Every now and then something comes along that, for me, reaffirms my raison d’etre for being here in Ireland. Something that underscores and reinforces the creative core of Irish music and gives a window into the Irish psyche. Such an event was the Mórglór concert held on 10th October in the glor Theatre. The Mórglór award is relatively new and the brainchild of Tim Collins, leader of the Kilfenora Ceili Band among other things, and is presented to an individual or group who have made an outstanding contribution to culture in Clare. It is not so much the concert (and it was fantastic by the way but I will have more to say on that) which made this event outstanding but it was the way it embraced and fired up the local and international community of traditional music followers.
Last year the award was deservedly won by the organisers of the Corofin Festival. The recipient this year was Eoin O’Neill. Eoin is a giant on the Clare music scene. His contribution to music in this county is deep and profound. He has been playing trad, particularly in Doolin and Ennis, since he arrived here from Dublin 35 years ago, playing with many of the greats. He has recorded dozens of CDs both his own collaborations or as a session musician with many of the big names, adding his sometimes subtle, sometimes driving, bouzouki always in tune with the music and always with soul. He has mentored many younger musicians encouraging them to play in public and to record and he has also identified many older musicians ensuring their legacy is preserved. To watch him work a room during a session and bring everyone along with him for the ride is to watch a master communicator and someone who really understands the pull of Irish Music and why people come here. Through his contribution to the ClareFM programme West Wind he has built an enormous international following. It would be difficult to overstate the contribution this has made to Clare’s reputation as the go-to place for Irish Music. This is evidenced by the response to this concert. As soon as it was announced tickets flew out the door even before the line-up was announced. Many of these bookings came from Eoin’s followers all round the world. People came for this concert from Netherlands, Belgium, UK, France, Germany, the US and who knows where else. Many of these are regular attendees of festivals in Clare and many have their strong connection to Clare music through Eoin.
As I say it wasn’t just the concert. What was remarkable was that this award triggered a Festival-like celebration and an almost continuous weekend of traditional music.
On Friday night was a session at PJ Kelly’s with Eoin, Joan Hanrahan and Brid O’Gorman and many visitors. It was hard to get a seat at the table. Kelly’s is one of the great pubs in Clare to listen to and play Irish music and I have written about this before but this night had something extra. Particularly of note was the singing, which soared, with contributions from Noirin Lynch, Willie Cummins, Steve Brown, Job Cornelissen and singers from the bar. A particular highlight for me was when the whole pub joined in with the singing of Red is the Rose.
I might digress here to mention briefly Eoin’s influence on me. I play with Eoin regularly. Musicians that Eoin plays with are the kind of musicians that I enjoy playing with. So he has become a friend. With a dry sense of humour, his mastery of the Irish tradition of slagging, his deep knowledge of music and his strong opinions, which he is only too willing to share, it is a pleasure to spend time in his company. He has tolerated my musical inadequacies with good grace and always made me feel welcome. And recently he has encouraged me to sing more and play guitar even suggesting songs, one of which was Red is the Rose. That night at Kelly’s I understood why.
Saturday afternoon saw visiting musicians gather at Cruises from 2pm to share tunes and stories. I love playing in the afternoon. The pubs are quieter the music somehow seems cleaner and everyone is more relaxed. This turned out to be the case here.
But all this was a precursor to the main event which kicked off at 8pm. The programme had Eoin’s stamp all over it. Mainly a reflection of where he is at now musically, but with clear reference to where he has come from. Ever generous with his time and his words, he paid tribute to Tony Dalton who he acknowledged as his greatest influence on his arrival in Doolin and who broke a 30 year playing hiatus to join Eoin on stage. There were also some of his old sparring partners such as Kevin Griffin, Terry Bingham and Kevin Crawford and among his current collaborators were Yvonne Casey, Joan Hanrahan, Brid O’Gorman, Luka Bloom, Quentin Cooper, Adam Shapiro, Dermot Byrne, Noirin Lynch and Willie Cummins. And surprise packets (though not to me as I was well aware of their talents) were some of his protégés such as concertina player Aiobheann Queally and the sweet, sweet voice of Clara Buetler. It was a complete concert with various combinations of the who’s who of Clare music weaving their tunes and songs through a packed glor theatre. The common thread was Eoin’s ever-present bouzouki and his ever-present sense of humour. The obvious friendship with all of the musicians and, in particular, his long-time colleague Quentin Cooper, binding it all together. The music reached great heights. Luka Bloom put in an excellent set with his more driving contemporary sound being a strong counterpoint to the class traditional music that we had most of the night. This was a gentle reminder that Eoin is not just about trad but has wide musical tastes as evidenced by his eclectic radio show on Sundays where, as was pointed out during the night, you can have Purple Rain followed by Micho Russell. There were many highlights for the night. But for me the biggest buzz is what happens when you put class musicians together who understand each other and enjoy playing together. This was no more in evidence than in the last set where everyone joined in and took the roof off. Ever humble Eoin was somewhat bewildered by the standing ovation which he so clearly deserved.
As is often the way in this town, the concert was only the beginning of the night and many adjourned to the Old Ground where the Guinness flowed along with the music until well after 4am. To his credit Eoin was there until the very end, when I departed, stumbling back to my bed in the Rowan Tree to grab some fitful sleep.
As if that wasn’t enough the Sunday saw the remnants gather at Brogan’s at 1pm for what one would have thought would have been a nice quiet recovery session. But no. The tiredness was evident but the music did not suffer. It was a bit of the old Brogans and it felt good to be part of it.
A wonderful and fitting weekend of celebration for a great man of the music. Comhghairdeas ó chroí le Eoin.