Posts Tagged With: School

Frank Custy. A Legend. “The best day of my trip”.

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Frank Custy is a legend in Clare music.

Never moving far from his birthplace at Dysart the man has nurtured and inspired hundreds to play and participate in Irish traditional music. A visionary who, as a schoolmaster at nearby Toonagh, integrated music into the teaching day and beyond.  Many came under his spell.  Sharon Shannon, Gary Shannon, Siobhan Peoples, Sean Conway, Yvonne Casey, Tola Custy and Mary Custy and hundreds who are not household names – all going on to make their own mark on Clare music. His work was recognised with the Mór glor award for his contributions in 2016.

But the thing is he is still doing it.

At Fleadh Nua held in Ennis in May Frank runs the Foinn Seisiún, held every afternoon during the Festival.

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Frank on the banjo and friends

This is a slow session aimed at developing musicians where they can get confidence in playing or singing in front of others in a supportive environment. It is always well attended. Anything could happen. Everyone gets a go to try out a new tune or a song.  No matter the age.  There are no barriers. You might even get an Australian singing the Clogher Road.

Or you could get a Connemara Set or a Seige of Ennis, with unsuspecting visitors being cajoled into it.

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The joy on the faces of Jo from Birmingham or Megan from Texas, new to Irish dancing,  as they are swept up onto the floor,  says it all.

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Jo from Birmingham in good hands

 

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Megan from Texas and Jo from Birmingham, learning the steps for the Siege of Ennis.

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All ages enjoy it.  

I met TJ,  travelling here with Megan from Texas.  They dropped into Ennis for a day.    As TJ said. “the best day of our trip”.

Who knows how many have gone on to play Irish music or learn to dance after having heard Frank and having the “best day of their trip”.

A big thank you to Frank Custy.

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

Ireland. A Feast of Festivals

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Visiting an Irish Music Festival should be on the must-do list for any visitor to Ireland.  It is not easy however to find information on these, especially the smaller ones.  I am often asked by my friends in the blogosphere what is on and when during their proposed visit.  I’m happy to help where I can but I thought a list might be useful to anyone planning a trip.  On researching this I found a number of sites where festivals are listed but they are incomplete or not up to date.  I am sure I too have left some out and I’ve only included those from March through September 2018 but if you are aware of a festival that I’ve missed let me know and I’ll add it.

Do try and incorporate a festival on your next trip;  you’ll be made very welcome.

Festival Location Start Finish
Shannonside Winter Music Festival Six Mile Bridge, Clare January?
TradFest Temple Bar Dublin January?
IMBOLC International Music Festival Derry January?
Packie Duignan weekend Drumshanbo, Leitrim January?
Feile na Tana Carlingford, Louth February?
Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh Ballyferriter, Kerry February?
The Gathering Traditional Festival Killarney, Kerry February?
Concertina Cruinniú Miltown Malbay, Clare February?
Russell Memorial Weekend Doolin, Clare February?
Welsh Annual Singers Weekend Ballyvaughan, Clare February?
Mount Leinster Traditional Music Festival Borris, Carlow February?
Tionól Niocláis Tóibín An Rinn, Waterford February?
Éigse an Spidéil, Spiddal, Galway 14 Feb 18 18 Feb 18
Corofin Traditional Festival Corofin, Clare 27 Feb 18 4 Mar 18
Aran Celtic Music Festival Inis Mor, Galway 9 Mar 18 11 Mar 18
NYAH Traditional Music Festival Cavan 10 Mar 18 17 Mar 18
Kilkenny Tradfest Kilkenny 17 Mar 18 18 Mar 18
Ceardlann Earraigh Celbridge, Kildare 23 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Inishowen Singing Festival Donegal 23 Mar 18 26 Mar 18
Blossom Harp Festival Tuamgraney, Clare 23 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Feile Patrick Byrne Carrickmacross, Monaghan 24 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Maurice O’Keefe Weekend Kiskeam, Cork 31 Mar 18 1 Apr 18
Carlow Pan Celtic Festival Carlow 3 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Clifden Trad Fest Clifden, Galway 5 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Cruinniú na bhFliúit Flute Meeting Ballyvourney, Cork 4 Apr 18 7 Apr 18
Consairtin Ennis, Clare 6 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Ballydehob Traditional Music Festival Ballydehob, Cork 13 Apr 18 15 Apr 18
Kilfenora Music Festival Kilfenora Clare 27 Apr 18 30 Apr 18
Feile Neidin, Kenmare Irish Music Festival Kenmare, Kerry April?
Fleadh nagCuach (Cuckoo Fleadh) Kinvara, Galway 4 May 18 6 May 18
Joe Heaney Festival Carna, Galway 4 May 18 7 May 18
Cup of Tae Festival Ardara, Donegal 4 May 18 7 May 18
Feile Chois Cuain Louisburgh, Mayo 4 May 18 7 May 18
Carrigaholt Oyster & Trad Festival Carrigaholt, Clare 5 May 18 7 May 18
Cos Cos Sean Nos Festival Drumcliffe, Sligo 7 May 18 13 May 18
Fiddle Fair Baltimore, Cork 10 May 18 13 May 18
Feile Chnoc na Gaoithe, Tulla Trad Music Festival Tulla, Clare 11 May 18 13 May 18
Skerries Traditional Music Weekend Skerries, Dublin 18 May 18 20 May 18
World Fiddle Day Scartaglin, Kerry 18 May 18 20 May 18
World Fiddle Day Glenties, Donegal 20 May 18
Fleadh Nua Ennis, Clare 20 May 18 28 May 18
Michael Dwyer Festival Allihies, Cork 8 Jun 18 10 Jun 18
Doolin Folk Festival Doolin, Clare 15 Jun 18 17 Jun 18
Con Curtin Festival Brosna, Kerry 23 Jun 18 25 Jun 18
Jim Dowling Uilleann Pipe and Trad Festival Glengarriff, Cork 25 Jun 18 29 Jun 18
Craiceann Summer School Innis Oir, Galway 25 Jun 18 29 Jun 18
Blas International Summer School Limerick 25 Jun 18 6 Jul 18
Cross Traditional Music Weekend Cross, Clare 29 Jun 18 1 Jul 18
An Chúirt Chruitireachta (International Harp Festival) Termonfechin, Louth 1 Jul 18 6 Jul 18
Feile Brian Boru Killaloe/Ballina, Clare, Tipperary 4 Jul 18 8 Jul 18
Traidphicnic Spiddal, Galway 6 Jul 18 8 Jul 18
Scoil Samraidh Willie Clancy Miltown Malbay, Clare 7 Jul 18 15 Jul 18
Ceol na Coille Summer School Letterkenny, Donegal 9 Jul 18 13 Jul 18
South Sligo Summer School Tubbercurry, Sligo 15 Jul 18 21 Jul 18
Fleadh Cheoil Na Mumhan (Munster Fleadh) Ennis, Clare 15 Jul 18 22 Jul 18
Ceili at the Crossroads Festival Clarecastle, Clare 15 Jul 18 22 Jul 18
Joe Mooney Summer School Drumshanbo, Leitrim 21 Jul 18 28 Jul 18
Fiddler’s Green Festival Rostrevor, Down 22 Jul 18 29 Jul 18
Meitheal Summer School Ennis, Clare 23 Jul 18 27 Jul 18
Scoil Acla Summer School Achill Island, Mayo 28 Jul 18 4 Aug 18
Donegal Fiddle Summer School Glencolmcille, Donegal 30 Jul 18 3 Aug 18
Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music Belfast 30 Jul 18 3 Aug 18
Sliabh Luachra Summer School Rockchapel, Cork July?
Laois Trad Summer School Portlaoise, Laois July?
Phil Murphy Weekend Carrig-on-Bannow, Wexford July?
Kilrush Traditional Music and Set Dancing Festival Kilrush, Clare 1 Aug 18 7 Aug 18
Sean McCarthy Weekend Festival Finuge, Kerry 3 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
James Morrison Traditional Music Festival Sligo 4 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
O’Carolan Harp Festival Keadu, Roscommon 4 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
Feakle International Traditional Music Festival Feakle Clare 8 Aug 18 13 Aug 18
Scully’s Trad Fest Newmarket, Cork 9 Aug 18 13 Aug 18
Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann Drogheda, Louth 12 Aug 18 19 Aug 18
Feile Ceol Na Locha Tourmakeedy, Mayo 13 Aug 18 17 Aug 18
Masters of Tradition Bantry, Cork 22 Aug 18 26 Aug 18
Crotty Galvin Traditional Music Weekend Moyasta, Clare 25 Aug 18 27 Aug 18
Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival Ballyshannon, Donegal August?
Seachtain Ceoil Chois Fharraige Spiddal, Galway August?
Fingal Fleadh and Fair, Swords Castle, Dublin 6 Sep 18 9 Sep 18
Gig’n the Bann Portglenone, Antrim 13 Sep 18 16 Sep 18
Johnny Doherty Music & Dance Festival Ardara, Donegal 21 Sep 18 23 Sep 18
Ceol Na gCruach The Glen Tavern, Donegal September?
Dingle Tradfest Dingle, Kerry September?
Tuam Trad Festival Tuam, Galway September?
Gerry Whelan Memorial Weekend Cootehill, Cavan September?
Feile Cheoil Larry Reynolds Ballinasloe, Galway September?
Frank Harte Festival Dublin September?
Music Under the Mountains Wicklow September?
Cork Folk Festival Cork, Cork September/October?
O’Carolan Harp Festival Nobber, Meath 5 Oct 18 7 Oct 18
Glenties Fiddlers Weekend Glenties, Donegal 5 Oct 18 7 Oct 18
Ed Reavy Traditional Music Festival Cavan 19 Oct 18 21 Oct 18
Foxford Traditional Weekend Foxford, Mayo 18 Oct 18 21 Oct 18
Sligo Live Folk Roots and Indie Festival Sligo 24 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Cooley Collins Festival Gort, Galway 27 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Willie Keane weekend Doonbeg, Clare 27 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Feile Strokestown Strokestown, Roscommon October?
Achill International Harp Festival Achill Island, Mayo October?
Scoil Cheoil na Botha Scotstown, Monaghan October?
Patrick O’ Keeffe Traditional Music Festival Castleisland, Kerry October?
Ennis Trad Fest Ennis Clare November?
William Kennedy Piping Festival Armagh 15 Nov 18 18 Nov 18
Drogheda Traditional Music Weekend Drogheda, Louth November?
Éigse Dhiarmuid Uí Shúilleabháin Ballyvourney, Cork December?
Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair Gweedore, Donegal December?
Trá Buí /Pearse Holmes memorial Traditional Music Weekend. Dohooma, Mayo December?

And for those interested in a different experience you can attend any of the County or Provincial Fleadhs, which are to enable qualification to the All Ireland Fleadh, which is in the list above.  Here are the dates.

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

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.

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

Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry

I have just returned from another festival/school, this time at Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsular in West Kerry.  And it really was a beauty.  It is called the Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh which translates slightly optimistically as Spring Music School.

The Dingle version of Spring involved rain, hail, mist and wild winds whipping up the Atlantic, but in the warmth of one of the many sessions you didn’t notice. Ballyferriter is almost the classic Irish village, with mandatory three pubs, hotel, church and shop. What sets it apart is its glorious setting right at the western end of the peninsular sandwiched between Slea Head and Mt Brandon . When the rain stopped as it did on a couple of occasions and the mist lifts, Mt Brandon, all 952 metres of it, stands proud with is snow capped peak and to the west the beaches and hills beckon. It is obvious why this area was chosen to film the seminal classic Ryan’s Daughter. It is also very compact so everything is within staggering distance and this is important when you are trying to find your way home at 6am.

Everyone said I would love Kerry and I do. This festival was a wonderful introduction to the Kingdom and the music.  This blog is just about the Festival.   I will post some pictures later of Dingle’s spectacular scenery.

The Scoil Cheoil Earraigh seems to hold a special place for many people. For some it is the only festival they attend. Of course there is a strong local contingent but there are also visitors from many other counties and from the UK, France, Russia, Germany. So what is it that brings them here?

It is not a huge festival and it benefits from this. It was very well organised with no obvious hitches. The workshops over three days were with top class tutors. How many opportunities would a guitarist have spend three days with Steve Cooney? Many of the tutors performed in a number of impressive concerts along with other headline acts. The stamp of the Begleys was everywhere.  I’m not sure what the collective name for a lot of Begleys is – perhaps a boggle of Begleys but whatever it is it translates to pure musical genius. Along with Seamus and Breanndán with their vibrant and pulsating rhythms interspersed with wonderful soulful songs sung in Irish was Breanndán’s son Cormac displaying his virtuosity on a range of concertinas and other members of the extended Begley family popping up in various sessions. But it wasn’t just the Begley show. Other guests included Galway’s Páraic Mac Donnchadha on the banjo, Connie O’Connell renowned fiddler from Cork, Steve Cooney, back together in a big way with Seamus and adding his driving rhythms to a variety of other artists and in sessions, Harry Bradley , musician of the year last year, Tommy McCarthy a traveller singer with an extraordinary presence, and a huge repertoire of songs and fascinating stories and Brendan Powers from NZ master harmonica player across many genres stirring up the trad scene by utilising technology to take the music into uncharted territory. There were also informal concerts in cafes which was a great counterpoint to the frenetic energy of the sessions.

I just loved the way the whole festival was conducted in Irish. It didn’t seem to matter that you didn’t understand much of what was going on. This was West Kerry being West Kerry and while visitors were welcome it was very much a showcase for the unique heritage of this part of the world. This was reflected in the music which was of course riddled with polkas and slides, the spontaneous dancing of sets and half sets – vigorous and energetic, reflecting the music, the craic and the warm welcome all visitors received. I attended a lecture on the origins of polkas and while I didn’t understand a word I picked up enough from the slides and musical examples to be totally riveted.

The workshop was one of the best I have been to in the last year – and I have been to plenty. We had two tutors. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, well known for his many musical collaborations including more recently the Gloaming, who explored dynamics and how to extract more feeling. We didn’t learn a tune but it was a revelation. And young Aiden Connolly showed the group (exclusively adults) how to play polkas and slides – something that had never been explained so clearly to me before. I came away inspired which is what a good School should do.

There was a concert on Saturday, in the wonderful setting of St Vincent’s church, of all the workshop groups led by their tutors. This was the most successful format of any I have seen where similar things have been tried. Everyone played in their seat eliminating massive logistical problems. The highlight was the finale with all groups led by Breanndán Begley playing a stirring version of Fáinne Geal an Lae.

What to say about the sessions. These were numerous and exhausting. All the ‘stars’ who appeared at the concert joined into various sessions. Something that doesn’t always happen. Those who were at the Bar an Bhuailtin on Saturday night will never forget the musical treat provided by Begley, Cooney, O’Connell and a host of others until six in the morning, There was a session in Tig an t-Saorsaig with a contingent of musicians from Thurles where sets of reels lasted forty minutes without a break and another session at Tigh Ui Cháthain led by Cormac Begley on his bass concertina and Páraic Mac Donnchadha on banjo which must have gone for eleven hours and it would not surprise me if they didn’t repeat a tune in that time. Spellbinding. But for me the real highlights were playing in quiet sessions such as with Alph Duggan on the Thursday and with Fergal, Breige and Anja on the Sunday with hardly an audience just sharing tunes and songs.

As I say I have never played music in Kerry before so I should talk a little about my introduction to their music. While the Corca Dhuibhne (Dingle peninsular) is not part of the Sliabh Luachra, the more widely known home of polkas, the West Kerry Gaeltach has a long musical tradition and much in common. The music played here historically was for the West Kerry dance sets and comprised mainly polkas, slides and occasionally hornpipes. For many years this music was considered ‘foreign’ having been thought to have been brought in by the occupying military forces, but the Goodman collection of the late 19th Century demonstrated a rich tradition which was largely ignored by collectors such as O’Neill and Breathnach. Polkas were among the first tunes I learnt many years ago when starting out on the fiddle. They were considered easy. And of course in Australia no one knew how to play them properly so they were pretty awful. I couldn’t play reels, so in my various bush bands we used polkas instead. We got away with it with the unsophisticated Aussie audiences but it was hardly satisfying. So I developed a dislike for them and it seems this is shared by many over here as well. Even in Clare you rarely hear them unless you’re playing with someone from that tradition such as Jacky Daly. Hearing these tunes however delivered by masters steeped in this tradition and on its home turf was a revelation.   The tunes are full of an internal energy that drives the music forward all the time. They are infectious. The rhythm sucks you in and drags you onto the floor to dance. I wouldn’t say I have come away converted but I will take this body of music much more seriously and revisit those hackneyed tunes I rejected so many years ago. Thanks Ballyferriter.

I say well done to the organisers for a memorable experience. I understand the lure of this place and its music and I too will be back.

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

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