Posts Tagged With: dancing

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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Categories: Festivals, My Journey, Real Ireland, Stories | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Music House Returns to Doolin

Though the pub session is now considered to be the customary gathering place for playing Irish traditional music it is actually a recent innovation.  Probably dating from the 50s and 60s when expatriate musicians gathered in London pubs to share the tunes they played back home.  Many returned home and the pub session took off in Ireland  and it became the centre of musical life.  Before this most music was played in the home.   Some houses would be well known as music houses and musicians, local and visitors, would gather there to share tunes or the kitchen table would be pushed aside and a set would be battered out on the slate floor.

Well known Doolin flute, whistle and spoons player, Christy Barry is trying to bring back this tradition by opening his house to guests to share his tunes and stories.  I was lucky enough to attend the one of these nights when Christy and his wife Sheila entertained 18 guests in his cosy living room and, with the help of some fiddler friends,  kept the crowd of mostly Americans enthralled for almost two hours and served some delicious local cheese, smoked salmon and a glass of wine.

Christy is a direct link to the Doolin of the 70s.  He personally knew and played  with all those whose portraits hung on his living room wall including Willie Clancy and the Russells.  And he spoke fondly of them.  Christy’s monologues between tunes could go anywhere and that is part of the charm of nights like this.  They are not scripted and you could go again on Monday and I am sure it would be very different.

The concept of the ‘house concert’ has become popular particularly in the States but also in Australia and I am sure elsewhere,  where a home owner brings an international performer into their home,  does all the organising  and the artist gets all the proceeds.  This is different.  This is Christy and Sheila sharing  their home with visitors  but the formula has all the signs of being a great success.  With initial recommendations through the B&B’s the numbers at this Good Friday event surprised Christy.  Perhaps the lack of alcohol anywhere else in Doolin (or the whole of Ireland for that matter) was a factor but I think the chance to hear Christy and friends play music and talk about his life, the people and the music was the main inducement and it will continue to draw people.

Christy was very generous in inviting people to join him for a song or dance and many stayed on afterwards to linger and chat.

It was a memorable night for those who were there and visitors to Doolin now have an alternative to packing into a noisy pub to hear Irish music. The intention is to do this three times a week, so if you are in Doolin during the Summer, check it out.



Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh 2016, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry

This is my second time at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, held in February at Ballyferriter on the beautiful Dingle Peninsular.  I said in my blog a year ago that it was one of the best and nothing has happened to change that view.

What was different though was that this year the Festival lost its funding from the Arts Council .  This was a heavy blow and there was some doubt about how the quality of the festival would be affected.   The organisers however redoubled their efforts and raised the extra money from various sources so there was no real visible evidence of the funding cuts.

it was great to catch up with the many familiar faces that make an annual pilgrimage to this Festival and the quality of the musicians attracted to the Festival remained outstanding.

The Scoil is actually two distinct events.  There is of course the school which runs for three days and finishes with the traditional performances in the Church  on Saturday at lunch time and parallel to this is concerts and events with a strong Irish cultural focus centred around the West Kerry music and dance tradition.  And there is the bonus of the sessions which are legendary.

I will say a few words about the School.  I had Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh as my tutor.  He is an inspirational character and for three days we explored the fiddle and what it was capable of.  how to discover new ways of expressing ourselves.  So many variables that come in to play and the many choices we can make in playing each note.  He has made me think quite differently about my approach.  I also had a master class from Paddy Glackin.  This was a nerve wracking experience as we were each asked to play a tune which he then proceeded to critique.  It was a bit of a buzz for me spending a couple of hours with Paddy.  His album with Jolyon Jackson, which I have on vinyl is one of my all time favourites.

I only went to a couple of events this time.  I enjoyed immensely  a presentation of songs, poetry and music which told the story of 1916 written and performed by Mike Hanrahan and Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich.   And the concert on the Saturday night was a cracker though I was not familiar with any of the acts other than Dermot Byrne and Florianne Blancke.  This led to some wonderful surprises.  The standard was incredibly high and included a virtuoso performance of Scottish fiddle from Ian MacFarlane.

Mark my words Ballyferriter is different.  It is a festival where everyone comes away happy.  Musicians, singers, dancers, listeners.  It is a festival for the locals and they embrace it and it is a festival for the loyal visitors who come year after year.  The sessions are never so crowded that you can’t find a seat and there is huge respect for the music.  The Irish language is everywhere  and many times announcers would forget (?) to translate.  It didn’t matter.  It is in a spectacular location; though other than the first Wednesday there was no sunshine until the Monday when everyone had Ieft.  More than anything else for me though, it was the quality of the sessions and accessibility of the musicians.  Leading by example the Begleys were everywhere.  Breandann, Seamus, Maibh, Cormac, Neil;  as were the headline acts who all participated.  There was no session trail and sessions popped up organically.   The four venues were all so close you could check them in a minute or two and decide where to settle.

This one is a permanent fixture on my Calendar.  We have a year to work on the Arts Council to restore funding to make it bigger and better.

Congratulations Breandann and Niamh and team.








Not everyone likes the bagpipes




Hands and hearts.  


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

Where Does the Music in Ireland go in Winter? Answer…. Fitz’s bar in Doolin.

It’s the last night of November.  I am in Doolin in West Clare.  The rain is lashing.  It’s windy and cold.  Normal Irish winter actually.  So of course the only place to be is in a pub in front of the fire with a hot whiskey or a Guinness and listening to or playing Irish music.

Well that’s the plan anyway; during the summer here in Doolin you can find music every night of the week in any of the four pubs; not so now.  All the mid-week sessions have pretty much packed up.  Except that is on Monday nights at Fitz’s Bar at the Hotel Doolin.  Every Monday night, summer or winter, for the last couple of years this session has acted like a beacon in the musical desert (sorry about the mixed metaphor).  Or perhaps an oasis in a stormy sea (there I go again!).

That’s where I ended up in any case.  It has a peculiar welcoming vibe.  The session is hosted by Eoin O’Neill, Quentin Cooper,  Adam Shapiro and Jon O’Connell who are collectively The Fiddle Case and all very well-known musicians around Clare.  They love playing together and that infectious energy is picked up by the musicians attracted there to play with them.  This night we had noted box and concertina player Terry Bingham and Christy Moore’s siblings, Anne Rynne and Luka Bloom join us as well as regulars such as Andee from the States and Séverine from France along with local and international visitors.

Walking into this pub on a Monday is like a welcome home party.  There are so many regulars, locals for which this is their only night out and visitors who though strangers at the beginning of the night may be lifetime friends by the end.  There is always a good mix here.  The tunes are of course at the centre but there will be songs, always of surprising quality, and often from unknowns that Eoin plucks from the crowd.  After thirty years of doing this in Doolin he is a master.

Always a highlight for me is when Jon O’Connell sings Liscannor Bay.  This wonderful song written by local man Mick Flynn has been made his own by John and with the subtle and restrained backing of the fiddle, bouzouki and slide guitar from the band has truly become an anthem.  The great news is that a definitive version has been recorded.  It is not yet available commercially and can’t even be heard on line but it is receiving airplay on ClareFM and wherever good traditional music is played.  Keep your ear open for it.  I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.  Even better news is that an album will be released soon with Liscannor Bay included.  Can’t wait.  I really hope it catches the spirit that is Fitz’s on a Monday night.  I am sure it will be very sought after by visitors wanting to take a little of that magic home with them.

It continues to surprise me why many pubs get rid of musicians in winter.  Fitz’s shows what you can do if you pick the right musicians and create the right vibe.  But luckily it’s not the only one.  Try Friels in Miltown Malbay on Friday, Saturday or Sunday or Cooley’s House in Ennistymon on Tuesdays or the Cornerstone in Lahinch on a Sunday if you can’t find anything in Doolin or Ennis.

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

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

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

Crotty Galvin Weekend Moyasta 2015

I returned to Garrihy’s Pub in Moyasta in the last week of August 2015.  I blogged on this last year and really nothing much has changed.

It benefits from being held in a remote part of West Clare and being off the Festival circuit map. There were quite a few visitors from other counties this time however and if anything the sessions were of better quality.  The Sunday afternoon session was particularly memorable.  How could it not be with Andrew MacNamara, Eileen O’Brien, Carmel O’Dea, Anna Falkenau, James Culinan, Noel O’Donoghue, Paul Gallagher, Geraldine Cotter and Angela Crotty among others.  The workshops were great.  A lovely hour for me with Vincent Griffin on the fiddle.  All the things I remember from last year were there.  Endless supply of sandwiches,  enthusiastic punters, dancing and relentless sessions.  A really good wind down of the Summer Festival Season.  Well done again to the organisers.   Just a few photos to tell the story.

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

Feakle Matters

Since I last posted on Willie Week I have been to schools and festivals at Tubbercurry, Drumshanbo, Achill and Feakle.  So I have a bit of catching up to do. I will start with Feakle and post on the other festivals as I have time.

As I write this, the sun is shining and the Quilty coastline looks stunningly gorgeous outside my study window. I should be out there and I will but first I need to say a few words about Feakle before it becomes too distant a memory. Does Feakle matter? (well I thought it was funny at the time – last year in a Guinness-fuelled creative frenzy the idea of a local newspaper with the name Feakle Matters popped up so it seemed logical as the heading for this blog) The answer: yes.

Feakle is an otherwise sleepy village with the four pubs and a fifth, the famous Peppers, about half a mile down the road. It is legendary as the home of PJ Hayes and his illustrious son Martin, and the surrounding villages are the home of many musicians, now and in the past, some of them icons of Irish music. On this weekend it is a one lane street choked with musical pilgrims visiting the spiritual home of East Clare music and the Tulla Ceili Band.

Feakle markets itself as an International Festival. That ‘international’ flavour comes from the hoards of overseas visitors who come specially, though there was one international act ‘The London Lasses’. The music however is pure Irish. I won’t say pure Clare, because visitors from Kerry and Sligo and Galway and elsewhere see to that, but the influence of Mary MacNamara, Martin Hayes and the legacy of Paddy Canny and PJ Hayes shines through everywhere.

There are many highlights and I can’t begin to list them. You could have done a lot worse than to just grab a seat in Peppers and stay there for the full four days. You would have heard Seamus Begley, Martin Hayes, Cliare Egan Paraig Mac Donagh, Derek Hickey Gerry Harrington, Conal O’Grada, Benny Macarthy, Andrew MacNamara, The London Lasses, Pat O’Connor, Mark Donnelan, Cormac Begley, Anne-Marie McCormack, Eileen O’Brien, Dave Sheridan, Charlie Harris, Joan Hanrahan, Brid O’Gorman, Conor Keane, Joe Fitzgerald and the rest.  What separates Feakle from the other summer schools and festivals is that people here come for the music. Yes they come for the craic and the Guinness but there is a reverence here that I didn’t find everywhere and often the music was so good that the pub was stunned into silence without the need for a chorus of ssshhhsshh’s. Peppers is one of the best places to listen to Irish music. It is intimate but there is room for both the listener and the player and there is room for the occasional set dance. Sessions at Festivals can be a mixed bag and there are always some that disappoint (I will talk about this in another blog) but here at Feakle the quality is so high that whether you play or listen you can’t fail to be satisfied.

For me. Two days of workshops with Martin Hayes and a day from an equally impressive Yvonne Casey was a major highlight. Martin spoke at length of his approach to playing and there was much wisdom. We were also treated during his class to an impromptu concert from Martin and Mary MacNamara.  Wow.  Yvonne’s workshop complemented this beautifully and I came away inspired just as a School should.  Best of all there was a tutor’s session where a privileged few of us had the opportunity to play for two hours in PJ’s Corner with Martin and his nieces Aiofe and Ciara. It was 4pm so the pub was quiet and it was sublime, respectful and not just a highlight of the festival but of my stay in Ireland.

I was also very lucky to catch up with Joe Fitzgerald. Joe lives in Melbourne with his brothers and is at the centre of the session scene there. He was making a rare visit back to his home near Feakle and I was surprised with the reverence he was held in here. We had a great chat and it turned out he was a sometime prospector and had worked the area around Kookynie in the WA goldfields where I cut my gold exploration teeth in the early 80s.  TG4 were filming him for a documentary and afterwards he joined in a session in Peppers. This session was memorable as it had Aiofe and Ciara Hayes and Amy and Sarah Donnelan and other young Feakle/Tulla musicians and amply demonstrated the continuity of the musical tradition in this part of the world. Almost like a handing over of the baton from Joe to the new custodians of this great tradition.

While on the young players, there was a tremendous opening concert with groups of local young musicians, many of whom are County and Provincial champions and will no doubt come home from Sligo as All Ireland champions. Mary MacNamara and Eileen O’Brien and all the others who put so much time into ensuring the young inherit the strong local tradition of quality dance music, with the characteristic bounce and ensure that it is played with honesty, passion and heart are to be commended and thanked.

Feakle is a great meeting place and if the weather is good there is no better place to spend time than on the benches outside Peppers. May this continue well into the future.

There’s plenty more I could say and should but I’ll just put a few pics up. I was so busy playing that I left the camera behind on a number of occasions so I haven’t caught everyone or every great moment but I think you’ll get the picture.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Doolin Folk Festival 2015. People.

A festival such as Doolin is obviously about the music. But it’s also about the people.

That people of all ages and from all parts of the planet, enjoyed themselves at Doolin is beyond question. What has been created here is an atmosphere where everyone can be part of the festival on their own terms.  Families, people who just want to listen, people who want to party.  All the little spaces around the marquee create that ambience.  You can curl up on the couch or sit around the fires or sit in the front row and hear and watch every note or just catch up with friends.  Or make new ones.  Or you can chat to the musicians that stay to listen.

When I wasn’t photographing musicians, I turned the camera in other directions. I think  I have caught some of these moments.

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Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Real Ireland, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Dungarvan TradFest and Danú

How many Festivals have you gone to recently with a line-up of musicians such as this? Connie O’Connell, Gerry Harrington, Andrew MacNamara, Eileen O’Brien, Charlie Piggott, Matt Cranitch, John Carty, Jackie Daly, Donal McCague, Sean Ryan, …… oh and Danú and heaps more. This was Dungarvan TradFest 2015 held in the Waterford town over the June Bank Holiday weekend. It’s a pity more musicians don’t make the trip to take part, because it was well worth it.

There were only a few formal functions with a free choral concert on the opening night a concert with John and Maggie Carty and the highlight, Danu’s 20th anniversary concert. In between was a gig rig with appearances from well-known groups along with local bands and wall to wall sessions. The festival coincided with the County Fleadh so it was possible to attend these competitions also. And there were events that I hadn’t seen elsewhere including a Busking Competition (for which yours truly was dragooned into being a judge!) and a Bucket Singing Competition.

It started on the Thursday with the Official Opening by the worldwide head of Comhaltas, Vince Jordan, some tunes from local young musicians and then a concert by the Cor Fear na nDeise,  a local male choir and 120 children from local schools. Aside from the spectacular achievement of coordinating this throng, the music was delightful. All in Irish and all sung with gusto. The choir led by Darren O Droma really pulled it off and to see the unbridled enthusiasm of the children performing to a packed auditorium of largely proud parents was wonderful to see.


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There was no formal session that night but I was told of a session afterwards at Lismore, an half an hour away. It was held in the appropriately named Classroom Bar and led by young musicians including All –Ireland champions, Sarah and Seamus O’Gorman. Great tunes. Fast and energetic. The session was hijacked though by locals and it became a good old Irish ‘sing song’ with one song starting almost before the other had finished. We had a plethora of old favourites and some rousing and not-so-rousing renditions. In fact we had songs sung in keys not yet invented. Nevertheless it was all sung with passion and it was great craic. It was amusing to watch the frustrated musicians waiting patiently for the tiniest gap to jump in with a tune.

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I had got a tip there may be music out at Ring. Ring (An Rinn) is only fifteen minutes from Dungarvan and on the way to to Helvic Head (I really must learn that tune). It is a small Gaeltacht area and fiercely proud of it. So I headed out there next day. After a long chat with fisherman Jack at the harbour at Helvic and a few deep breaths to recharge the batteries I headed to Mooney’s Pub where sure enough some of the best local music talent was gathered to help celebrate the end of the school term. I recognised musicians from the concert the night before including the leader Darren.. What a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon.

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That night there was a concert by John Carty and his daughter Maggie at The Local, so I got there early to take up a seat in the front row. I have always admired his playing since I met him in Perth back in a previous century. How deliciously sweet it is, with effortless bowing and a beautiful flowing rhythm, Maggie’s talented banjo playing provided a terrific counterpoint. It was gorgeous music enhanced occasionally by guest spots from Donnchadh Gough from Danu on the bodhran, who just happens to own the pub. And then the icing on the cake, they stayed around for a session with some of the young local musicians and a few others dropped in such as Andrew MacNamara. I was privileged to be part of this . Perhaps the less said about the dancing though the better.

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The weather was not kind the next day with squally rain and occasional hail though there were sunny breaks. I had just ordered my hamburger at the The Local when an harassed organiser came in. “We have a problem, can you help”? Turns out that a judge for the busking competition had pulled out and they needed an urgent replacement. Like right then! The busking was underway and there was about half an hour to go. Never one to refuse a challenge I agreed and after scoffing my burger I was discussing strategy with the Chairman of Comhaltas, who was the other judge. There were no guidelines;  how on earth do you judge a busking competition? So we went our separate ways and arrived at three “winners”. Turns out however that this was just Day One and there were another 15 contestants next day AND Vince was leaving that night so I would have to judge the remainder and and pick the winners out of both days. As it turned out the winners were obvious and I was able to remain in town unscathed without being hacked to pieces by irate parents.

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Of course my raison d’etre for being at festivals is to session and each day from 4 pm I followed the Session Trail until the small hours. In fact most nights I went to bed as the sun rose. There were many highlights. For example a truly tasty session in a quiet pub with Gerry Harrington, Charlie Piggins and James Duggan being one. Another was to be joined on a couple of occasions by living legend and genius John Dwyer (brother of Michael, Finbar and Ritchie), a delightful man and a wonderful musician. Here is a selection of photos. You’ll get the picture.

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The headline concert on Sunday night was at a function room at the Park Hotel and 600 plus people crammed into a space that they really shouldn’t have. It was bursting at the seams and there was a mad rush to get more seats to accommodate some of those standing. The warm up act was a group of young local musicians featuring Claire and Niamh Fennell, Clara Mannion & Sarah O’Gorman and really they did a fantastic job.

Danú are local heroes and one of Ireland’s most durable traditional bands. Most of their current line up was there and a few guests including previous singer Ciarán Ó Gealbháin joining Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and Donal Lunny, producer of two of their albums. . This was a high energy concert and there was a buzz in the hall as they were celebrating their twentieth year together. They were clearly happy to be there and from the opening chord to the electric dancing and the rousing climax kicked off with a bodhran solo from Donnchadh Gough there was never a dull moment. The loyal and loving home crowd was screaming for more.

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There were a few intrepid survivors on the Monday and they gathered at Downey’s Pub for the Bucket Singing Competition. This long standing Waterford tradition (well it is at least two years old) involves singing with a bucket over your head and then being savagely demolished by an entirely unsympathetic adjucator. Quality had nothing to do with the final result with rules being invented and broken as the competition went on. The majority of competitors suffered the Downey’s Drop announced solemnly after the adjudicator donned a black handkerchief.  It was great craic and at the risk of my never being allowed to compete again the organisers would have great difficulty defending the accusation that the winner was a not home town decision! I have contacted my lawyers! Congratulations to the organisers and in particular to the MC (Sean) and Judge (Dick) who kept it all together with a marvellous commentary. Bucket Singing may have a controversial history with some saying it goes back hundreds of years but the winner on the night was that other Irish tradition of slagging.

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There were more sessions on the Monday but the enthusiasm was waning and by midnight everyone and believe it or not, yours truly, had had enough.

A memorable weekend and seamlessly organised by the ever present Michael Marrinan and an amazing committee. Well done all.

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

Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 9

Phew! After 9 days Fleadh Nua 2015 is over.

I really hit the wall last night – totally Fleadhed Out! No formal events, just quiet (?) sessions, firstly in the afternoon at The Diamond with Siobhann Peoples, Murty Ryan. Cyril O’Donoghue, Caroline Keane, Niamh Parsons and the few remaining foreign stragglers (sorry Steve, Juan, Tony  etc – just a figure of speech).

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Then to Knox’s for a couple of hours with Eric Healy, Tom Delaney, Caroline Keane, Brian O’Laughlin, Seamus MacMahon and Anita Broderick. Despite the many continuous days of music for all these musicians there was still energy and lift and the (now much smaller) crowds enjoyed it thoroughly.

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Then I finished up at Ciaran’s with the mighty Joan Hanrahan and Andrew MacNamara and Bríd Long. And there was a bit of Breton dancing (!), singing (!!) and guitar playing (“*?) thrown in. We were joined at the end by the irrepressible Tony Cullinan but by 1.30am fatigue set in and, with the Gardai hovering outside, with a rousing rendition of that old traditional Irish waltz, the Yellow Rose of Texas, I sadly said goodbye to an amazing week of music, song and dance.

See you next year.

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

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