Friday, 18 September 2009

Tulla festival a feast of culture

By Paul Keating

Tulla, Co. Clare -- It would seem to be one of those scenarios where it would be bringing “coals to Newcastle” to call over the Atlantic and to New Jersey, in particular, for a couple of musicians to deliver jigs and reels in an area that had no shortage of them in the tradition.

The East Clare area around Tulla and neighboring East Galway and Tipperary across the Shannon share a bountiful traditional music legacy that has played a large part in making the scene as robust as it is.

By inviting Mike Rafferty from Hasbrouck Heights and Willie Kelly from Boonton to headline the Tulla Trad Music Festival over the weekend of September 11-13 in Tulla, the organizing committee recognized the continuum aspect of reeling in the music wherever it may have traveled from the banks of the Shannon.

The lovely music contained in their new CD The New Broom merited a launch here on the opening Friday night and a special place on the Sunday concert slot, and once again added to a wonderful celebration of the music in a county known for waving the “Banner” high for it.

In fact, it wasn’t really a stretch to have Rafferty and Kelly here as part the Tulla Traditional Music Festival because it wasn’t just their music that had ties to this locality. Rafferty, soon to be 83 at the end of the month, grew up a short distance away in Larraga, near Ballinakill over the Galway border up north.

Since landing in New York over 60 years ago he has been one of the primary tradition-bearers and keepers of the flame of Irish music from this part of the world, influencing several generations of musicians with his down-home approach to the music.

Kelly was taught by the Glin-County Limerick legend, Martin Mulvihill (from further down the Shannon) in New Jersey, and though his father Joe was from Mayo, records from the Tulla Ceili Band were worn out on the record player at home.

Later on he developed a strong affinity for the music of East Galway and Clare through Rafferty, which was further reinforced through his courtship and marriage to Siobhan Moloney of O’Callaghan Mills not far from Tulla, a very fine flute player herself.

Until this CD came out, his status as one of the finest fiddle players in this style was kept a secret for too long. So this wasn’t any ordinary CD launch, but more of a homecoming for two of the finest gentlemen in Irish America who are well respected across the generations and the Atlantic Ocean.

Paula Carroll of Clare FM provided the opening remarks about their significance -- and that of Irish music in America -- appropriately enough because she captured it on one of her Kitchen Session programs broadcast from America back in February of this year from Willie and Siobhan Kelly’s house.

The back room of Minogues’ Bar in the center of town was where the CD received its Clare launch some months after it came out in April and was launched in New York City and the Catskills. The lovely pacing and simpatico of the music between the venerable native of Ballinakill in East Galway (Rafferty) and his long-time compadre (Kelly) raised in Dumont, New Jersey was a natural for this festival and further enhanced by the accompaniment of Donal Clancy, Mike’s son-in-law who recently returned to Waterford to live in June with his wife Mary Rafferty and family.

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