Posts Tagged With: celebration

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

Irish Celebration. Music at the Heart of it.

Maybe I live in an unreal world but I went to two events in the past week which have highlighted for me the hugely important place traditional Irish music has at the centre of Irish culture and celebration.

One was a funeral and one was a birthday party.

For a birthday party fair enough, but you may think ‘celebration’ is a strange choice of word for a funeral.  Let me try and explain.

All of Ennis and the broader Clare and Irish Music communities were saddened by the untimely death of Dympna O’Sullivan.  A noted concertina player and stalwart of the Ennis music scene, I met her briefly and played in a couple of sessions with her last year.  You could not fail to like her and to be inspired by her playing.   I attended her funeral mass at Lissycasey on Sunday 22nd November.  I had not been to a Funeral in Ireland and, though I knew they were a big part of the Irish fabric, I was unsure what to expect.

What I saw when I arrived was a village choked with cars and the spacious church filled to capacity.  Family and friends included many musicians and many brought their instruments.    The traditional mass was interspersed with not-so-traditional traditional Irish Music.  And it made for a wonderful service at times moving and reverential and then stirring.  This brings me back to the ‘celebration’ word.  Yes it was truly a celebration of a wonderful joyous musical life and there was no incongruity in the long line of mourners queuing to pay respects to the relatives while friends and fellow musicians played spirited jigs and reels.  At least thirty musicians played in the packed church and their contribution made for a unique send off.  Later at the graveside a solo accordion player from the village played a haunting air which lingered in the cool crisp winter air.  I can’t think of a better way to remember a life.

The other event was a 60th birthday party for Christy Barry.   Christy is one of Ireland’s most respected flute and whistle players.  He spent much of his life in the States but for some time has lived back home in County Clare.  His birthday party filled the function room in Fitz’s bar in the Hotel Doolin with family coming from all round the world.  This was more than a birthday party though. The gathering was an excuse for a mighty session.  The word was out and upwards of forty musician friends of Christy’s turned up.  The music continued with hardly a break from around 8 until I left at 1.30 am.  Christy was at the centre of it driving many of the sets whether he was on the flute, whistle or spoons. At the same time he found the time to welcome and embrace every new arrival.  The session ebbed and flowed as musicians came and went.  One minute Christy was leading a set with half a dozen whistles and flutes.  Then the fiddles took over, including James Cullinan, Joe Rynne, Michael Kelleher and Paul Dooley, and then there was a duet with Christy and John King and then there were forty musicians belting out Lucy Campbell.  There were songs interspersed and of course some impromptu dancing.  This was true craic.  Christy also formally received his delayed Lifetime Achievement Award from the Doolin Folk Festival to rousing applause.  A well-deserved accolade.

As I said Irish music was at the centre of both events.  This was not a pub session or a concert  or something laid on for the tourists but this was real; an integral part of life and living.

I really don’t have the words this time to explain the connection adequately.  Maybe these photos from Fitz’s will help.  But you have to experience it to understand.

 

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

St Patricks Day in Ennis. Fifty Shades of Green.

My first St Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

It has always been something I have avoided in Oz. An excuse for all and sundry to parade themselves as being Irish (whether they are or not) fuelled by green beer and endless renditions of Wild Rover and the Fields of Athenry. Not always a pretty sight. And sessions on St Pats Day are non existent as every person who can hold a fiddle or accordion is gigging somewhere that night. So I was keen to find out what it was like back here.

St Patrick’s Day honours the death of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, in 461 and it is celebrated as a national holiday in Ireland and Northern Ireland and around the world by the Irish diaspora. It has moved from being a religious holiday to a day of secular celebration much to the chagrin of the church. I like this quote from Father Vincent Twomey who wrote in 2007, “It is time to reclaim St Patrick’s Day as a church festival without mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry” and concluded that “it is time to bring the piety and the fun together.” This plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

March 17th was a glorious sunny day in Clare so I headed into Ennis. The place was decorated with bunting and flags in preparation for the Parade, which kicked off at 11.00. Parades are a big deal here and every town and village has one. Not as big as Dublin of course which is now supposedly beats that in New York but definitely not as small as the one in Dripsey in Co Cork (which celebrates the fact that it has the shortest parade in the world – 100 yards between the village’s two pubs).

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They are often staggered so the limited number of brass bands and prime movers can rotate between the villages. Community groups and schools go to a lot of effort and there are prizes for the best float or display. And everyone dresses up, with green of course being the dominant colour. At least fifty shades of green. Somehow it’s not tacky as it tends to be in Australia. It is the Irish celebrating their Irishness. So I saw nothing incongruous in leprechaun beards and green wigs as I might have in Australia if worn by Australians.

The other thing that struck me as the Parade moved past me was that just as in Australia now, Ireland is a multi-layered society and a quick flick through the photos shows groups with a diversity of ethnic identities. There is a strong representation of support groups for people with special needs. It was quite a window into what is important to the people of Clare. The whole thing is very much a family day and this spilled over into the pubs and restaurants with family groups continuing the celebrations as others geared up for a big night.

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I had heard there would be tunes all day at Cruises so at 1:00 I joined Eric and Hugh Healy with Brian O’Loughlin and Catherine for some great tunes.  Energetic and fast – great fun. Accompanied as we were by a young lad who practiced his dance steps continuously for well over two hours! Gradually the families left the pub and by 4 pm there was a change in musicians to Eoin O’Neill and Quentin Cooper and friends.  The pub was rapidly filling up but at 6:00 I decided to head back to Friels at Miltown Malbay where there was a session in full swing when I arrived with with Damien O’Reilly, Caoilfhionn Ni Fhrighil, Eamonn O’Riordan, Brian Mooney and Thiery Masur .  The pub was packed like I haven’t seen it since Willie Week and there was plently to like about the music. At 8.30 it wound up and my next stop was Liscannor where Ennis band Los Paddys de las Pampas were playing at Egans.  I have to say I had never heard them before and wasn’t sure what to expect – Ireland meets South America?  But with talent like Adam Shapiro and Kirsten Allstaff involved it had to be good.  And what a great night.  The music was surprisingly infectious and even a boring old fart like me was up on the dance floor bopping along.  There were some great cameos from Clara Buettler and two flamenco dancing sisters (can’t remember their names) and then Lenka Hoffmanova took to the floor looking resplendent in her dress of orange white and green.  Flamenco meets sean nos!  Great stuff!

Now that was how St Patricks Day should be celebrated.

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Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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