An Awesome August
With Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann coming to Louth for the first time, August 2018 was a month to remember. And there was much more besides. Having returned from Scotland, we were straight into preparations for both the Fleadh and the World Meeting of Families.
We were honoured to take to the Gig Rig for the Official Opening of the Fleadh on Sunday 12 August, attended by President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. We were joined on stage by graduates and students from DkIT, who had travelled with us previously. Flute player Martha Guiney from Newry, Co. Down and Dublin accordion player Joanne Cusack are graduates of the BA (Hons) Applied Music and have progressed to postgraduate studies in the University of Limerick and Maynooth University respectively. They previously joined us on tours of North America and Brazil, the latter as the Irish performing group at the 2014 International Society for Music Education Conference in Porto Alegre. We were also joined on stage by current music student Ciara Brannigan from Drogheda and computing student Caoimhe McKiverigan from Rostrevor, Co. Down both of whom had performed with us at Speyfest in 2016 and 2018 respectively. For the performance, Daithí danced a few steps learned from dancing teacher Patricia Hanafin in Tralee and gave a rendition of the song ‘Róisín Dubh’ that he learned from the singing of Seán Ahern from Moyvane. The music was drawn from concerts by the DkIT Traditional Music Ensemble and included compositions by Brian O’Kane, tunes associated with counties Monaghan and Down, and some of our own compositions. Prior to going on stage, we did a quick recording which featured on the RTÉ news and RTÉ Nuacht.
On Monday, the Seachtain na Gaeilge activities got underway. The Irish language has a central role in the activities of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and 2018 has been designated as Bliain na Gaeilge. Seachtain na Gaeilge ag an Fleadh featured a wide range of activities for all age groups and all abilities: Irish classes, dancing classes, historical walking tours, lectures, storytelling for young people, song-writing workshop, fun for all the family, quiz, treasure hunt, Pop up Gaeltacht and music and song in Irish on the gig rig etc.. It was evident throughout the week that Drogheda embraced the language with everybody making an effort to speak their cúpla focal. From businesses to the Gig Rig, children to grandparents, there was enthusiasm for our native tongue. Seomra na Gaeilge and Ionad na Gaeilge were centrally located in the Laurence Shopping Centre, which became a hub for activities. A number of activities sought to create links with the history and heritage of Drogheda and Co. Louth and we were grateful for the support of the Louth Heritage Officer Brendan McSherry who provided colouring books, Oidhreacht Lú, for use during the week. All of the events were very well attended and provided people with an opportunity to explore how they might make greater use of the language in their lives, with their families and in their workplace. In all of our activities, and particularly our performances, we also made a renewed effort to use the language and found ourselves enjoying it.
After lunch on the Monday, Daithí joined Noelle Bowe, Maria Clarke, Vincent Hernon and others for the Singers’ Café. That evening we had a special concert celebrating A Louth Lilt in the Boomerang Café accompanied by guitarist Conor Walsh, preceded by the launch of Jig to Jacobites, a wonderful book by Orfhlaith Ní Bhriain and Mick McCabe tracing the history and stories of forty traditional set dances. During the book launch, highlighting the potential of such projects to bring research to life through performance, Daithí danced the Blackbird to the music of Annmarie Acosta Williams. We went from the Boomerang to the Gig Rig where guitarist Conor Walsh again joined us for Gig Rig na Gaeilge.
The official launch of Seachtain na Gaeilge was held in the Highlanes Gallery on the Tuesday. Adèle was presented with a special token of appreciation from Ard Stiúrthóir Labhrás Ó Murchú in recognition of the voluntary efforts undertaken by Ciara Brannigan and herself throughout the summer to prepare a range of events that were attractive to all age groups and people with all levels of Irish. Sponsored by Foras na Gaeilge, these events included Irish language classes, family fun, storytelling and dancing. Presiding over the launch in the Highlanes Gallery, Adèle noted the strong Irish language heritage in the region including the poets Peadar Ó Doirnín and Séamus Dall MacCurta and the important role of scholar Peadar Ó Dubhha. The presentation to Adèle held further significance as she was a piano accordion student of the late Rory Kennedy. Best known in music circles as the leader of the Siamsa Céilí Band who won three All-Ireland titles in a row between 1967 and 1969, Rory was also prominent in Conradh na Gaeilge in Dundalk and was himself recognised for his role in promoting the Irish language by Cumann na Sagart. Together, we performed the song ‘Amhráinín Síodraimín’.
Later on Tuesday night we were joined by Caoimhe McKiverigan and Conor Walsh for a session in Gleeson’s Pub, Drogheda that was recorded by Red Shoe Productions for broadcast at a later date on RTÉ. We were delighted to record ‘Sleepy Joe’ and the ‘Ballyholland Maiden’. You can listen the album version on TradConnect here and keep an eye out for the Fleadh series for the ‘new’ version.
On Wednesday evening, Daithí had the honour of introducing a special concert incorporating the Flanagan Brothers Award. This year’s recipient is Kieran Hanrahan, a huge influence on Daithí. Prior to the concert, Daithí met with three generations of the Flanagan family – Mike’s daughter, granddaughter and great grandson. The highlight of the concert was a performance by Stockton’s Wing, who relived their 1970s heyday and Daithí was particularly chuffed to join them on stage for the encore set, playing Kieran’s mandolin.
We were delighted to attend the Ard Ollamh dinner on Wednesday night. Piano accordion player Martin Power from Cork was the recipient and there were many familiar faces in the room. As well as being a leading exponent on the piano accordion, Martin is Director of the Teastas i dTeagasc Ceolta Tíre. He has taught many award winning groups, a number of which competed with groups directed by Daithí during his time in Cork, and was a source of information on Séamus Ó Mathúna (Jimmy Mahoney), when Daithí was conducting research on the music of east Cork.
We were delighted to join Áine Hensey on Raidió na Gaeltachta on Thursday, playing a few tunes in the sunshine and chatting about our activities at the Fleadh and music at DkIT. While Daithí rushed back to the Gig Rig, Adèle was busy with Foras na Gaeilge and Conradh na Gaeilge, who came together for an information session for Bliain na Gaeilge in Barlow House. Speakers included Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, Daire Ó Faogáin and Attracta Brady. The panel discussion focused on Irish as an everyday spoken language, Bliain na Gaeilge, and Irish within Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éíreann. Those in attendance could also avail of the opportunity to enjoy a special exhibition by Conradh na Gaeilge ag ceiliúradh 125 bliain den athbheochan that was located in the building for the duration of the Fleadh.
We were thrilled to host a special symposium celebrating a number of important individuals in Irish traditional music and their role in passing on the tradition took place at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2018 on Friday 17 August. Ó Ghlúin go Glúin: Celebrating Legacy and Transmission in Irish Traditional Music was organized in collaboration with the Creative Arts Research Centre at DkIT. As chair, Daithí introduced six speakers from around the country and facilitated questions and discussion.
The first presenter was fiddle player Dr Conor Caldwell of Queens University Belfast who discussed the importance of Donegal fiddle player John Doherty and reflected on the various musical influences that Doherty drew upon, noting the importance of the extended Doherty family in shaping tradition. Offaly fiddle and flute player Attracta Brady reflected on her own family’s rich musical heritage. As Chair of the Leinster Council of Comhaltas, Ard Ollamh in 2012 and a teacher in her local area, Attracta is well known to many but she highlighted some of the lesser-known aspects of her family’s musical heritage, particularly her mother Eileen Maguire and uncles Tommy and Pat, as well as the Boland and Dunne families. Along with her daughter Róisín, she played tunes that have been handed down through the generations and a number of compositions by her father, the late John Brady.
DkIT graduate Dr Seán McElwain, a former student of Daithí’s, reflected on the immense role of Eamonn Ó Muirí (1912-1966) in the preservation and revival of Sliabh Beagh’s musical tradition. Since graduating with his PhD from DkIT, McElwain has disseminated his research in a variety of ways and was awarded a TG4 award in 2016 for an album drawing on his research entitled The Dear Dark Mountain with the Sky Over It. McElwain cited Tony McMahon’s idea of ‘the local footprint of those who have gone before’ but also highlighted the lessons of the past relating to the significance of the border, which may again emerge in the context of Brexit to cast a shadow over the music-making of the region.
Current DkIT postgraduate researcher and student of Daithí’s, Barra McAllister, also presented on his ongoing MA research that considers seminal Dublin fiddle player Tommie Potts. McAllister explored how listening to Potts’ recordings challenges Irish traditional musicians to think more deeply about how they approach tunes and variation, noting a growing interest amongst Dublin musicians in particular in the figure of Potts. Meath concertina player Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh highlighted some of the important figures that influenced the popularity of the instrument today in Meath. Of note were Drogheda singer and musician Mary Ann Carolan, Clare musician Chris Droney and his contemporary Rena Traynor who moved from Clare to Meath, and Westmeath-man William Mullaney, the first to record on the concertina. Mícheál demonstrated how different musicians using different instruments and techniques developed Irish traditional music on the concertina.
Adèle brought the symposium to a conclusion, presenting a paper on her research into the musical life and legacy of Rory Kennedy, the renowned Dundalk-based music teacher and leader of the immensely successful Siamsa Céilí Band. Herself a student of Kennedy, Adèle highlighted Rory’s success in fleadhanna, his involvement in Irish language movements and the development of the Siamsa Céilí Band. Rory also produced successful Seisiún shows that were performed not only in Dundalk but also in Drogheda and Monaghan showing photographs from the early productions that were influenced by the work of Fr Pat Ahern.
On Friday night, we went to the Singers’ Club Recital where Daithí joined Patrick Brannigan, Pat Carolan, Ruth Campbell, Gilly and Gerry Cullen under the spotlight. Stuart Carolan and Noelle Bowe were wonderful hosts and a packed hall enjoyed an eclectic mix of songs. Daithí sang ‘An Clár Bog Déil’, which he had learned during his time with Siamsa Tíre, and his recent composition ‘The Ghosts of Fochabers’, based on his experiences in Scotland.
On Saturday, we returned to the Gig Rig no less than three times. Our morning began with the Oriel Traditional Orchestra. It was fantastic to conduct the 67-strong group along with Noreen McManus. This cross border orchestra have quickly grown and blossomed, delighting audiences in Louth and further afield. Bringing together musicians of all ages from counties Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Armagh, the orchestra draw on research conducted at the Creative Arts Research Centre at Dundalk Institute of Technology. The performance included a march by Monaghan composer Brian O’Kane, two of our tunes from A Louth Lilt especially arranged for orchestra, a piece by Meath harper composer Turlough O’Carolan arranged by Noreen McManus and music selected from Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s seminal study A Hidden Ulster, arranged by Daithí.
Later in the day, we were honoured to welcome an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the Fleadh, joining Brian O’Kane, his sons Darragh and Don, Donal O’Connor and his son Donal, and Noreen McManus to play Brian’s march, ‘The Shores of Lough Major’. Our meeting with An Taoiseach featured on the TV3 news that evening. As the Taoiseach made his way into the crowd, we proceeded to perform on the Gig Rig. Brian was a member of the Siamsa Céilí Band who had won the Senior All-Ireland title fifty years previously and who is still going strong. While Brian and the others went on to play a céilí that evening, we returned to the Gig Rig for a brief slot for Gig Rig na Gaeilge after one of our musical heroes, Cork singer Seán Ó Sé.
We were back to the Gig Rig on Sunday and Daithí kick-started the day by joining Martin Donohoe and the NYAH gang for a few steps. While we were busy on the Gig Rig, we were delighted to also feature on Fleadh TV with a recording made at the beautiful Mellifont Abbey, which you can watch here. That night, Daithí had the honour of introducing the 2018 All-Ireland Senior Céilí Band Champions, The Blackwater Céilí Band, to the expectant crowds at the Gig Rig, bringing to an end an amazing Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2018.
Or nearly to an end for, in typical Fleadh style, the music (and work) kept going on Monday as we returned to Drogheda for some tidying, chats and to enjoy some of the music that lingered on. We returned to the Singers’ Café and Daithí added a Kerry flavour to the proceedings. The Fleadh is about meeting old friends and making new ones and it was great to welcome so many people to Co. Louth for the event. Lolo Robinson, Orla Brannigan and all of the team did a fantastic job and it was gratifying and humbling to be part of such a herculean effort.
On Wednesday we were delighted to join with singers from the Armagh Diocese and others to perform at a mass in the RDS celebrated by the Bishop of Bombay. We met with friends and explored the exhibition stands at the World Meeting of Families. We returned to Dublin on Sunday to perform for the mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the Phoenix Park. Being part of choirs is a rewarding experience for both of us and the sense of occasion was momentous and memorable.
On Thursday, Daithí made the trip to Youghal and joined Ceolta Sí for their last performance of Seisiún for the season. Craobh na Dúglaise CCÉ, with whom Daithí taught and was both secretary and PRO for a time, were special guests on the night and he was delighted to also join them for a set of tunes. The following day, he took the opportunity to explore St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, a place of great beauty and historical significance.
On Friday 24 August, we were delighted to travel to Inniskeen in Co. Monaghan to perform as part of the Heritage Week activities. Poems and stories were shared, including details from the 1641 Depositions, the history of the round tower and folklore relating to local placenames. We have enjoyed many great nights in Inniskeen and have been delighted to be involved in various events including the Patrick Kavanagh Weekend and other activities throughout the year.
The following Thursday, 30 August, we brought the month to an end with a session in Ardee. The Railway Bar has had a session for several years, with a strong local following and wonderful characters. Sometimes it’s just nice to go down to the local for a chat and a tune with a particularly Louth lilt. Join us some time or watch out for our next adventure.