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  • Writer's pictureDaithí and Adèle

Southbound with the Snowdrops

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Although traditionally the first month of Spring, enlivened by the emergence of the snowdrops, February remains Winter’s tail end. Despite the weather, we were on the road again but the warmth that we experienced banished winter’s woes.

Our research journey has many twists and turns on many parallel paths. This month two of those paths led to Cork where Daithí presented at the ICTM Ireland conference in his alma mater, University College Cork before returning to Youghal where Ceolta Sí launched their new album Oidhreacht Eochaille, featuring music researched, composed and arranged by ourselves with the local team. Closer to home, the choir of St Brigid’s Church, Dunleer, gave the first performance of Daithí’s composition Brigid’s Cloak at mass on St Brigid’s Day and at the end of the month, Daithí called into Louth Youth Club to show the children some instruments, play some music and try a little composition. It was also wonderful to hear that geographer Aoife Kavanagh, for whom Daithí was second supervisor, passed her PhD viva voce in Maynooth University for her dissertation entitled Making Music and Making Place: Mapping Musical Practice in Irish Small Towns. Aoife has developed an excellent study that develops interesting methodological approaches to the study of music and place and she developed great insight into her study areas of Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford.

Oidhreacht Eochaille

Daithí attended the launch of Oidhreacht Eochaille in the Walter Raleigh Hotel in Youghal on the 22 February. Arriving to an already busy function room, Daithí was greeted by Chairman of Craobh Eochaille CCÉ, Mícheál de Buitléir, the driving force behind the project that sought to celebrate the cultural heritage of the area. In keeping with the ethos of the local branch, the evening featured performances from the younger groups in the branch, as well as the musicians who feature on the album. Fear an Tí for the evening was local radio presenter Tommy Collins from CRY FM and the dignitaries included local TDs David Stanton and James O’Connor, the latter the youngest TD in the 33rd Dáil and he demonstrated his fiddle skills, developed at Brú na Sí on the night.

The official launch was officiated by Uachtaráin an Chomhaltais, Vince Jordan, who travelled from Birmingham for the occasion. His excellent address made reference to the ethos and philosophy of the branch: ‘There is no elitism here and egos are moved aside in the interest of the inter-generational involvement of our traditional music, song, dance, language and photography’. Complimenting the project that led to the CD, Vince said: ‘In this CD we witness that traditional arts at “this time” and in “this location”. The recording is a living representation and it is now an important archive’. Unable to be present on the night, Ard Stiurthóir Labhrás Ó Murchú sent his best wishes, noting our involvement and recognising the CD as ‘an important contribution to the archive of our rich cultural heritage’.

In the development of this project, we examined numerous collections of Irish traditional music, drawing in particular from Tunes of the Munster Pipers, Volumes 1 (Sheilds, 1998) and 2 (Shields and Shields, 2013), and O'Farrell's Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes (1806). We also composed a number of pieces inspired by the local area. Two songs, both of which were performed on the night, drew from local folklore - ‘Moll Goggins’ was inspired by a reference shared by Youghal Celebrates History and refers to a local landmark; ‘McGrath’s Clock Gate’ was developed from the stories of John McGrath, a former resident of the Clock Gate, the image of which adorns the CD cover. John was present on the night to introduce the song and it was moving to hear the audience join in on the chorus. Other melodies included Adèle’s ‘Lighting Capel Island’, which was recently used in a radio documentary about the lighthouse on the island, and Daithí’s composition ‘Storm at Sea’, which was used in a video by about the wreckage of the MV Alta. Other tunes composed by Daithí, such as ‘Myrtle Grove’, which refers to the former home of Walter Raleigh, takes initial musical inspiration from the tune of ‘Eochail’ while ‘The Mayor of Youghal’ draws on klezmer music to refer to the Jewish heritage of the titular character. It is hoped that the CD will help promote interest in the local history and heritage and draw attention to the richness of the local area.

One of the highlights of the night was the presence of the three founding members of Craobh Eochaille CCÉ, Dónal Brookes, a fiddle player from Ennis, Co. Clare; Mary Daly from County Kildare, who was one of the leading traditional players in the area and who played a lot in County Waterford; and Nicholas Larkin from Galway, who was very involved in CCÉ in London before moving to Youghal. They recollected the efforts to establish classes and sessions in the early 1980s and could not have envisaged the strength in numbers that it had grown to today.

After the official launch and performances, which were excellently complimented by the visual footage created by young accordion player Liam O’Leary, many people went to the bar where the session included fiddle player Mary Daly. Her son Aidan had done a lot of work to organise the night and he sat in, as did his daughter, reflecting the inter-generational music-making that exists and is nurtured in the branch.

ICTM Ireland Annual Conference

The same weekend, the ICTM Annual Conference took place in the Department of Music at University College Cork. Daithí presented his paper on Siamsa Tíre in the Fleischmann Room, a room he has taught in on a number of previous occasions, particularly for the Early Start Programme at UCC. For his paper, he drew up the example of the 1976 tour of the USA by Siamsa Tíre, including their performances on Broadway that he previously explored in a recently published chapter (Kearney, 2019), and the involvement of Siamsa Tíre in EXPO’88 in Brisbane, Australia, and EXPO’92 in Seville, Spain. It was clear that there is an intense connection between the local and the global in the presentation of Irish cultural heritage and, over the course of nearly three decades, a changing attitude and response from audiences and critics to the work of Siamsa Tíre.

Daithí’s session was well themed as he was preceded by Rachel Duffy’s presentation on the late Derek Bell, the multi-instrumentalist best known for his membership of The Chieftains. Indeed, Siamsa Tíre shared the bill with The Chieftains for the performance in Brisbane in 1988. Dancer Jackie O’Riley presented on a visual album of Irish dance and music entitled From the Floor, which she created with collaborators Chris Stevens, Nathan Gourley and Rebecca McGowan. Daithí had bookended his presentation with steps from the Munnix tradition and the Seville Suite and the style was mirrored in the video presented by O’Riley, which drew on similar sources for traditional steps, which were performed in an old style.

There were a number of other highlights over the weekend and, as always, there was a difficulty in selecting which papers to attend. Adrian Scahill opened up Daithí’s experience of the conference with a paper on the band Lankum, who have experienced significant success recently, critiquing the bands engagement with resistance and politics in contemporary Ireland through their music. Although in a different session, there were interesting overlaps with Purab Riddhi’s paper on protest songs in India, which again dealt with very contemporary issues.

Two of Daithí’s postgraduate students were presenting at the conference. Maurice Mullen placed a geographical lens on north County Dublin and asked ‘Wither policies for traditional music in Fingal?’. He presented an insightful critique of national policies and the potential to translate and implement these at a local level. Christina Lynn also presented a very geographical paper that sought to map Irish country music and engage with the dispersal of venues throughout Ireland and consequences for the scene. It overlapped neatly with Paul Carr, whose presentation on curating and documenting local popular music making in the UK with consequences for community identities. The issue of identity arose again in Anaïs Verhuist’s paper on intangible cultural heritage. Of particular interest was her case study on disputes that arose regarding the potential inclusion of hunting horn music in the inventory and the subtle differences that exist across Europe regarding these traditions.

As composers who have engaged with various collaborators, exemplified in the project that led to Oidhreacht Eochaille, we are very interested in the creative process and Kevin McNally and Kaylie Streit presented two complimentary papers that took on very different approaches. McNally spoke about his experience with a community Gamelan and how he is drawing inspiration from philosophers such as the late John Moriarty and a desire to engage with nature. Streit reflected on her research with performers Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Iarla Ó Lionaird and Nic Gareiss, whose twin paths of traditional music and exploratory music-making, inform their creative and performing practices.

Some of our recent papers (Commins and Kearney, 2018a; 2018b; 2019a; 2019b) have engaged with Applied Ethnomusicology, particularly reflecting on our work and roles with the Oriel Traditional Orchestra, the DkIT Traditional Music Ensemble and Ceolta Sí. These reflections are based on a necessarily short period of time but have highlighted the benefits of critical reflection in our practice, sometimes captured also here in our blogs. Thérèse Smith drew on similar reflections in her paper, albeit over a greater span of time, as she reflected on the impact that she and her research activity had on a community in Mississippi. Although she ultimately underplayed the significance of her impact, it is clear that her work was significant. However, her point that assuming an exaggerated importance for our work as ethnomusicologists could dilute the integrity of our scholarship was well made.

The links between Irish music and Irish politics was prominent throughout the weekend. While Scahill had already addressed some contemporary politics in relation to the band Lankum, which was mirrored in some respects by Ioannis Tsioulakis, who was drawing on his experiences of working as a musician in Greece, the politics of nationalism and unionism were the focus of presentations by Fintan Vallely, Stephen Miller and Gordon Ramsey. Vallely’s evocation of the ballad ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans’ was made even more relevant to contemporary discourse by recent events in the aftermath of Irish elections but Fintan was able to draw on his extensive scholarship in the area, including his book Tuned out: Traditional music and identity in Northern Ireland (2008) to provide a historical overview. Miller, whose previous work focused on song and Irish republicanism, turned his attention to loyalist songs, which he argued sought to help legitimize conflict. Ramsey, who has provided much historical and contemporary research on Loyalist marching bands, examined the response of flute bands to austerity in west Belfast over the past three years. At a time when our society deals with Brexit and given our location near the border, it is increasingly important that we continue to develop understanding of cultural traditions and expression.

The parallel paths and serendipity that we encounter on our musical journeys was brought together in an interesting manner by the ICTM Ireland Keynote Address by Kay Kaufman Shelemay. Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, Shelemay’s work has been hugely influential in Ethnomusicology and her article entitled ‘Music, Memory and History’ in Ethnomusicology Forum (2006) provided insights to which Daithí has returned a number of times, having first cited it in his PhD (2009). In her keynote, Shelemay provided examples from her studies of and with Ethopian musicians in Ethiopia and amongst the Ethiopian Diaspora. Entitled ‘Guards, guides, and moral leaders: The musician in society’, Shelemay encouraged researchers to recognise the leaders amongst the musicians and musical traditions that we study. Individuals such as Fr Pat Ahern, the founding Artistic Director of Siamsa Tíre, and Mícheál de Buitléir, Chairman of Craobh Eochaile CCÉ for more than two decades, are both examples of guards, guides and moral leaders in their respective communities and deserve both respect and scholarly attention. We look forward to following in the paths of these inspirational figures as we continue on our journeys in music and research.


Kavanagh, Aoife. 2020. Making Music and Making Place: Mapping Musical Practice in Irish Small Towns Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Maynooth University.

Kearney, Daithí. 2009. Towards a Regional Understanding of Irish Traditional Music. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University College Cork.

Kearney, Daithí. 2019. ‘From Tralee to Times Square: Siamsa Tíre on Broadway’ in S. Mikowski and Y. Philippe (eds) How Popular Culture Travels: Cultural Exchanges between Ireland and the United States. Reims: EPURE.

O’Farrell, P. (c.1806) O'Farrell's Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes Unidentified publisher.

Shelemay, Kay Kaufman, 2006, June. Music, Memory and History: In Memory of Stuart Feder. In Ethnomusicology Forum 15:1, pp. 17-37).

Shields, Hugh and Lisa Shields, 2013 Tunes of the Munster Pipers, Volumes 2. Dublin: Irish Traditional Music Archive.

Shields, Hugh. 1998. Tunes of the Munster Pipers, Volumes 1 Dublin: Irish Traditional Music Archive.

Vallely, Fintan. 2008. Tuned out: Traditional music and identity in Northern Ireland. Cork: Cork University Press.

Conference Papers Referenced

Carr, Paul. 2020. ‘Lost musical histories: curating and documenting local popular music making in the UK’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Chaudhuri, Purab Riddhi. 2020. ‘Protest Songs – Transcending boundaries and adding new voice to movements across India’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

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

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, 28-30 June.

Commins, Adèle and Daithí Kearney. 2020a. ‘New Notes: Sharing Research and Practice with the Oriel Traditional Orchestra and Ceolta Sí’, with Adèle Commins, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, DCU, 24 January.

Commins, Adèle and Daithí Kearney. 2020b. ‘Gone in Jig Time: A Critical Study of the DkIT Traditional Music Ensemble’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, DCU, 24 January.

Duffy, Rachel. 2020. ‘The development of the harp in Ireland in the later twentieth century: Derek Bell’s recordings for harp’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Harte, Colin. 2020. ‘Bodhráns, lambegs, and paramilitaries: political dissidence in Northern Ireland’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Kaufman Shelemay, Kay. 2020. ‘Guards, guides and moral leaders: The musician in society’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Kearney, Daithí. 2020. ‘They must know me: Reflecting on Siamsa Tíre’s representation of Irish culture for international audiences’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Lynn, Christina. 2020. ‘Mapping a genre: where country music emerged’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

McNally, Kevin. 2020. ‘Not over, but through nine waves – Sound as pedagogy for living beautifully on Earth’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Millar, Stephen R. 2020. ‘From Belfast to the Somme (and back again): legitimising loyalist paramilitaries through political song’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Mullen, Maurice. 2020. ‘Whither policies for traditional music in Fingal?’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

O’Riley, Jackie. 2020. ‘From the Floor: A Visual album of Irish dance and music’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Ramsey, Gordon. 2020. ‘Sectarianism and social care: the role of loyalist flute bands in responding to austerity in working-class communities in Belfast’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Scahill, Adrian. 2020. ‘The New Folk: Noise, resistance, resilience and politics in the music of Lankum’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Smith, Thérèse. 2020. ‘Ethnomusicologists as transformational agents for activism and community collaboration: reality or illusion?’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Streit, Kaylie. 2020. ‘Multiple musical identities: expression of self through individualized musical pathways’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Tsioulakis, Ioannis. 2020. ‘Standing with: the role of the ethnomusicologist in the musicians’ struggle for better working conditions’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Vallely, Fintan. 2020. ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans… The perennial power of the political ballad’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

Verhulst, Anaïs. 2020. ‘Inventoring music and performing arts heritage: a narrative of inclusion, exclusion, awareness raising, and uncomfortable spotlights’. ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, UCC, 21 February.

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