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  • Writer's pictureDaithí and Adèle

Easter Reflections 2022

Dr Adèle Commins presenting at the CLRG World Irish Dancing Championships.

The division of the year into various cycles has been part of many cultures. Pagan and Christian ideas often overlap and the ancient Celtic calendar occasions of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa remain evident in different ways. At Easter, ancient symbols of fertility such as the rabbit and the egg are visible alongside images of the crucifixion and celebration of the resurrection, celebrated at the first full moon after the Spring equinox. There is a Janus-like quality to Easter as we reflect on the past with the promises of a better future, symbolised by the coming of summer but, for Christians, central to the teachings of the Church.

After low-key musical contributions to Christmas ceremonies, the choirs remained quiet for the Spring. While the children of Scoil Bhríde in Dunleer revisited ‘Brigid’s Cloak’, it was not until St Patrick’s Day that the church choir returned under Daithí’s direction, with Adèle also returning to Louth village. For Easter, the sense of celebration is reinforced by the buzz of working again with our choir members and preparing music. The sound of the organ and harmony in voices enlivens the physical space but also reconnects our communities.

OTO in rehearsal at the Íontas Theatre ahead of the premiere of Dave Flynn's 'The Oriel Suite' (2022).

The Oriel Traditional Orchestra has also returned to full activities and more in 2022. The first major event was a performance at Féile Patrick Byrne where the orchestra premiered three works by its junior members, Áine Scott, Kerrianne McArdle and Niall Hughes, as well as the premiere performance of The Oriel Suite, composed by internationally renowned composer Dave Flynn and funded by the Arts Council of Ireland. Dave joined us for a weekend of rehearsals in advance of the concert and conducted the performance. The programme also included two items from the ‘Lost Songs of the Border’ project led by Colleen Savage. It was the first time that Colleen and singers Ciara and Patricia were able to join the orchestra and coming together live added to our appreciation of the music.

With everything that has been going on, we have not yet returned to regular sessions but Daithí was delighted to join members of Drogheda CCÉ for a St Patrick’s Day session in association with Conradh na Gaeilge. Returning to Drogheda, is was noticeable how people were reflecting on Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and surely a legacy of the event was a changed perception of Irish traditional music in the town even if COVID-19 meant that the huge energy of the Fleadh’s success was dissipated too quickly.

While many musical activities returned to face-to-face arrangements, some conferences remained online. Dundalk Institute of Technology hosted the ICTM Ireland Annual Conference for 2022 on the 25 and 26 February. Adèle presented on Charles Villiers Stanford’s comic opera Shamus O’Brien, focusing on the uilleann pipes and pipers. She was joined in the session on Irish Musical History by our good friend Deirdre Ní Chonghaile who gave an insightful paper on Tomás Ó Máille, whose importance she has highlighted in recent times through her research.

Daithí presented a paper that focused on Siamsa Tíre’s ‘Sounds Like Folk’ Podcast Series. The series reflected the efforts by artists to connect during various lockdowns and reach a different audience to that which might ordinarily attend events in Tralee. Daithí was joined in his session by his student Leandro Pessina, who reflected on the FleadhFest series of YouTube videos that focused on Co. Louth. Helen Gubbins also presented in the session with an excellent interrogation on the concept of ‘liveness’ on the radio. The interconnection of Daithí’s and Helen’s papers reflected the 2009 conference hosted at UCD when they were part of a panel with Deirdre Ní Chonghaile that later became chapters in the book Ancestral Imprints (2012), edited by Therese Smith, the keynote for this year’s conference.

Smith’s keynote challenged those attending to consider not only the value of archives but also the importance and methods of those collecting and contributing. She played some wonderful examples of song from the archives in UCD and whetted the appetite of listeners, inspiring them to consider their own potential legacies and the importance of preserving examples of musical culture for future generations. Smith was the recipient of ICTM-Ireland’s inaugural Oirdhearchas Award for her outstanding contribution to the study of music in Ireland.

Daithí enjoyed chairing the opening session involving Sarah Fons, Kevin McNally and Georgina Hughes. Fons’ paper evoked memories of the Irish traditional music community in Cork, which had adapted to the restraints of COVID-19. Similarly, McNally’s and Hughes’ papers also highlighted how musicians continued to connect during a period of isolation. They echoed our experience of the Oriel Traditional Orchestra, which we published on with Philip McGuinness in the Journal of Music, Health and Wellbeing. The OTO also featured at the conference as the video ‘Performing Oriel’s Heritage’ was featured as a film.

In March, the ongoing blended nature of some events allowed us to continue to engage with a wider community to an extent that would not have been possible in the past. We were delighted to virtually attend the Seán Ó Riada Memorial Lecture at UCC on 3 March when Mary Mitchell Ingoldsby presented on the history of Irish traditional music at the university. The event took place as part of UCC Tradfest, an event that Daithí enjoyed attending for a number of years, being part of the organising committee for a number of years including taking on the role of Treasurer in 2002 as part of a committee led by Edel McLaughlin and Deirdre Granville. Deirdre’s sister Aoife, now a lecturer in folklore at UCC was Chair for his first Tradfest in early 2000. Michelle Finnerty, who is now a lecturer in the Music Department, was Chair in 2001 for another memorable festival and the role of both Aoife and Michelle in the ongoing development of the UCC Department of Music was noted by Mary.

Daithí attended the FestSpace Conference 2022 hosted at DCU on 10 March entitled ‘Festivals, public space and inclusion in the post (?) pandemic city’. Although not involved in this project, many of the presentations were informative in the context of ongoing research with Dr Kevin Burns at DkIT. Daithí and Kevin have a book chapter in press, edited by some of the FestSpace members and in February received confirmation of TUTF funding for a PhD scholarship on tourism in the border region. Entitled ‘Festival stakeholders’ relationships – social exchange and collaboration between stakeholders in festivals’, we look forward to welcoming a new researcher in September.

In April, Adèle presented again on Shamus O’Brien, turning her attention to the premiere production at the Opera Comique in London for a paper to the fourth London Stage and the Nineteenth-Century World conference hosted by New College, Oxford, from 6–8 April 2022. She was joined in her session by Noa Kaufman, also presenting on Shamus O’Brien and the two papers complimented each other very well. Whereas Noa focused on the contributions of various individuals and representations of Irishness in the context of emigration and diaspora, Adèle provided a more musicological focus, commenting on the representations of Irishness in both music and scenography, and the reception in British newspapers of the time.

Monday Music Mix at DkIT with RehabCare Dundalk. Photo: Ryan Duffy (DkIT).

Daithí enjoyed teaming up with Sandy Sneddon from RehabCare for another project involving DkIT Music students and RehabCare service users culminating in a concert on Monday 4 April. It was the fourth time that students on the BA (Hons) Music had collaborated with RehabCare the it was particularly heart-warming to be back after the COVID-19 break. Everybody involved works together, using music to develop an understanding of each other and the challenge that we all face every day. Daithí also paid a visit to Louth Village Youth Club to play some music for the children and introduce them to a variety of instruments.

We travelled to the Waterfront in Belfast at Easter for the CLRG World Irish Dancing Championships, where Adèle presented a paper on her former teacher Rory Kennedy as part of a research forum. Rory, along with Pauline White and Brendan Gaughran provided music for many feiseanna in Leinster and Ulster in the 1960s through to the 1980s and, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the World Irish Dancing Championships, it was fitting that he should be celebrated. Other presentations focused on 50 years of Irish dancing in Ulster and a presentation by Orfhlaith Ní Bhriain on her book Jigs to Jacobites, which presents the stories behind many of the solo set dances of the Irish dance tradition.

We also enjoyed a presentation by Jean Young ‘A barbarous mania of incendiarism’: Big House burnings in Co Louth, 1921–23’ hosted by the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, History Department, Maynooth University on 7 April. It was a wonderful opportunity to gain additional insights into the architectural history of our surroundings, particularly on buildings that we recognise from driving and walking in the county. It is a reminder of the rich built heritage of the region, some of which was featured in the OTO’s video ‘Performing Oriel’s Heritage’, developed in collaboration with the Heritage Office in Louth County Council. Seven ‘Big Houses’ were deliberately burned in Co Louth and Young provided some insights into why houses were targeted and what happened to the houses and their occupants in the aftermath of destruction. Young is the author of ‘Changing Times: the Big House in County Louth, 1912-1923’ in Donal Hall and Martin Maguire (eds.), County Louth and the Irish Revolution, 1912–1923 (Newbridge, 2017).

Over the past few months, we have been delighted to support students completing Transfer Viva’s from MA to PhD research and for others to submit their MA and PhD dissertations for examination. We continue to apply for funding to further develop the research community at DkIT and success in this area has allowed us to interact with wonderful researchers from different backgrounds whose research will have a particular impact for Louth and surrounding counties. We are looking forward to some forthcoming publications of our work and further face-to-face conferences. The upcoming Louth County Fleadh promises to be a wonderful return to such activities and we are planning our adventures to various musical events and festivals over the summer. Like Lent, COVID-19 presented many restrictions but also time to reflect. Like Easter, we look forward to a re-emergence into the new light of summer and a joyous musical celebration.


Conference Papers

Commins, A. 2022a. The Piper and Fr O’Flynn: Traditional Music in Stanford’s Comic Opera Shamus O’Brien. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 25 February 2022.

Commins, A. 2022b. An Irish Opera on an English Stage: Performances of Stanford’s Shamus O’Brien at the Opera Comique. London Stage and the Nineteenth-Century World IV, New College, Oxford, 8 April 2022.

Commins, A. 2022c. Empathy in the Vellows: Rory Kennedy’s Contribution to Irish Music and Dance. Fóraim Rince agus Ceoil, CLRG World Irish Dancing Championships, 14 April 2022.

Fons, S. 2022. ‘A Collective Breath’: The Struggle for Sacred Experience, Connection, and Communal Music-Making in a Pandemic. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 25 February 2022.

Gubbins, H. 2022. Hierarchies of Liveness in Radio Music Programming. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 26 February 2022.

Hughes, G. 2022. ‘The Language of Bells’: Collaborative Momentum in the Absence of Live Performance. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 25 February 2022.

Kearney, D. 2022. Virtual bothántaíocht: Siamsa Tíre’s ‘Sounds Like Folk’ Podcast Series. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 26 February 2022.

McNally, K. 2022. Intimacy without Proximity: Strategies to Overcome Lockdown Separation in a Gamelan Ensemble. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 25 February 2022.

Ní Chonghaile, D. 2022. ‘an mhaith is lugha atá innti’: Tomás Ó Máille (1880-1938), Song Collector, Linguist, Journalist, Professor. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 25 February 2022.

Pessina, L. 2022. If You Can’t Go to the Fleadh: A Virtual Visit to Louth for Fleadhfest 2021. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 26 February 2022.

Smith, T. 2022. Who Owns the Songs? Voice, Songs, and Ownership. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, DkIT, 25 February 2022.


Kearney, D. 2012. ‘Radio and regions in Irish traditional music’ in Ancestral Imprints: Histories of Irish Traditional Music and Dance ed. Therese Smith. Cork: Cork University Press, pp. 128-140.

Kearney, D. and Burns, K. 2022. ‘Come Enjoy the Craic: Locating an Irish traditional music festival in Drogheda’ in Festivals and the city: the contested geographies of urban events. Editors: Andrew Smith, Guy Osborn and Bernadette Quinn. London: University of Westminster Press.

Kearney, D., Commins, A. and McGuinness, P., 2021. Virtual Musicking During COVID-19: Maintaining a Music Ensemble Community. Journal of Music, Health, and Wellbeing, 11.

Ní Bhriain, Orfhlaith and Mick McCabe. 2018. Jigs to Jacobites: 4000 Years of Irish History Told through 40 Traditional Set Dances. Dublin: Independent Publishing Network.

Ní Chonghaile, D. 2012. Broadcasting Bailiúchán Bhairbre: Researching and Representing Recordings via Radio in Ancestral Imprints: Histories of Irish Traditional Music and Dance ed. Therese Smith. Cork: Cork University Press, pp. 118-127.

Young, Jean. 2017. ‘Changing Times: the Big House in County Louth, 1912-1923’ in Donal Hall and Martin Maguire (eds.), County Louth and the Irish Revolution, 1912-1923. Newbridge.


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