Sunday, 16 October 2011

Irish ambassador expresses fascination with Sir John A

Having 60 years of tradition is enough reason to celebrate, but the traditions of the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann go back far longer then its 60 years in operation.

Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann is an international organization aimed at promoting and preserving traditional Irish culture. The 415 branches in 15 countries gather to uphold traditional Irish music and promote and foster the Irish language.

Here in Kingston, the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Harp of Tara Branch has been operating for 31 years. For the 60th anniversary of the organization, the Kingston branch hosted representatives from branches throughout the Canada East region, which covers Ontario and all provinces east of it.

It was for that reason that the Irish Ambassador to Canada, Ray Bassett, made a stop in Kingston this past weekend, where he presented awards of recognition to members of each branch in Canada East.

"Comhalts is a very important organization, keeping alive the traditional music and general tradition. It's spread all over the world now, and it's a great organization," Bassett said, leaning over a table in Dox restaurant of the Holiday Inn where he stayed Saturday night.

"I felt when they asked me that I had to come for that reason, and because it's very important to the community here, both for the Irish-born and those of Irish decent."

However, there was another reason Bassett found Kingston a point of interest.

"I also wanted to come to Kingston because I'm quite interested in John A. Macdonald and I'm interested in some of the history here," he said.

"John A. Macdonald was such a telling figure in Canada and the more you read about him the more you realize this guy had so much ability.

"And he had a very Irish and Scottish weakness, which is of course for the drink," he added with a laugh.

Around 100 people gathered in Kingston for the 60th anniversary celebration, organized by members of the Harp of Tara branch. With live traditional Irish music, step dancers and culinary delights, the event was one that meant a lot to the founder of the Kingston branch, Anne McConnell.

McConnell began the Kingston branch in 1978 after travelling to Ottawa with a friend to take in a traditional Irish concert put on by Comhaltas based out of Ireland.

"At that time there wasn't much (Irish) dancing and music in Kingston," McConnell explained.

"But these were like the cream of the crop of performers in Ireland."

The lack of Irish music and dancing in Kingston all ended there. McConnell arranged to the Irish Comhaltas Music Tour to come to Kingston the next year, and in 1979, the concert took place at the KCVI auditorium.

"It was a huge success," McConnell recalled.

"As a result of that, then we started a branch of Comhaltas."

The group grew gradually, but it didn't have one of the pillars of the organizations objectives: Irish musicians.

That's when the Kingston Ceili Band changed everything.

The Ceili Band, which is now independent of the Comhaltas, celebrated 25 years together in 2006. The band has been a driving force of promoting and developing Irish music in Kingston — as has McConnell.

With no Irish pubs in Kingston at the time, McConnell knew that too had to change if the Comhaltas of the Limestone City were going to properly foster the preservation of Irish culture. After all, the growing Irish music scene needed a venue to entertain in.

So McConnell and her husband opened up Finnegan's and Muldoon's, two side-by-side Irish pubs on Ontario Street where Irish music brought passers-by off the street and into the open arms of Kingston's Irish community.

Now, about 30 years later, McConnell is still active with the Kingston Comhaltas, who host monthly ceilis and have Irish dancing and music workshops, as well as Irish language classes and a conversational group. The Harp of Tara branch even hosted the world's first wheelchair ceili at Providence Manor, when one of the dancers with the organization who works there invited the group to come in with some musicians and dancers. Stephen Rayner, chairman of the Kingston branch, choreographed a dance routine that was wheelchair-friendly. The participants enjoyed the event so much they've held three or four more wheelchair ceilis since.

"It's something that we really do appreciate, I mean, it's a lot of fun, and it's preserving our culture," Rayner said of why the Comhaltas Harp of Tara branch has continued thriving all these years. Rayner was one of the Kingston Branch members honoured with an Achievement Award at Saturday's event.

"But mostly it's enjoyable. We wouldn't do it if it wasn't fun."

So for the 60th anniversary of Comhaltas internationally, the Kingston branch brought together members from the seven branches in Canada East, who represented some 430 members. The key focus, apart from the music and dancing, was the 2011 Achievement Awards being handed out Saturday night by Ambassador Bassett. Two couples from the Kingston branch were honoured with the awards: the aforementioned Rayner, and his wife, Julie Bowes, and Bob MacDiarmid and Angeles Garcia, who dedicate much of their free time to hosting weekly language classes and organizing the monthly ceilis.

Bassett, who has been serving as Ambassador to Canada for just over a year, said he was very glad to be giving out the awards, which recognized members from each branch in Canada East who'd worked tirelessly and selflessly, volunteering to promote Irish culture in their communities.

On his first trip to Kingston, Bassett said that Irish natives feel very strongly about the Comhaltas organizations, and that the organizations are a big part of Irish culture in Ireland itself. The CEO of Comhaltas of Ireland, he said, was in fact an Irish senator he noted.

"I'm actually really quite excited to do it," Bassett said of handing out the awards. He noted that the standards of the musicians in Comhaltas organizations are very high, and it's always fun to see them perform.

"I think every artist, in any kind of area, likes to be rewarded," he said.

"The awards tends to reinforce the commitment and also it's a recognition of excellence."

Bassett said another reason he wanted to be in Kingston to present the awards was down to wanting Canada East Comhaltas to know the Irish appreciate their efforts.

"I hope people feel that the Irish government are recognizing what these organizations are doing and their talent," he said.

"What Comhaltas is doing is very, very worthwhile, and I just want to show strong support of that."

For the members of the Comhalts Harp of Tara branch, having Ambassador Bassett at the 60th anniversary event embodied what their organization stands for.

"It means an awful lot. Really, it's a great honour to have him come," said McConnell, who is now the chairperson for the Canada East regional board of Canada for the Comhaltas.

"I think it's nice to have that stamp of approval from the Irish, that's what it is really," Rayner agreed.

Irish ambassador expresses fascination with Sir John A. - The Whig Standard - Ontario, CA

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Canadian traditional musicians to perform in Northborough

Direct from Prince Edward Island, Canada, to Northborough, will be the extraordinary talents of fiddler Roy Johnstone and singer/songwriter Steve Sharratt. Invited to perform in town by resident (and traditional music fan) Liam Kearney, the performers will appear on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. at the American Legion Hall on West Main Street.

While well-recognized in the field of traditional music - and the winners of multiple awards together and separately - organizers say the foot-stamping appeal of Roy & Steve can only be truly appreciated when you hear them live. In Northborough, they plan to perform the best of their Celtic and folk tunes along with original songs and some fine new gypsy tunes.

Johnstone and Sharratt come from the red cliff shores of Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province. As long-time performing partners and accomplished recording artists, they will bring their toe tapping kitchen party music to venues across New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine this month. The dynamic pair is known to lift an audience to their feet with musical energy and and engaging style. This current tour, dubbed "Fiddler in the House", will highlight traditions from their native country, as well as Irish, Scottish and Acadian tunes.

"The theme of 'fiddler in the house' is appropriate not only for the obvious reason of bringing our music into new places, but as it relates to PEI history as well. At the turn of the 20th century at least one house in every community on PEI had a fiddle. Often there were more, but the one fiddle would be shared by the father and several of his sons and the sons had to wait until their father left the house in order to try to play a tune on the prized instrument . As well, the fiddle was often associated with the work of the devil and was not an instrument to be taken up by the fair sex, although a few did," fiddler Johnstone said.

"You couldn't have a dance, a wedding or a funeral in the community without a fiddler. He was nearly as important as the preacher and the school teacher. Dancing and house parties were the main form of entertainment after a hard day working in the fields or cutting wood in the forests and the fiddler was key." added Sharratt.

From that romantic tradition comes this modern day line up of concerts in local halls and homes. This will be the pair's sixth annual tour of what Canadians call the "Boston States".

"We've met some great people on our visits and hope to see some familiar faces and look forward to meeting some new ones on this tour." says Sharratt.

They will be performing music from their recent live CD, "Live at Loon", recorded at the 2010 New Hampshire Highland Games as well as some new Celtic material from Johnstone's travels in Cuba .

The Northborough concert is open to the public, and all are welcome. Tickets ($18/each) can be reserved by calling 508.344.4932.

Canadian traditional musicians to perform in Northborough - Framingham, MA - The MetroWest Daily News

Monday, 10 October 2011

Music, dancing and storytelling highlight Celtic family evening

Kick up your heels for A Celtic Family Evening with the Martin Family Band Saturday, Oct. 15, at Bucks County Community College. The show, featuring Irish and American fiddle tunes and Irish step dance routines, gets underway at 7:30 p.m. in the Gateway Auditorium on the campus at 275 Swamp Road, Newtown.

The band revolves around the eight-member Martin family: parents Nelson and Elaine, 20-year-old Emily, 18-year-old Melissa, 15-year-old Brian, 13-year-old Christy, 10-year-old Zach and 5-year-old Alex. Nearly all play the fiddle, while Emily adds bagpipes and banjo, Melissa picks up the accordion and Irish whistle, and Nelson and Brian play guitar. Family friend Earl Pyles completes the group on drums.

Traditional Irish step-dancing and storytelling round out the program. A reception follows the show, where audience members can meet the performers and enjoy free refreshments, many of which are homemade.

Tickets are $15. Children under age 12 are free. Proceeds benefit CCC Celt, which maintains the BCCC Library’s Celtic Collection and provides an annual scholarship to Bucks.

Tickets can be purchased online at; at the BCCC Bookstore in the Library Building on campus; at the Newtown Book & Record Exchange, located at 102 S. State St. in Newtown Borough, or at the door. For group sales, call 215-968-8087.

Music, dancing and storytelling highlight Celtic family evening - Entertainment - Bucks Local News

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Musical sisters bag three Fleadh prizes

The Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann logo.Image via WikipediaTHREE SISTERS from Newcastle swept the board at the recent 2011 Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, coming away with three coveted pieces of silverware.

Between them, Lottie, Courtney and Katie Cullen brought home all of Wicklow's three titles from the 53rd Fleadh Cheoil which took place in Cavan at the end of August.

Lottie was the first to show her hand to the competition when the 16 year old played the Uilleann pipes in the Under 18 competition. A member of the Craobh Chualann branch of Comhaltas Ceolteori Eireann and previous winner of five All-Ireland titles, Lottie soon made it clear that the competition from England, America and beyond were no match for her playing skills.

Her title winning performance was so impressive, that the teenager was asked to take a starring role in the opening ceremony of the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle, Co. Meath, last weekend.

Fresh from her Under 18 win, Lottie joined her sister Courtney to represent Leinster in the highly competitive senior duet event, with Lottie again on Uilleann pipes and Courtney on the fiddle.

A truly electrifying performance from the pair ensured that none of the 15 subsequent performers ever got a look in at the title.

With two cups already secured by the Cullen girls, their sister Katie entered the fray, joining Lottie and Courtney for the senior trio competition. In front of a packed auditorium, Lottie on pipes, Courtney on the flute and Katie on the fiddle wowed the crowd and romped to victory against strong national and international competition.

Also representing Wicklow at the fleadh were Sean Luke Kelly, a promising young Uilleann piper from Delgany who put in a mature and polished performance at Under 12 level; and Gavin Paul from Wicklow Town, who also performed extremely well in the Under 15 bodhran competition.

The Cullen sisters will be displaying their title winning talents at the music sessions in Wicklow town tonight and on Friday - for more information visit

Musical sisters bag three Fleadh prizes - Entertainment -

1st Annual Fairfax Feis - Festival of Irish Music & Dance October 14-15th

The Fairfax Chamber of Commerce and Heartbeat Music© announce The 1st Annual Fairfax Feis - Festival of Irish Music and Dance The Feis will be held October 14-15th in venues throughout downtown Fairfax in Marin County, California.

A Feis is a traditional Gaelic arts and cultural festival modeled in the traditional Irish Flead Cheoil where music, dance and poetry and storytelling go on in pubs all throughout the towns. This is the 1st Feis to be modeled on the traditional Fleadh Cheoil in Ireland to be held in northern California.

Lineup for the Feis:
Girsa, Todd Denman & Friends, Shay & Michael Black, Dale Russ, Brosnan School of Irish Dancing, Culann’s Hounds, Kyle Alden, Lucia Comnes Band, Gerry Carthy, Colm Ó Riain, Gerry Forde, The Gas Men,The Mild Colonial Boys, Tipsy House, Vinnie Cronin & Barry O ’Connell, Pat Hamilton, Iseult Jordan & Liz Stires, Riggy Rackin, Pat & Sean O Donnell, Healy School of Irish Dance, Sinead & Roisin Lafferty, Ciaran Marsden & Friends, David Winter & SF Irish Pipers Band, Declan Hunt,The Toast Inspectors, Ted Anderson, Robyn Mercurio & Suzuki Cady, Set dancing with Michael Reimer & Friends, Poetry reading with Sara Berkeley-Tolchin.

Friday evening, October 14th. @ 6:00pm - The Feis Kicks off at The Fairfax Pavilion and at 8:30pm @ The Sleeping Lady Bar & Restaurant.
Saturday, October 15th @ 10:30am - SF Irish Pipers Band March from Sleeping Lady to Fairfax Pavillion.
Saturday, October 15th - 11am-7:30pm - Irish music and dance at Fairfax Pavilion. Tickets $30
Saturday 7:30pm Music in Venues throughout Downtown Fairfax - The Sleeping Lady,19 Broadway, Nave’s Bar, Sorella’s Cafe and Fairfax Coffee Roastery.

Tickets $15-$30 available on the website, at the door, and selected venues in the Bay Area (call 415 451 1924 for details).

1st Annual Fairfax Feis - Festival of Irish Music & Dance October 14-15th:

Monday, 3 October 2011

Ward Irish Music Archives hosts American Sheet Music Conference

The Ward Irish Music Archives will host the 7th annual American Sheet Music Conference this weekend at the Irish Fest Center, 1532 Wauwatosa Ave., Wauwatosa.

Dealers and collectors of antique sheet music from across America, as well as teachers, professors and artists, are expected at the conference.

The event begins at 4 p.m. Friday with a swap meet of music-related items. A series of seminars will be held on Saturday. Closing out the conference is ragtime entertainment in a program called "Sunday Cabaret with Bill Edwards."

The event is open to the public. Admission is $5 each day.

For more information, visit

Why Seán Ó Riada is Irish music's pop icon

The composer’s groundbreaking arrangements of traditional music had a formative influence on an entire generation, writes SIOBHÁN LONG

FISHERMAN, PHILOSOPHER and polyglot; broadcaster, composer and arranger: Seán Ó Riada occupies a place somewhere between that of a tortured genius and what you could term an iconoclassicist. This year, the 40th anniversary of his death and the 80th anniversary of his birth, offers a timely opportunity to delve beneath the surface of this maestro whose legacy is still debated in both traditional and classical music circles.
Those who have made Ó Riada’s acquaintance second-hand through his music might struggle to understand what all the fuss was about. Who was this man who cut a swathe through our characterisation of Irish cultural identity from the early 1950s to the late 1960s? Was he truly the white knight who rescued traditional music from the lower caste to which it had been consigned? Did Ó Riada’s film scores (in particular, that for Mise Éire ) act as a lightning rod, connecting us emotionally with the story of our own genesis as a nation, or did they exploit a weakness for sentimentality at play beneath the hard-worn veneer of Irish life?

And what of his liturgical works? Hell-bent on writing music for 40 Masses, Ó Riada died after composing the music for two, with his setting for Ag Chríost An Síol embedding itself deep within the psyche of almost anyone who set foot inside a Catholic church over the past five decades.

Ó Riada died at the age of 40, having shaken the foundations of traditional music. In his film scores he unearthed a stateliness in Irish music that had hitherto been untapped. In his use of the harpsichord, he doffed a cap to the musical inheritance bequeathed by Turlough O’Carolan, among others. With Seán Ó Sé and Ceoltóirí Chualann, he gave traditional music its first “pop” hit with their muscular rendition of An Puc Ar Buile . Without Ó Riada’s influence, it’s worth asking, would we be experiencing today the bold inventiveness of The Gloaming, the ambitious compositions of Dave Flynn or the inquisitiveness of the sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird? One of his students, the pianist and composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, recalls Ó Riada’s charisma, a “numinousity or psychic presence” that filled a room.

“I came to traditional music through him,” Ó Súilleabháin says, “and, in so doing, found it already residing inside myself, tucked away securely in some postcolonial cultural mess that so many of us inherited. He was the first public figure with the necessary panache and courage to break through old modes of cultural thought in the Irish situation. He brought both clarity and vision into play.”

Seán’s son, Peadar Ó Riada, remembers his father as a man with a hunger, an inquisitiveness about the world, which extended to his attempts to teach Peadar, at various intervals, Arabic, Urdu and Mandarin. “It was his love of a nation, that emotion, that’s what meant most to him,” Peadar says. “There’s a word in Irish, ‘tír grá’, which is a translation of patriotism, but it’s different in Irish, because we’re of the land. In our culture, we didn’t own the land. It owned you. That was Seán’s guiding force, and the language that he used to express it was music, because it had no borders and no limits. What he wanted was for us to get our independence culturally. He saw that our culture was as good as anyone else’s.” Ó Riada’s real genius, according to Peadar, was that he didn’t get bogged down in the intellectualisation of music.

“Seán was fearless,” Peadar says. “He didn’t care what others thought about what he did, because you don’t when you’re riding that horse. You don’t worry about falling off. The exhilaration and emotion of the act demand all your attention.”

Garech a Brún, founder of Claddagh Records, was a close friend of Ó Riada’s, and it was in Luggala, a Brún’s Wicklow estate, that his final recording, Ó Riada’s Farewell , was made. “Seán was the most delightful, charming, knowledgeable man that I’ve ever met,” says a Brún. “He had a huge interest in what is now called world music, and he wanted to see a fusion of the arts and, in particular, of music and poetry.” Ó Riada’s film score for George Morrison’s Mise Éire , a film about the 1916 Rising and the War Of Independence, had a formative influence on a generation, a Brún suggests. “At that time, Seán was breaking new ground. Everyone in Ireland was ashamed of traditional music, yet everyone reacted positively to his score. At that time it was so ingrained in Irish people that fiddle players, for example, were old-fashioned people with string tying up their trousers. They couldn’t see it as part of a modern Ireland. “Back then, there was one pipemaker, Leo Rowsome, and four pipers. How many are there now? Really, his influence was enormous.”

At the time, there were musicians who declared that Seán Ó Riada did composing in Ireland a great disservice, because he chose to bring classical forms to bear on traditional music. Yet was this not what Grieg had done a century before with Norwegian music and Dvorak with the music of Moravia?

Ó Riada suffered from what his friend the poet John Montague calls a double muse. Montague has written extensively of the composer in his memoir The Pear Is Ripe , and in the poem The Lure . “With Mise Éire ,” says Montague, “Seán transformed the whole Irish music scene. But I think the impossibility of reconciling his two gifts, as a composer in a classical vein and as an arranger of traditional music, was an enormous challenge, much as [the poet] Michael Hartnett struggled between writing in English and in Irish.”

Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains was a member of Ceoltóirí Chualann, the group formed by Ó Riada in 1960 that dramatically reinterpreted Irish music, with its orchestrated arrangements and its insistence on affording each player space within the arrangements. This was in stark contrast to the céilí bands of the day, where musicians were in competition with each other.

‘He was a genius, a fantastic brain and a bit of a show-off,” Moloney says with a laugh. “He was so colourful and charismatic. What turned me on to him was Mise Éire and his brilliant arrangement of tunes such as Róisín Dubh . I just loved the way he treated them. I wasn’t satisfied with the céilí band thing either, but maybe he was a little too hard on them. I did disagree with the use of accordions, though. I thought they were too brash, and always out of tune with themselves. Seán was a true traditionalist at heart, and he made a great contribution to the revival of traditional music. He’s been criticised for paying such attention to arranging tunes and putting them into harmonies, but I never disagreed with what he was at.”

For Ó Súilleabháin, the Ó Riada legacy is tangible throughout traditional music today. “In his work with traditional musicians – the actual embodied tradition where the musician came with the music – he was, in my opinion, post-modern in his approach and thinking,” Ó Súilleabháin says. “He was part of a rebalancing of the creative process which had increasingly viewed the performer – musician, actor, dancer, builder, etc – as a craftsperson, as against the creative high ground of the literate artist: composer, playwright, choreographer, architect. The subversive impact of this turn-about is still working itself through the system on all sorts of levels, largely with a refreshing impact. His legacy, to my mind, is one of a wind of inspiration rather than any one identifiable rock of achievement.

“This is why it is so difficult for people who existed or exist outside his psychic domain to understand what all the fuss was about. The best way into Ó Riada remains the poems written about him: Heaney’s In Memoriam Seán Ó Riada , Kinsella’s A Selected Life and Vertical Man, Montague’s Ó Riada’s Farewell, among others.”

Antoine Ó Coileáin of Gael Linn, on whose label most of Ó Riada’s traditional-music recordings were released, is unequivocal in his belief that his legacy is secure. “I really think he saw into the soul of what the Irish psyche is,” says Ó Coileáin. “His concept of the Irish nation is one that I can relate to, very much. In particular, the historical film scores, Mise Éire and Saoirse , are deeply moving, and capture the quintessential spirit of Ireland.

“And I think that’s why he left an enduring legacy. He also had a kinetic energy that set something in motion that has rolled on through the generations. We can follow the thread through so many groups from the 1970s onwards: from The Bothy Band and Horslips to Relativity. I believe that he was the guiding force, the unseen hand on the shoulder for a lot of those people, so that in a way what we witness today as the thriving state of Irish music is due in very large part to the influence of Ó Riada. He dug deep into the roots of what makes us Irish and inspired tremendous confidence in ourselves. He achieved so much in his short life. He was very much ahead of his time.”

Féile na Laoch/The Festival of Heroes, a celebration of Ó Riada’s legacy, runs in Cúil Aodha, Co Cork, until Monday;

Essential listening: Ó Riada recordings

Mise Éire (Gael Linn)

Ó Riada sa Gaiety (Gael Linn)

Ceol An Aifrinn 1 Aifreann 2 (Gael Linn)

Vertical Man (Claddagh Records)

Seoda an Riadaigh: The Essential Collection (Gael Linn)

Why Seán Ó Riada is Irish music's pop icon - The Irish Times - Sat, Oct 01, 2011


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