Category Archives: Personal

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Trip to World Fiddle Day celebration in Scartaglen, Co. Kerry

IMG_1813Saturday May 20th 2017 was World Fiddle Day – an annual world-wide celebration of fiddle music. This day is celebrated in many parts of the world, with various fiddle performances, sessions and other fiddle related festivities. And so is the case in the tiny village of Scartaglen, Co. Kerry, where a group of passionate people led by PJ Teahan work hard each year to make World Fiddle Day a day to be remembered! As part of my immersion in the Irish traditional fiddle culture, and the Sliabh Luachra fiddle culture in particular, I decided to visit Scartaglen once again for this great occasion, together with my two good friends and fiddlers Katja vander Poorten and Christoph Wiekart.

IMG_1793The three of us met at Amsterdam arport on the Friday before World Fiddle Day, all packed with fiddles and all! Even though the flight to Cork is only a short trip, it is good to know that taking a fiddle on board with Aer Lingus is never a problem. Our first destination after landing at Cork airport was to pick up our rental car and drive to our B&B: The Tailors Lodge in Castleisland – only 8 minutes drive from Scartaglen itself. We have been coming to this B&B for several years now and the owners of the B&B are so supportive of musicians that it is never a problem to share a few tunes in the living room. So within 10 minutes of arrival, fiddles were unpacked and tunes were played!

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Playing tunes in the B&B

Handed down

The next day, on World Fiddle Day itself, we arrived at Scartaglen at noon time. The festivities were located throughout the day in 4 separate venues: the Scartaglen Heritage Center and the three pubs next to it. It is the Heritage Center where PJ and his team organise the so-called ‘Handed Down’ sessions throughout the year. These sessions are combined lectures and performances on traditional Irish music from the locality with speakers such as Matt Cranitch, Liam O’Connor, Bryan O’Leary and many more. All these Handed Down sessions culminate into the World Fiddle Day celebration.

There were various different activities planned for the day, ranging from a photo exhibition with historic material related to music from the area, singing and poetry recitals, sessions in the various pubs, a concert in the evening and – as is special for the celebration in Scartaglen – a tribute recital.

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The classic album of Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh

Recital
Central to the World Fiddle Day celebrations in Scartaglen is the fiddle recital where a particular influential album of fiddle music gets selected to be played by all the fiddlers as a tribute to the fiddle music and key figures in that history. Two years ago, the influential album ‘Star Above the Garter’  by Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford was chosen as the recital album and the year after that an album of Julia Clifford was selected . This year however, the great and influential album ‘Jackie Daly agus Seamus Creagh’ was chosen, celebrating its 40 year-old birthday.

This recital is always held in Lyon’s Bar which played an important part in history, with fiddle master Padraig O’Keeffe himself frequenting here often. In preparation for this recital, guitarist Paul de Grae took upon himself the task of transcribing all tunes from the album in the weeks before the event. This resulted in a great tune book which every fiddler could use to get the tunes prepared for the great occassion.

Jackie Daly himself was present to accompany the more than 25 fiddlers. Between the tunes he was interviewed by Joe Thoma which revealed some lovely – and often funny – anecdotes of his collaboration with his long time friend Seamus. The Slow Airs on the album were played by a single performer. One of them was played by the talented Caoimhe Flannery (16 years of age) of which I made a small clip:

Exhibition

Also on display for this day was a photo exhibition in the heritage center. In addition to photos of this years theme – Seamus Creagh and Jackie Daly – there were many photographs and newspaper cutouts of musicians and music events of the locality. To open this exhibition, a fine group of musicians from Newmarket gave a small performance with musicians both young and old. These musicians, led by Eoin Stan O’Sullivan, are a fixed figure in the Newmarket music scene as they help with organising the Scullys Fest festival each year.

Traditional photograph at the statue

Each year, a photograph is taken of all the fiddle players who have come to celebrate World Fiddle Day in Scartaglen outside at the square. As is usual in Ireland, it can be a bit challenging to get the moment just right in between showers that occur on a regular basis. As luck would have it, the sky cleared just as it was time to take a photo!

The photo is a tribute to all fiddle players who have passed away and kept the fiddle tradition in place in a time that it was “fashionable nor profitable”. In the middle of the photo is the statue of Padraig O’Keeffe, the fiddle master himself. Gerry Harrington led the fiddlers into the ‘Knockaboul polka’s’ that all fiddlers played to honor the fiddle heroes of the past.

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Photograph of all the fiddlers with the statue of Padraig O’Keeffe

Concert

The fiddle concert in the evening was a must-see-and-hear for anyone who loves fiddle music! The theme of this year was the fiddle tradition as approached by the older and the newer generation (where I use the term ‘older’ with the utmost respect ofcourse 😉 ). During the concert, several older generation fiddlers were coupled with the new generation of fiddlers, usually in duo format, where the two generations would perform three sets. Both players would play a solo set with the final set being played in a duet.

Two generations of fiddle players meet in the concert

Two generations of fiddle players meet in the concert

Two things really struck me during this concert. The first is that one can see that Irish traditional fiddle music is alive and well with the younger generation! It was a great experience to hear the young people play with such devotion and high level. Secondly, the enormous importance of being able to hear the older generation play live which is inspirational to all fiddle players or, indeed, any devotee of Irish music. I think it goes without saying that PJ and his team play an important part in these kinds of musical exchanges throughout the year.

Sessions
18620185_831285080352524_6249859457712694546_nA celebration of music like this would not be complete without the chance to be able to play the music with friends, so throughout the day there were many different sessions going on in the pubs. A host of well known musicians like Matt Cranitch, Jackie Daly, Aidan Coffey, Gerry Harrington, Charlie Piggot and many many more could be heard playing some lively tunes! Needless to say, these sessions were great to listen to and even take part in!

Ending

Unfortunately, we had to leave Scartaglen the following day. It is always a bit sad to leave Ireland and especially when being so immersed in the music as on World Fiddle Day. I would like to end this article with the following notes:

Many thanks to:

PJ Teahan and his team for making this celebration possible.

The staff of Scartaglen Heritage centre for their wonderful hospitality and food!

Liz Galwey for some of the photographs used in this article.

Links:

Facebook group of World Fiddle Day Scartaglen (where you can also download Paul de Graes tunebook): https://www.facebook.com/groups/283125488560326/

iTunes store link to ‘Jackie Daly agus Seamus Creagh’: https://itunes.apple.com/nl/album/jackie-daly-s%C3%A9amus-creagh/id1089991773?l=en

Scully’s Fest website: http://scullysfest.com

More information about Seamus Creagh: http://www.feileseamuscreagh.com/about/

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World Fiddle Day 2016 Celebration in Scartaglen

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Posing at the bust of Padraig O’Keeffe in Scartaglen

On Friday the 20th of May, I travelled together with two friends of mine to Scartaglen (Co. Kerry ) to celebrate World Fiddle Day! My friend Christoph (fiddle) had joined me in last year’s World Fiddle Day celebration in Scartaglen and was more than eager to come with me again! His partner Susanne, who plays the guitar, decided to join us as well in the celebrations!

Although World Fiddle Day is – as the name suggests – a world-wide celebration, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to celebrate it in Scartaglen. During the year, leading up to this event, PJ Teahan and his friends organise the ‘Handed Down’ sessions approximately every month. The Handed Down sessions are a combination of lectures and performances by top class musicians who have a strong connection to the musical heritage of, in particular, Sliabh Luachra.

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Scartaglen Heritage Center

Even though Scartaglen is quite a distance away from Holland, I attended several of these events. One of the last ones I attended featured a lecture by Matt Cranitch on button-accordeon legend Jackie Daly, of which you can read a write-up here.

Friday

The trip on Friday went very smoothly even though we had to get up a bit early to reach our 9:20 AM flight. It is about 1h40m of flying and taking the time difference into account, you’ll be fresh at the airport in Cork at 10am. We hopped in the car and arrived safely in Castleisland a little past noon.

It just so happened that the owner of the B&B had a spare fiddle in the house ( I didn’t bring my own fiddle ) and of course I couldn’t resist giving the fiddle a bit of a run. It was a very nice fiddle so Christoph and I played some tunes together for a while – all in the living room of the B&B. The owner actually encouraged us to pick up the fiddle anytime we want; she was sure the guests wouldn’t mind ( but we didn’t put that theory to the test ).

Friday evening – presentation on Maida Mcquinn

Part of the World Fiddle Day schedule was a presentation by Matt Cranitch on Maida Mcquinn who had personally had fiddle lessons from Padraig O’Keeffe  – the Sliabh Luachra fiddle master – when she was young. This presentation was given in O’Riada’s bar in Ballymacelligot, just a couple of minutes away from Castleisland.

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John Reidy’s documentary on Maida Mcquinn featured in Matt Cranitch presentation

Matt Cranitch gave an interesting exposition of Maida’s life, who was actually born in Ballymacelligot and emigrated to Chicago when she was young. There she came into contact with another well-known musician, Terry ‘Cuz’ Teahan.

In October, during her visit to the Padraig O’Keeffe festival, John Reidy from the Main Valley Post conducted an interview with her and created a short documentary. This documentary was played after Matt’s introduction. It is a very personal portrait where she recounts her memories of Padraig O’Keeffe and Cuz Teahan. The documentary can be seen by following this link.

Friday session

After the presentation, we stayed to listen to the session which started right there in O Riada’s bar. Among the players in the session were family of Maida as well as many other musicians like Matt Cranitch, Jackie Daly, Paul de Grae, Paudie O’Connor and many more. Indeed, the music was so lively that people couldn’t resist and just had to get up and dance!

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Eimhear Flannery (tin whistle), Caoimhe Flannery (fiddle) and Matt Cranitch (fiddle) participating in the sessions

A particularly special moment came later in the evening when two young girls – Caoimhe Flannery (15yo, fiddle) and Eimhear Flannery (12yo,  tin whistle) – were each asked to play a tune by themselves. Both girls have already won several prices in traditional music competitions and we could tell by both the music and the silence… The moment Eimhear started to play the tin whistle, the entire bar and indeed the restaurant became as quiet as a mouse to hear the music. After that, her sister played a gorgeous reel that was played with great passion and had some lovely variations. It was absolutely fantastic to hear these girls play!

At about 23:30 we realised that it we had been up for quite some time and that it was time to go to bed. After all, World Fiddle Day hadn’t even started!!

Saturday – World Fiddle Day opening

World Fiddle Day celebrations officially commenced in Scartaglen on the Saturday at noon. The kick off was in Lyons Bar which has an historic connection to Padraig OKeeffe. Padraig would often frequent this bar and played his fiddle and share his witty humour with the fellow patrons.

The opening of World Fiddle Day was done by the unveiling of some rare colour photographs of Padraig O’Keeffe that had recently been discovered by pure chance. These colour photographs were taken by Jim Griffith of Tucson, Arizona  in August 1957, when he visited Lyons Bar with Seamus Ennis to meet Padraig. It is by coincidence that these photographs returned to Clare where Jackie Daly recognised Padraig on them. You can read some more about the unveiling of the photographs and the history behind them at the Main Valley Post.

The unveiling of the photographs, hanging prominently on the wall of Lyons Bar, World Fiddle Day was officially opened and a big session started in the pub itself. The session was made up predominantly of fiddle players but also featured the button-accordeon playing of Jackie Daly and Aidan Coffey.

Exhibition

At 2 PM, a small exhibition of historic memorabilia and posters relating to the old Scartaglen Fleadh Ceoil was opened in the Heritage centre. It was opened by Bryan O’Leary (box) and Niamh McSweeney (concertina) who are the grandschildren of  Johnny O’Leary and Mikey Duggan – two well-known Sliabh Luachra musicians who played an integral part in the musical history.

Panorama photo of the exhibition

Panorama photo of the exhibition

Afternoon program

In the afternoon one had the choice of going to a recital by American fiddler Skip Gorman and singer Connie Dover or head into town to enjoy some of the spontaneous sessions throughout the 3 bars in Scartaglen. I chose to go to have a listen at the various sessions where many fiddle players could be heard.

Each year, a photograph of all fiddlers who travelled to Scartaglen is made by the statue of Padraig O’Keeffe… as one can imagine in Ireland, timing had to be just right to have all the fiddlers pose at the statue in between two rain showers! While we were all at the statue, we collectively played two sets of tunes; the first, a set of slides and the second set the Ballydesmond polka’s. Hearing the music come from so many fiddlers at once was a great experience! And we all succeeded in staying dry during our photoshoot!

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Fiddlers pose and play a tune at the Padraig O’Keeffe statue in Scartaglen.

Jullia Clifford tribute

Next up on the program was a tribute to the Sliabh Luachra fiddle-icon Julia Clifford, which was presented by Máire O’Keeffe. Special guest of honor at this tribute was her son Billy Clifford who is a distinguished flute player himself. After having recounted some stories of his mother and her fiddle playing, all fiddle players joined in playing a great selection of tunes associated with Julia’s playing.

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Billy Clifford (centre) honoring his mother between 20+ fiddle players

Evening program

The evening program was split in two: in the first part Peter Browne from the RTE music radio program ‘The Rolling Wave‘ gave a presentation on Padraig O’Keeffe in combination with archive recordings. It was great to be able to hear Padraig’s voice on one of these recordings: deep and dark, unlike anything I had expected. Apart from Padraig O’Keeffe himself, archive footage contained interviews and clips from people who knew him like Paddy Cronin.

After the talk, we went straight into the highlight of the evening, which was an all-fiddle concert! No less than 16 fiddle players in various combinations (duet, trio, quartet) played a variety of tunes for the audience. There was a fantastic turnout for this event as there was no seat left in the theatre! I really do think that this is one of the best type of concerts for World Fiddle Day: all fiddles and no accompaniment so that the beauty of the fiddles can be appreciated to its fullest extend!

The night ended with all fiddle-players playing  a set of reels together on stage to end the evening with a blast!

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Big finale with 16 fiddle players!

Epilogue

It is probably no surprise that all the fiddle-players and the audience quickly dispersed to the neighbouring bars to continue the music into the wee hours of dawn! For us, the events of the day had taken its toll and we quietly headed back to our B&B for some good night sleep.

The next morning at breakfast, we noticed that some of the fiddle players who performed during the concert were staying in our B&B. No surprise then that after breakfast, fiddle music could be heard coming from several rooms: yes, life is good in Ireland!

After having said goodbye to some friends in the Sunday session, we went back to Cork Airport to go back home.

All in all we had a superb weekend in Scartaglen and our thanks go to all people who made this event possible! We are looking forward to next years celebration!

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Happy fiddle heads!

 

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Trip to Scartaglen for lecture about Jackie Daly

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Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch at the beginning of the evening.

In the weekend of the 23rd of January, I travelled all the way to Scartaglen, Co. Kerry, to attend an unique event! As part of the excellent “Handed Down“-series, fiddle player Matt Cranitch presented something what can best be described as “part-lecture, part-interview and part-concert” about the esteemed button-accordeon player Jackie Daly.

Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly have been playing together for many years now – they were part of an irishtradmusic concert series in 2014 – culminating in two CDs: ‘The Living Stream’ in 2010 and ‘Rolling On’ in 2014. Their musical experience and friendship together made Matt a great candidate to honour Jackie’s place in the history of Irish traditional music!


TV material available: IRISHTV.ie has made a TV programme about the music of Scartaglen which also reports on this event. It can be access at http://www.irishtv.ie/kerry-matters-70 and starts in ‘part 2’.

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The format for the Handed Down sessions is usually part live music performances from musicians both in and outside the region combined with an invited speaker who dives deeper into an aspect of the music from the region. This session was started by the two very young musicians Caoimhe Flannery (fiddle) and Eimhear Flannery (concertina and tin whistle), who are award winners of the Sligo Fleadh Ceoil.  They decided to play a wonderful rendition of two slides, the Brosna slide and the appropriately named Scartaglen slide, which captivated the audience immediately

After the initial tune, they both played a lovely solo on their respective instruments, including a slow air played on the tin whistle!

The lecture

After that, Matt and Jackie took the stage. Whereas Matt was armed with a laptop, a fiddle and a beamer for the presentation, Jackie brought several different instruments with him. What followed were two hours of very unique material, from never-before-seen photographs to rare recordings of Jackies work. Much to everyone’s delight, Jackie was not just the passive subject of the night – instead, he often took the microphone in order to tell the stories about the photos or recordings.

10419642_10203166258929816_5117917901063193327_nThe audience got to hear the story from the start of Jackie’s musical career – playing for dancers at the ‘Dance platforms’ – his various travels, group formations and many other life events. For Dutch people it was nice to hear that Jackie used to live in The Netherlands for a short while in the 60s/70s while working in the shipping industry. Rumour has it that he still speaks a word or two in that language as well!

In between the historical journey, Jackie and Matt played several sets of tunes that had a connection with a particular event or anecdote. Occasionally they were joined by other musicians like Paul de Grae, Geraldine O’Callaghan and Tim Browne.

Of special interest to the audience was the amount of technical knowledge Jackie has about the instrument. It turns out that he is not only an exceptional player, but also learned how to tune, adjust, improve and create button-accordeons! Highlight was his display of an accordeon that he had built himself from scratch which mimicked the sound of the ’20s accordeons. It can be heard on one of De Dannan’s CDs, but for this occasion he played it for the audience live! It turned out that it not only sounded great, but it looked fantastic as well as he did all the carvings and inlays himself!

Collaboration

It was also impressive to see Jackies long list of collaborations with various musicians and bands. Of course his collaborations with fiddle players Seamus Creagh, Kevin Burke and Matt Cranitch are well known and highly regarded. He was also part of many bands including De Dannan, Patrick Street and Buttons & Bows, the last of which released a new album last year after decades since their last album.

That Matt is quite the archeologist when it comes to Irish traditional music, proved his finding of this track from Thin Lizzy called ‘Beat of the Drum’. Scoring highly in the ranks of ‘places least likely to find traditional Irish music’, you will discover a recognisable snippet of music playing at the 1:20 mark:

 

Conclusion

The whole evening went by so fast and the audience, including myself, was amazed by the amount of information that had been displayed during the evening. Everybody concluded that Jackie Daly indeed deserved this tribute as he is undoubtedly a great influencer and idol for many musicians – especially the C#/D players!

I would like to acknowledge the following people:

Matt Cranitch for his permission on writing this article based on some of his work.

PJ Teahan & the team of Handed Down for organising these events.

Liz Galwey for the photographs of the night.

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Trip to Jim Dowling Uilleann Pipe and Trad Festival

This 19th-23rd of June I travelled to Glengarriff, Co. Cork, to visit the Jim Dowling Uillean Pipe and Trad Festival for some great music!  Glengarriff is a lovely town in the South West of Ireland with a lot of sightseeing opportunities in the area. Since I had such a great time at the festival last year, I decided to go back again!

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The festival takes place in the towns’ pubs and venues with various activities like concerts, workshops and sessions. The fact that the weather was absolutely stunning during the weekend, made this festival even better :)

The festival is in honour of the Dublin born Jim Dowling ( an extensive bio can be found here ); a traditional piper who moved to Glengarriff in 1969. His move to the area resulted in a new found interest in playing and crafting uillean pipes! He was also a founder member of the Glengarriff Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Éireann. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008.

Coincidentally,  I visited Kenmare in 2008 where I visited a set of Comhaltas concerts where I filmed a performance of Jim. I didn’t know, at the time, who he was but I’m glad I recorded this performance that evening. You can find it here:

Concerts

This year’s festival had some great concerts in store! The list of concerts started on the Friday with the band Lunasa, who doesn’t need any further introduction! They were joined by singer Karen Casey who captivated the audience with her lovely singing.

Saturday evening was the Big Blowout Concert with another amazing line-up: Uillean pipers Paddy Keenan and David Power played some amazing tunes on the pipes, together with guitarist Alan Burke ( who replaced Steve Cooney because of health issues ) and fiddler Martin Hayes.

RainMatt Cranitch and Jackie Daly performed in an outdoor concert on Sunday, together with flute player Conal O Grada. As can be expected from Ireland, the weather had a bit of a mind of its own and decided to change… about 20 minutes into the concert the first rain drops started to fall on an otherwise sunny weekend. Luckilly, umbrellas were close-by which made for a humorous background to the concert :)

During the interval, the concert was moved indoors to protect both audience and instruments. Luckily, the location of the concert was Jim’s Coffee House so there was plenty of hot drinks to get us all warmed up; that and of course the great music:

Other concerts during the weekend included The Friel Sisters and Kila.

I can recommend having a look at the Festival’s Facebook page for more photos and videos from the event!

These three photos were used with permission from Nadine Hayes Photography:

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Sightseeing

Apart from going to the festival, I also took the opportunity to explore the beautiful area of South West of Ireland. Taking the boat trip from Glengarriffe to Garnish Island, travelling to the most South-West point of Ireland at Mizen Head, going to the peaceful Gouganne Bara – it was all fantastic to do. As pictures are worth a 1000 words ( each ), I’ll just finish my post with several photos I took!

Gouganne Bara 2 On the road Gouganne Bara Mizen head Food and drink Barley Lake Garnish Island

 

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A musical trip to Kenmare and Scartaglen

In the weekend of 11 and 12th of April, I travelled to Ireland for two musical occasions: the Kenmare music festival, also known as Feile Neidin, and the last installment of the Handed Down series in Scartaglen; a series of presentations and performances of the rich music tradition in that area.

In this short blog I hope to give an impression of the two occasions and share some of the moments that were had there. Note that this is of course from my personal perspective and contains only a small fraction of what was going on during these events. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/KenmareIrishMusicFestival and https://www.facebook.com/scartaglin.heritagecentre

Kenmare Music Festival

The Kenmare music festival is a lovely festival in County Kerry. Kenmare is a lovely place to visit any time, but during this festival a lot of excellent music can be heard. In addition to concerts and sessions, there were various music and dancing workshops, sightseeing opportunities and more.

Since I came in rather late during the day, I wasn’t able to go to the fiddle workshop in the morning where Matt Cranitch was teaching. Fortunately, I was in time for the presentation that Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly gave called ‘Music of the County Bounds’.

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Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly during their presentation ‘Music of the County Bounds’

I explicitly use the word ‘presentation’ as it was neither solely a workshop, lecture or recital, but actually a mix of these. The audience, consisting of young and some older people, musicians and non-musicians, could enjoy some of the tunes that they played, intermingled with (funny) anecdotes and stories about the tunes and the musical tradition.

A special ‘surprise’ was unfolded during this presentation as my girlfriend Caroline Vermeulen, who is an Irish step dancer, was asked to dance a traditional set – The Blackbird – with Matt and Jackie providing the music.

Blackbird set dance

During the final half hour, Matt and Jackie taught a few tunes to those who brought their instrument and after that they concluded the presentation with a smashing set of reels.

We came back the next day for the sessions in town where a lot of great music was heard with a very good atmosphere.

Handed Down Scartaglen

4223392534_23e6d782abOn the 11th of April was the last episode of the Handed Down series in Scartaglen Heritage center. The reason why I really wanted to see this was that this last talk was about the great fiddle player Paddy Cronin who sadly passed away last year.

Paddy Cronin, as you may probably know, was a gifted student of the fiddle master Padraig O’Keeffe and lived a very large portion of his life in Boston, USA. Apart from his fiddle playing he was also very well known for his good sense of humour. In 2007 he was awarded the TG4 Lifetime Achievement award for his contribution to Irish music. In this clip  we see him talk about his teacher Padraig and the way he was introduced into fiddle playing.

Paddy Cronin recounts his tuition by Padraig O’Keeffe

The setup of this lecture was roughly divided into 3 sections: first there were performances of local musicians playing tunes in honour of Paddy, then there was an extensive talk by Nicky McAuliffe about the life and music of Paddy Cronin which included rare recordings of the fiddle master. Lastly some video clips were shared with rare footage of Paddy Cronin, one of them seeing Paddy playing the fiddle while receiving a haircut!

Read the article in the Main Valley Post for more pictures and information!

What made the evening extra special was that we were sitting next to a lady who happened to be related to Paddy Cronin! We had a very nice talk after the lecture about Paddy but also our own adventures into Irish music and dance.

Luckilly, some of the performances are available on YouTube:

In the last clip, one can see Connie O’Connell playing the fiddle. It is great to visit his website, especially if you are learning an instrument yourself,  as it contains over 60 of his composed tunes, including MP3s and sheet music to learn them!

World fiddle day Scartaglen

I will be returning to Scartaglen on May 15th to celebrate World Fiddle Day in Scartaglen! You can read all about this celebration at their Facebook Page!