Saturday, 28 November 2009

Irish Christmas comes to Lowville

LOWVILLE — Fans of Irish music dreaming of a green Christmas will want to be in this village Dec. 6 regardless of the snow situation.

The touring production "Irish Christmas in America," sponsored by the Lewis County Historical Society, stops that day at the Lowville Academy and Central School auditorium.

The show, in its fifth year, includes some of Ireland's top traditional artists, featuring music, dance and stories of seasonal Irish traditions.

The production was created five years ago by Oisin Mac Diarmada of the award-winning Irish group Téada. Mr. Mac Diarmada plays fiddle for Téada, which is Irish for "strings." The band focuses on the traditional music of Ireland and was named the Best Young Irish Traditional Act at the inaugural 2009 Ireland Music Awards.

Mr. Mac Diarmada, speaking from his home in County Sligo, Ireland, late last week a day before leaving for Mexico, said he saw Irish Christmas in America as a chance to show the diversity of Irish culture.

"Ever since 2001, I've been over and back to the U.S. four or five times a year," he said. "I wanted to bring over some of the other elements from Ireland. In this setting, you have more opportunity to tell people stories, do some dancing and we also have a slide show."

Mr. Mac Diarmada said the show is a way to share traditional and often unknown Irish customs with audiences.

"One of the most heartfelt themes of Irish Christmas is emigration," he said. "Music was a way that people stayed close to home."

Joining Mr. Mac Diarmada for "Irish Christmas in America" will be Seamus Begley on vocals and accordion, Grainne Hambly on Irish harp and concertina, Tommy Martin on uilleann pipes/whistles, Tristan Rosenstock on bodhran and as narrator, Sean Earnest on guitar and bouzouki and dancer Brian Cunningham.

Mr. Begley, hailing from the Irish-speaking region of West County Kerry, is known for his "old-style" singing. He has won numerous awards, including sharing Best Folk/Celtic Duo at the 2009 Ireland Music Awards.

"He's one of those people you love to be around," Mr. Mac Diarmada said. "He turned 60 this year and he has a zest for lively stories and staying up late. I think there will be more off-the-cuff banter at this year's show."

Although it's not holiday related, one of the stories to be told at "Irish Christmas in America" will be about Capt. Francis O'Neill, an emigrant from Cork who became Chicago's chief of police at the turn of the 20th century.

Mr. Mac Diarmada said Capt. O'Neill (1848-1936) had a major effect on Irish music in America by collecting it and organizing musicians to play it.

"He was so key in creating the music we perform," Mr. Mac Diarmada said. "We do a selection of songs he saved for our generation."

Capt. O'Neill, with other Irish musicians, created the Irish Music Club and was responsible for collecting and publishing thousands of pieces of Irish music.

Joining Mr. Mac Diarmada and Mr. Begley for Irish Christmas in America:

■ Dancer Brian Cunningham, 23, is an "old-style" dancer from Ireland, where he has won many of that country's major dance competitions. In 2005, he was invited by the president of Ireland to perform during a state visit to Japan and South Korea.

■ Grainne Hambly from County Mayo is an internationally recognized expert of the Irish harp. Over the past few years, she has toured extensively throughout Europe and the U.S. She also is a qualified teacher of traditional Irish music and is in demand at summer schools and festivals in Ireland and abroad.

■ Tommy Martin is originally from Dublin and now lives in St. Louis, Mo. His first of 13 CDs was released in 2000. His diverse uilleann pipes/whistles credits range from performing with "Riverdance" in New York City to the Chicago Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra.

■ Tristan Rosenstock, from Glenageary, County Dublin, is also a member of Téada. He's prominent in Dublin musical circles and recently completed a master's degree in film and television studies from Dublin City University.

■ Sean Earnest, on guitar and bouzouki, is a native of central Pennsylvania and has toured the East Coast playing gigs and doing session work for other artists.

WHAT: Irish Christmas in America
WHEN/WHERE: 3 p.m. Dec. 6 at Lowville Academy and Central School auditorium, 7668 State St. It’s a benefit and sponsored by the Lewis County Historical Society. Doors open at 2:30.
COST: Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Society officials noted there is no guarantee seats will be available on the day of the concert for guests to be seated together.
Checks for tickets can be sent to the Lewis County Historical Society, P.O. Box 446, Lowville, NY 13367, along with a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. Guests can also call the society at 376-8957 for more information or to arrange for ticket pick-ups. Requests received via the mail after Monday will be held for pick up at the door the afternoon of the concert.

Cherish the Ladies

Like jazz and rock, Celtic music has traditionally been a male-dominated scene. But in 1985, folklorist/musician Mick Moloney had the idea of sponsoring a concert series featuring the finest female Irish traditional musicians.

The result was Cherish the Ladies, a band that has become one of the most celebrated Celtic ensembles in the world. They will perform their Christmas program as part of the Kutztown University Performing Artists Series, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Schaeffer Auditorium.

Cherish the Ladies will perform a Christmas program Wednesday as part of the Kutztown University Performing Artists Series.
The leader, Joanie Madden, born in the Bronx, N.Y., to Irish parents, was the first American to win the senior all-Ireland championship on the tin whistle in 1984. She has played flute and tin whistle with the group since its inception.

The rest of the current lineup includes founding member and fellow New Yorker Mary Coogan on guitar; All-Ireland champion Mirella Murray from County Galway, Ireland, on accordion; Roisin Dillon from Belfast, Northern Ireland, on fiddle; Kathleen Boyle of Glasgow, Scotland, on piano; and Michelle Burke from County Cork, Ireland, on lead vocals.

Former members include fiddler Eileen Ivers and singer Cathie Ryan, along with many others who have gone on to solo careers.

For Wednesday's concert, the group is also bringing three step dancers, including Jonathan Srour, from York, Pa., which has a vibrant Irish music scene. The other two are Cara Butler (the sister of Jean Butler of "Riverdance") and Dan Stacey.

"Everyone is a phenomenal musician," Madden said of her bandmates in a recent telephone interview. "We do music, singing, dancing, sing-alongs - all aspects of the culture - and we have a lot of fun while we are doing it."

Madden said that as a young girl growing up in the Bronx, "I never thought I'd make a living as an Irish musician."

But she, like the other band members, was inspired by her father, an accordionist who had a successful Irish band in New York.

"All of us have musical backgrounds; all our dads played and danced," she said. "We're all from dads who were a driving force. Music was the greatest gift they could give us."

Of the seven Madden children, only Joanie and one brother, a drummer, took up music.

She started playing the tin whistle at age 13, studying with Jack Coen, a Galway-born Irish whistle player who lived nearby. She began performing with her father's band and jamming with Eileen Ivers, who went to school with her. In five years, she had honed her skills so well that she took second place in the All-Ireland competition; she won at age 25, the age her father was when he won for accordion.

In 1985, Cherish the Ladies released an album, "Fathers and Daughters," featuring each woman in a duet with her father.

The group has recorded many CDs, the most recent of which, a second Christmas album called "A Star in the East," was released Nov. 19.

"We started doing Christmas shows eight or nine years ago," Madden said. "They were extremely successful. It seems that once the Thanksgiving turkey is carved up, people are ready for Christmas. The concert is a big family day - we get parents and grandparents and grandchildren. It's our favorite time to tour."

The program will consist of songs everyone likes to sing, with a Celtic twist, as well as traditional Irish carols like "The Holly and the Berry" and "The Wexford Carol," and jigs and reels.

The band's future plans include a trip to China and a 25th-anniversary CD.

"It's great to be part of a culture that's very into its music and culture," Madden said. "It's important to pass down that culture."

Contact Susan Peé?a:

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Award-winning Mulkerrin Brothers bring new trad show to Town Hall

Arts Week with Judy Murphy
When Pádraig, Éamon and Seán Mulkerrin decided to enter RTÉ’s All-Ireland Talent Show late last year, they did so mostly because it would give them a chance to meet Jacksie, the barman from the comedy series Killanascully.

The Mulkerrin Brothers from Inis Mór, never imagined they would walk away with the top prize of €50,000, for their performance of traditional Irish music and dance. But last March that’s exactly what they did; having won the heart of the nation, with the sean-nós dancing of 10-year old Seán receiving a particularly strong response. And this is a band of brothers with more than one string to their bow, as people will find out when the three play the Town Hall Theatre on November 30. The show is part of a short Irish tour being presented by music promoter Vince Power, the man who set up the Mean Fiddler music group in England and a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment business.

“People have only seen them on the [RTÉ] talent show, but in addition to playing music and Seán’s sean-nós dancing, the three of them also sing,” says their father Martin of the boys, adding that old songs and ballads such as the Boys of Barr na Sraide, Galway Bay and Isle of Hope all form part of their repertoire.

Fifteen-year old Pádraig, Éamon (12) and Seán have been singing and playing since they were very young, starting with tin whistle in school and then advancing to other instruments.

Because there is nobody on the island teaching music outside of school hours, they travel into Galway twice a month to get lessons on accordion with Seán Gavin, who is very understanding about the logistical problems involved. “If we can’t get a lesson before 5pm it’s disastrous for us because we have to get the boat [home]. Otherwise they’d miss school. We’d love them to get more lessons but it’s not possible,” says Martin.

Despite the difficulties of getting lessons, the three are high musical achievers. Éamon plays fiddle as well as accordion; in fact, for the shows, he plays mostly fiddle to complement Pádraig, whose specialty is the accordion. Meanwhile, Seán plays banjo and fiddle as well as dancing. He got a couple of dancing lessons from Moycullen based dancer and teacher Sadbh Flaherty, says his father, but mostly he has developed his own style. If he sees somebody doing a move, he’ll pick it up. And he really struck a chord with RTÉ viewers, with people from all over the country contacting the Mulkerrins after the show to say that they remembered their parents or grandparents doing sean-nós dancing. Martin claims no credit for the boys’ musical talent – that mostly comes from their mother, Bridie.

Like Martin, she was born on the Aran Islands, but lived in Wales until she was 16. Her father was from Aran and her mother from Cork, and it was she who first taught Éamon fiddle, as she had learned classical music when living in Wales. While Martin might be modest about his musical role, claiming that “I’m just the taxi”, his oldest son Pádraig doesn’t entirely agree. “When it comes to deciding the running order of the show, we try things out at home and whatever sounds best is what goes. Our parents are our greatest advisers.”

The Town Hall show will last about an hour and a half, according to Éamon, and they aim for a good mix of material – jigs reels polkas, dancing and singing – to give their audience the best entertainment possible.

His younger brother Seán agrees. “The best thing about being on stage is everybody having fun.”

While Seán enjoys all aspects of the show, he is particularly enthusiastic about the sean-nós dancing.

“I love the free thing, where you don’t have to do certain things, you can experiment.”

In addition to dancing he loves sport, playing Gaelic football on the island, while he and Éamon travel to Carraroe for rugby training. It’s been one hell of a year for the three, but they are taking it in their stride now, although they were shocked initially to be voted Ireland’s top act.

“We never expected to win,” says Pádraig. “We just entered to see what the hype was and mostly just to meet Jacksie from Killanscully and Daithí Ó Sé [from TG4, their mentor during the show].Since then, they have got a lot of gigs including performing at the Ladies’ All-Star Awards and at other functions including the Volvo Ocean Race and the Galway Races. In addition Tyrone Productions (which produced The All-Ireland Talent Show for RTÉ) have shot a documentary which will be broadcast on Christmas Day, all about the show and the year since.

But the highlight of the last year had to be their homecoming to Inis Mór, Pádraig says. “Everybody from the island was on the pier to meet us and there was a big function in the local hall.” The lads had the option of having the night off, but they chose to play. For Pádraig, who is in Transition Year, music would be his ideal career when he finishes school, but at the minute “it’s one day at a time”.

The three have a younger brother, Máirtín (8) but, according to his father, he doesn’t have any interest in being involved in music, which is fine. Meanwhile, the other three are forging their own musical path and happy to be performing as a family.

“We only really only fight over sport – soccer mostly,” says Pádraig. “Éamon is a Chelsea fan, Seán supports Liverpool and I support Man Utd.”Given that the subject of soccer isn’t likely to be raised at the Town Hall gig, November 30, it promises to be a harmonious evening – in all senses of the word.Tickets are €20, at or 091-569777.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Legendary Irish group celebrates 20 years on the road

Black 47 brings back 1989 prices for anniversary shows

By John Lee

Black 47’s NYC shows have been described as “a rite of passage for all New Yorkers.” For the last nine months they have been touring the country, along with recording 13 new songs for Bankers and Gangsters, which will be released in February 2010. But for three consecutive nights they will celebrate their New York City beginnings with 1989 prices of just $10. Along with the new material they will highlight songs from all stages of their sometimes controversial career.

“New York was always the center of music for me,” said Kirwan. “New York was Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, The Clancy Brothers, The Velvet Underground, Television, CBGB's, Max's Kansas City. And right from the start with Black 47 we concentrated on creating our own scene. We didn't give a damn about playing anyone else's. Because that's not New York to us.”

Black 47 formed in the Bronx in late 1989 and burst onto the American scene in 1993 with their hit single, Funky Céilí. With a controversial eclectic sound as well as provocative lyrics, Black 47 fuses reggae, rock, traditional Irish, hip-hop, folk, New Orleans & modern jazz into a New York City gumbo. Their lyrics reflect the drama and black humor of a changing world as they see it, from Belfast to Baghdad, The Bronx to Kabul.

They have appeared on a slew of major television shows including The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and have been profiled by most national magazines and newspapers. They have released twelve CDs including last year’s IRAQ, hailed by Rolling Stone as “an important document, more a prayer than a protest.”

They have appeared in movies such as The Saint of Fort Washington with Matt Dillon and Danny Glover, and their music has been featured in Stephen Rea's The Break, Jim Sheridan's Into the West, and Timothy Dalton's Deterrence amongst others. They composed the music for and performed in the ITV film Victim 0001, a documentary about their friend, Fr. Mychal Judge.

Taking their name from the blackest year of the Irish potato famine, Black 47’s signature eclectic sound, socio-political lyrics and off-the-wall live shows paved the way for other Irish influenced bands such as Flogging Molly and The Dropkick Murphys. Their songs have long been used in political science and history courses in many high schools and colleges throughout the US.

Black 47 is led by Larry Kirwan (guitar/vocals) who has written ten plays published under the title Mad Angels, along with a novel, Liverpool Fantasy, an alternate history of the Beatles, and a memoir Green Suede Shoes. He is host of “Celtic Crush” on SiriusXM Satellite Radio and writes a weekly column for the Irish Echo newspaper. His new novel, Rockin’ The Bronx, will be published in March 2010.

Geoffrey Blythe (saxophones) was a founder member of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Fred Parcells (trombone) has worked extensively in Latin/Jazz and big bands. Thomas Hamlin (drums) is a veteran of the Max’s/CBGB’s scene. Joseph Mulvanerty is recognized as one of the great innovators of the Irish uilleann pipes bringing a rare jazz and blues flare to this most traditional of instruments. The newest member, Joseph Bearclaw brings a wealth of funk/r&b experience as well as a dynamic stage presence.

For their 20th Anniversary shows, Black 47 plans to take the throng gathered at Connolly’s KLUB 45, 121 W. 45th St. on a thrilling journey through history and political struggle that will not only entertain but open up audiences to a new cultural experience.

“You come to Connolly's, you're in our hands,” said Kirwan. “We're New Yorkers. We're not trying to be anything else. We're in the center of Times Square. They may have changed the lights, the architecture, tourists gawl where pimps once prowled - all gone now but we're still right at the core of the beating heart of EmeraldCity.

"When you enter that door on the third floor of Connolly's and fork over your ten bucks, we'll turn your Saturday night head over heels," he added. "That's what we do. That's why we're Black 47. That's why we've played damned near every Saturday night over the last twenty years moments away from where the ball drops without ever repeating a set."

You can catch the band on Saturday, Nov. 28 and December 5 and 12. Doors open at 9 p.m. for just a $10 admission. The band will be onstage at 10:30 p.m. sharp. Advance tickets can be purchased online at

Monday, 23 November 2009

Westport box player releases new CD

Renowned button-accordion player Pat Friel is set to release a new album, ‘Lios-a-Phúca’, this week. The much-anticipated follow-up to ‘The Humours of Westport’ will include reels, jigs, hornpipes and a number of well-known songs, including ‘Moonlight In Mayo’, ‘ These Are My Mountains’. ‘Say You Love Me’ and ‘My Lovely Achill Island Home’, written by Westport musician Lenny Grimes.
Pat was first taught how to play the accordion by his mother, Julia, who came from Letterbrock, eight miles west of Westport. His was a musical family, and four of his five brothers also play the box. Pat played occasionally for house dances, especially after the Stations, when the priest said Mass in the house.
In the showband era of the 1960s, Pat played the bass guitar in a band called the Frielmen, which played pop and country and Western. Twenty years’ ago, he started the local Comhaltas group and was three times named Connacht Button-Accordion Champion. He went on to form one of the most successful céilí bands here in the west of Ireland – The Heather Breeze Ceili Band.
Pat’s musical talents have been inherited by his two daughters, who are both musicians and teachers. His daughter, Sandra, plays the piano, piano accordion and concertina, and sometimes playes with Heather Breeze. She also joins a her father on a number of tracks on ‘Lios-a-Phúca’.

Solas presents 'A Celtic Solstice Celebration' at Weis Center

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The Celtic band Solas will present "A Celtic Solstice Celebration" on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell University. Tickets are $25.

Since 1996, Solas has been loudly proclaimed as one of the most popular, influential and exciting Celtic bands ever to emerge from the United States, said Bill Boswell, executive director of the Weis Center. "This performance will be a wonderful way to herald the winter season and the holidays."

The band has performed at all the major Celtic and folk festivals, including the legendary National Folk Festival and Milwaukee's Irish Fest as well as the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Wolf Trap, and Queens Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland. The band's latest release is a live CD and DVD called "Reunion," which celebrates the band's 10th anniversary.

Solas comprises Seamus Egan, flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, tin whistle, low whistle, guitars and bodhran (Irish drum); Winifred Horan, violins and vocals; Mick McAuley, accordions, concertina, low whistle and vocals; Eamon McElholm, guitars, keyboards and vocals; and guest soloist Máiréad Phelan, vocals. For more information or to hear music samples, visit Solas.

Ticket information
Tickets for this Weis Center series performance are available in person from the Campus Box Office in the Weis Center weekdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or at the Bucknell University Bookstore on the ground floor of the Elaine Langone Center weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Advance tickets are available by calling 570-577-1000 or visiting Box Office. The box office in the Weis Center lobby opens one hour prior to performances.

This performance has been made possible in part by a generous contribution from Martha and Allan Barrick and a Weis Center Series corporate sponsor, Coldwell Banker Penn One Real Estate. The 2009-10 season of Weis Center Events is generously supported by grants from the Bucknell University Association for the Arts and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support for the series is provided by numerous and generous private donors including members of the Weis Center Green Room Circle and Green Room Board.

The next event in the Weis Center Series is the final event for the fall semester. The annual family matinee performance by The Paper Bag Players in "The Great Mummy Adventure" will be presented on Saturday, Dec. 12, at 1 p.m. It is free to the community through the generosity of Janet Weis. Children must be accompanied by an adult. For more event information, visit Weis Center.

Monday, 16 November 2009

'3' is the magic number

By Sean P. Feeny

This month a trio of three young Donegal fiddle players who are continuing to push the boundaries of Irish traditional music are releasing their first album together.

Fidíl began as a duo with Aidan O'Donnell and Ciaran Ó Maonaigh taking the Irish music world by storm with their 2008 self-titled debut album.

Having used modern technology to create a unique, multi-layered fiddle sound on their album, the two musicians soon brought in fellow Donegal fiddle player, Damien McGeehan, to recreate that sound in a live environment.

Aidan, who is Limerick County Council's current Artist-In-Residence at lectures at the University of Limerick (UL), said it has been an eventful year since the Dunkineely native and Ciaran from Gaoth Dobhair launched their debut album last summer.

"The core idea behind our first album was to record the sound of two fiddles as a duet playing the traditional Donegal music, but with a difference.

"Rather than using conventional traditional music backing instruments, such as bouzouki or guitar, there was a lot of arrangement and layering of the fiddles in our recordings.

"Of course, when it came to performing the music from our debut album live, it was a lot hard for us to recreate and so we asked Damien from Ardara to join us."

Aidan and Damien have known each other since they both started learning to play the fiddle with Seamus Sweeney in Bruckless. "I've known Damien since the age of 12 and he's one of the best musicians I know and we are both very light-minded when it comes to arrangement."

Damien first joined Ciaran and Aidan for their live performances last November and with Fidíl winning a very prestigious award, the road was paved for the duo to become a trio.

Aidan said: "At the time that Damien joined us for our live gigs we had just won The Music Network's 2008 Young Musicwide Award and the prize not only included support for touring but also part-funding for a new album and the obvious choice was to do it as a trio."

In March of this year, The Music Network sent the three Donegal men to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan, to spend a week in the artists' retreat.

The Dunkineely man said that probably 90 per cent of the music for their new album, 3, was arranged there and within a week they were back recording with renowned bouzouki player and producer Manus Lunny at his Rosses based studio in Carrickfinn.

Aidan said that he and Damien, who recently graduated with a BA in Irish Music from The Irish World Academy of Music at UL, have very similar ideas when it comes to arrangement.

"Ciaran and I have very similar ideas in terms of arranging, but when Damien and I would get together in Limerick to show each other what we had been working on, it was freaky to see how we were both developing the same concepts individually at the same time.

"Damien is a multi-instrumenalist and a real virtuoso. He has a great mind for arrangements and has been a big addition to the group," he said.

Aidan described the final sound of the new album, 3, which is officially being launched in Temple Bar, Dublin, on Wednesday, as 'raw' traditional Donegal music.

Over the past year the trio have continuously toured abroad performing everywhere from England, Scotland, Latvia, Macedonia and more recently Canada and Iceland.

"It has been fantastic to receive such great receptions and our Donegal music going down a bomb, even with people who normally wouldn't be fans of traditional music."

Fidíl's music has been described as boundary-pushing, but although the musicians' agree that they are 'going forward', Aidan said that their style is still firmly rooted in tradition.

"When we are travelling to gigs around the country, you will hear music from the likes of Frank Cassidy or John Doherty playing in the car.

"Our music is really open for interpretation and people can then make up their own mind, but we have widened our perspective to create our own sound that is that little bit different."

Later this month the trio embark on their Music Network tour which will take them to Kerry, Cork, Kildare and Mayo and as well as the tour their are looking forward to performing at an event very close to their hearts in December.

Aidan said: "We have just been booked to perform at the Frankie Kennedy Winter School in Gaoth Dobhair on December 29 which we are really excited about.

"It's one of the greatest festivals in Ireland and we've all been going to it for years."

With more promotion and touring on the cards, 2010 certainly looks like it will be a busy and successful year for the Donegal trio.

"We are hoping to work and tour abroad more to promote our album and we'll be starting by performing at The Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow as well as going on two further tours with The Music Network, who are continuing to be very good to us," said Aidan.

Fidíl's new album 3 is available to purchase on

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Gerry ‘Banjo’ OConnor and friends

Button Factory, Dublin

As an antidote to this winter of our discontent, the inaugural date of the Button Factory County Sessions, in front of a large and expectant crowd, hinted at great escapes to come. Taking its lead from the renowned Harcourt Hotel sessions of old, these County Sessions celebrate local musical accents, and judging by the volume of punters who turned up for this celebration of Co Tipperary, there’s a voracious public appetite for good traditional music played in a hospitable venue.

Flute-player, film-maker and entrepreneur Conor Byrne gently coaxed his brainchild, the County Sessions, into existence, playing a short solo set and then cracking the bottle off the stern by way of his uncle, Christy Moore. Negotiating an affectionate ramble through a short set that included The Galtee Mountain Boy , Christy was in fine form, relaxed enough to exploit the bantering potential of the odd lyrical slip, and in his element when embroiled in picaresque and adventuresome tales.

Gerry “Banjo” O’Connor brought a wealth of Garrykennedy music to the party, with his son Fiach on bodhrán and guitarist Tim Edey. O’Connor’s family members were the backbone of a sparkling night of music, with his father and uncle, Liam and Donal O’Connor, on fiddle, his brother Mike on accordion and his sister Ann Maria on a fierily flowing tin whistle. Singer Nora Butler and fiddle player Eileen O’Brien added further fuel to the fire, and 4 Men And A Dog’s Kevin Doherty brought along his sublime Mary J to join in the revelry.

Footballer Andy Reid, a former student of the banjo (under O’Connor’s tutelage), delighted in the opportunity to indulge his balladeering instincts. A rambling, commodious start to what just might be a magical season of music.

The Button Factory County Sessions continue fortnightly. The next session, on Nov 24, features Co Donegal music with Altan’s Dermot Byrne and friends

Dylan Foley, Blaithín Loughran and Céitlin Finlay play Irish reels

2008 All-Ireland under 18 fiddle champion Dylan Foley and accordionist Blaithín Loughran are joined by Céitlin Finlay on banjo for a set of reels, including "Dr. Gilbert's" and "The Ash Plant".

More info and videos at
iTunes podcast at

Ancient Irish Scales

From A History of Irish Music by William H. Grattan Flood

Chapter IV

THE construction of the old Irish scales has afforded a wide field for the most conflicting theories. Even Dr. Sullivan, in his critical introduction to O'Curry, says that the Irish scales were "manifold, and often apparently quite arbitrary, so that the principles upon which they proceed are sometimes incomprehensible to us." Dr. James C. Culwick would have us believe that the Irish scales numbered 15, and he compares our old "gapped" scales to those of the Chinese, Russians, and Zuni Indians. Father Bewerunge, the most recent authority on this subject, only admits four modes namely, Doh, Ray, Soh and Lah.[1]

From a long and careful study of some thousands of our ancient melodies, I have arrived at the conclusion that the old Irish scale was pentatonic, proceeding as follows: C D EG AC. By making each note in this first mode a tonic, or keynote, we naturally form four other modes--and thus we get five modes. These five are:--

1st. C D EG AC
2nd. D EG AC D
3rd. EG AC D E
4th. G AC D EG
5th. AC D EG A

The notes F and B are studiously omitted, and the arrangement is made throughout these five modes so as not to include the fourth and seventh. This omission of F and B is largely the cause of the quaintness which characterises many of our oldest airs. Between the eighth and twelfth century, the missing, or absent notes of the above five scales were gradually supplied, and thus our ancient gapped scale became almost the self-same as five of the so-called Gregorian modes, namely:--

1. Intense Iastian.
2. Æolian.
3. Intense Hypolydian.
4. Iastian.
5. Relaxed Iastian.
6. Hypolydian.
7. Relaxed Hypolydian.
8. Dorian.

The third Irish mode (omitting F and B) is the same as the Phrygian mode in the E to E scale, with naturals only.[2] However, I would especially call attention to the beauty of airs constructed in the fourth Irish mode, at least, the variant of it which obtained in the early Anglo-Irish period, when the really characteristic note of this lovely mode had become definitely fixed by the inclusion of the missing seventh, that is F natural. This mode being subsequently played and sung in the modern key of G major (which, of course, has F as an essential sharp), had to flatten the seventh in order to meet the tonality of the Irish modes, and thus the airs written in this fourth mode were said to have been the flat seventh. One of the very best examples of the airs written in this quaint mode is "An Maidrin Ruad" which Moore sadly mutilated in his "adaptation" of "Let Erin Remember"--a mutilation which extended not only to the character of the mode, or scale, but to the very rhythm, or time-period, of the tune. In the light of this explanation it is amusing to read of the flat seventh as "one of the most certain indications of an ancient Irish air"! Indeed, for well nigh two centuries, we have invariably one writer copying another as to the "ravishing effect of the flat seventh," ignoring the real truth that it is the modern scale which must needs flatten the seventh in order to equate itself with the old Irish scale of the fourth mode.

Another very popular delusion, which has been quoted ad nauseam by English and Irish writers, is the apparent use of the minor mode by the ancient Irish. One constantly meets with allusions to the "grand old air in a plaintive minor scale," or to "a captivating ballad in a minor key, so characteristic of old Irish melodies," etc. As a matter of fact, some of our liveliest and most inspiriting dance tunes are in what one would call the modern minor key, whilst many caoines and dirges are in the major scale. Strange as it may seem, there is a vein of melancholy or tenderness throughout all our old tunes, which character is derivable from the peculiarity of scale construction. This is equally true of our hymns, folk-songs, battle-marches, jigs, cradle-songs, elegies, drinking-songs, etc.; and Moore has hit it off very aptly in his exquisite lyric, "Dear Harp of my Country," when he sings:--

"But so oft hast thou echoed the deep sigh of sadness,
That ev'n in thy mirth it will steal from thee still."

According to Walker, the ancient Irish cultivated three species of musical composition, answering to the three modes (the Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian) which the Greeks borrowed from the Egyptians, namely, the Goltraighe, the Geantraighe, and the Suantraighe. Hardiman also writes:--"Among the ancient Irish the principal species of musical composition was termed Avantrireach. It consisted of three parts--Geantraighe, which excited to love; Goltraighe, which stimulated to valour and feats of arms; and Suantraighe, which disposed to rest and sleep." I may add that the Irish affix, draiocht, or traighe, means a mode or measure. The ancient Gol, which dates from the remotest period, was a distinctive lamentation air; and each province had its own Gol. Walker prints the four ancient Lamentation Cries for Connaught, Munster, Leinster, and Ulster. Petrie informs us that "the Gol answers exactly to the rhythm and cadence of those words, which are recorded, in the Book of Ballymote, to have been sung over the grave of a king of Ossory, in the tenth century." Numerous Suantraighes are still preserved, better known as "Irish Lullabys," but the Geantraighe has more or less disappeared.[3]

Mr. Alfred Perceval Graves says:--"Ireland was the school of music for the Celts of Great Britain during the Middle Ages, and her minstrelsy remained unrivalled until the Irish Bard, famous for 'the three feats' of solemn [goltraighe], gay, [geantraighe], and sleep-compelling music [suantraighe], degenerated under the stress of the internecine conflict between Saxon and Gael in Ireland, into the strolling minstrel, and finally into the street ballad-singer."

Numerous dissertations have been written on the characteristics of Irish music, but as a nutshell summing up of the whole question, it may briefly be stated that nearly all our ancient tunes are of symmetrically short construction, having the emphatic major sixth, and the thrice-repeated final cadence (the thrice-struck tonic at the close)--and with an undercurrent of tenderness, even in the sprightliest tunes. Apart from an artistic construction peculiarly Celtic, there is an undefinable charm about our ancient melodies that cannot be mathematically expounded. Sir William Stokes, in his Life of Petrie, thus writes:--

"It was Petrie's opinion that the music of Ireland stands pre-eminent among that of the other Celtic nations in beauty and power of expression, especially in her caoines, her lamentations, and her love-songs; the latter, by their strange fitfulness, and sudden transitions from gladness to pathos and longing, are marked with a character peculiarly her own. It may well be supposed that some of these delightful tunes are accompanied by songs of corresponding simplicity and pathos."

Petrie himself thus writes regarding our ancient folksongs, and his description of their construction is applicable to numerous old melodies:--

"These melodies are all in triple or three-four time, and consist of two parts, or strains, of eight bars each, and the same number of phrases, divided into two sections. Of these sections, the second of the first part is, generally, a repetition--sometimes, however, slightly modified--of the section preceding; and the second section of the second part is usually a repetition of the second section of the first part--sometimes also modified in the first, or even the first and second phrases--but as usual in all Irish melodies, always agreeing with it in its closing cadence."

Taken in general, from a technical point of view, the ancient Irish can claim the credit of inventing musical "form"--in fact the germ which developed into the Sonata form. Dr. Pearce, no doubt, wishes us to believe that the latter development is due to the thirteenth century Wolfenbuttel melody of the Christmas hymn: Corde natus ex Parentis. However, there is not a shadow of doubt that we have Irish tunes long before this period--certainly before the Anglo-Norman invasion --which are characterised emphatically by an artistically constructed ternary or three-phrase arrangement, that is, a phrase of four bars, not unfrequentiy repeated, followed by an apparent modulation. Sometimes we meet with phrases of seven bars, namely, of four bars and three bars alternately; whilst a rather unusual rhythm is also to be met with, consisting of four sections of five bars each, each section being barred according to modern ideas into equal or unequal phrases of two bars and three bars. A not unfrequent form of rhythm is nine-eight; and we meet with numerous tunes constructed on the principle of four sections of two bars each in nine-eight time The jigs in nine-eight time are known as Hop Jigs, Slip Jigs, or Slip Time, and, at Hudson remarks, are "the most ancient, as well as in general the most effective."

But here it may be objected that probably our ancient Irish music was not of a high order, according to the canons of modern criticism. To this I shall briefly answer by quoting five unquestionable authorities.

(1.) Sir Frederick Gore Ouseley, Mus. Doc., acknowledges that "long before Norman influence was brought to bear on native art, there existed in Ireland traditional melodies, the origin of which is lost in antiquity." (2.) Sir Hubert Parry, after an exhaustive examination of about three thousand tunes in various collections, gives it as his opinion that "Irish folk music is probably the most human, most varied, most poetical in the world, and is particularly rich in tunes which imply considerable sympathetic sensitiveness." (3.) Sir Alexander MacKenzie writes in an equally eulogistic strain. (4.) Chappell, who was particularly biassed in favour of English music, avows the "exquisite beauty" of our old tunes; and (5.) the late Brinley Richards was enraptured with "their individuality and tenderness." It is unnecessary to quote the eulogies of Handel, Beethoven, Berlioz, Pleyel, Haydn, and other great masters.

Our own Moore rather ignorantly alludes to the comparatively modern date of many of our "ancient" melodies, the origin of which he is pleased to reckon as "dating no farther back than the last [eighteenth] disgraceful century." In his later years the "bard of Ireland" grudgingly admitted to Dr. Petrie that he was mistaken in his previous views, and he acknowledged that "the date of those airs is much more ancient" than he had stated. This admission, however, is not to be found in the various editions of the Melodies. However, as Renehan points out, Moore, in his History of Ireland (1840) admits "the superior excellence of the music of Ireland before the English invasion." Recent research has more than vindicated the undoubted claim of ancient Erin to the possession of the loveliest airs in the world.

Rural Irish High School Connects With Georgia Tech

A high school in rural Ireland will soon have a direct, high-speed, high-definition video link to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, allowing students to look through Tech’s million-dollar electron microscope and take classes from top scientists.

“For our students to be able to interact directly with researchers in Georgia, remotely control technology such as telescopes and powerful microscopes will be hugely exciting and motivational for our students and teachers,” Joe Varley, a science teacher at Killina Secondary School, 10 miles from Tullamore, Ireland, told GlobalAtlanta in an e-mail interview.

Classes with Tech researchers via video will start in January, said Jeff Evans, deputy director and principal research engineer with the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Tech is offering the classes through a program called Direct to Discovery. Tech currently offers the program in about 90 Georgia school systems. Killina will be the first overseas school to participate. It was chosen in part because Georgia Tech has a research facility in nearby Athlone, Ireland.

In order to participate, schools must have upgraded, superfast Internet bandwith. It can cost a large school system as much as $30,000 to upgrade all its lines, said Mr. Evans.

The government of Ireland has paid to upgrade the Internet connection at Killina, said Jackie Gorman, CEO of Atlantic Corridor Ireland, a government-funded agency that promotes economic development in the Midlands region of Ireland.

Science education is increasingly important to economic development as the region attracts medical and pharmaceutical companies such as Isotron Inc., Elan Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Boston Scientific Corp. said Ms. Gorman.

Jobs in the peat extraction industry which once was dominant in central Ireland, are fading, she added. Peat is used in power production but the industry has been through consolidation and downsizing in recent years.

“The jobs people had 10-15 years ago aren’t really around any more,” she said.

The Georgia Tech program will help broaden the horizons of Killina students, said Mr. Varley, the science teacher. “As we are a rural school, it will help break down geographical boundaries and extend the school campus outside the walls of the school,” he said.

The video images will be so detailed that students will be able to use the electron microscope as if they were on the Tech campus, said Jessica Pater, research associate at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

“You can see the follicles of hair in between the lens of an eye of a gnat,” she said. “You can see what an atom of carbon looks like.”

Tech’s experience at schools in Georgia is that the video classes motivate students to learn more on their own about science. “They start investigating and wanting to do their own research,” said Ms. Pater. “You start cultivating that whole scientific method and discovery into kids at a very young age and make it just as cool as being a football player or a cheerleader.”

The program is all the more effective because it is timely, on the cutting edge of scientific research, said Mr. Evans.

“This is the perfect way to introduce the teachers and the students to information that’s not even in the textbooks yet,” he said.

Tech envisions the Irish students taking remote classes once or twice a week. “We don’t want to come in and tell the teacher how to teach,” he said. “We want to augment the textbook, give them a lot more options to learn in real time.”

Likewise, Georgia school children may benefit from the Irish connection, said Mr. Evans.

James Donohoe of Athlone has a Website,, providing online classes in the Irish tin whistle, a flute-like instrument. Georgia Tech is considering piping his live video lessons into Georgia schools.

“It’s virtually unlimited, once you make the connection as to what types of science or even the arts you can teach with this,” said Mr. Evans.

Shaskeen to play in Matt Molloy’s

It’s not easy to sum up Shaskeen’s 39 years of music making and entertainment, but listening to the trad band’s new CD ‘Walking Up Town’, it is clear that they are going to be leading the way for quite a while yet.
Like many Irish traditional musicians, Shaskeen has been caught up in the whirlwind of the set-dancing era, and their last four albums were comprised of music for the sets. Now they are making a change to concert-style performances.
‘Walking Up Town’ – remarkably, the band’s 15th album – marks a return to their original musical formula. It’s an album ‘for listening to’, and it features a generous collection of jigs, reels, waltzes, polkas, barn dances and songs. The title tune is an American ‘breakdown’, a fun rag-style tune. It’s probably the best summing up the band could ask for.
It is hard to beat well-seasoned musicians, and the members of Shaskeen are as experienced as they are skilful. The band has maintained the same ethos over its many years of making music – and the many variations in its line-up. At the core of the band are Tom Cussen on banjo, Eamon Cotter on flute, Patsy McDonagh on accordion, Johnny Donnellan on bodhrán, Pat Broderick on pipes and whistle, Tony Howley from the Mayo/Sligo border on flute and saxophone, Geraldine Cotter on piano and Pat Costello on banjo, mandolin and guitar.
Shaskeen are currently on tour and will be in Matt Molloy’s Yard Bar, Westport, on Sunday evening, November 29, from 8pm to 10.30pm. Doors open 7.30pm.


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