left Donegal and lived in London much of his life but was now back home. His son Peter, born in England, followed him back. He is full of tales. A session with Jimmy is an experience. It is beyond now. Every tune has its moment. Often there are no sets. Just a single tune. We hear about where he learnt the tune or who wrote it or the story behind it or where the name came from. The tune is a window into a social history. With his words it ties us to people, time and place.

It was a special evening. Two worlds meet with both embracing each other. Music was just a facilitator for people to connect at completely different levels. A good session is more than just playing tunes together. This was a good session.

The beauty is though that I can take something away with me. On the wall is a framed musical notation of a tune, The Jack in the Tavern, written by Jimmy. It’s on my to-learn list now.

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To think that but for a chance conversation with Sile I would have missed this. That’s how it is in Ireland.

Happenstance and serendipity.

There is a music weekend every year in the Glen Tavern in September and I have marked it in my calendar already. Try and keep me away.

Hopefully I will have learnt Jimmy’s tune and a few more highlands and mazurkas by then.

.

Categories: Sessions, Stories, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Singing Circle at Kilshanny, Co Clare. Entry to another world.

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Early in November I went to my first organised singing session since I came to Ireland. I know that’s a terrible admission especially as my start in Irish music came from my interest in folk singing back in the 60s. It was from singing Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger and Ewan McColl, and then traditional Australian songs, that I discovered the original “protest” songs coming from Ireland and Scotland. Of course the fiddle sort of took over but I still love singing and squeeze the odd song into a trad session if I get the nod.  My knowledge of the singing session was scratchy to be sure and probably an entrenched stereotype.   You know; finger in the ear stuff and all 47 verses of Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor.

So when Mary Butler, proprietor of Kilshanny House near Ennistymon, asked me to come along to the once-a-month Kilshanny Singing Circle, I had no great expectations. It was certainly a world away from the Pub Trad Sessions, my natural habitat.  

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Mine hosts,  Aidan and Mary.

A crowd slowly gathered on the chilly November night. Many turned out to be singers but others were just there to listen. Indeed there were at least 25 singers (actually 24 singers and one Singer – sorry that’s an attempt at humour), some sitting in a circle as you would expect in a session but many others just hovering or sitting at the bar in relative anonymity.

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The night was masterfully run by local Ennis based singer, Noirin Lynch with a velvet glove.

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Noirin Lynch

Just an aside. It is the bane of singers in Trad sessions that everyone talks through songs. Sometimes no amount of shushing or whooshing or glass tinkling will shut up the crowd and many a great performance is lost. Not so here. Every person in the pub this Friday had come to listen or sing, so all that was needed were a few gentle reminders. To some this is not the atmosphere they want, and maybe that’s you, but that’s the beauty of Ireland. There are plenty of options; plenty of other pubs where the TV is blaring and you can turn your back to the music. But if you want to hear wonderful singers at their best in total silence then there is no better place than here.

The concept of the Singing Circle is far more democratic than the more ad hoc music session.   Noirin identifies all the singers, in the room,  sees who wants to sing and calls on them to do so at the appropriate time. Always conscious of mixing it up and giving everyone a fair go.  She is constantly roving the room looking for new additions.

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Noirin’s list

These nights of music are a celebration. For me, mainly of the incredible talent that lurks hidden in the cottages of Clare. And I have to say whatever I am exposed to another layer of the culture and performing arts in Clare it comes from deep in the soul of the people here.  Nothing special, it’s just part of their makeup.  In West Clare and North Clare I have many times seen spontaneous sean nos dances from kids of all ages up to 90,  I’ve seen sets and half sets where there shouldn’t have been room and I have heard gems and disasters of songs from people sitting quietly all night waiting to perform their party piece.

While there were many widely known singers from inside and outside Clare here this night,  the majority were just unsung (no pun intended) heroes for whom singing is just part of what they do between selling real estate, farming or driving trucks or bringing up their kids. The special guest for the night was Roisin White from Miltown Malbay (honoured with a Gradam Cheoil for singing in 2015) and she treated us to a wide range of material, strongly and beautifully delivered.  

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Roisin White

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Roisin White

There were  other visitors, Ciarán O’Maoileoin,  Aoife Caomhnach and the well known, Ann Skelton  from Dublin.  And regular Clare visitor Steve Brown from England and Jan van der Klei from Holland.

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Ciaran O’Maoileoin and Aoife Caomhnach

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Ann Skelton

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Steve Brown

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Jan van der Klei

But as I said I was most impressed with the home grown talent.  Noirin Lynch herself set the tone of the evening with the anthemic Nora Daly which she learnt from the singing of Micho Russell and Peggy Macmahon.

My name is Nora Daly from the Parish of Kilmaly

and my father is a farmer and the crossest man in Clare

If he saw you here beside me I’m in fear that he might chide me

so please go down and walk a bit before we reach the fair. 

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Noirin Lynch

Everyone sings along with this one.  In fact if you are from Clare, I bet you hummed along as you read it.    There was a preponderance of songs on subjects of local interest. I couldn’t possibly talk about each singer, so let me mention just a few. John Casey, originally from Lisdoonvarna grew up with the travellers and remembered them vividly as a child. Sixty years later he met one of them again and was inspired to write his song “The Tinker” which he sang for us.  John told me later that a cousin from Australia was the extraordinary Father Ted Kennedy who did remarkable work with the Aboriginals in Redfern. When he died in 2005, 1,500 people attended his funeral.  Interesting synchronicity there with the status of Travellers and Aboriginals. 

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John Casey

 

We had Gerry Devitt with that marvellous song about Joseph McHugh’s from Liscannor. And the delightful and much loved John Joe Scanlon from Fanore, who treated us to a wonderful bit of the, almost lost, art of lilting. 

The fantastic songs of Micheal Marrinan got an airing with  Ciarán O’Maoileoin singing Miltown to Sweet Ennistymon and The Binding Twine sung by Steve Brown complete with with prop of a roll of genuine binding twine!

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Ciaran O’Maoileoin

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Steve Brown and the Bundle of Twine

With the memory of the death of local football legend Anthony Foley still fresh there was a heartfelt and powerful recitation from Michael Scanlan of Killaloe of his own song and, further reflecting the place GAA takes in Irish culture, we had Marian Egan sing ‘Cuchulainn’s Son’  a song about Wexford hurler Nicky Rackard from it’s golden era in the 1950s. It was written by Marian’s late cousin Tom Williams.  Marian is now a Clare woman living in Kilfenora since 1997.

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Michael Scanlon

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Marian Egan

We had some delightful comic songs;  Sean Maclaghlan with  Big Bellies and Spare Tyres (though I have to say that only with some reluctance did he get the ladies to answer back with the ”spare tyres” bit)  and that old favourite, the Lottery Ticket.  from James Blackwell of Ennistymon. 

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Sean Maclaghlan

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James Blackwell

The tone of the night was best illustrated with the welcome received by newly arrived Ursula. An occasional singer from Dublin but now living in Kilshanny, she must have been surprised at the warm reception.  She was introduced around and sat down in the inner circle and coaxed into singing a couple of songs which she carried off with aplomb. What better way to welcome someone into your community than to share a song with them.

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A warm welcome

I really like the photo I captured of Ursula with a cup of tea in her hand beside a framed photo of Robbie McMahon of ‘Spancil Hill’ fame. Turns out he is Mary’s uncle.  Don’t you just love the connections in this place. I think I’ll call it The dreamer and the Dreaming

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The dreamer and the Dreaming.

And they even had room for some Aussie guy who had the cheek to sing an Irish song about a road that “runs down to the sea”.

There were of course many others and here are some more photos. Singers are difficult to photograph. Always moving unpredictably, eyes closed, bad light. I think though I have captured the mood with these shots.

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Almyn Wilson

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Joe O’Connor

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James Blackwell

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Emer Ni Mhaoileoin

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Paddy Williams from Kilshanny

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Patsy Carrucan from Fanore

Singing Circles as they are called, abound in Clare. They are generally held once a month, but you could easily attend one or two a week if you wanted. The better known ones are in Ennis and Cooraclare and there is also an excellent Sunday singing session at the Crane in nearby Galway.  So if you come to Clare and want to try something different, you can be assured of a warm welcome.

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I’ll definitely be back to Kilshanny House.

And one final word. Why is respect demanded and given for a song but not always similarly for a tune?

Categories: My Journey, Sessions, Trad Irish Music, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Protected: Tale of two sessions

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Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Trad Irish Music

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

Dungarvan Trad Fest 2016

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

 I urge you to check out my blog from last year, 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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Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Miltown Malbay. Who Needs Willie Week?

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

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

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

And isn’t that what it is all about?

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

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

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

Why I love Irish Music Festivals. Especially the ones I don’t go to.

If you’ve read any of my blog posts you will know I love Festivals.  Traditional Irish Music Festivals to be more precise.   But sometimes I like them even better if I don’t go.  Let me explain.

This weekend 1st to 3rd April in Ennis is a Festival devoted to the concertina.  Clare is of course the home of the concertina in Ireland so what better place to have it.  There is a rich tradition in both East and West Clare and many of the greatest exponents of this instrument either come from or have connections to Clare.  So as you can imagine there are plenty of visiting musicians.  In itself a weekend of concertina music is not such a big drawcard for me though I have planned to attend some of the events.  But what I love is the possibilities that sometimes get thrown up for some really wonderful collaborations.

One such of these happened on Friday night at Kilshanny House.  Kilshanny House is a rural pub located about 10 km north of Ennistymon, which itself is twenty minutes north of Ennis.  Bravely they have started a regular Friday session hosted by Eoin O’Neill.  This night he invited  the wonderful  Kinvara-based accordion player and long-time member of Altan, Dermot Byrne and when it became known that concertina and flute player, John Williams from Chicago, but once resident in Doolin, would also be there this acted as a catalyst for a number of other local and visiting musicians.  Among those sitting around the coffee table with them, giving more of the feel of a living room than a pub, was Adam Shapiro, Conor Byrne and Terry Bingham three musicians well known in Clare.  And the next generation of concertina players Dara and Sarah, joined in also.

This was a relaxed and special session.  Quite different to what was probably happening in Ennis at the same time in the  packed noisy pubs.  You could hear every note, every nuance and it was a real thrill for me to be part of.

Can’t wait for the Fleadh Ceol in Ennis.  Especially for those nights when I won’t be there.

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