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.

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