In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes: "And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer."[i] Dreaming about a better future is one of the central themes of the novel and it is apt as we emerge from a difficult period. It has been a hectic year in so many different ways and like many people, we have been adapting to doing things differently and just as the plants burst into bloom in June, our diaries filled up with academic conferences and virtual events that reenergized our mission. This blog reflects the different ways in which we have engaged in community activities, academic conferences and ongoing research, often from our home.
Over the past six months since the last blog we have presented on our research at three academic conferences. and the Creative Arts Research Centre Colloquium at DkIT. Developing papers for these conferences has not only challenged us to reengage with different aspects of our research but to bring our different research interests closer together. For NAFCo 2021, held at the University of Limerick in June, we each presented papers with Adèle focusing on the daughters of the influential Sligo fiddle-born player John Joe Gardiner, who lived in Dundalk for many years. Daithí re-examining his experiences in Fochabers. The film, Finding Fochabers, developed with students at DkIT and co-directed by Desmond Ooi was also screened at the conference. At the joint SMI/ICTM Ireland conference, hosted by Trinity College Dublin, Daithí presented a paper that focused on the North Kerry dance tradition and the reworking of steps. For the American Conference of Irish Studies Conference, hosted by the University of Ulster, we combined our research interests on Siamsa Tíre and the Siamsa Céilí Band to examine the reception of Irish traditional music in the USA in the 1970s. Daithí also published in the ETBI Journal of Education and we have both been working on drafts of forthcoming publications.
We also continued our engagement in local musicking in as much as was possible with the restrictions that have been in place. We are looking forward to returning to face-to-face interactions but here we reflect on a musical and scholarly summer.
The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention (NAFCo) is a wonderful event that brings together international scholars with a shared interest in the music, song and dance traditions of the North Atlantic. Adèle has always had an interest in the musical traditions of Louth, learning traditional music initially from the legendary Rory Kennedy, who was deeply influenced by Gardiner, known to many as ‘the Boss’. Kennedy and Gardiner were part of the hugely successful Siamsa Céilí Band, whom Adèle has presented and published about previously (Commins, 2019). For this paper, the focus turned to Pat, Pauline and Noreen, Gardiner’s three daughters, who are themselves fine musicians and important figures in the development of Irish traditional music in Dundalk and beyond. Their story includes the success of the band, the transmission of music and the development of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.
Daithí’s reflections returned to his experiences of Speyfest and the Fochabers’ Fiddle Week, focusing on the presence of famous Scottish fiddle player William Marshall (1748–1883) in the various scapes of the place. Informed by a number of previous presentations at NAFCo, Daithí’s paper raised questions regarding the disconnect between musical heritage and musical traditions, highlighting the processes of memory and selectivity in the evolution of traditional musics, the impact of commercialisation, and the importance for ethnomusicologists to engage with lived musical experiences. Despite plans, we haven’t been able to travel to Scotland over the past two years but we look forward to returning and engaging more in the music scenes there, particularly at Speyfest.
We thoroughly enjoyed the range of papers and performances that we could engage with virtually, streamed from UL. Adèle presented in the first session, which also included one of Daithí’s students, Ellie Nic Fhionghaille, who presented on the influence of Gaeltacht fiddle players on Máiréad Ní Mhaonaigh. It is often unfair to pick out highlights but Panel 2 gave fantastic insights into Ethno-World camps, which have developed an interested approach to the study of traditional musics. Panel 9 on Aesthetic Transformations was of interest to us and Chelsey Zimmerman’s work in particular related to Adèle’s engagement with Charles Villiers Stanford’s comic opera Shamus O’Brien, particularly in the context of the involvement of Patsy Touhey. Stuart Eydmann was in Panel 10 with Daithí and his paper reminded the audience of the importance of appreciating lesser celebrated figures in traditional music. One of the delights of attending NAFCo is the opportunity to attend workshops and performances and while we didn’t engage so much on this occasion in a virtual sphere, it was good to have the opportunity to tune in and enjoy different aspects that often put research in context.
SMI/ICTM Ireland 2021
For the joint SMI/ICTM Ireland Annual Conference, Daithí picked up where he left off in 2020 by elaborating on the development of the Munnix dance tradition of North Kerry, which he encountered as a child with Siamsa Tíre, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland. Embracing a physical way of knowing and incorporating footage of Daithí dancing, the presentation critically examined the reworking of Irish traditional dance steps from the north Kerry tradition associated with the dancing master Jeremiah Molyneux (1881–1965), also known as Munnix. Influenced by the work of Mícheál Ó Suilleabháin in the context of Irish traditional music, Daithí presented an examination of archival recordings, identifying features that recur as the tradition is transferred to the theatre stage and reworked. Daithí’s paper was complemented excellently by Samantha Jones’ presentation on step dance notation and the overlaps in the presentations were further developed in the Q&A elements.
Daithí also chaired a session that included his postgraduate student, Ellie Nic Fhionghaille, who presented on her research on three women musicians, Máiréad Ní Mhaoniaigh, Moya Brennan and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill. Anthony Cahill joined from the USA with an excellent paper on slow airs while Verena Commins and Méabh Ní Fhuartháin presented a very engaging paper on recent documentary films that engaged with Irish traditional music, focusing in particular on Noel Hill and Tony McMahon. Seán Doherty and Conor Arkins presented highly analytical papers on O’Neill’s collection of Irish traditional music and the recordings of Bobby Casey respectively, while Lauren O’Neill’s presentation on harp accompaniment for Gaelic Bardic Poetry challenged us to consider a musical world we had not previously engaged with.
The programme for the conference was diverse and highly topical and while it was wonderful to see so many colleagues, students and graduates, it was again a pity not to be able to meet in person and share a cup of coffee.
Although we have both presented and published in the area of Irish studies, this was the first occasion we have attended and presented at the ACIS. Attracted by the call for papers, we enjoyed the diverse range of papers and presentations as the conference committee, like the previous conferences, sought to make the most of the virtual environment. For this conference, we co-wrote the presentation, which brought together parallel strands of our respective research journeys, focusing in particular on the Siamsa Céilí Band and Siamsa Tíre.
Performances in the USA in the 1970s were important elements of the narrative for both groups in our research. A question from the floor at a conference a few years ago highlighted potential comparisons with The Chieftains, leading to further considerations of performances of Irish traditional music in the USA at this time. Adèle had already considered the reception of Charles Villiers Stanford in the USA earlier in the century and Daithí has published an extensive account on the tour by Siamsa Tíre to the USA in 1974 but there was much more that can and should be considered, particularly in relation to the development and reception of Irish traditional music in the USA in the latter half of the twentieth century.
We were delighted to share the session with Meabh Ní Fhuartháin and Verena Commins from NUI Galway who continued from their presentation at the SMI/ICTM Conference to examine other aspects of documentary films on Irish traditional music, with a particular focus on gender. Between us, Grainne Milner-McCloone presented a very interesting insight into the collection of Irish folk songs by Sam Henry. Her engagement with lyrics to gain insight into a sense of place and community was full of geographical meaning that is of great interest to us.
Reaching out to other audiences
We always enjoy sharing our research with others and engaging with different groups, be it in academia or in the wider community. While a lot of our focus has been in Ireland, the online opportunities made it easier for us to interact with other groups and we both enjoyed sharing our knowledge and experiences with groups around the world over the past few months.
In June musical director and organist Lee Dunlevy invited Adèle to give a guest lecture to members of Northampton Bach Choir, Royal Leamington Spa Bach Choir, Huntingdonshire Philharmonic as part of their 'Fridays at Four' initiative during lockdown. The series featured a variety of speakers focusing on a number of composers and their music. Some of the choir members had sung Stanford previously and were working on some of his repertoire. Adéle introduced them to a number of Stanford's works in her talk.
Daithí was delighted to collaborate again with Professor Mahlon Grass at Lock Haven University and provide a guest lecture to a group of students on an international study programme with himself and Professor Marcia Ostashewski at Cape Breton University entitled The Transformative Power of Music. Daithí was delighted to speak about, perform and answer questions about Irish traditional music. There was particular interest in social contexts for music making, such as sessions, and also regarding the impact of tourism on Irish traditional music.
Meanwhile at home
Closer to home, Daithí also coordinated a project funded by Creative Ireland Louth and Louth County Council through Creative Ireland that involved the production of two music videos. The project shared two local songs with the wider community and involved participants from the church choir, primary school, Men’s Shed, Lolo Robinson’s School of Irish Dancing and Scoraíocht Lann Léire. In 2020, Daithí composed a new song inspired by legends and folklore about St Brigid, patron saint of the parish. It was first performed by the parish choir in St Brigid’s Church in February, prior to the COVID-19 restrictions that have silenced choirs. Another local songwriter Pat Roche has also composed a song about local folklore and history, which was learned by the local Men’s Sheds group. For the project, various participants got involved in singing, dancing and creating artwork to celebrate community, culture and heritage in the Parish.
We both have had to take a step back from our involvement in choirs during the COVID-19 pandemic but we were delighted to return to playing the organ at masses in more recent months. One of the popular annual activities is the broadcasting of mass on LMFM from various churches in the region. Adèle provided accompaniment for John Hanratty from the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Louth Village in May and Daithí accompanied Peter from St Brigid’s Church in Dunleer in August. We look forward to returning to making music with our choirs but in the meantime we are grateful that they have remained safe and well.
As Shakespeare noted in Sonnet XVIII, ‘summer's lease hath all too short a date’. Soon we will return to classes but we will bring our research and learning to the eyes and ears of our students and continue to reflect on the rich cultural worlds we inhabit, even if these have been reshaped by COVID-19 and an adaptation to virtual environments. Just like many seeds sown in summer, some of our ideas will over winter and we look forward to them blooming next year and we hope you join with us again.
Commins, A. 2021. The Boss’s Daughters: Women of the Gardiner Fiddle Tradition. [Conference Presentation] NACFCo 2021.
Commins, A. 2021. 'Understanding the Reception of Stanford's Shamus O'Brien in Ireland' [Conference Presentation]. Creative Arts Research Centre Colloquium, DkIT. May 2021.
Commins, A. 2021. 'Musical Borrowing as a Musical Offering in the Music of Charles Villiers Stanford' [Invited Guest Lecture]. Northampton Bach Choir, Royal Leamington Spa Bach Choir, Huntingdonshire Philharmonic.
Kearney, D. 2021. My Brigadoon Moment: Distinguishing Between Heritage and Tradition in Fochabers [Conference Presentation]. NAFCo 2021.
Kearney, D. and Commins, A. ‘Transatlantic Trad: Performing Ireland in 1970s America’ [Conference Presentation’. American Conference for Irish Studies Ulster University 2-5 June 2021
Kearney, D. ‘A Blackbird in Seville: Reworking Steps from the North Kerry Tradition’ [Conference Presentation]. SMI and ICTM Ireland Joint Annual Conference. Trinity College Dublin, 30 May 2021.
Kearney, D. ‘Reworking Irish Dance’ [Conference Presentation]. Creative Arts Research Centre Colloquium, DkIT. May 2021.
Ó Fachtna, P. 1954. Dunleer through the Ages. Seanchas Ardmhacha: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, 1(1), 151-162. doi:10.2307/29740577
Kearney, D. 2021. Creative Arts, Discovery and Empathy: Sharing Creativity and Exploration in Education. ETBI Journal of Education Vol 3 : 1 – Creativity: Learning Through the Arts.
[i] Daithí studied the novel during his undergraduate degree at UCC and we enjoyed attending ballet based on the book in Belfast a few years ago.