Posts Tagged With: Blackie O’Connell

The Legend, the Master and the Pupil. Culture Night. Ennistymon 2016.

So, What’s an Australian blogger doing writing about Irish Culture? Well any culture really. OK Let’s get the jokes over.

What is the difference between yoghurt and Australia?         Yoghurt has a little culture

“I don’t despair about the cultural scene in Australia, because there isn’t one here to despair about.” said the dancer Sir Robert Helpmann in the mid-1960s,

And I could go on.

As of now, though I think Australians punch above their weight in artistic endeavours as we do in sport.   Hollywood and Broadway are filled with Australian actors. I hear Australian music all the time on radio and people don’t even know it is. “Oh are ACDC Aussie?” “Love that classic Irish song Band Played Waltzing Matilda” etc….

So there. I am going to talk about Culture Night here in Ireland anyway.

Culture Night this year was Friday 16th September and it is an annual fixture sponsored by the Irish Government. It’s a terrific innovation. Free events are held all around the country covering all branches of the arts. In fact 3,000 of them in 1,300 venues. I chose to spend the evening in and around Ennistymon in West Clare.



Ennistymon is a pretty town hidden in the hills at the southern end of the Burren. The town dates from the 18th century and is built around a bridge crossing of the Cullenagh River and its famed Cascades. It has always been a market town but the famine hit hard with 5,000 dying in its various workhouses in the five years from 1847.  Subsequently it prospered and is now a lively centre of commerce. The “Troubles” came to Ennistymon in 1922 when the British, in reprisal for the ambush at Rineen, near Miltown Malbay (which killed six Black and Tans), burned a number of pubs and houses.  The only troubles now are whether a bridge widening should be permitted at Blake’s Corner.

It is noted for the pretty shop fronts but as in most Irish villages and towns today the struggle for survival in rural Ireland is evident in many of the abandoned shops.

I visited an art exhibition in the Old Court House. It was an exhibition by Clare based artist Martina Cleary. There were really three exhibitions. Each with a different personality. One explored her attempt over ten days to recreate the search in 1926 in Paris by poet and author Andre Breton.  He became infatuated with a girl called Nadja and it became the subject of a book. She has created a number of panels using maps and photographs where she retraces and reinterprets the story. I loved the way she blended her own photos with contemporary photos, mainly old postcards.

This was a theme similarly explored in the exhibition of the photos of Dorothea Lange, a renowned photographer for Life Magazine, who came to Clare in 1954. Martina has revisited the places and themes to create modern versions of these images, many in black and white and many with a suitcase which was her constant companion. She has also cleverly woven her own images with historical images in a number of long collages.

I loved this exhibition. The pieces were quite eclectic and inventive in the use of multimedia, postcards, photographs, rocks, string, paper, books and found objects. One piece I particularly loved was of an open book with the words and images flowing out of it.


I can’t actually recommend you go see it because it was its last day.  Sorry about that.  but do keep an eye out for her.

I then decided to treat myself to a nice meal at Byrne’s Restaurant overlooking the Falls. I was very impressed. I am a sucker for duck and will order it whenever it is on the menu. This duck confit was one of the best meals I have had in Ireland. Well done to the chef at Byrne’s and others for keeping alive the culinary arts in remote Ireland.


On my walk back to the car I stumbled upon a street session at the market square organised by the local Comhaltas Branch. There were some familiar faces there and I was asked to join. So a quick trip to the car and I had my fiddle, trying to balance it with my camera to get these few shots. I never cease to be amazed by the quality of musicianship and dancing I keep coming across in Clare. This was a classic example of the depth of the musical culture here and how vibrant it is today.


But my main destination for the evening was Kilshanny House, so my stay was short. This is a pub on its own in the middle of nowhere just a few kilometres from Ennistymon. These sort of pubs are a dying breed and struggle to survive but fair play to owners Mary and Aidan who have promoted good food and music to attract clientele.

They would have been happy this night. Blackie O’Connell the renowned Ennis based piper and the doyen of the local piping world was hosting Davy Spillane. Davy, a master whistle and piper set the trad world alight with Donal Lunny and Christy Moore and the extraordinary sound of Moving Hearts in 1982.  He provided many solo albums and collaborations since. With massive names such as Kate Bush, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Enya, Steve Winwood and Chris Rea. And Riverdance. And that tune Equinox on Bringing it All Back Home from 1991. A huge favourite of mine and almost an anthem for me.

He lives in West Clare but rarely plays publicly now, so this was a chance to see and hear him.  Blackie and Davey were the stars, though a number of other local pipers participated. The word had got out and the pub was nicely full. I saw many fellow musicians in the audience.

From almost the first note without any fanfare you could tell this was going to be different.  It was music from another realm. Fast or slow it didn’t matter. As the night wore on Blackie and Dave entered into a special place. They sat close together, facing each other, their pipes almost physically entwining just as their sublime music did. This music came from inside them and we were allowed to witness it. It was totally absorbing and spellbinding. Energy and fire. Many times, the other musicians just stopped and listened. And then Davy would play that Low Whistle. Extraordinary sound with incredible economy of finger movement. It wasn’t just Davy though. It made you realise what a phenomenal piper Blackie is.  During a break he wowed the crowd with the full version of the Fox Chase. Barking dogs and all.


Oliver, Blackie’s dad, came over and whispered in my ear at one stage, “have you ever heard anything like this before?” And this wasn’t just a proud dad talking. I know, speaking to Blackie afterwards that it was special for him too.ig3c8775a_1ig3c8781

The two masters were joined for a couple of tunes by Kevin Nunane.  Kevin, didn’t look ten yet and is a student of Blackie’s. This is the future of piping and to have the three generations of pipers there playing was as profound an expression of the depth of Irish Culture as you will ever see. The Legend, the Master and the Pupil.


I’ll leave it to WB Yeats to have the last word

But he heard high up in the air
A piper piping away,
And never was piping so sad,                                                                                                                                 
And never was piping so gay.


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

Ennis Trad Fest 2015 – The Last Three Days

I have been remiss. Immersed as I have been in the Ennis Trad Festival I have just not found the time to sort photos and write my thoughts. Now it’s over and I have repaid some of my sleep debt I can give it some attention.  Where do I start?

Facebook has been flooded with praise for the Ennis Trad Fest so there is probably little that I can add but as many of my blog followers are not on Facebook I will record my impressions here in my blog.   And if you’re bored hearing how good the Festival was then just adopt the Playboy philosophy and skip these words and just look at the pictures.  I think you will agree they tell a story just on their own.

As someone who has been to all the major schools and festivals over the last 18 months (and a lot of the minor ones) I am often asked what is my favourite Festival.  I have avoided an answer.  Really because I have found it almost impossible to answer.  I have discussed this before in other blogs.  but every Festival gives me something to take away.  Indeed I have a love-hate relationship with many Festivals.  I can’t stay away yet the session experience is often unsatisfying.

I am reminded of Sydney in 2000 when we staged the Olympic Games .  The now disgraced Juan Samaranch proclaimed during the Closing Ceremony  “I am proud and happy, to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever.”  Well for what it’s worth, “Ennis – You have presented the Best Festival I have been to in Ireland”

There I have done it.  I’ve said it.  The Best Festival in Ireland!

I suppose I should give my reasons.  Firstly it is the best location.  Ennis in the heart of Clare is the spiritual capital of Irish Traditional music.  Ah sure, there’s Donegal and Sligo and Galway and Kerry and I know not everyone will agree but nowhere have I seen music, song and dance so deeply ingrained as part of the culture.  It bursts out everywhere, in young and old, in pubs and cafes, among visitors and locals and in players and listeners.  So if ever a festival was going to work it was in Ennis.  There are heaps of venues.  Many of the pubs are widely recognised ‘music pubs’ outside festivals such as Faffa’s, Kelly’s, Brogan’s, Cruises etc and many are large enough to accommodate the inevitable giant festival session.  There are hundreds of musicians resident in Ennis and the surrounding villages.  While tourists go to Doolin, ‘real’ musicians come to Ennis.  It is a mecca for many from overseas,  some making it their home.

You can hear all kinds of music in this town.  The classic ‘Clare-style’, whatever that is, to the fast, furious and wild.  So much choice. In fact why not hold the Fleadh Cheoil here?

Ok so it has everything going for it but of course that’s not enough.. ..

This Festival is a special experience.  It delivers on so many levels where the larger Summer Schools and Festivals and the small local ones can’t –  It is a musicians festival!  Whereas if you go to a Fleadh Cheoil the streets are packed with massive throngs of people.  Many families and tourists.  And that’s great but walk the streets of Ennis during Trad Fest and you will see crowds, but the great majority of people carry an instrument on their back.

The sessions here are at a different level.  The core of each session is usually four musicians but up to 30 may join in.  Virtually without exception the music is of the highest quality.  Something that cannot be said of Willie week or the Fleadh or Drumshanbo.  Yes there are ‘session wreckers’ of course  but somehow they don’t seem to destroy the ambience.  And you can always move on as there are so many sessions at the same time; scheduled and unscheduled.  Just have a look at the pictures and you will see the quality of musicians you can hear.

And my pet hate… pubs so noisy you can’t hear yourself or the fiddler sitting next to you and patrons so disrespectful it becomes unpleasant.  Just not a problem here.  I love to watch people while I play and there are so often smiles; or listeners with their eyes closed and those chatting do so without disturbing.  Yes there is sometimes tension as many don’t understand the unwritten rules around sessions but somehow it works itself out.

I reread my blog from last year and I’m going to repeat what I said then,  Not because I am lazy but because what I observed then is confirmed this year and I can’t really add to it.

For me the fact that this was a ‘special’ festival was apparent from the very first session on Thursday to the last note played on Monday night. In my short time here in Ireland I have made many musical friends and this Festival made me realise how important that is to enjoying the musical experience to the fullest. A music festival is not just about the music you hear or make but how you fill the spaces between the music. There was such a sense of goodwill and around the place that it was so easy to make new friends and there was not the negative influence of the, shall we say, over-excited crowds of visitors seeking a different kind of craic, that was a feature of Miltown.

I made heaps of new friends again ,  John and Maureen from the States, Isabelle from Quebec, a contingent of 25 young musicians from Sweden, Etha from Bali, probably the only fiddle player in Indonesia, Ben from UK, Angela from Germany.  And of course renewed contact with many in the real, rather than virtual, world such as Veronika, Steve, Sarah, Clare, John, Jim and Barbara, Tony and the rest of the Festival Family.

I didn’t get to many concerts this time because I wanted to play but I did see Beoga which inspired some of the most creative dancing I have ever seen, and I saw Dermot Byrne and Flo Blancke; beyone sweet! And there were some great music in CD launches – including the wonderful Claire Egan’s first CD.

But for me it was about the sessions.  Of course I can only talk about the ones I was at.  And you can’t be everywhere.  But I have to mention the first with the Lahawns (Andrew MacNamara and Friends) in Ciarans and the last in the front bar of Queens with those still on their feet at 3am on Tuesday morning.  In between my musical buttons were pushed by Yvonne Casey and Brid O’Gorman in Cruises,  Yvonne and Eoin O’Neill and Damien Werner  in Suas.  Martin Connolly, Eileen O’Brien and Geraldine Cotter in The Old Ground.  Blackie etc in the Diamond, the Clancy sisters in Copper Jug,  and some sessions not in the programme such as Monday morning at Queens with a host of international visitors and in the Rowan Tree at 4am on the Saturday morning.  And then there was time to let the hair down literally with the legendary Trad Disco and Paddy de los Pamas in Cruises.

It was the right move to get accommodation in Ennis and I really want to thank all those who made this possible for me with my current travelling limitations.  Particularly Yvonne and Steve for the lifts in and out, Lorraine for her couch, when all the hotels were full, and the organisers for delivering the Best Festival in Ireland.  You have something special here.

I particularly enjoyed photographing this event and I am very happy with some of my images despite my camera playing up and the really high ISO I needed for flashless photography.  So here goes…


Farewell and Thanks to Ennis TradFest 2015


The final session at Queens


All too much for some


It starts here.


The Ennis Bard


Part of the International Brigade


Relaxing at Suas Cafe


Kieron, do you really think you can show the master?




I love this photo


Part of the Swedish invasion


Tara Howley CD launch


Some running repairs




When Quebec meets Ireland


Interpretive Dance 1


Interpretive dance 2


Beyond sweet


there you are Alistair. A serious shot

109-51-IMG_4904 107-49-IMG_4874 106-47-IMG_4825 105-48-IMG_4851 104-44-IMG_4822 103-41-IMG_4723 102-40-IMG_4718 101-39-IMG_4714 100-38-IMG_4713 099-35-IMG_4672 098-34-IMG_4663 096-30-IMG_4638 095-28-IMG_4630 092-23-IMG_4577 090-20-IMG_4564 088-17-IMG_4487 087-18-IMG_4486 086-15-IMG_4464 085-14-IMG_4457 084-13-IMG_4435 083-11-IMG_4428 079-06-IMG_4362 078-05-IMG_4356 077-04-IMG_4353 076-02-IMG_4342 071-27-IMG_4275 070-26-IMG_4266 069-25-IMG_4262 067-23-IMG_4249 066-22-IMG_4247 065-37-IMG_4246 064-19-IMG_4240 062-20-IMG_4230 060-30-IMG_4193 059-29-IMG_4191 058-13-IMG_4182 057-14-IMG_4180 050-07-IMG_4130 049-12-IMG_4123 048-11-IMG_4116 047-05-IMG_4106 046-08-IMG_4104 045-04-IMG_4096 043-01-IMG_4075 042-50-IMG_3972 039-51-IMG_3996 038-47-IMG_3942 037-46-IMG_3939 036-45-IMG_3926 035-43-IMG_3900 034-44-IMG_3909 033-42-IMG_3890 032-35-IMG_3795 030-40-IMG_3841 028-37-IMG_3799 027-33-IMG_3762 025-29-IMG_3721 024-28-IMG_3690 023-27-IMG_3652 022-26-IMG_3612 021-24-IMG_3582 020-22-IMG_3571 019-23-IMG_3570 018-21-IMG_3546 017-20-IMG_3538 016-17-IMG_3530 015-18-IMG_3511 014-16-IMG_3503 013-14-IMG_3473 012-13-IMG_3446 011-12-IMG_3444 010-11-IMG_3435 009-10-IMG_3420 008-09-IMG_3414 007-08-IMG_3413 006-07-IMG_3408 005-05-IMG_3341 004-06-IMG_3368 003-04-IMG_3337 002-03-IMG_3323 001-02-IMG_3296

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

Ennis Trad Fest 2015 Day 1

Thursday November 5th.  The opening day of the Ennis Trad Fest for 2015.  I have decided this year to book a room at the Rowan Tree.  To be in the thick of it.  Ennis is ripe with anticipation.  Like a rehearsal for the Fleadh.  There are already sessions in the lounge of the Hostel when I arrive.

By the time the official opening   gets underway at the Queen’s Hotel the front bar is packed.  Mercifully short speeches from Blackie O’Connell, the Mayor and Ron Kavana who sang his wonderful song ‘Reconciliation’ and we were away.  Two CD launches, first by Phillip Duffy and Liam Kelly.  I had seen these guys play at Tubbercurry and bought the CD there so I headed off for some tunes.     First stop Brogans.  With Damien O’Reilly, Caoifhionn Ni Fhrighil and friends.  This quickly built up to over twenty musicians.  A great taster.  Where to next? – the perennial problem.  Tonight though I only had to choose between Siobhann Peoples at Faffa’s or the Lahawns.  I chose the Lahawns this time – and they took the roof of Ciaran’s  Pub.  The line up was Andrew MacNamara, Joan Hanrahan, Anne-Marie McCormack, Eileen O’Brien, Jim Corry two pipers plus whoever could find a seat.

From the first chord on the piano the place was hopping.  Their music was infectious and they were still going at half one when I left.  A quick walk around town and there were sessions popping up everywhere.  I spotted Tom Delaney and friends in Dan O’Connells.  And way after 2am there were still tunes in the lounge of the Rowan Tree.

This is only day 1.  Boy are we in for a cracker!

05-IMG_2548 06-IMG_2555 07-IMG_2568 04-IMG_2541 03-IMG_2539

01-IMG_2527 02-IMG_2535 08-IMG_2595 09-IMG_2610 10-IMG_2602 11-IMG_2623 12-IMG_2640 13-IMG_2706

14-IMG_2726 15-IMG_2738 16-IMG_2741 18-IMG_2759 19-IMG_2766 20-IMG_2776 21-IMG_2785 22-IMG_2806 23-IMG_2822 24-IMG_2848 25-IMG_2872

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

Sessions Sessions Sessions!

Session at The Diamond with Blackie O’Connell, Siobhan Peoples and Cyril O’Donoghue

Siobhan Peoples and Cyril O'Donoghue Fleadh Nua 2014

Siobhan Peoples and Cyril O’Donoghue Fleadh Nua 2014

Blackie and Siobhan

Blackie and Siobhan

Yvonne Casey and Josephine Marsh at Brogan's Fleadh Nua

Yvonne Casey and Josephine Marsh at Brogan’s Fleadh Nua

Siobhan Peoples and Tola Custy at Faffa's.  Final session at Fleadh Nua 2014

Siobhan Peoples and Tola Custy at Faffa’s. Final session at Fleadh Nua 2014

Yvonne Casey and Josephine Marsh

Yvonne Casey and Josephine Marsh

Mary and Scorcha

Mary and Scorcha

Session at Brogan's with Tom Delaney and Eric Healy and friends

Session at Brogan’s with Tom Delaney and Eric Healy and friends

Session at the Old Ground with Mary MacNamara and her daughter Scorcha and Geraldine Cotter.

Session at the Old Ground with Mary MacNamara and her daughter Scorcha and Geraldine Cotter.

Blackie O'Connells pipes at the Diamond Bar Ennis

Blackie O’Connells pipes at the Diamond Bar Ennis


Session at THe Copper Jug Ennis with Andrew MacNamara and Tara Breen

The momentum of the Fleadh and the buzz around Ennis built as we approached the weekend. The crowds got bigger and the sessions got better.    I went to 24 sessions during the 8 days and I can honestly say I didn’t go to one I didn’t enjoy.

The Fleadh Nua has been a terrific way to start my Ireland journey. I have been overwhelmed by the people and the music and it is everything I had expected or hoped for.  I have played with most of Clare’s top musicians and others less heralded but just as good.  I have met a lot of interesting people from Europe and the US (Hi Veronika and Holger, Thomas, Thierry, Sally Ann, Caroline, Kieran, Jessica) all with a singular passion for Irish music and all keen to learn more in their own individual way.  I have been welcomed by most her who are happy to share the music.  I have met some wonderful Irish people who drive from all over to listen to the music for the Fleadh.  They are so knowledgeable and like it that you are interested. I have watched my fiddle playing grow.  The nerves are still there when asked to start a tune but a week ago I never dreamed I would be playing alongside the likes of Siobhan Peoples, Tola Custy, Blackie O’Connell, Josephine Marsh, Mary MacNamara or Eamonn Cotter and holding my own.  Or listening to some wonderful singing from Niamh Parsons and Noirin Lynch and many others. Or the impromptu dancing of the gorgeous Lenka. The variety of approaches to the music is incredible From the driving pipes and fiddle of Blackie and Siobhan to the gentle flowing pace of Mary Mac and Geraldine Cotter and the sweet tones of Yvonne Casey’s fiddle with Josephine’s exquisite box playing.

After this concentrated week the music is starting to get into my head.  I am recognising tunes and playing along (well sort of) after a few hearings.  Whether they stick is another matter but the process of learning by ear, something I have struggled with for many years is beginning to happen for me.  What helps is that they play tunes here often five or six times, sometimes more.  It is not until the third or fourth time that you can really feel the groove and the intensity builds and the music suddenly lifts.  This is lost when the tune is only played twice.  As Josephine said when I discussed this with her during a break after a particularly satisfying set “Why stop if you’re enjoying it?”

The way music is weaved in and out of the fabric of the culture in this part of the world is revealed every night and day.  One strikes up a conversation and it soon gets to “you here for the Fleadh?” And they will proceed to tell you where the best music is.

The pleasure that musicians get playing with each other is obvious as is the respect that they seem to hold for each other.  This is reflected in the multitude of different collaboration in the many different locations. For example I have seen Siobhan Peoples play with Murty Ryan, with Blackie O’Connell and Tola Custy at different times.

The Café sessions where the music is taken out of the pubs and away from the constant pub noise reveals its soul and demands undivided attention have been an unsung highlight.

I continue to be inspired.

Categories: Festivals, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Blog at