A Magical Weekend of Music with Ceolta Sí
Coming along the road from Waterford, past Dungarvan and Ardmore on a fine Friday evening, the scenery was spectacular. Arriving at Red Barn, outside Youghal, the proximity to the beach put us in a good mood. Having contacted Craobh Eochaille CCÉ branch chairman Mícheál de Buitléir, we made our way to the self-catering house where he was based. The sense of community was very evident as people were moving tables and chairs and preparing food for later. This was an ‘all hands on deck’ effort. There was a familiar welcome for both of us – Daithí had lived in Youghal for a time and had performed with Ceolta Sí while Adèle had visited to see the summer Seisiún and together we performed a concert in Brú na Sí in January 2015.
Having checked into our room, we made our way to the function room to begin our workshop. We found the young musicians already in their seats, tuning up and playing tunes, their enthusiasm evident. They had recently been to Birmingham, a trip which had helped bond the group. Some of the musicians had tunes that they had picked up from the performing group Ceolta Sí, which many of them aspired to join this summer. Indeed some of the Ceolta Sí group who are the mentors and teachers of these young musicians joined in, leading by example and learning the new repertoire.
We began our workshop with Brian O’Kane’s march, ‘The Shores of Lough Major’. Having developed our research on Brian’s music for the recent concert at Dundalk Institute of Technology, it was great to disseminate his music to a wider audience. The significance of the fact that Brian was part of the Siamsa Céilí Band that won the first of their three-in-a-row senior céilí band titles fifty years ago this year was not lost on the group.
We followed this with the Gordon Duncan tune ‘Ramnee Céilí’ which was a tune we added to our repertoire as part of our celebration of Scottish music, in part related to our 2016 visit to Glasgow and Fochabers. The students enjoyed the rhythmic challenge of the second part. Like Dundalk Institute of Technology, Craobh Eochaille CCÉ had played its part in the Centenary programme for 1916. The focus in Youghal had been in relation to James Connolly, who had been posted to Youghal as a member of the British Army. He was wounded in the Four Courts and we chose one of the reels named ‘The Four Courts’ for our workshop.
It was back to the houses for dinner, prepared and cooked by some of the mothers and grandmothers. We managed to have a great session in the bar of the hotel before the scheduled entertainment started and then we moved back to the function room where the music continued into the night.
The following morning we revised what we had learned on Friday evening and set about further learning. We worked on two of Adèle’s compositions from A Louth Lilt, namely ‘Sleepy Joe’ and ‘The Ballyholland Maiden’ before sharing lunch. There was some excitement about what might happen after lunch.
Before we came, the group had been asked what they would like to learn. Some had requested ‘Nancy Mulligan’ from the new Ed Sheeran album. Micheál had noted that some music is ‘a product of fashion driven by frenetic marketing. […] If children’s voices are to be heard we need to deal with the request’. The remit was to enthuse young people about Irish traditional music. Speaking with The Irish Times, Ed Sheeran said ‘Trad should be at the forefront of pop culture’ having grown up listening to groups such as Planxty and The Chieftains. Involving a group like Beoga, already popular amongst the young musicians in Youghal and elsewhere, has brought Sheeran’s music into the learning sphere for traditional music and created an energy and excitement through which the young people can explore deeper into the traditions.
We encouraged the youngsters not to slavishly follow Sheeran’s production but rather make it their own. We spoke about the importance of creativity and our recent trip to ESTEC. To reinforce the point, we taught them a tune that was composed by two of the group, Kieran Daly and Dan Beechinor, when attending a workshop with Daithí at Brú na Sí in October 2013. A nice polka, we challenged the group members to teach it to the U12 group to reinforce a sense of connection and community. Having heard and learned our compositions, and now compositions from their peers, we encouraged them to find their own tunes and share them with us when we call again.
For the final part of the workshop, we focused on different aspects of ensemble playing, utilising the tunes they had learned to develop different aspects. We tried different combinations of instruments, worked on using dynamics, and put in some stops so that the group would sound cohesive. We talked about different musical traditions from around the world and incorporated some Samba rhythms into one of our arrangements – this allowed the younger musicians looking on to get involved too. Following the workshop, we headed off along the beach, gazing out at Capel Island. As we ventured farther from the hotel, it was as if we had the beach to ourselves.
We arrived at Brú na Sí in good time for the concert. It was great to meet some familiar faces as they arrived. Our set list included some of our new compositions from A Louth Lilt and a number of sets from our recent concerts with the DkIT Ceol Oirghialla Traditional Music Ensemble. John Cronin, with whom Daithí had recorded Midleton Rare (2012) joined Daithí on stage for a set of slides, ‘Merrily Kiss the Quaker’ and ‘Denis Murphy’s’ and a set of polkas. The first of the polkas was sourced from his father, DD Cronin, and the second was a version of a John Walsh polka that differs from the version most often heard at sessions. During the second half, Mícheál outlined some of the exciting plans for Youghal, including an extension of the building and the further development of their festival. An East Cork Folk Orchestra was central to the plans and we were delighted to welcome up many of the young musicians from the workshop to play a few final sets, ‘The Youghal Waltz’, ‘The Shores of Lough Major’ and a set of polkas recorded by the band Beoga.
We took our ease going back to Louth on Sunday, enjoying the beach and taking in some local heritage. We stopped by the round tower in Ardmore and the three holy wells on the way to Mahon Falls. As we travelled north, we enjoyed the beautiful sunset, which brought an end to a magical weekend.
 3 March 2017