On the 9th of December I made my way Scartaglen (Co. Kerry) for the weekend, together with my friend Christoph. This has, in a way, become a regular trip for us as we have a good reason to go to that part of the world on a regular basis! As aspiring fiddle players with a predominant interest in the music of Sliabh Luachra, we try to attend the yearly World Fiddle Day celebrations as well as the so-called Handed Down lecture series on the music of that area.
In Scartaglen, a small team of dedicated people led by PJ Teahan introduced this unique concept of hosting a regular lecture series with a strong focus of placing the music in the proper historic and cultural context. The ingredients for each instalment are twofold: live music performances by musicians of various generations and a presentation by an experienced musician. Since the beginning of the series, numerous well-known musicians, like Matt Cranitch, Liam O’Connor, Charlie Piggot and Bryan O’Leary to name a few, have shared their knowledge about the music to the audience.
This weekend’s talk was presented by Máire O’Keeffe who, in 2010, received a PhD from the University of Limerick for her work entitled “Journey into Tradition: A Social History of the Irish Button Accordion”. For this talk she decided to take that work as a basis for her presentation and connect the history of the button-accordion with the rich button-accordion tradition in Sliabh Luachra. The fact that this topic was chosen was a good incentive for me to travel to Scartaglen as I have started learning the button-accordion a while back!
Despite the less-than-ideal weather conditions – cold and pouring rain – many people made their way to Scartaglen Heritage Centre where the lecture series is held. At 8 PM all seats were filled and the evening was opened by PJ himself. PJ started the evening by saying thanks to the loyal supporters of the event as well as the Kerry Arts Council for their support throughout the year. There were both musicians and non-musicians in the audience which shows that these talks attract a diverse audience.
The first part of the night was devoted to live music performances of which a few in particular stood out for me. The first was the performance of Haruaki Saito – a now familiar face in the music scene. Haruaki came from his hometown Tokyo to live in Ireland especially to learn to play the button-accordion and in particular the Sliabh Luachra repertoire. He is a regular guest in sessions and takes part in as much workshops as he can and it is amazing what he has achieved in his playing. Not only is he a supporter of the Irish music scene in Ireland, he also organises a workshop and concert tour in Japan by bringing Bryan O’Leary to Tokyo. Haruaki played two very nice selection of tunes and as he said himself: “When I arrived two years ago <…>. I never imagined playing at the concert here.”.
Another impressive performance was given by Micheal Healy, a young lad who is extremely talented on the box. His two sets, one set of jigs he got of Bryan O’Leary and a set of slides, were executed with great precision and musicality. It is great to see that the younger generation of musicians get a chance to show case their talent at a setting like this!
The playing of Eoghan O’Sullivan, the Cork box player who was joined by guitarist Paul de Grae provided some lovely sets as well. The playing style of Eoighan is so relaxed and laid-back which makes it a joy to listen to.
After the musical performances, Máire started her presentation. A good part of her presentation was devoted to the history of the instrument itself and also in relation to the development of the concertina. Next came what can only be described as an extensive account of influential accordion players who have helped the continuation and progression of the instrument in Irish traditional music. In many cases audio and video clips were shown which enhanced the presentation very much.
It was great to see the level of knowledge that Máire had to share about the instrument and their players. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, she was not able to show us all that she had prepared for us as the lecture could have gone on longer! This shows that this topic has so much interesting stories and clips to tell that I hope a continuation of this night will be planned for a future Handed Down lecture!
I would like to thank PJ Teahan and his team for putting in all the hard work in organising these events! Also, the volunteers of the Scartaglen Heritage Centre always do a superb job of arranging tea and coffee on the night!