Digital Skibbereen!

The Digital Week programme has appeared all over town...
The Digital Week programme has appeared all over town…

Who has ever heard of Percy Ludgate? And who would have thought that a man born in 1883 in a little West Cork town was a computer pioneer?

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Early ‘computing’ – Percy Ludgate (top left); a conjectural diagram of his invention; the Schicard calculator (known as Napier’s Bones), arguably the first mechanical calculator and created in 1623; the very first Apple computer (above)

In Skibbereen, now, everyone knows about him – because he has given his name to a new initiative which has swept the town. And – breaking news – National Digital Week has just taken over this modest community, doubling its population for a few days and bringing innovation and promise of much needed life and work opportunities.

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21st century Skibbereen

Skibbereen has become one of the first towns in Ireland outside Dublin to create for itself a ‘Digital Hub’: a centre where businesses will have access to high-speed fibre broadband – something which is long overdue in rural Ireland. We all remember the promises rolled out in the Celtic Tiger years that every last corner of the island would be given access to state-of-the-art phone and internet connection so that businesses could operate competitively from small communities, thus ensuring their economic survival… Well, two decades later, this ‘last corner’ here in Cappaghglass is still waiting: our broadband is always slow and ‘down’ as often as it is ‘up’, and a mobile phone signal is non-existent – politicians take note, please! And this is not uncommon in all the remoter fringes of this land.

Everything that can be digital

All the more reason to applaud the initiatives now happening in Skibbereen. It’s only twenty minutes up the road from Cappaghglass, so perhaps there is hope that once real high-speed connectivity reaches that town some of its potency may dribble down the lines to us…

Finola and

Finola was particularly impressed that there was a day dedicated to female leaders in digital media – women who are ‘making the impossible possible’... Here Finola is mentored by Denise Brown, an Account Manager at Google

Skibbereen’s initiative is being led by local businessmen and women who want their own families – and the whole younger generation now growing up in rural Ireland – to have the opportunity of a viable working future without having to migrate to the cities or abroad – which is currently the norm. And they have no doubts that the future is digital; it is possible to run any sort of business nowadays online, and to compete in national and international markets from anywhere in the world, provided that the place is digitally ‘connected’.

Robert and Giacomo

Robert at a one-to-one clinic with Google’s Giacomo Gnecchi-Ruscone

Ireland has a long-running association with the digital world, probably for the very same reason that it’s now important for communities in rural Ireland to embrace it: we are a very small country with a tiny population trying to survive and make our mark in the huge world economy. Giants like Apple and Google have long had a big presence in the Irish Republic – partly because they get good tax deals but also because Ireland’s working community has made itself good at being digital.

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Google has a huge presence in Ireland: the Dublin office

Skibbereen’s John Field comes from a family which has made its mark on the town: the local central supermarket – still always called ‘Fields’ – thrives because it focusses on local producers and also provides a very good friendly shopping experience. John believes that West Cork producers are central to the new ‘Irish food culture’. Now he is a prime mover in the digital initiative and has donated a premises – that used to be the town’s bakery (one of the oldest in Ireland) – as the first Digital Hub to be fitted out. By chance (or not!) this premises is just around the corner from where computer pioneer Percy Ludgate was born.

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A digital image of Field’s old bakery converted to the new Hub

Percy Ludgate was convinced of the importance of mathematical computing devices, and came up with his own design for an ‘analytical machine’ in 1909. He was well respected and lectured universities and learned societies in the early part of the twentieth century. He knew the work of Englishman Charles Babbage (1791-1871) who had built programmable calculating machines using a system of punched cards. Ludgate took a different approach: his design had all the elements of a modern computer – data storage, programmable data input, a printer, and an ‘operating system’. In theory, Ludgate’s automated engine would multiply two 20-digit numbers in under 10 seconds, and take two minutes to determine the logarithm of a number. It would also solve algebraic equations and geometric problems. It was to be powered by an electric motor, and the device would be ‘portable’ – a cube measuring about two feet on each side. Sadly, Ludgate did not live long enough to complete a prototype: he died from pneumonia at the age of 39. It’s great, though, that this whole 21st century digital project carries his name.

Mobile best practice

Last week’s venture involved a series of conferences and workshops designed to introduce anyone who wanted to attend to the concept of the Digital Hub – and to give insights into how the use of the superspeed technology could benefit all businesses. We attended – partly because we wanted to be in the know on the whole venture – but also because we could see how it would help us in producing this blog – and in getting it seen by more people! As with any business, it’s important if you have something to promote (in our case) or to sell (in the case of a producer), you need to know how to get your message across in the most accessible and attractive way. You also need to know that the message is getting to where you want it to be. This is where ‘Analytics’ come in. We already knew it was possible to see how many people were reading our blog and – more or less – where they came from. Now we have discovered that it’s possible to analyse a whole lot more about where our work is reaching, and who looks at what and for how long. This could be sen as frightening, I suppose, in a ‘Big Brother’ context, but it’s all anonymous and – in the end – it’s all just data. Anyone in commerce nowadays who has a command of that data will be best placed to make sure that their own business will offer what the markets seem to be looking for – and that’s what a thriving economy is all about.

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A special mention has to be made of the many young people involved in this venture. In the digital world it seems that it’s the youth who are mentoring the not-so-young! Think – who are the most computer-savvy members of your family? Important faces here include Project Director Gráinne Dwyer and Corporate Development Director Callum Donnelly, seen here (far right and far left) with the rest of the team at the launch of the Ludgate Centre:

NO REPRO FEE Pictured at the 'sod turning' launch of the Skibbereen's Ludgate Hub at the old fields bakery on Friday 7th August 2015 Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
The ‘sod turning’ launch of Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub at the old Field’s Bakery, August 2015 (Emma Jervis Photography)

One of the many great things about Ireland is that there’s always a creative side and a human side to every venture. So – after every day’s lecture sessions and masterclasses – it was time for relaxation and social activities. Skibbereen came up trumps, thanks in no small measure to one of the town’s most treasured human assets – Declan McCarthy. Declan runs the world-renowned Baltimore Fiddle Fair every year and also organises a whole raft of first class musical events in West Cork: with the help of many others during Digital Week he ensured the smooth running of quite outstanding evenings to turn minds away from digital matters. On the first night we had Jessie Kennedy’s Carbery Songs; then, on Friday, what could have been more inspiring than an evening in the Skibbereen Town Hall with our favourite traditional music makers Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and Kevin Burke? And this fabulous concert was broadcast live online right across the world! The following evening we were royally entertained again, this time by Sacha Puttnam, son of the renowned film maker Lord David Puttnam (remember Chariots of Fire – The Mission – the Killing Fields – Midnight Express?). Both Puttnams live here in West Cork (why would they live anywhere else?), and Sacha – ably accompanied by some local young musicians – gave us some superb renderings of film music from his father’s movies on the Skibbereen Town Hall grand piano (which, incidentally, was donated to the town by the family, having been played previously in 10 Downing Street amongst other venues). Behind it – on the big screen – we could watch stills from the movies – and there were orchestral accompaniments all synchronised digitally: again, everything was broadcast live to the world over the internet.

Puttnam and friends

Worldwide web broadcasts from Skibbereen: Burke, Hayes and Cahill (above) and Sacha Puttnam and friends (below) – anyone recognise the scene from War of the Buttons?

David Puttnam (below), who holds the honorary title Digital Champion for Ireland, is the chair of Atticus Education, an online education company based in Ireland which delivers interactive seminars on film and a variety of other subjects to educational institutions around the world. The Puttnam involvement in Skibbereen’s pioneering digital venture is therefore most apt.

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Keynote statement from Ludgate@Skibbereen: Digital will negate the conventional disadvantages of working and living outside cities; creating real jobs, real commerce while real people enjoy the superior lifestyle option of living in rural Ireland.

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Ah! Sweet Fiddler…

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How did I first become aware of Irish Traditional Music? Probably through this Long Player (remember those?) released by Topic Records in 1968. Paddy in the Smoke was – still is – central to my collection of folk music on vinyl and is available today as a CD or a download.  The recordings were made during the mid 1960s in a London pub, The Favourite, in Holloway. Irish musicians gathered there every Sunday between noon and 2pm (such were the licensing laws of the day!) and those sessions are now legendary, probably representing the epitome of ‘folk music to aspire to’ – certainly that was the case for this wet-behind-the-ears 22 year old attempting to play along with these wonderful tunes on an ancient single-row Hohner melodeon. Here’s a sample of some of the tracks on YouTube: you can hear how the atmosphere of the occasions has been wonderfully captured.

More from my collection of fiddle recordings

Jump forward a few years and in the mid 1970s I was making my first trip to Ireland, visiting Cork, Clare and Longford – looking for The Music: I found it in abundance. By then I was playing an Anglo Concertina, but I was very aware that wherever you went to in Ireland – or whatever you listened to from the Irish tradition – it was above all else the fiddle that seemed to be the king-pin.

Fiddles at the Chief O'Neill's Festival, Tralibane

Fiddles at the Chief O’Neill’s Festival, Tralibane

Now – dare I say it – almost 50 years on from hearing those first notes, here I am living on the shores of Roaringwater Bay and I am more than ever immersed in the music. Still it’s the fiddle that’s ubiquitous, wherever I go and whatever I listen to.

Fiddles to the fore: Friday night session in Ballydehob

I started to learn the ‘violin’ when I was 11 years old. It wasn’t a fruitful venture – I had given it up within the year and moved on to the piano. I suppose I have just always been happiest with an instrument that only requires you to press a key or a button to get exactly the right note. But I am filled with admiration for anyone who plays the fiddle – who is able to perfectly pitch the notes, and then ‘bend’ the music when the mood requires it. You can’t ‘bend’ steel reeds!

The Rakes dance band, founded in 1956 – Reg Hall, Michael Plunkett and Paul Gross. They introduced me to Irish dance music back in the day… They are still going strong! Reg Hall was responsible for the Paddy in the Smoke recordings, together with Bill Leader

A fiddle is a violin – it’s the same instrument. Generally, classical players of the violin call it by either name, but traditional music players invariably call it a fiddle. It’s a beautifully constructed instrument with a feminine, flowing shape – a piece of craftsmanship which has been made the same way for 500 years. A seventh century Irish poem The Fair of Carman describes ‘…Pipes, fiddles, chainmen, Bone-men and tube players…’ but we don’t know what the fiddle was at that time. An excavation in Dublin during the 18th century uncovered a fiddle and bow dating from the 11th century: this is the oldest bow known in Europe – the bow is of dogwood and has an animal head carved on the tip.

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The violin maker’s workshop (www.violinist.com)

Can anyone learn to play the fiddle? Probably – with sufficient patience and perseverance – and a bit of musicality. But it takes very particular skills to put The Music into the instrument. We are immersed in good fiddling around here: we have so many music festivals – Baltimore Fiddle Fair, Masters of Tradition, Chief O’Neill’s, Ballydehob Trad Fest – right on the doorstep. The whole gamut of different regional styles and techniques is here for us to take in. If you have half an hour or so to spare, it’s well worth looking at this YouTube video dating from 2008: firstly, you’ll see Jeremy Irons learning to play traditional Irish fiddle, and you’ll see his mentors, including maestro Martin Hayes. But Jeremy lives in Kilcoe Castle, just over the hill from us – so you can also get a flavour of life down here in Roaringwater Bay – immersed in the sweet fiddle music…

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Ancient Tones – New Directions

After the opening concert... Sunset over Bantry Bay

After the opening concert… Sunset over Bantry Bay

This year’s Masters of Tradition Festival (which closes tonight) had an unusual headline act – Ricky Skaggs – at its opening gig.. This giant of ‘country’, ‘bluegrass’ or ‘old timey’ music flew over from Nashville at his own expense to join Festival Director Martin Hayes and a host of traditional musicians on stage in the Maritime Hotel, Bantry. Why? Because there are big adventures going on in the world of Irish music today, and this Festival is at the leading edge of all this. Here’s a snatch of Ricky Skaggs: regardless of the film quality it’s well worth watching…

Ricky Skaggs

Ricky Skaggs

Skaggs, Hayes, Cahill,  Schrey and the Brock McGuire Band bring the house down in Bantry

Skaggs, Hayes, Cahill, Schrey and the Brock McGuire Band bring the house down in the opening concert

So, Ricky Skaggs got a good start in life, playing on the stage with the likes of Bill Monroe and the Foggy Mountain Boys (aka guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs) at the age of seven! But at last Wednesday’s concert the biggest chord that was struck for me was Skaggs talking about Ancient Tones – his words for the the common roots of the music that they were all playing together:

“I’ve told people for years Celtic music is the foundation stone for bluegrass, even country music generally — though it is admittedly hard to hear the Irish influence in ‘new’ country today. Certainly, you can detect it in the old country ballads — it’s in the heart of the songs.” Bill Monroe was in agreement, he recalls. Without Irish music, there would never have been a bluegrass movement. “Mr Monroe talked about the old sounds and the ancient tones. He was referring to the sounds from Scotland and Ireland — he believed very much his music was a hybrid of that. He’s right of course — you hear bluegrass and you know the Irish influence is there. It’s in the fiddle and the mandolin, the harmonies and the guitar. In all of it, really.”

Festival Director Martin Hayes with groupies...

Festival Director Martin Hayes with groupies…

That first concert blew us away. We thought that it couldn’t get any better. It probably didn’t, but the energy, enthusiasm and innovation continued through the events of the week. Innovation in Irish Traditional Music? Oh, yes: we didn’t know what was in store for us, but we did know Martin Hayes’ philosophy:

“The main aim of this festival is to expose the unique artistic craft of various musicians. It’s also a kind of response to the fact that the country is full of festivals. I feel it’s important to highlight individual artistry in music rather than putting on a lot of bands that we’re all familiar with. International musicians have been a feature of the festival in the last few years.The festival is called Masters of Tradition rather than masters of Irish music or Irish traditional music because the idea is to have at least one act from abroad to see how other traditions stand in relation to our own. I want to offer something really different. I’m not saying that what I’m doing is better. It’s just a different way of approaching a festival. I certainly don’t see the point in replicating other festivals.There’s only a percentage of the population that gets seriously involved and connected with this festival. I think that’s fine. The festival is about highlighting the uniqueness of each musician’s voice. We try to choose musicians that have found their unique voice. I’m not looking for the latest blazing hot craze. Some of what the musicians express can be quite humble but effective and very touching as well.”

Máire Ni Cheileachair, Sean Nós singer

Máire Ni Cheileachair, Sean Nós singer

Among the – perhaps – ‘humble, effective and very touching’ performances were Sean Nós singers: carrying the tradition forward from its most ancient roots and presenting it in the simplest form – the unaccompanied human voice, a continuity of cultural expression which has passed through countless generations. We enjoyed the contribution of Máire Ni Cheileachair from West Cork and were impressed, as always, with critically acclaimed Iarla Ó Lionáird who grew up in the musical heartland of Cúil Aodha in the West Cork Gaeltacht. Like Ricky Skaggs, his fame came early: here’s his performance of Aisling Gheal dating from 1978 – when he was 14.

Finola has a link to another of Iarla’s iconic renderings on her post here – The Lament of the Three Marys. Throughout Ireland sacred songs such as this one were felt to function both as prayers and as direct substitutes for the caoineadh (‘keening’, women’s funeral lament) which was suppressed by the Church.

Ivan Goff, Cleek Schrey and Iarla Ó Lionáird - The Ghost Trio

Ivan Goff, Cleek Schrey and Iarla Ó Lionáird – The Ghost Trio

Finola says that I should have called this post ‘Ancient Tones – and Drones’. Iarla Ó Lionáird also heads up The Ghost Trio – which gave us Friday’s late night candlelit concert in Bantry House – Siobhan Long of the Irish Times described her impressions:

…”Drone City” is how Iarla O’Lionaird describes the antics of Ghost Trio, and he isn’t far off. Pipes, Hardanger Fiddle and harmonium coalesce to shape an atmospheric set that speaks more of the space and time inherent in traditional music than it does momentum. And what a welcome alternative take that is.This is a fine reminder of what atmosphere lurks within and without our tunes and songs

Boruma Trio

Boruma Trio – Eileen O’Brien, Geraldine Cotter and Andrew MacNamara

In a sharp swing back to pure tradition we were impressed by The Boruma Trio in Saturday night’s first concert. Straight music played on accordion, fiddle and piano, directly descended from the years when legendary Ceilidh bands such as the Tulla reigned supreme: Martin Hayes himself was reared on this kind of irish music as his own father – P Joe Hayes – led that band for 50 years. Martin wrote of his upbringing in Maghera, County Clare:

Tulla Ceilidh Band 1952

Tulla Ceilidh Band 1952

…However difficult it is to imagine my own life without music it is impossible for me to even know my father without his music. Music is part of his life in the same way that the land is part of him or in the way that we are Irish. It is inevitable and unalterable, we can never identify ourselves apart from our past as he could never identify himself apart from his music. His music fits comfortably into his life, there has always been balance, he never saw music as being anything other than normal and ordinary, a part of life that fits comfortably with his family, farm, religion and politics. He has a strong passion for music that has been tempered and maintained by equal and loyal devotion to the other interests in his life…

Martin’s earliest memories are of his father getting dressed up and being picked up to go and play somewhere, and in his child’s imagination it was always somewhere far away, exciting and important. On other nights the band practiced in the kitchen and when he had to go to bed Martin would leave the bedroom door open, a little bit, and listen to them play until he fell asleep.

I haven’t room on this post to list all the concerts (the full programme is here) – and we still have one to go! The standard of performances throughout has been consistently high. Perhaps the Harris/Finlay award for the most memorable experience – so far – has to go to Ensemble Ériu. In his introduction of this 7-strong group, Martin Hayes reminded us that we now have generations of young musicians who are very aware of their traditional heritage, but who are also being exposed to mainstream influences such as jazz and minimalism. Degrees, Masters and PhDs are offered in no less than 14 universities and colleges in Ireland at present in traditional music, song, dance, Ethnomusicology and Ethnochoreology. Students with backgrounds or deep interests in the folk traditions are exploring other contemporary voices and this ensemble – or ‘Project’ as its progenitors Jack Talty and Neil O’Loghlen prefer to call it – is a step in the New Directions so keenly being watched by Martin Hayes:

…The septet draws on a wealth of creative sources to perform arrangements of Irish traditional music rooted in the styles of West and North County Clare. This group brings together a chamber ensemble of some of Ireland’s most exciting young musicians from a range of performance backgrounds. The result is a unique combination of the fresh and familiar, a soundscape that is creatively progressive, yet rooted in tradition… (from the group’s website)

It’s hard to describe the musical experience that Ériu gave us last night. You’ll get some impressions from this film.

It brought to my mind the works of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but was nevertheless unique. Who would have thought that such creative things could happen in this quiet West Cork backwater? It was stimulating, energetic – dynamic. I wonder what Martin has in store for us next year?

Quiet West Cork backwater? Bantry House - Festival venue

Quiet West Cork backwater? Bantry House – Festival venue

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The Clare Trumpet

The Clareman's Trumpet - two fine modern concertinas, by Wim Wakker (left) and Colin Dipper (right)

Two fine modern concertinas, by Wim Wakker (left) and Colin Dipper (right)

We went to Ballyvaghan, County Clare so that I could take part in the Concertina School run by Maestro of that instrument – and Clare man – Noel Hill. I have played concertinas for over 40 years but never in the ‘Irish’ style: here I am in Ireland so – in my seventh decade – it’s back to school for me! The concertina – a small squeezebox – has a long history in Clare, and in Ireland. It was pioneered by an Englishman, Charles Wheatstone, in the 1800s. Wheatstone’s real fame came as co-inventor – with William Cooke – of the electric telegraph which was arguably the forerunner of all our present day telecommunication systems (so thank you, Wheatstone, for my iPhone) but he was also prolific in his invention and improvement of many other devices, including musical ones. He took the Mundharmoniker – a German metal-reeded mouth blown instrument and turned it into the mouth-organ we know today; he then used the metal reeds and leather bellows to develop the concertina itself, a very portable instrument which has a tone and range similar to the violin. High quality concertinas bearing the Wheatstone name are still being made, as are many others, but it was the ability to mass produce these instruments at a low cost (far lower than the fiddle) which ensured their popularity in Victorian drawing rooms and in ale houses, dance halls and kitchens.

Noel Hill and Seamus Begley give a rousing finale to the Corofin Festival in Clare 2014

Noel Hill and Seamus Begley give a rousing finale to the Corofin Festival in Clare 2014

The concertina can be loud: the smaller the area of the bellows on a squeezebox, the more powerful the pressure that can be exerted on the steel reeds. Consequently the instrument has a very bright tone which carries above most others and is therefore ideal for accompanying dances in noisy rooms – or certainly was, before the days of amplification. Imagine a flag-stoned floor in a parlour or outhouse with a lively Irish set in full swing: the sound must have been fairly overwhelming, and it needed a loud instrument to be heard above the melee. Clare was and is a musical county, and gatherings for dancing (and socialising and matchmaking) were a major past-time in rural districts. The concertina was a boon on these occasions and is now an instrument forever associated with the area and its musicians. Because of its volume and its strident possibilities, the concertina has become known as ‘the Clareman’s Trumpet’.

old bog road music

I could write a whole post on the many varieties of concertina which have been developed since Charles Wheatstone took out his patent in 1829. Suffice it to say that you are likely to encounter only two types in your normal travels: the English Concertina – where each button plays the same note regardless of which direction you are moving the bellows – and the Anglo Concertina – where each button gives you two different notes: one on the push and another on the pull – similar in principle to the modern mouth organ. My instrument is the Anglo, and this is also the one most commonly (but not exclusively) found today in Irish Traditional Music.

pub signNo mention of the concertina in Clare would be complete without a note on Mrs Elizabeth Crotty of Kilrush. She lived between 1885 and 1960 and was famous in her day as an Anglo player. Crotty’s pub is still there in Kilrush, and still in the family. I went there on my first visit to Ireland almost exactly 40 years ago. Mrs Crotty’s memory had not faded then. I played in the pub on that visit and was told (by her daughter) that this was the first music that had been heard in the pub since the First Lady of the Concertina had died. It’s a different matter today: there is live traditional music most nights in Crotty’s, and in so many other establishments all over the county. More Clare concertina names include Paddy Murphy (who I was fortunate enough to meet and hear at a wild and remote session on that first visit), Chris Droney of Bell Harbour, still playing in his eighties, and many another.

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But Clare’s musical connections are not limited to the concertina: as we travelled around we became very aware of how important is music in all its varieties in this windswept, largely treeless but peculiarly beautiful part of the island. There are instrument makers: Finola grew up with Martin Doyle in Bray: he’s now one of the top producers of hand-made wooden flutes in the world! We visited his workshop – a well-equipped timber shed on the edge of the Burren. It was a great reunion: while the stories were in full flow in walked Christy Barry, renowned traditional flute player – also a Clare native, to join the chat.

Friends from school: Clare flutemaker Martin Doyle with Finola

Friends from childhood: Clare flutemaker Martin Doyle with Finola

Raw material - and traditional Irish flutes in the making

Raw material – and traditional Irish flutes in the making

I mustn’t forget Martin Connolly, first class button accordion maker from Ennis, nor my all-time Irish music hero Martin Hayes (perhaps there’s something about the name Martin?) renowned fiddler and Director of the Masters of Tradition Festival every year down here in West Cork: he hales from East Clare.

Martin Connolloy - Clare accordion maker

Martin Connolloy – Clare accordion maker

The roll call is endless, but perhaps pride of place (for now) should go to Willie Clancy, not a concertina player but a master of the Uillean Pipes. He has made famous the name of his home town, Milltown Malbay, where they have honoured him with a fine bronze statue. Every year in July around 10,000 people descend on the small West Clare town and swell its normal population tenfold. There are workshops, classes and concerts but, most of all, there is just constant music – in pubs and cafes, and on every street corner: the craic is mighty!

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Tuning In

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Sharon Shannon in concert, Dalkey

We are safely home in Nead an Iolair – and have immediately become immersed in music. We are making our own – with guests on the doorstep and at the local Friday sessions in Ballydehob – but also attending the many events which take place in West Cork in the summer. On our second night here we couldn’t miss a Skibbereen Festival event in the Abbeytsrewery Church: a concert in memory of Canon James Goodman, a cleric of the Church of Ireland who served the Skibbereen Parish for 30 years until his death in 1896.

james-goodman

There is a statue of the Canon by the gates of the church, where he can be seen with his Uillean pipes: he was a proficient player of this most complicated of all instruments. He is best known, though, for having produced one of the earliest collections of Irish traditional music – transcribing over 2000 tunes which he gathered from local players. All his known manuscripts are now in the library of Trinity College Dublin, where Goodman was also appointed Professor of Irish in 1879, but have only recently been brought to light and performed. Our Skibbereen concert celebrated the Canon and was devoted to his collected music. As Goodman was born in 1828 and starting collecting in his youth, we were listening to music as it would have been played in Ireland before the famine! But this is what The Music is all about – continuity of a timeless cultural tradition passed down through the generations and still very much alive.

The Canon Goodman concert

The Canon Goodman concert

August was the month for the Masters of Tradition Festival, organised and run by Martin Hayes who hales from East Clare. For me, he is one of the world’s greatest musicians of the Irish tradition: his playing is captivatingly lyrical and seems to carry with it the soul of this ancient land. We attended all the concerts, many of which took place in Bantry House, a gently fading edifice which was once the home of the Earls of Bantry and is still occupied by their descendants. This stately home hosts many artistically based events through the year and provides an impressive – if incongruous – background to the activities. Some of the traditional musicians seemed slightly uncomfortable in the polite ambience of the candlelit Library, being more used to the ‘dancing in the aisles’ atmosphere of pubs and village halls: nevertheless, all the performances were memorable.

bantryhouse

Bantry House, built in 1690 with a spectacular setting overlooking Bantry Bay

There have been so many events within easy reach of our home here in Cappaghglass through the summer: we have had to miss a few because they overlap. We are keeping those for next year – or the years after that! We visited Finola’s family in Dublin and arrived to find a Sharon Shannon concert happening just down the road. This was wonderfully located in the Catholic Church of the Assumption. Sharon is an outstanding accordion player who has been performing professionally for very many years. In this incarnation of her music we were treated to heavy amplification, a brilliant pianist and singer – Alan Connor (who almost stole the show!) – and a disco light display which was enhanced by the ornate Victorian richness of the altar and reredos. There was very nearly ‘dancing in the aisles’ on this night!

Keeping alive The Music - in the market at Skibbereen

Keeping alive The Music – in the market at Skibbereen

In what seems like just a few whirlwind days we have progressed from music on the doorstep to world calibre concerts in beautiful settings: this is only the beginning of our new life here…

On the doorstep: Nead an Iolair

On the doorstep: Nead an Iolair