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  • Adèle and Daithí

Summer Songs and Sideways Steps

Collaboration is often key to successful research and can take many forms. Understanding your role in a team and developing relationships are important but so too is knowing when you should step forward to take the lead or step back and follow or step sideways to let things settle and evolve, always listening to the voices of others. Being involved in multiple projects can be time-consuming but often they can be mutually informing. Sometimes it is not about expertise in an area or a particular skillset but the ability to understand a situation or draw others into participating. Sometimes your level of engagement or ability to contribute is affected by factors beyond your control but this can have both positive impact on the research activities and allow time for critical reflection. Creativity can sometimes flourish in the face of deadlines or in the space afforded by changing circumstances. Being ready is critical and to your own benefit; sharing the results is a challenge that can benefit others.

Adèle and Daithí

We share our research through a diverse range of research outputs, including this blog. An understanding in academia of research outputs has expanded greatly and it is important to recognize the varying activities and methodologies, as well as modes of dissemination for our research. Our activities and outputs from Summer 2019 highlights this - composing, performing, community engagement, adjudicating, documenting and film making are all part of the activities through which we engage in research. Very often, the different strands or projects are interconnected and many protects involve often intense collaboration with other partners. Even when we publish peer-reviewed articles of single authorship as academics, we are indebted to the editors and reviewers for their feedback and perspectives. In June, Adèle’s most recent article on Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, detailing his role in the Feis Ceoil, was published in the Irish Studies journal Éire. The guest editors for this issue were Meabh Ní Fhuartháin and Verena Commins and it was launched in Galway. Unfortunately we were not able to attend but it was wonderful to receive the excellent volume of articles that places our research in a wider context.

Commins in Éire-Ireland

We have been very fortunate to collaborate with European partners over the past seven years on projects related to Creative and Aesthetic Learning, STEAM education and the Global Science Opera. We were delighted to welcome some of our collaborators, who we can count as friends, to meetings in Dundalk in May to review current projects and plan for future opportunities. As the Erasmus+ funded SPACE project comes to an end, we are looking forward to seeking new projects that can build upon our successful partnerships and explorations of learning in international contexts. Through our Erasmus involvement, we contributed to the Global Science Opera Moon Village in 2016. Although not directly involved in the production, Daithí collaborated with GSO co-ordinator Janne Robberstad for a paper presentation about the Science Opera One Ocean at the 7th EUGEO Congress in conjunction with the 51st Conference of Irish Geographers at NUI Galway. The paper considered how geographers can engage with core issues in their field and develop artistic responses. We also presented a paper with Ronan Lynch and Conor Walsh at EdTech hosted by Dundalk Institute of Technology about our recent SPACE project in Porto. A focus here was how technology had been integral to both how we worked as a collaborative team and also how an app was developed based on ideas from the project team. Technology Enhanced Learning has facilitated a range of international collaborations but it is also nice to travel. While our blogs have often documented our travels for research, such as the recent trip to Porto, we were delighted to welcome Professor Mahlon Grass from Lock Haven University to Dundalk for a few days during which he and Daithí presented at EdTech about the collaborations between their classes over the past three years. Their partnership has facilitated students at their respective universities to gain an international perspective through online links between class groups and international group projects. Until this visit, all of the collaboration between Daithí and Mahlon was conducted online but we do hope that in the future there will be further opportunities not only to collaborate online but also visit and experience each other’s places.

It is interesting to return to Adèle’s research on Stanford – while Stanford’s music was popular in America at the turn of the twentieth century, circumstances conspired to prevent Stanford ever visiting America, as documented by Adèle in a forthcoming book chapter. Stanford was, of course, a very popular church music composer and the choir of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Louth Village, under the direction of Adèle, performed our Mass of Unity as part of their radio broadcast mass ono LMFM in May. Like Stanford, Adèle’s musical life engages in Irish music from different perspectives and it would be interesting to get Stanford’s often critical perspective on our work with the Oriel Traditional Orchestra. Indeed as highlighted in her article in Éire, Stanford bemoaned the lack of orchestras in Ireland although he was not referring to, and would probably not have envisaged an orchestra in the vein of the OTO. While Stanford incorporated folk music into his compositions, in addition to editing the collections of George Petrie, he did so in the vein of Western Art Music, perhaps best exemplified in his Irish Symphony. It is valuable to reflect on Stanford’s approaches to orchestration and arrangement in considering how we can best develop arrangements for the Oriel Traditional Orchestra that are neither the heterophony of an Irish music session, the attempted monophony of a Céilí Band, or the often simplistic arrangements of an Irish traditional music ensemble or ‘grúpa ceoil’. The explosion in ‘trad orchestras’ in recent years has led to new innovations by composers, arrangers and facilitators and the Oriel Traditional Orchestra has been prominent in its home counties of Louth, Monaghan and Armagh.

May and June were particularly busy for the OTO as they performed for events in Castle Leslie for the Chief Fire Officers’ Association gathering, in Drogheda and Monaghan for the opening concerts of the Louth and Monaghan Fleadhanna, in Dundalk for the new Legends of Louth festival that coincided with the arrival of the Táin March to the town, and in the City North Hotel in Dublin for the 44th Annual Conference for Overseas Chinese in Europe. Some of these performances included ‘The Oriel March’, composed for the orchestra by Daithí and an example of composition as research. The other pieces performed by the orchestra reflect research on the music of the region, including new music from A Louth Lilt and other members of the OTO. The orchestra members have also indicated a desire to further explore the song traditions of the region and research is ongoing, with the help of orchestra members, to integrate the wonderful songs of the area more completely into the sound of the orchestra over the coming year.

While attention in our research is often focused locally around Co. Louth, our compositions also featured in the new pageant Oidhreacht Eochaille, which was premiered by Ceolta Sí in Youghal, Co. Cork for the Ironman festival. Having conducted research on the area and enjoyed a number of visits when we met local people, gathered stories and facilitated workshops, we were delighted to write the script and advise on the production. While we were delighted with the preparations when we last visited at Easter as mentioned in our previous blog, the final stages (including the preparation of the stage itself) were in the hands of the local community group who gave their time and energy to the various aspects of presenting the pageant. It was a huge success and we hope that songs like ‘Moll Goggins’ and ‘McGrath’s Clock Tower’, and tunes like ‘Lighting Capel Island’ and ‘Storm at Sea’ will become part of local repertoire and encourage locals and visitors alike to explore and celebrate the wonderful history and heritage of the area.

Working with groups like the Oriel Traditional Orchestra and Ceolta Sí has challenged us in different ways and we have tried to take note of these challenges and the different approaches that might be taken to overcome these challenges. Earlier in the year we presented a paper at the ICTM Ireland Annual Conference in University College Dublin about the development of the Oriel Traditional Orchestra. This drew primarily on literature from Community Music and a survey of members as well as our own reflections. For the Society of Musicology in Ireland Annual Plenary held in Maynooth in June, we turned to literature on Applied Ethnomusicology, Public Musicology and Music Revivals to consider the merits and approaches of our involvement with both groups and how our experiences and research can help community groups to develop and grow, albeit dependent on the communities of musical practice own endeavours to achieve success and development.

As in previous years, Daithí continued to adjudicate and enjoyed wonderful weekends of music at the Mayo and Clare Fleadh. Sitting in the adjudicators chair provides a unique perspective on Irish traditional music and venturing from county to county allows the development of a broad geographical perspective. These geographies of Irish traditional music are not just about the differences between counties but also about how Irish traditional music is engaged with and consumed in various spaces. Influenced by the work of geographers Karen Till and Aoife Kavanagh at Maynooth University – collaborators in another project – it is interesting to consider the music session as a field of care. I was particularly struck by a gentleman who had lost his wife to cancer and who was reconnecting with his community through the session. Although not as accomplished as some of the other musicians, he was made feel welcome as those present recognised his integrity of character and the importance of his participation for his self. At another session, one of the musicians present turned to the group of us at the table to comment on how lucky we were to share friendships such as ours, as we had gathered from various places for the Fleadh. This sense of care for others is evident in both the Oriel Traditional Orchestra and Ceolta Sí also and is an important facet of such communities.

We are looking forward to returning to Speyfest for 2019. In advance of the festival we were delighted to complete another collaborative project, a short documentary Finding Fochabers, with film maker Ooi Xian Desmond Wei. The film features footage from Speyfest, interviews with some of the people involved and performances by bands, as well as newly composed music and song by Daithí in response to his experience of Fochabers over the past four years. The documentary provides one mode of disseminating research, although our project will continue to develop other outputs in the coming years. As well as Desmond, we also drew on footage created and edited by Hannah Conroy and John McCallig and benefitted from the support of our colleagues at DkIT. The project would not have been possible without a lot of people in Fochabers including John Mehigan, James Alexander, Chris and Lewis Wiles, Janet and Jim Hallyburton, Mhairi Marwick, Jack Smedley and Laura Davidson.

As many of our blogs highlight, success is based on strong networks, partnerships and collaborations. As we move through life stages, the ability to engage in collaborative projects is challenged by the circumstances we and others face but it is possible to find alternative approaches. These can include the use of technology, identifying new roles or partners with specific skillsets or further developing our own skillsets to meet the needs of an ever changing world.


Commins, Adèle. "Challenging History's Memory: CV Stanford and the Feis Ceoil." Éire-Ireland 54.1 (2019): 137-159.

Commins, Adèle and Daithí Kearney. 2019a. ’Researching and performing the Oriel Region’ ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCD, 22 February 2019.

Commins, Adèle and Daithí Kearney. 2019b. ‘Life Beyond the Library: Sharing Research with the Oriel Traditional Orchestra and Ceolta Sí’. Society for Musicology in Ireland Annual Plenary, Maynooth University, 28 June 2019.

Kearney, Daithí and Mahlon Grass. Songs Across the Atlantic: Gaining International Perspectives Through TEL’, EdTech, Dundalk Institute of Technology, 30 May 2019.

Commins, Adèle, Daithí Kearney, Ronan Lynch and Conor Walsh. ‘Sharing STEAM through TEL’, EdTech,Dundalk Institute of Technology, 30 May 2019.

Kearney, Daithí and Janne Robberstad . ‘Understanding our world through Opera: Increasing children’s engagement with climate change through cross-cultural collaboration’, 7th EUGEO Congress in conjunction with the 51st Conference of Irish Geographers, NUI Galway,15 May 2019.

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