The arrival of a new ceili band happens rarely enough on the set dancing scene that it generates a stir of excitement. Seemingly out of nowhere a band appears and everyone’s talking about them. In the past few months the Copperplate Ceili Band from Co Tyrone has made a strong impression on dancers and organisers. In the past year they’ve been fortunate enough to get bookings for three of the top annual set dancing events—the Letterkenny All-Ireland Fleadh, Fleadh Ibiza and the Armada Hotel. A band needs more than luck to play at these events; they have to make great music and the Copperplate does that with ease. The three members of the band, Enda McGlone, Brian Ward and Eamonn Donnelly, on box, banjo and piano, make music that is both fun to dance to and thoroughly traditional. They start each figure in perfect unison, play a mixture of familiar and unusual tunes with frequent and effortless changes, and waste no time between figures and sets. It’s hard to know who enjoys the ceili more, the dancers or the musicians themselves!
The Copperplate Ceili Band was formed in December 2004. Two of the musicians, Brian Ward and Eamonn Donnelly, had been playing in pubs for years as a two-piece band on guitar and piano. Their music was everything but traditional—country, rock, pop and even jazz—but they had become tired of playing in pubs and were keen to try something new. Brian knew Enda McGlone as they were in the same class at school, and after they met at a session, Enda agreed to join Brian and Eamonn to play for local fíor ceilis. They spent a couple of months practising and emerged as the Bees Knees. They soon learned that a Donegal rock band was already using that name and in the summer of 2005 became the Copperplate Ceili Band, after the reels bearing that title.
Once the band became familiar to local dancers at fíor ceilis, they were asked to play for an outdoor mixed ceili at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Letterkenny. One half of it was for ceili dancing and the second half was their first time playing for set dancing. Later in the year Enda phoned Gerry Flynn out of curiosity to enquire about playing at Fleadh Ibiza; Gerry was away on tour but phoned back almost immediately to say he’d heard the band in Letterkenny and wanted to invite them to Ibiza. Enda and the other lads “nearly dropped” with this good news. Their successful stint during the second week of Fleadh Ibiza helped them get a last minute booking at the Armada Hotel’s week of dancing in July. They’ve been invited back to all three events. However, the lads are just as pleased to be playing for an increasing number of local ceilis north and south.
While the Copperplate is only in its infancy as a ceili band, its three members are experienced players with a long background in music. Enda McGlone is the band’s box player, originally from Tattysallagh, five miles from Omagh, Co Tyrone. His father played accordion and Enda learned at home from age seven. Music was part of his upbringing as his house was one where the neighbours came to ceili and danced in the kitchen; some of the visiting musicians were members of the Pride of Erin Ceili Band. Enda played along and learnt his music by ear. In his teens he played and competed with the Trillick Ceili Band. For many years he played in pubs in a two-piece band with his brother, who is a fiddler and guitarist, and he was a member of other groups, none of which played trad music. He says that the Copperplate Ceili Band is the best thing that’s happened to him musically.
Banjo player Brian Ward is from Plumbridge, Co Tyrone, about fourteen miles from Omagh. His grandparents were musicians and his father Joe plays drums, bodhran and bones and is still active in sessions at age 86. Brian started playing music on his grandmother’s accordion, and both he and his father played in a local ceili band. As a teenager he started playing his sister’s acoustic guitar and soon bought himself an electric guitar which he played in pub bands. All four of Brian’s children play music, including Matt, the box player for the Emerald Ceili Band. After Matt started playing, Brian decided that one accordion in the house was enough so he began to learn the banjo. He always liked the sound of it, but had never picked one up before. By the time they formed the Copperplate Ceili Band, Brian had been playing banjo for eight years. He credits Enda for the great musical push he has received since joining the band.
The Copperplate’s piano accompaniment is by Eamonn Donnelly, who was born in Killyclogher, Co Tyrone, and now lives in Carrickmore. His father was known as a traditional singer and played a bit of fiddle, but it was his non-musical mother who had the foresight to send Eamonn to piano lessons, which he did for ten years from the age of seven. While he can read music, he taught himself to play hornpipes and jigs on piano by ear. At age sixteen Eamonn started playing in a country band and has never been out of a band since them. The groups ranged in size from two to seven members and some of them toured Ireland. He thought he had gone as far as he could go in music and was going to call it a day when he joined the Copperplate, the first band to give him a buzz. “It’s strange to have to wait till you’re over fifty years of age before you become an overnight success,” Eamonn says.
The set dancing community has been a revelation to the Copperplate musicians, who are deeply appreciative of the help given to them. Ceili bands have tried to help them in every way, which they say doesn’t happen in other types of music where the bands keep to themselves. Set dancers have inundated them with requests for recordings and they’re hoping to bring one out soon. They’re even getting bookings from organisers who haven’t even heard them, thanks to strong recommendations by dancers. The lads recognise the high standard of music expected by dancers and delivered by ceili bands and are pleased to be considered in the same league. They’re delighted to have left the pubs behind them, where people come for the drink, not the music and had to be urged out onto the floor. In contrast, set dancers are there for the music and drive the musicians with their dancing. They’re amazed to be able to do what they love and travel to a beautiful location like Ibiza—“Heaven doesn’t get any better than this,” says Brian.
Get in touch with the Copperplate Ceili Band by contacting Enda McGlone, Brian Ward and Eamonn Donnelly.
A new band takes a while to win the hearts of set dancers, but Micheal Sexton and Pat Walsh have made a big impression in the few months that they’ve been playing together. These two versatile musicians create music that ranges from light and joyful to electrifying and powerful. Micheál’s skill on the accordion is unsurpassed—the notes seem to come effortlessly from his box as if by magic, and whenever required will keep going endlessly, as though he never gets tired. Tunes change often and instantly, without advance warning, lifting the dancing that bit higher each time.
Micheál squeezes more notes into a bar of music than you’d ever think was possible, all highly ornamented and slightly different on each repetition, infinitely responsive and inventive. Pat, the other side of the duo, provides smooth, rhythmic backing on piano in a supporting way that accentuates and never dominates the accordion. In combination they produce music that’s irresistible to dancers; from the very first bar your spirit will lift and you’ll be flying through the sets. Even after the ceili’s over you’ll find their tunes following you around for the rest of the week.
Micheál and Pat officially launched themselves as a band in January 2005 at Paddy Hanafin’s Shindig weekend in Tralee. Paddy invited them to play for an hour during a break in the Saturday night ceili and the response to their music was superb. They first played together as a duo in an impromptu session exactly a year earlier when Micheál’s father, the well-known band leader Michael Sexton, was remembered at the 2004 Shindig soon after his death. Also in that year Marie Moran of Abbeyknockmoy, Co Galway, invited them to play for her team of set dancers in competitions in various locations, including Croke Park, the Helix and the National Concert Hall in Dublin. A successful ceili in Abbeyknockmoy in November helped give them confidence to launch themselves as a band. Their bookings have been excellent since the official debut in January, with ceilis across Ireland and in Europe and America in the coming months.
Both Micheál and Pat have a long experience in playing for ceili bands and set dancers, and both have backgrounds linked to one of the leading ceili band musicians, the late Michael Sexton.
Micheál Sexton comes from Mullagh, Co Clare, where he was born into a long line of musicians. His grandfather was a fiddler and his father Michael spent his life playing in ceili bands. Micheál remembers the tiny accordion he received for Christmas at age four, and at another Christmas he received a Hohner Black Dot accordion when what he really wanted was one of his father’s red Paolo Sopranis. He learned to play at home at first—Jimmy Ward’s Jig and Lucy Campbell’s Reel were his earliest tunes. At 10 he took lessons from Martha Shanahan in Cree; while Micheál has a quick ear for learning tunes, she had to work at teaching him to read music.
On one Sunday evening when Micheál was alone at home, he picked up his elder sister’s concertina and started messing around with it. He soon could play a jig and the Foxhunters Reel on it. The following Saturday he came first on it in the county fleadh. After learning to play it properly Micheál went to win All-Ireland competitions in concertina, and also in melodeon and two-row and three-row accordion. The Cree Ceili Band won several All-Ireland competitions while Micheál was a member from age 10 to 14. He’s proudest of winning senior All-Ireland titles in concertina and accordion.
At 16 Micheál joined the Rambling Rose band with Tom Barry and Kevin Sullivan (drums and guitar) and played with them for 22 years. They were a country and western dance band which played a bit of everything including sets. On their first recording Micheál played an exciting but little known reel called the Tamlin which he learned on a trip to London. His father picked it up and started playing it for set dancers to great acclaim and now it’s in the repertoire of nearly every ceili band, and always certain to generate a cheer.
Micheál also worked as a versatile one-man band, doing ceilis, country and western and discos, and sometimes all three at a wedding. Outside of the family home where they often had sessions, Micheál played only rarely with his father; they made a cassette twenty years ago called A Taste of Traditional Irish Music and Song. His television appearances included the Bibi Baskin Show, All the Best and Live at 3.
Micheál lives with his wife Mary and two children on a farm near Mullagh. His son Darren, 12, was started on the box by his grandfather and will surely be starting up his own band before long; daughter Lisa, 9, has returned to her great-grandfather’s instrument, the fiddle.
Pat Walsh was born and raised in Cobh, Co Cork, the eldest of seven children. His parents weren’t musical, but his father was an interested listener. Pat started step dancing and playing the recorder at age 5. He competed regularly at feises, and while there found himself enjoying the music as much as the dancing. He started learning piano accordion at 6 from Mary Moloney in Cobh, an encouraging teacher. Pat began to play for his local dance group, the Cowhie Irish Dancers, and stayed with them for over twenty years. They performed at cabarets, parties, folk festivals and Irish clubs on tour in Britain and Europe. He also appeared with them on the programmes Trom agus Eadrom, Opportunity Knocks and the New Year’s Eve Late Late Show.
The Donal Ring Ceili Band was a favourite of Pat’s 25 years ago, when he followed them to dances around the country. They were based in Blarney and played in a Scottish style for mainly ceili and two-hand dances. The band’s pianist, Donal Ring’s daughter Mary, was about to get married when she asked Pat if he would be interested in learning piano to help her out. She taught him the basics over six months and initially he filled in for her for a selection or two during a ceili. When she left the band he took over and played with them for three years. They played to large crowds all over the country and Pat, in his early twenties at the time, loved it.
Pat’s work didn’t allow him to continue in the band and it was only around 1995 that he became involved in music again. He had been doing set dancing locally in Cork and that year travelled to Galway for the International Set Dancing Festival. There he came across the Michael Sexton Ceili Band and was immediately impressed with their music. He befriended Michael and his pianist George Byrt; Pat used to take over the piano for a set or two so George could have a dance. When George suffered an injury, Pat was urgently asked to fill in, which he did for a few weeks. George retired in 1998 and Pat took over as pianist until Michael’s death in December 2003. Within a few months the remaining members of the band decided to continue as the Star of Munster Ceili Band with box player Conor McCarthy. Pat’s decision to leave the band and join forces with Micheál was only made with difficulty.
Pat continues to live in Cobh with his wife Lorraine, a set dancer herself, and their daughter Aisling, already such a keen dancer at the age of 2½ that she’s worn out two pairs of dancing shoes.
Micheál and Pat are also an essential part of John Fennell’s Hell for Leather, the set dancing show featuring 160 kids dancing together on stage, and have played for all its performances. The latest DVD of the show gives a two-hour taste of the lads’ music. They’ve had so many requests for cds that they’re presently working on one which is expected to be available in October.
No matter where you live, you’ll probably be seeing Micheál and Pat soon at ceilis close to home. Word is out about them and organisers are including them in their schedules, as far afield as Switzerland, New York and a cruise of the Caribbean.
For more information, please contact Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh directly. Check out the unforgettable music from this dynamic duo at your earliest opportunity.
The eleventh century king of Ireland lends his name to one of the newest bands playing for ceilis. The Brian Ború Ceili Band has built up a good reputation among dancers in Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford in a few short years, and word about them is spreading to the rest of the country. The musicians in the band, Joe Hughes, Theresa Hughes, Tracy O'Grady, Johnny Morrissey, Finian de Brún and Jimmy Flynn, most of whom are dancers, know how to make music that's perfectly suited for set dancing. Reels or polkas, jigs or hornpipes, the Brian Ború tempo and lift carry dancers through the sets with the greatest pleasure.
Around 1997, Joe Hughes, his sister Theresa and Tracy O'Grady were regulars at dance sessions in Fitzsimons Pub in Temple Bar, Dublin. Angela Bernard, a set dancing teacher in Wicklow, heard them there and invited them to play for a ceili she organised in Stillorgan. They also began playing occasionally at the popular Monday ceilis in Katie Gallagher's in Bray, where Johnny Morrissey was a regular dancer. One Monday he brought his concertina and joined them on stage-he's continued with them ever since. Around this time Tracy headed off to college in Dundalk and was replaced by Finian de Brún on piano. Joe and Theresa's sister Mairéad often helped out on drums; in 2000 Jimmy Flynn took over from her.
By 2000 the band was getting so many bookings that they decided to call themselves the Brian Ború Ceili Band. Before this they were sometimes known as Joe Hughes and Friends. The new name was chosen because Brian Ború and the musicians shared Clare and Tipperary connections. Over the years, Tracy O'Grady helped out by filling in whenever she was home from Dundalk. Now that she's finished college she's playing with them often enough to be the sixth member of the band. Also filling in on occasion are Dessie Lillis, Mairéad Hughes, Donal Fitzpatrick, Sheila Murray and Colm Keane.
Many of the band members share a background in two of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann branches of north Dublin where they learned music from an early age and gained experience playing in competitions and ceili bands.
Joe Hughes, the band's leader and accordion player, is from Drumcondra in Dublin. Joe's father, Paddy, was raised in a musical family in Kilmihil, Co Clare, where there was plenty of music and dance in the houses. While he didn't play himself, Paddy gave his love of music to his three children. They belonged to the Sean Treacy Comhaltas branch where Joe started learning set dancing at age seven and playing tin whistle at eight. He moved on to the accordion at twelve which he learned from teacher John Regan. It didn't take him long to win a Leinster competition for under-15 melodeon and he has several other medals for grupaí ceol and ceili band. Joe was a member of the Kinsealy Ceili Band, a ten-piece band of youngsters who competed and played for ceilis, and the short-lived St Joseph's Ceili Band, formed after a Christmas party at St Joseph's School for the Blind. Today Joe is still involved in Comhaltas as public relations officer for the Dublin County board, and as chairman and a music teacher for the Kinsealy branch.
The band's banjo player is Joe's sister Theresa Hughes. As the youngest of three children in the family she benefited from an early start in music—she began lessons with Stephen Leach at age nine. The mandolin was her first instrument and she was playing banjo soon after; she also plays bouzouki. Theresa won numerous solo titles in banjo, mandolin and others at the Leinster Fleadh Cheoil, and for duets, trios and groups at All-Ireland level. She joined her brother to play in St Joseph's Ceili Band, and also played for dance sessions in Fitzsimon's, O'Shea's and other venues around Dublin. She teaches banjo and mandolin classes for the Kinsealy branch of Comhaltas, and leads the under-15 grupai cheoil and ceili band musicians.
Fiddler Tracy O'Grady comes from Swords, Co Dublin. Her Kerry father and Wexford mother both have a strong interest in music and enrolled Tracy in Kinsealy Comhaltas fiddle classes taught by Dervla Egan. She later moved on to classes with Antoin MacGabhann and later Terry Crehan. Like Joe and Theresa Hughes, she was a member of the Kinsealy Ceili Band, travelled on tours to Belgium, Holland and France and today teaches fiddle lessons on Saturdays.
Johnny Morrissey plays concertina with the band. He's from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, where he was raised in a family where house dances were a regular part of life. Johnny's interest in music was aroused when he was working in London. He became interested in the folk music scene there and learned to play guitar. When he returned to Dublin he shared an apartment with Mick Moloney and Paul Brady which was a "drop-in-centre" for musicians. His interest in the concertina began when he visited the Willie Clancy Summer School in its early years. In Dublin he took classes with Mary MacNamara and became hooked on the East Clare style of music, gaining experience in sessions. Johnny is also a member of the Slievenamon Group which plays for a ceili every year during the January dance weekend in Malahide. Set dancers know Johnny from his association with Connie Ryan and the annual week of classes he teaches with Betty McCoy at the Merriman Summer School.
The band's pianist Finian de Brún was born and raised in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, in a highly musical and cultural family. Finian's parents Séamus and Bríd were singers, competition adjudicators and founding members of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. His father became president of Comhaltas in 1972 and was appointed to Seanád Éireann in 1977. Finian began learning fiddle and piano at age nine. He won the solo fiddle competition one year at the Roscommon Fleadh, and progressed through four grades of piano. He played piano for ceili bands while in school, including the Western Ceili Band which travelled all over Connaught. After moving to Dublin, he was a member of the Sheelin Ceili Band in the mid-eighties. He accompanied Paddy Glackin and John Regan at various concerts and gigs around the country, and once played guitar for a recording by Tommy Peoples.
Jimmy Flynn from Balgriffin, Co Dublin, backs the band on drums. He's been involved in set dancing for many years and teaches classes for the Kinsealy branch of Comhaltas. However his musical career began much more recently. Robert Lowery of the Kinsealy Ceili Band stored his drum kit in Jimmy's house, and Jimmy took advantage of this when he started practising drums six year ago with help from teacher Pat Egan. He first played with the Brian Ború by filling in for Mairéad Hughes at ceilis in Balgriffin Hall—whenever she wanted to dance a set he would take her place. He then took her place when Mairéad had to opt out for work commitments.
The Brian Ború Ceili Band performed on RTÉ's Ceili House programme in 2000 and they also made recordings for Raidió na Gaeltachta. The band has played in Paris and last year travelled to Prague for a weekend of ceilis with set dancers from Bray. Also last year they issued their first CD, House Around, which has music for three sets, and they expect to produce another one in the coming years.
Joe Hughes would be happy to answer any enquiries about the Brian Ború Ceili Band.
Published October 2004.
As far as set dancers are concerned, the biggest star of the County Down is the Cathal McAnulty Ceili Band. Dancers at ceilis from Belfast to Dublin and occasionally beyond love them for bright, bouncy music and demonstrate their pleasure with shouts and cheers. The four versatile musicians love playing for sets, though they’re just as likely to play for fíor ceilis, step dancing feiseanna and set dancing competitions. They pride themselves on their tune and key changes and love the response they draw from the crowd.
Cathal McAnulty formed his band in 1985 with himself on piano accordion, Paddy Rafferty on piano, Peter Magee on fiddle, Colm Tohill on bass guitar and Cathal’s brother Tarlach McAnulty on drums. They played mainly for ceili dancing in their early years but by 1989 and ‘90 sets were beginning to appear. In 1991 they made their first television appearance by playing for set dancers on the Bibi Baskin Show which was broadcast on RTÉ on Christmas day. The band provided music for the Hilltown Set Dancers who won the Scór competition in 1993, and for the Carrickcruppin Junior and Senior Set Dancers in 1994, the first club to win both junior and senior finals in a year. Also in 1994 they made their first and only recording, Sets Workshop, which featured music with calling for five sets.
The Cathal McAnulty Ceili Band travelled to France with the Warrenpoint Set Dancers in 1993, and to the USA with the Carrickcruppin Set Dancers in ’94. They spent a fortnight in the States, visiting the New York and Washington DC areas for ceilis and workshops. Sean Dempsey invited them to Manchester on several occasions in 1998, including the International Festival in October, which Cathal has attended every year since. They’re proud that they were the first northern band invited to play at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in 1999 and the first ceili band to play in Belfast City Hall in 2001.
After the death of Paddy Rafferty and the departures of Peter Magee and Colm Tohill, new musicians joined Cathal and Tarlach in the mid ‘90s—Jimmy Burns and Emmet Quinn on fiddles, Neil Boyle on flute and Eddie McIntyre on piano. Most recently Cathal, Tarlach and Eddie play as a four-piece band with Seamus Robinson on banjo. Jimmy, Emmet and Neil fill in on occasion, as does twelve-year-old drummer Ross McGarry, nephew of Cathal and Tarlach. The band also plays an unusual collection of waltzes sung by Cathal.
Cathal McAnulty is from Church Street, Warrenpoint, Co Down, where he works for a taxi, coach and funeral business operated in the original premises by seven generations of his family since 1819. His father was a button accordionist, and his mother is a harpist, singer and pianist. She’s well-known for the harp and even performed in Carnegie Hall, New York City. Cathal began piano at age six and piano accordion at age ten—he first used his sister’s accordion which she received as a Christmas present but wasn’t interested in. George McSweeney gave lessons to Cathal, who became a member of George’s ceili band when he was thirteen. Cathal formed his own ceili band at fifteen. This was before he could drive, and he is thankful to his mother who took the band and their equipment to gigs and gave great encouragement. Cathal’s career highlight was playing before 80,000 people in Croke Park, Dublin, when he, Eddie McIntyre and two young musicians and two teams of set dancers entertained the crowd during the 2002 All-Ireland football final. Cathal’s wife is the Carrickcruppin set dancer and teacher Catherine Evans.
Eddie McIntyre is the band’s pianist from Lurgan, Co Armagh, now living in Down. His father ran an Irish dancing school and played accordion, banjo, fiddle, piano and drums. Eddie began learning piano at age nine and soon moved to the piano accordion. He was involved in his father’s ceili classes for twelve years, teaching, dancing and playing music. Eddie was a member of the Seamus McNiece Ceili Band which played in north Armagh, and of the folk group Crubbeen. Eddie joined the Cathal McAnulty Ceili Band in 1993.
Playing banjo in the band is Seamus Robinson, originally from Milltown, Co Armagh. He learned Irish dancing from an early age, and was seventeen when he took up the banjo. He taught himself to play, spending many long nights at it. He travelled with groups to Italy, Germany and New Mexico where they performed in concerts. Seamus has been a set dancer for many years, and today teaches classes in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and in Knockbridge and Kilcurry, both near Dundalk, Co Louth. Cathal McAnulty gave him the chance to play with his band and as a dancer he finds it a bonus to be able to play for the sets.
Drummers are the backbone of a ceili band, and Cathal’s brother Tarlach McAnulty serves in this role. He formed the band with Cathal in 1985 and they’ve played together since then. Tarlach began drumming at eight and was taught by Hugh Magill of Warrenpoint, who drummed with the Glenmona Ceili Band in the sixties. He also plays bodhrán. Filling in for him when he’s unable to play is twelve-year-old Ross McGarry, who plays like a professional despite his young age. He was taught by Tarlach, his uncle, and has been drumming since he was six.
For a band which has been operating for close to twenty years, the Cathal McAnulty Ceili Band still brings a youthful energy to the dance hall. You’ll find them playing regularly in Hilltown, Carrickcruppin, Mullaghbuoy, Dundalk, Belfast and Dublin. They played for the first ceili in Hilltown and last year celebrated the tenth anniversary there.
This year the band is also hoping to produce a new CD. To get in touch with Cathal McAnulty, Cathal McAnulty.
Nothing beats the thrill of dancing the Caledonian Set or Plain Set to the music of a big ceili band from County Clare. The Turloughmore Ceili Band is a ten-piece band from Ennis with a strong rhythmic sound that can sweep you off your feet. While they’re playing you’ll be reminded of the two great bands of the county, the Kilfenora and Tulla, as their style is somewhere between the two. While all the big Clare ceili bands are fantastic at reels, jigs and hornpipes, the Turloughmore have a major advantage for set dancers—they’re equally at ease with polkas and slides. You can dance the Ballyvourney, Sliabh Luachra and other polka sets at their ceilis, all played at the correct pace for good dancing. The ten musicians have ceili bands in their blood and dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to their music—their pleasure radiates from the stage while they’re playing.
Pat Costello, Denis Liddy, Brid O’Gorman and David Sanders were inspired to form the band in 1999. The idea was to form a traditional ten-piece band to play good music, with committed musicians who play for enjoyment. They named themselves after a feature of the Clare landscape—Turloughmore in the Burren is the largest turlough in Europe. (Turloughs are seasonal lakes which only appear in the wet of winter and completely disappear in summer.)
The other founding members of the band were Dan Liddy, Sean Vaughan, Orfhlaith Ní Bhriain, Bernie Liddy, Paul O’Driscoll and Jennifer Lenihan. Their first ceilis were in Clarecastle. The Turloughmore has had a quiet presence in the set dancing scene, steadily gaining more notice each year. 2003 has been good for them with regular ceilis across the country from Dublin to Cork and Kerry.
Competition is an important part of the band’s activities. They have had spectacular success in the ceili band competitions—they’ve won two Munster titles and were twice runner-up to the Ennis Ceili Band. As a result they recently appeared on RTÉ’s Léargas programme about the competition. They’ve also been heard twice on Céilí House and many times on Clare FM. Their first CD, The Bee’s Wing, was released in 2001 and a new one is expected next year.
Several members of the Turloughmore Ceili Band have moved on since it was founded, and the current line-up continues the strong emphasis on good music.
David Sanders, a fiddler from Ennis, was raised in Kilnaboy, close to the heart of Kilfenora Ceili Band territory, so was used to the tradition from an early age. He was taught by Gus Tierney and Tony Linnane, and at St Flannan’s Secondary School was a member of the St Flannan’s Ceili Band. David has played with many senior ceili bands and is well-known on the active local session scene. He also teaches a weekly music class for children and adults.
Denis Liddy also plays fiddle with the band. He’s a member of a well-known musical family from Newmarket-on-Fergus, all of whom play music, sing or dance. Denis’ mother started him on tin whistle at school and he played in the Cratloe Ceili Band. The family formed the Shannonside Ceili Band in 1985 which still plays today and has toured widely across Ireland and abroad. Denis lives in Crusheen and works as a teacher in Barefield where his pupils play in the Barefield Ceili Band under his direction. This band has recorded three CDs and completed a tour of North America during the summer. In May Denis released his own CD with flute player Michael Hynes called Waifs and Strays, and two are touring the USA in 2004.
Joan Hanrahan is the band’s third fiddler from Lissycasey. Her father plays box and was one of her musical influences. Joan took whistle lessons at age 7 with Gus Tierney of the old Kilfenora Ceili Band, but after a year gave it up. At 12 she returned to music when she took up the fiddle and taught herself to play using books, tapes and some help from her dad and Joe Rynne. By 15 Joan was playing regularly in sessions in Inagh with Joe and his late brother Tom, and became a member of the Inagh Ceili Band. She soon began teaching music informally, and this has now become her career. Before joining the Turloughmore a year ago, Joan was a member of a group called the Lahawns which recorded two CDs. She plays in session every Sunday in the Old Ground Hotel and hosts a Clare FM radio programme on Monday evenings.
Flute player Bríd O’Gorman is from an accomplished musical family in Liscannor. She’s another of Gus Tierney’s students, starting whistle with him at age 5. After moving on to the flute, she continued her study with Eamon Cotter. Bríd and her family were active competitors and won solo and group competitions in all age categories. Bríd continued her music while studying teaching at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, and plays on a recording made by former students in 1998. Today she teaches in school and in Comhaltas classes and is soon to begin teaching music to primary teachers. Bríd plays in a session on Friday night in McHugh’s pub in Liscannor.
The youngest band member, David O’Brien on flute, has been three years with the Turloughmore Ceili Band. He is from Barefield where Denis Liddy was his teacher in school. At age 9 he started the tin whistle and in a year or two was playing flute. While in school he played with the Barefield Ceili Band and continues with them as a senior member today. He’s heard on the Barefield’s three recordings and travelled with them to North America this year, where he taught at the Milwaukee Irish Fest Summer School.
Brian O’Dea from Ballynacally has played accordion for four years with the Turloughmore. He began learning at National School with Johnny McCarthy at age 8, and later with Frank Keane. He played eleven years with St Flannan’s Ceili Band, joining them before attending secondary school there. Today he works as a doctor in Galway and plays regularly in sessions in Clare and Galway.
Mary Liddy is the band’s concertina player. She and her brother Denis both benefited from a strong musical upbringing. Mary learned tin whistle and fiddle from her father Dan, and from the age of 14 taught herself to play the concertina. She joined the Cratloe Ceili Band, affiliated with the local branch of Comhaltas, and was playing with them when they won the All-Ireland ceili band competition in the under-11 age group. Mary has played with the Shannonside Ceili Band since it started in 1985 and has been with the Turloughmore for four years. She teaches music classes for Comhaltas in Newmarket-on-Fergus and plays in session with Bríd O’Gorman in McHugh’s of Liscannor on Friday nights.
Marie Quigney from Clooney is the band’s pianist. She’s also an accomplished box player. Her grandfather passed on his music to her mother, who played tin whistle, and her dad played bagpipes in the Tulla Pipe Band. Her older sister and brother also played, so Marie was going to fleadhs from a young age. Her mother and brother started her on tin whistle and she was taught accordion by Clare Griffin. She learned classical piano in school. She earned awards in numerous Munster and All-Ireland competitions. Her brother Anthony plays flute with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, so Marie substitutes with them on occasion, and has also played with the Tulla Ceili Band. She joined the Turloughmore in 2001. Marie works as a doctor in Galway.
Pat Costello is a multi-instrumentalist who plays drums with the Turloughmore. He’s a veteran band musician from Moycarkey, Co Tipperary, now living in Shannon. Pat’s parents and grandparents were musicians—his father played pipes, flute and whistle and was a member of a pipe band; his mother played accordion. Pat showed a love for drumming from the age of 10 when he’d tap out rhythms on a biscuit tin and homemade instruments. Michael Cooney of the Ormond Ceili Band gave him his first instruction and also his first drum, an old snare which Pat restored to working order. At 16 he learned banjo and a couple years later won a Munster competition. He played in small local dance bands, both traditional and modern, and for the past twenty years has been a member of Shaskeen on guitar and vocals. Radio was an important musical influence in Pat’s early years, and now he broadcasts trad and folk music every Friday evening on Clare FM.
Siobhán O’Donoghue, the Turloughmore’s banjo player, was born and raised in Wembley, London. Her mother is the sister of Gerry Lynch who played box in the old Kilfenora Ceili Band, and her cousin John Lynch is now leader of that band. Siobhán studied music as a child but when she picked up a mandolin at 13 she quickly became hooked on traditional music. She took lessons from Tommy McGuire in Camden Town and soon moved on to the banjo for its stronger sound. She played in a pub band in London and was involved in sessions, competitions and teaching music. Siobhán moved to Clare in 2002 and lives in Ennistymon. When she was invited to join the Turloughmore a year ago she jumped at the chance. Siobhán has a regular Wednesday night session in Cooley’s Pub, Ennistymon.
The Turloughmore Ceili Band is a group of good friends who take great joy in playing music together, and the dancers at their ceilis experience this pleasure in every set. For more info, contact Denis Liddy.
Ireland is a nation blessed with an abundant supply of excellent traditional dance bands. Some are well-known nationally and internationally, others are mainly local and rarely venture beyond their own county and its neighbours. It's worth seeking out the less well-known bands - there's a fresh excitement in dancing to a band you haven't heard before and the music is superb wherever you go.
The Tara Ceili Band is a great example of a local band. The three musicians are based in counties Louth and Meath, and the halls around Dublin are the farthest they venture from home. They're a classic combination of box, fiddle and piano producing a rousing, jolly traditional sound, playing their music with a steady rhythm and tireless ease. No time is wasted between figures-as soon as one ends the band start playing again almost immediately. They put the same enjoyment into the music whether it's the first set of the night or last.
The Tara Ceili Band has been on the road for fifteen years. The original members were Tom Duff on box, Paddy Reilly on fiddle, Frances Dunphy on flute and Jimmy Carey on piano. It was Frances who gave the band their name, calling them after the famous Hill of Tara, the royal seat of the high king, in Co Meath. Their first ceili was in Dunderry, Co Meath, and they once travelled as far away as Belfast.
Tom and Paddy each played for separate set dancing teams competing in Scór and from this experience they were inspired to form a band in 1988. They're the only original members still playing with the Tara today. Taking over from Frances on flute was Tommy King, who is also well known as a sean nós dancer. Tommy has only recently retired from the band for health reasons. When Jimmy Carey passed away eight years ago, Paddy's son Oliver joined as pianist and he continues playing with them today. Kieran Weldon used to play guitar and sing with them, and now Paddy doubles up on vocals when the band plays a waltz.
The Tara's box player and leader is Tom Duff, from Bengerstown near Navan, Co Meath. Music is very strong in the Duff family - Tom's father played melodeon and his daughter Mary is the internationally famous recording artist who sings with Daniel O'Donnell. Tom began his music with the tin whistle at the age of seven. He was so mad on music at twelve that he saved his money for many months to buy a new Paolo Soprani accordion at the price of 27 pounds and ten shillings. Tom is entirely self-taught in music. He played with the Shamrock Ceili Band in Navan, which played for fíor ceilis, and with a country and western and traditional band called the Moonshines - Mary Duff used to sing with them. Tom has shared Mary's success by playing on several of her many CDs and videos. Every Wednesday night for the past sixteen years Tom has played at a session in the Lantern Pub in Navan.
There was always music in Paddy Reilly's house in Morninghill, Collon, Co Louth. His father played the fiddle and mother was a singer. Paddy started the fiddle at ten-he remembers his dad tuning it for him but his influence was limited by his early death. Paddy took lessons in Ardee with Evelyn Flanagan, and played with anyone whenever he had a chance, though there was not much opportunity in those days, he says. For several years in the fifties and sixties Paddy was a member of the Emerald Ceili Band - this band was based in Slane and has no connection with the one playing today. For most of two decades Paddy did little playing; with the revival of set dancing he started playing again for set dancers competing in Scór. Paddy is a regular player at the weekly Sunday night ceili in the Morning Star, Tullyallen, near Drogheda, Co Louth.
Paddy's son Oliver Reilly is the band's accompanist. He learned to play piano and piano accordion at school in Drogheda.
With a limited number of ceilis you may have to make special effort to see the Tara Ceili Band but you'll be repaid by a night of good dancing pleasure. If you'd like to speak to the band, contact the Tara Ceili Band.
Published October 2003
There are certain moments in life that we never forget, such as the first day on a new job, the first time driving a car or the first trip abroad. For set dancers, one of life's unforgettable events is dancing your first set to the music of the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band from Co Kerry. The band sets a new standard for liveliness which you can't fail to notice from the very first figure of the first set. The music moves the dancing into a higher gear and the extra pleasure is unmistakeable.
The Johnny Reidy Ceili Band's secret weapon is their tempo, which is pitched slightly quicker than other bands, and still beautifully paced for perfect dancing. Johnny Reidy is the band's box player whose polkas and slides are legendary - his Kerry birth makes him unable to play a slow polka. As fast as they might seem at first, once you're dancing it's clear that Johnny plays them at the right speed for the Cork and Kerry sets. The band's reels for the Clare and Galway sets are played at an appropriate speed for easy dancing, and the waltzes are quite relaxed. All their music benefits from a powerful, irresistible rhythm that carries you along like a non-stop express train, and a bright, joyful sound that raises the atmosphere at every ceili.
Johnny Reidy has had his own band since his teenage years, playing country and western music, but always including two polka sets at every gig. After taking a break in 1992, Johnny reappeared with the ceili band in 1997, joined by Eddie Lee on keyboard and John Angland on banjo. They started playing ceilis every Wednesday night in the Grand Hotel in Killarney. After starting slowly, the ceilis were well established after six weeks. Now six years later there are between eight and fourteen sets every week, plus the tourists who enjoy the action from the sidelines. The band was invited to England by Sean Dempsey in 1999 and 2000, and has played in Gaelic Park in Chicago in 1999 and in May this year. When John Angland left in 2000, Marianne Browne brought a new flavour to the band with her beautiful flute and tin whistle playing. They became a four-piece band in 2002 when Martina O'Neill joined on fiddle.
The four musicians of the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band play with a seemingly effortless virtuoso skill, never losing a note and changing tunes cleanly and precisely. All four are born and bred in Kerry.
Johnny Reidy, the band's leader and accordionist, is from Scartaglen. His uncle Willie Reidy was a famous box player who started teaching Johnny at age 7. Johnny was entering competitions at 10 and won six Munster championships in a row. He won the All-Ireland competition in 1972 at the Listowel Fleadh, and hasn't competed since. Johnny left school at 13, formed a three-piece band at 14 and has been playing music full-time since he was 16. In 1989 he formed the Johnny Reidy Band which played for fourteen years and travelled to the Milwaukee Irish Fest in 1992. Johnny has recorded six tapes of his music, all of which are available on CD. The polka set is on every one of them - "Down at home if I don't have the Sliabh Luachra on a tape I'll get an awful lot of slagging," Johnny explains. He's also produced six videos with music, dancing and scenery for Kerry tourists. Johnny worked as a coach driver when he took a few years off from music in 1993.
Johnny's unique style of dance music was developed at house dances near Scartaglen. From the age of 10 he spent many nights playing polka sets in houses. He'd play as many as ten polka sets a night, one after the other, always the same Sliabh Luachra Set, as dancers took turns on the floor. They dance lively down there and Johnny got great practice - he learned to keep up with the dancers, rather than the dancers keeping up with him. Johnny has always played reels, but it wasn't until he formed the ceili band in 1997 that he played for reel sets. Surely his experience as a youngster in Scartaglen guides him today as he keeps pace with the dancers in every set.
Eddie Lee from Ballyheigue, plays piano and sings with the band, and serves as MC. He comes from a family with no musical background, so it was Eddie's own love of music that inspired him. He started with the guitar at 13, and plays mandolin and other stringed instruments. Eddie learned piano on his own from a book and also plays drums. By 18 he was playing professionally with his own four-piece band, the Eddie Lee Band, which is still playing today, thirty years later. The band has recorded ten albums which are heard occasionally on radio. Eddie works by day in a recording studio at home, and plays music six nights a week.
Marianne Browne, the band's distinctive flute and tin whistle player, was raised in Lixnaw and lives now in Ballyduff. She grew up with music as her father played accordion. She began learning music from Brian Keane at age 9 and later with Nicky and Anne McAuliffe from Castleisland. Marianne greatly values the music she learned by playing with the older musicians in her area, most of whom have passed on. In her teens she won ten Munster championships and two All-Ireland finals in solo flute, and in 1987 won the Oireachtas finals in both flute and tin whistle. Marianne travelled with Comhaltas to play in England and performed regularly in summer cabarets for tourists in Tralee and Lixnaw.
Martina O'Neill from Kenmare has played fiddle with the band since last year. There's no music in her family, and her only musical relative is the local politician Jackie Healy Rae, who plays box and sax. Martina's parents sent her to music lessons with Nicky McAuliffe from Castleisland. She began the tin whistle at 7, played the accordion for years and at 12 had a notion to play the fiddle, which is now her main instrument. She's fully classically trained in fiddle and also in piano, which she plays for her own pleasure. Martina is an accomplished step dancer, which she started learning the same time as the music. She competed at fleadhs in both music and dance. She's performed in France and Italy, and is one of four members of the dance group Rileanna, which has appeared in shows across Ireland. Martina also teaches a weekly step dance class for children. Martina and her brother Pádraig have played together for years to entertain tourists and this year played twice a week in a Kenmare restaurant.
The best place to hear the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band is at home in Kerry where they play three nights a week. A session on Monday in the Whitegate Hotel, Muckross Road, Killarney, has room for a couple sets. The Wednesday night ceili in the Grand Hotel, Killarney, regularly has eight sets of dancers on the floor, increasing to fourteen occasionally, and is especially popular with young dancers. Pat Sheehan's Bar in Firies, near Farranfore, holds a session on Thursday with room for eight sets. The band plays year round from 10pm to midnight in these three venues.
Dancers from beyond Kerry are starting to enjoy Johnny Reidy's music, thanks to ceilis at Paddy Hanafin's Shindig weekend in Tralee, the Kerry Fleadh in Kenmare and the Willie Clancy Summer School and Armada Hotel in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare.
For more information on the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, get in touch with Johnny Reidy.
Published August 2003
Dancers in the northwest of Ireland have the highest regard for the smooth traditional sound of the Woodlands Ceili Band. The four musicians in the band come from Co Roscommon, and it's a sure sign of their wide appeal that they serve as the local band for ceilis in venues across Galway, Leitrim, Longford, Sligo and especially Co Mayo. Mick Lohan and Frank Jordan carry a classic repertoire of tunes on accordion and flute, backed by the strong and steady rhythms of Jim Fitzmaurice and John Dwyer on drums and piano.
The band grew out of sessions held in the late eighties in a pub in Loughglynn, Co Roscommon. As many as a dozen musicians played every week for dancers who attended classes taught by Eamon Rogers. The musicians began receiving requests to play for ceilis in the area so Mick Lohan, flute player Frank Connelly and other musicians formed the Woodlands Ceili Band. The name was given to them by Frank Connelly who was inspired by the song, The Woodlands of Loughglynn.
Their first ceilis were in Strokestown, Castlerea and other locations in Roscommon. They began playing more widely in recent years and are regulars in Julian's of Midfield, Co Mayo, Killoran's in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, and other places in the region. The only original band member still playing with them is Mick Lohan. Frank Jordan joined the band ten years ago after the passing of Frank Connelly in an accident. Jim Fitzmaurice has been with the Woodlands for more than eight years; he was their first drummer. A number of pianists provided accompaniment before John Dwyer joined in the last couple of years. The group were once featured on RTÉ's Céilí House radio programme broadcast from Tully's Hotel in Castlerea.
Accordionist Mick Lohan is the band's leader from Four-Mile-House, Co Roscommon, now living near Castlerea. His father played flute, and he and his brothers learned to play by ear. Mick started with the tin whistle at around age nine and took up the box at twelve. There were regular sessions in the family house in the days before TV and radio. Mick was a member of the Killina Ceili Band based in Tulsk, which played three nights a week from Dublin to Mayo for ceili dancing in the days before the set dancing revival. Before the Woodlands, Mick also played in a cabaret group which performed in pubs. Now when he's not busy with the band, he plays twice a week for sessions on Saturday in the Roisín Dubh, Gurteen, Co Sligo, and on Thursday in Carthy's Pub, Castlerea.
Frank Jordan is a veteran flute player, said to be one of the oldest men playing in a ceili band. Born and raised in Buckhill, Fairymount, Co Roscommon, and lives there today. His mother played concertina and his father played flute. Frank taught himself the tin whistle by ear from the age of eight, and the flute from twelve. He's always had an ability to pick up new tunes quickly by ear. As a young man Frank played for four years in Peadar Noone's Ceili Band, led by a music teacher from Ballaghadereen. In the days before Comhaltas and All-Ireland competitions, Frank competed regularly in local feiseanna and collected numerous medals for his playing. When he lived in Birmingham in England in the fifties and sixties, Frank was a member of the Birmingham Ceili Band. On his return to Roscommon, he spent six years with the Killina Ceili Band and then hit the road with his own ceili band, the Fox Hunters, for a couple of years. Frank can often be heard at sessions with Mick Lohan in the Roisín Dubh and Carthy's Pub.
Jim Fitzmaurice is the band's drummer, singer and announcer. He was born in Ballygar, Co Galway, and is now in Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. His father John played accordion and was a teacher who gave Jim an early start in music on tin whistle and accordion. At the age of four he was recorded playing the box by broadcaster Ciarán MacMathúna. Jim developed a love for drumming when he played bass drum with his school's band. In the sixties he played in a folk group where he sometimes played the box and drums at the same time, and also played banjo. Jim was drumming for the Western Ceili Band when they came second in the All-Ireland in Cashel in 1969. RTÉ filmed them afterward, all wearing Aran sweaters, and the film has been seen recently on the BBC and on RTÉ's Come West Along the Road series. Jim played in a number of bands, including the Squadron, the Outlaws and the Lancers. Soon after he moved to Roscommon in 1995 he began to play with the Woodlands.
The band's pianist is John Dwyer, who is also an experienced player on concert flute and tin whistle. John was raised in Mullaghroe, near Gurteen, Co Sligo, with a brother and sister who play fiddle and accordion, influenced by the music of their grandmother and granduncle. John started learning tin whistle at seven and the flute at ten, from his teachers P J Hernon and Peter Horan. Piano teacher Maureen O'Dowd is John's neighbour and he began learning with her more than a decade ago. He competed in tin whistle and flute and has won county and Connacht awards. He was also a member of the Shannon Breeze Ceili Band which was featured in a Céilí House programme in 2001. John is a regular player at sessions in the Roisín Dubh in Gurteen where he was invited by Mick Lohan to join the Woodlands two years ago.
To speak to the band contact Mick Lohan.
Published June 2003
One of Dublin's traditional music treasures is the Green Groves Ceili Band. The five nimble-fingered musicians have a light, quick sound resulting in energetic fun on the dance floor. They change tunes regularly, which lets dancers hear their wide repertoire of tunes, and are equally adept at jigs and reels, polkas and slides, and hornpipes and waltzes. While their territory is mostly concentrated in the north side of the city, their music is universal and will appeal to set dancers everywhere.
The Green Groves was formed around five years ago by banjo player Dick Barton and drummer Tommy O'Beirne. They're both members of the Sean Treacy branch of Comhaltas in north Dublin, and all the band's musicians have connections to this branch. Joining Dick and Tommy when the band began were Jackie Connaughton on box, Tommy's daughter Majella on flute and Mary Toolan on piano. Some of the players were young students who have since moved on. When Jackie Connaughton graduated from college, Liam Purcell took over on box. When Mary Toolan left recently, she was replaced by Amanda Reilly. Joe Toolan, Mary's brother, also sat in occasionally on fiddle to make up a six piece band.
The regular members of the Green Groves Ceili Band are an experienced and talented mix of musicians based in north Dublin -
Liam Purcell has had long experience of playing music for set dancers. He was raised in a family of many musicians from Knockvicar, Boyle, Co Roscommon. His mother and her family all played fiddles, but when she began teaching Liam music at the age of nine, he preferred the button accordion. In his school days he played with the Moonlight Ceili Band and in a weekly cabaret show put on by the Ballyfarnon Comhaltas branch. Josie McDermott, the Sligo flute player, was an important influence on Liam's music. He played five years with Josie in a versatile trio called Flynn's Men. After school Liam spent a year in Birmingham, England, where he played in the Birmingham Ceili Band led by his aunt, Lily Laurie.
On his return to Ireland, Liam joined the guards at Kilmainham in Dublin and the Sean Treacy Comhaltas branch. For years he played in sessions in Monkstown. He met Connie Ryan who invited him to join the band playing for his Slievenamon dancers on tours of the USA in 1988 and 1991. He still plays with that group at the annual Malahide weekend. Liam is also a regular musician at the dancing weekends at Blankenheim Castle in Germany. He also fills in occasionally on weekends in the Merchant Pub, Lower Bridge Street, and on Thursdays in O'Shea's, Talbot Street. Now retired from the guards, Liam still lives in Dublin and farms part-time at the family home in Roscommon.
Dick Barton from Erril, Rathdowney, Co Laois, plays banjo with the Green Groves. He had music on both sides of his family - his father played accordion and his maternal grandmother was also a musician. Dick learned music in school as a member of the Erril Fife and Drum Band. He played fife with them from age nine until he left school, and shared in their three All-Ireland wins in the early sixties. When he went to college in Dublin Dick taught himself to play the banjo because of his interest in ballad groups. Dick was a member of the Sarsfield Ceili Band based in the Navan Road and played in sessions for his enjoyment.
The band's leader and drummer is Tommy O'Beirne from Tulsk, Co Roscommon. He started playing music around the age of twenty when he joined the Raheen Pipe Band in Elphin, which is still playing today. He was also a member of the Killina Ceili Band in Tulsk, together with whistle and flute player Tom McHale. Tommy went to New York for seven years - he returned to Dublin where he became involved with the Sean Treacy branch of Comhaltas. Before forming the Green Groves, Tommy was a member of the Sarsfield Ceili Band along with Dick Barton.
Tommy's daughter Majella O'Beirne is the band's flute player. She was raised in Finglas, north Dublin, in a musical home with strong musical influences from her father and her mother's father, who played accordion. Tommy started teaching Majella on the tin whistle at an early age, and by eight she was learning with Denis O'Brien at the Clontarf branch of Comhaltas. Later she learned flute with Mick Hand. She played in the branch's ceili band when it came second in the All-Ireland competition. Majella achieved two solo tin whistle All-Ireland firsts, in the under-15 and under-18 categories. She also travelled to Europe to perform with members of the branch. Majella is kept busy teaching music at the Clontarf branch and other Dublin branches of Comhaltas.
The Green Groves Ceili Band doesn't usually stray far from Dublin and is found regularly at ceilis held in GAA clubhouses north of the city, including Na Fianna in Glasnevin and Naomh Mearnóg in Portmarnock, both organised by Donncha Ó Muíneacháin, another member of the Sean Treacy branch. They also venture south of the Liffey to play occasionally at the weekly Friday night ceilis in Comhaltas headquarters in Monkstown. Ceilis last year in Moate, Co Westmeath, and Tulsk, Co Roscommon, were their farthest trips from Dublin.
See the event listings for Ireland to see where the band are playing. Wherever you hear the Green Groves Ceili Band you'll have a great night of dancing to their inspiring music. To contact the band, get in touch with Tommy O'Beirne.
Published April 2003
The Waterford Comhaltas Ceili Band is a unique group of musicians who have been playing at the Monday night ceili in Waterford City every week for fifteen years. The membership of the band has stayed remarkably consistent - six of them have played continuously in the band since it was formed in 1988. Two of the lads will celebrate their eightieth birthdays this year, and only one member is younger than fifty, so the band's combined experience stretches back many decades. The resulting music is timeless and beautifully traditional, with a solid rhythm, classic tunes and smooth changes. The dancing is a delight.
The set dancing club in Waterford was started in 1987 by Martin Forristal with the help of Alice Fitzgerald and Mary Marrinan from Dungarvan. Tom Hyland from Ballyduff taught Mondays in the Metropole Hotel and within a short period the dancers were demanding live music. With the enthusiastic help of Denis Kinsella and Tommy Grant, Martin gathered musicians Martin Connolly, Tom Conway, John Collins, Paddy Henebry, James Burke, Michael Power and Seamus Brady to form a ceili band. Claus Cantwell, Bertie Duggan, Martin Morrissey, Jim Casey and Paddy Croke joined shortly afterward. Rounding out the band were Denis Kinsella as singer, Tommy Grant as leader and Martin Forristal as MC.
The band's monthly ceilis were so popular that dancers soon demanded live music twice a month, then the weekly ceilis started in 1989. They continued attracting huge audiences (as many as 400 in the summer) in the Metropole until it closed in 1998. The venue is now the Bridge Hotel.
Meanwhile the band was also playing for other ceilis in the area, including Dungarvan, Wexford and Enniscorthy, and at the All-Ireland Fleadhs in Clonmel and Enniscorthy. The band has also been invited to play for ceilis in Dublin by Seán Clerkin and in Kilfenora by John Vaughan. They were featured on RTÉ's Ceili House in 1993 and last year recorded a CD, Irish Traditional Entertainment from Waterford City.
While some of the musicians have moved on, most of the nine members in the present line-up played with the band from the beginning. The singer Denis Kinsella died in 1994. Tom Conway, the original drummer, left after an illness in 1991 and died in 2000. Billy Dwyer from New Ross, Co Wexford, took his place on drums. The newest member is banjo player Frances Curran from Youghal, Co Cork.
These nine members of the Waterford Comhaltas Ceili Band all have a great love of music and strong loyalty to the band and the dancers who enjoy their ceilis.
Claus Cantwell is the band's pianist and most senior member, who celebrated his eightieth birthday in January. He's originally from Mooncoin, Co Kilkenny, and lives in Tramore, Co Waterford. He learned piano at school from the age of six. Claus' father and uncle were members of the famous Mooncoin Ceili Band. Claus played with them as early as 1940, was a regular member for twenty years and made 78rpm recordings with them for HMV. He played the church organ in Mooncoin all his life, ran a music shop for forty years in Waterford and still works as a piano tuner.
John Collins is from a house in Ballina, Co Tipperary, where there would often be a dozen people playing music. The fiddle was one of the first things John heard in life - he and his brothers asked his father to play for them every night. His brother Anthony was a fiddler and step dancer, and he taught John up to the age of twelve. From that age till he was sixty he never played a note. His work as a creamery manager brought him to Waterford. John began playing again when his wife suggested he join his brother-in-law at Comhaltas lessons.
Martin Connolly is a skilled box player raised in Glenmore, Co Kilkenny, and now in New Ross, Co Wexford. His music was inspired by an uncle who played melodeon every Sunday and had a collection of 78rpm records. By the age of ten he was "totally nuts" about music and learned to play the box on his own. For years he played twice a week in summer for open-air platform dances. He was a member of Comhaltas in New Ross and of the New Ross Ceili Band. In addition to the Mondays in the Bridge Hotel, Martin plays in session on Thursdays at Corcoran's, New Ross.
Tommy Grant is the leader of the band on the five-row accordion. He's lived all his life in Charlestown, Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny. His father played fiddle, but Tommy always liked the box. He only started to play as a young adult when he bought a Hohner Black Dot two-row accordion for £12 and taught himself to play. He was inspired to take up the five-row accordion by the music of Brendan Breen of the Gallowglass Ceili Band. Tommy also took lessons from Danny Ryan in Tipperary town, and travelled abroad with him to play in France and Copenhagen.
Paddy Henebry, from Portlaw, Co Waterford, is the second fiddler in the band. His father danced steps, sang, gave recitations, played a couple of tunes on fiddle and encouraged Paddy to learn music. The Mercy Nuns at school in Portlaw taught Paddy classical fiddle between the ages of six and thirteen. He gave up music for years and resumed much later when the GAA began holding Scór competitions. He trained day and night with a group that made it to the Munster final. Paddy did a bit of singing in ballad groups in the eighties and performed in Brittany when Waterford was twinned with a town there.
Martin Morrissey plays an instrument rarely heard in a ceili band, the mouth organ. He's from Waterford city and now lives in Boat Strand, Co Waterford. Martin played music from the age of ten and settled on the mouth organ which was much more common in those days. It was cheap, produced a lighter sound than a box but was well able to stand up to a fiddle, and was easy to carry to wakes and weddings. When he retired, Martin concentrated on music and now his Monday nights are the most important night of the week. He has a strong interest in sean nós singing and the Irish language, and has passed on his love of music to his children.
The band's drummer is Billy Dwyer from New Ross, Co Wexford. Billy followed his father's footsteps when he joined the New Ross FCA Pipe Band at sixteen, where he learned drumming. He helped establish the New Ross branch of Comhaltas in 1953 and played in the New Ross Ceili Band. Billy is one of the most successful Irish musicians ever to compete - he won nine All-Ireland solo drumming competitions since the 1950s. After the original drummer, Tom Conway, suffered a heart attack in 1991, Martin Forristal invited Billy to join the Waterford Comhaltas Ceili Band and he has been with them ever since. Billy also sings with the band.
The average age of the band was 66 before Frances Curran joined on banjo, then the figure dropped significantly. Not only is she the youngest member of the group by decades, but she's the only lady. Frances, from Youghal, Co Cork, was influenced by her father's strong interest in music. At age nine she became a member of her local Comhaltas branch and learned banjo with Bobby Gardiner. During her summers she played for a weekly seisiún which entertained tourists. Frances is now in her first year studying music at Waterford Institute of Technology. She joined the ceili band in September 2002 and also teaches banjo classes.
Martin Forristal serves as the MC for the band. He was raised in Glenmore, Co Kilkenny, and still lives there today. Martin has a lifelong interest in music and song, and began doing ballroom and ceili dancing at sixteen. He began set dancing in 1982 with Deirdre Williams who taught for competition, but Martin was keen to promote set dancing for pleasure. He taught set, ceili and two-hand dances in workshops and classes in the area. Martin has a unique and enjoyable sing-song style of calling the dances. He's the chairman of the Waterford Comhaltas branch, and managed two Comhaltas tours of America.
You can hear the Waterford Comhaltas Ceili Band nearly every Monday night in the Bridge Hotel, Waterford. They also play monthly ceilis on Sundays in the Riverbank Hotel, Wexford. Martin Forristal is the contact.
Published February 2003.
55 years is an exceptionally long time for a ceili band to remain in operation, and there's one major reason that the Tulla Ceili Band has lasted - their music is superb. Others may play faster or louder, but the Tulla produces a lift that few can match, a lift that moves dancers effortlessly. Their rhythm is purely traditional - steady and reliable - with an extra built-in swing that sounds jazzy to some ears, so they never fail to inspire and excite. What's remarkable is that they've always played like this. Despite inevitable changes in personnel over the years, including the recent passing of two founding members, their style today is identical to the style of previous decades.
Another major reason the Tulla Ceili Band has survived so long is the dedication of its members, especially P J Hayes, who led them from the 1950s until his death in May 2001. P J's son Martin, the internationally known fiddler who played regularly with the Tulla in his youth, described the band as a "participatory democracy" -Nothing was done and no choices made that went against the wishes of any individual musician. Everything from choice of tunes, tempo, and the hour at which they would depart for a dance were all something that required collective agreement. I think that this may be one reason for the band's longevity.The membership of the band included many of the most famous names in Irish music, such as Bobby Casey and Willie Clancy. Another member was Dr Bill Loughnane, who played fiddle, practiced medicine and won election to the Dail. The eight musicians of today's band are Mike McKee and Sean Donnelly on box, Mike Murphy and Mark Donnellan on fiddles, J J Conway and Jennifer Lenihan on flutes, Jim Corry on piano and Michael Flanigan on drums. Martin Hayes also plays with them whenever he's home from Seattle. They've stayed true to P J's management style - there is no band leader and the members share the responsibilities.
The Tulla Ceili Band was brought together in 1946 by Teresa Tubridy, who wanted an east Clare band to participate in a fleadh in Limerick. For this occasion the members were Paddy Canny, P J Hayes, Aggie Whyte, Bert McNulty (fiddles), Jim and Paddy Donoghue (flutes), Joe Cooley (accordion) and Teresa (piano), and the group won the competition easily over six other bands. This inspired them to continue, and according to P J, "The first ceili we got paid for was in a marquee in Scarriff. We got twelve shillings each. It was the first time we got a few bob out of it."
The next year Teresa Tubridy decided to leave the band, so P J and Paddy Canny cycled to Ennis to ask Seán Reid to join them as leader and pianist. He was delighted to be asked, but his employer, Clare County Council, made it clear that if he wanted to retain his position as Acting County Engineer he was to have nothing to do with the ceili band. This placed Seán in a difficult position and rather than risk his job, he decided not to play with them but agreed to organise their transport. However, he was spotted at a ceili in Galway and was duly demoted. He then felt free to join them wholeheartedly and led the band till the mid-fifties - he was the band's most important influence in their early years. He was also the only one with a car and carried six or seven musicians, their instruments and sound equipment to gigs in his Morris Minor car. A surprisingly late addition to the band in 1953 was Jack Keane - after seven years in operation they finally had a drummer.
The Tulla continued to compete regularly, winning the All-Ireland in 1957 and 1960. They were runners up to the Kilfenora Ceili Band who won three times in the fifties - the rivalry between the two was legendary. The competition was especially close in 1956. The two bands tied for first place in the Munster competition, and in the All-Ireland final only half a point (out of a possible 100) separated the judges' scores of the Tulla (98½) from the Kilfenora (99). In 1962 they won the Munster Fleadh over the Kilfenora only to be defeated in the final by the Leitrim Ceili Band. They retired from competition after that.
After twelve years of performing locally, the band made their first trips abroad in 1958 to the USA and Britain. They were greeted with acclaim at every stop on tour in the States. One of the stops was Carnegie Hall in New York on St Patrick's night. The USA tour was repeated in 1961, and the British tours continued annually till 1963. Then after a long gap they returned to Britain in 1978, 1979 and 1986. They waited till 1982 to travel again to the States when they spent four weeks there, with further trips in 1984, 1986, 1997 and 1999. Today they have no plans for trips abroad but whenever they're ready to go audiences will be there to welcome them.
In 1956 the Tulla made their first recordings in Dublin for the HMV company - five 78rpm records. Their first LP, Echoes of Erin, was recorded in 1958 while on tour in New York. In the seventies they quickly produced three LPs in succession in Dublin for EMI - The Claddagh Ring in 1970, Ireland Green in 1972 and Sweetheart in the Spring in 1973. The most recent recordings were produced on their fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries - 40th Anniversary in 1986 (GTD) and A Celebration of 50 Years in 1996 (Green Linnet), both of which are still on sale.
The Tulla Ceili Band first played on Radio Éireann in 1948. The broadcast was well received by the public, but the station's director of music was not pleased with their performance. It was only in 1966 that they returned to RTÉ for a ten-week television programme called Club Céilí. P J Hayes recalled, "We'd go up to Dublin on a Sunday and from about 2 till 11 o'clock we'd be in the studio. We'd do two half-hour programmes with maybe a break for a meal around 6 or 7 o'clock." The series featured dancing, musical solos and singing as well as the ceili band. The band was the subject of a documentary in 1977 and appeared on the Late Late Show for their fiftieth anniversary.
The story of the band is well documented in print, most notably in the 1998 book by Chris Keane, The Tulla Ceili Band, which has been a great reference for this article. Chris is the son of the band's first drummer, Jack Keane. Articles in the Clare magazine, Dal gCais, and Martin Hayes' liner notes to the band's 1996 recording also make interesting reading.
The Tulla Ceili Band has received some notable awards in recent years. When Clare won the All-Ireland hurling final in 1995, the Tulla was there to play for a ceili before the match, at the victory banquet and when the team returned to Clare. On their fiftieth anniversary they were honoured by the Willie Clancy Summer School, by the President of Ireland Mary Robinson at her residence Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin, and as recipients of the Traditional Music National Entertainment Award broadcast live on RTÉ. In addition, P J Hayes was declared Clare Person of the Year in 1996 by the Clare Association in Dublin. On their trip to America in 1997 the band received a presentation from Mayor Rudolf Giuliani at New York City Hall.
In recent years, the Tulla has concentrated on what they do best, and with the revivals in Irish music and set dancing they've become more popular than ever. Their favourite places to play are some of the local halls in Clare and Galway - McCarthy's of Kilbeacanty near Gort, the Claddagh Hall in Galway City, and the Boree Log in Lissycasey. Their two biggest ceilis of the year are held during the Willie Clancy Summer School, and they play for annual festivals in Ennis, Killanena and Feakle.
After all the history, the mission of the Tulla Ceili Band is unchanged over the years - they're still regularly on the road producing great music for dancers. Today's players are a mix of young and old, so that both the past and future are well represented. These are the musicians you'll meet at their ceilis -
Box player Mike McKee comes from the village of Feakle near Tulla and lives there today with his wife Mary and four children. Mike began playing the mouth organ at the age of 7 and the accordion at 9, taking lessons from Vincent Griffin. He remembers seeing the Tulla on Club Céilí on TV, hearing them on Céilí House and seeing them play in the Community Hall. Mike played locally with friends in a country and western band and occasionally with the Grogan Brothers. Then in 1977 P J Hayes was looking for a box player for the Tulla after the departure of Mattie Ryan. Mike was asked to join and has been a dedicated member of the band ever since. Mike remembers that in his early days he and P J used to travel separately from the others to set up for the ceili. When they were ready to begin, it was Mike's job to find the rest of the lads in the town and bring them to the hall.
Michael Flanagan is the band's drummer who was raised in Mullagh and lives in Lahinch, both near the sea in west Clare. He has music on both sides of his family as he's related to Bobby Casey on his father's side and Junior Crehan on his mother's. Michael learned drumming in a variety of bands - the Mullagh Fife and Drum Band, the Clonboney Pipe Band and O'Boyle's Famous Accordion Band. Some of his best training came from an army drum major stationed in Lahinch. Michael served in the Quilty Ceili Band for thirty years, played with the Healy Brothers and also performed for local operas. The Tulla sought a drummer in 1977 with the departure of Jack McDonnell, and Michael joined them and stayed. This wasn't the first time he played with them - in 1946 the Tulla were stuck for a drummer for a ceili in Ennistymon and Michael agreed to stand in. On the day before the ceili he sent his drums to Ennistymon via the West Clare Railway. The next day he travelled to the ceili by bicycle, carrying his snare drum, stand and sticks.
Michael Murphy is a veteran ceili band musician from the town of Ennistymon, north Clare. His father James played fiddle and concertina. Young Michael picked up a mouth organ at 7 or 8 and progressed to the fiddle by the age of 10 to the accordion at 13. He learned by ear with a bit of help from his father on the tunes. He was a member of several ceili bands including St Michael's Ceili Band based in Ennistymon. In 1960 he joined the Kilfenora Ceili Band playing accordion. Box players were scarcer than fiddlers at the time, but when Michael Sexton joined the Kilfenora, Michael Murphy switched to the fiddle which is his main instrument. In 1963 Michael was back in the reformed St Michael's Ceili Band, and in 1964 went on tour in England with the Tulla in place of Paddy Canny. When Paddy left in 1966 Michael joined and stayed with the Tulla for twenty years. After that he became a founding member of the Four Courts Ceili Band in 1987, and rejoined the Tulla for their trip to the USA in 1999 and remains with them today.
J J Conway plays flute, sings and serves as the jovial MC at the band's ceilis. J J is a Kilfenora man raised and living in the townland of Ballinacarra, on the edge of the Burren in north Clare. At 10 he took up the tin whistle and learned his music from a number of the excellent musicians in the area, particularly Bridie Moloney. He remembers playing in house dances and at soirees which took place after the wren on St Stephen's Day. Flutes were scarce and expensive at that time and he was 16 when he got one. He was a member of the Corofin Ceili Band in the fifties and joined the Kilfenora Ceili Band in the seventies. P J Hayes asked J J to join the Tulla on their 1986 four-week tour of America and he's been a member since then. J J is also a great man for a session and has played every Sunday night for fifteen years in Nagle's Bar in Kilfenora.
Sean Donnelly is a box player from Abbey, Co Galway. Both his parents played fiddle and his father was a member of the Ballinakill Ceili Band of the thirties. Sean was always interested in music and at 14 picked up the box. He learned without a teacher and within two years was playing for house, wren and mummers dances. In the sixties he played in the re-formed Ballinakill Ceili Band and in the Leitrim Ceili Band. Sean was also in smaller groups of two or three musicians playing traditional and some country and western. After the Tulla lost box players Joe Sheehan in 1990 and Conor Keane in 1992, P J Hayes was delighted to obtain the services of Sean. He's the only member from outside Clare, but his south Galway style blends well with the band.
Mark Donellan is the son of one of the earliest members of the Tulla Ceili Band, Francie Donnellan, who played in the band from 1946 to 1952. Francie didn't rejoin them until 1986 and remained a member until his death in 2000. The Donnellans live near the village of Kilmurray in east Clare. Mark is a mainly self-taught fiddler who plays entirely by ear. There was always a fiddle in his house and he was 9 when he started playing. He was active in competitions as a youngster and competed in duets, trios, groups and in the junior Tulla Ceili Band. The junior band under the direction of Mary McNamara won the All-Ireland in 1990 and 1992. By that time Mark was sitting in with his father in the 'adult' band and was with them full time from the age of 15. He knew he'd become a full member of the band when after a couple years he got his own microphone. Mark is a regular player at the Wednesday night session in Pepper's Bar, Feakle, where P J and Francie played for many years. Mark's older brother Brian was also a member of the band from 1982 until his death in 1986.
Pianist Jim Corry is from the town of Tulla and lives and works near Charlestown, Co Mayo. His mother played the piano so there was always a piano in his house. Jim took lessons in Ennis from Mrs Cotter, the mother of musicians Eamon and Geraldine Cotter. He completed the first grade of piano training but the classical approach didn't suit Jim. He played in weekly sessions in Tulla for years with box player Matty Ryan, who himself played with the Tulla Ceili Band in the seventies. Jim first joined the Tulla band in 1982 for their trip to the States, in place of Georgie Byrt who wasn't able to fly with them. When Georgie left the Tulla in 1994, Jim became their pianist. He's also a member of two other bands that play for set dancers - Swallow's Tail Ceili Band from Sligo and Mayo who play regularly for ceilis, and the Lahawns from Tulla who perform in pubs. Both bands have recently produced new CDs. Jim also plays in two pop and rock and roll bands in Mayo.
Jennifer Lenihan is a flute player from O'Callahan's Mills, east Clare, now living in Dublin for four years where she works as a teacher. She started music at the age of 5 with lessons on the tin whistle from Paula McMahon of Broadford, and moved to the flute at 11. The young Tulla Ceili Band taught by Mary McNamara won the under fifteen All-Ireland in 1990 and the under eighteen in 1992 with Jennifer's participation. Jennifer also played in small groups which won competitions in 1991 and 1994. She began playing with the band at that time and participated in the two most recent tours of America, as well as the visit to Áras an Uachtaráin.
Others playing on occasion include Martin Hayes and Aidan Vaughan, and during the ceilis at the Willie Clancy Summer School the group can grow to twelve or more. Over the decades many dozens of the area's best musicians have played in the band, and most of them are listed in Chris Keane's book.
An evening with the Tulla is always a memorable night. To contact them please get in touch with Mike McKee.
Published December 2002.
P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon are two musicians known far and wide for their beautiful traditional and country songs which are delivered with style and feeling. P J's reputation as a singer is second to none - his warm, genuine voice enhances every song and appeals to everyone. Seamus is a virtuoso and multitalented musician - his traditional accordion style is skilful and powerful, and he also sings, writes songs and plays trombone.
Their music is made for dancing - waltzes, jives, quicksteps and foxtrots - and P J and Seamus are versatile enough to play anything from the Siege of Ennis to Van Morrison. It's a rare occasion when they play for a ceili, but whenever they're asked to play for a set at a gig they deliver reels, jigs, polkas, hornpipes and slides with an inspirational lift which provides fabulous set dancing.
The pair met in 1993 when P J was a guest on The Rambling House, a popular programme on Mid West Radio which Seamus hosted with John Duggan. Seamus backed P J on a few songs that night and afterward they decided to do a few gigs together. Initially they had enough bookings to keep going, and today they're performing nearly every night of the week. They travel the whole of Ireland and beyond to England, America and Spain.
Seamus Shannon was raised in the town of Elphin in Co Roscommon and lives today in Athlone. His music was influenced by his father who played accordion and trumpet and had a strong interest in jazz, and by two uncles who were fiddlers with a memorable traditional style. Seamus had a few lessons from his father but learned most of his music by ear. He was involved in Joe Dolan's show band for many years and opted for a quieter life after that by playing gigs with his brother Terry.
Several well known performers have asked Seamus to play on their albums, including Christy Moore, Charlie McGettigan, Foster and Allen, and Derek Warfield of the Wolfe Tones. Seamus has always dabbled in song writing - Foster and Allen and other artists have recorded his songs, which include My Own Roscommon Town, The Great Mr Coleman, Rosie, and Goldsmith's Lament. Seamus has made several recordings - his first was Sounds Traditional when he played as a member of Joe Dolan's Show Band. His most recent solo album is The Magic of Seamus Shannon.
Seamus is an experienced broadcaster who spent five years hosting The Rambling House programme on Mid West Radio in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo. It was a live weekly session based around a fireplace, with conversation, songs and music from visiting guests. "People came in the frost and snow from Clifden to Clare," Seamus said. The programme was a huge success which attracted high audience ratings on Monday and later Thursday nights. When Seamus moved to Athlone he began presenting a Sunday afternoon programme on Shannonside Radio, offering a wide variety of music and an occasional live guest.
P J Murrihy lives in the house where he was raised in Mullagh, Co Clare. He works the family farm, but admits that it's a pastime with him now that he's so busy with music. As a child he developed his interest in singing from listening to the radio where he heard programmes like Céilí House and Ceolta Tíre and enjoyed the songs of the Clancy Brothers and Luke Kelly. P J learned songs from the singers in his family, including his mother and two of his uncles. He loved the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, but the songs he found easiest to sing were Irish ballads.
A school friend sold P J his first guitar for £2. After school he got together with some local friends to sing ballads, sometimes on a bench in the street or in an overturned van. One day Michael Sexton, the ceili band leader from Mullagh, heard P J in the van and asked him to sing at a wedding. At the time Michael played with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, which was looking for a singer. P J Joined them as their singer for five years and recorded two albums with them. P J, Michael and Jimmy Ward opted out of the Kilfenora and formed a new band called the Bannermen. After years of travelling long distances to gigs they found it attractive to play locally and were successful. P J left the Bannermen to spend more time at home, and around that time met Seamus Shannon.
P J has had remarkable success with his recordings. In 1988 he recorded Pat Murphy's Meadow which received widespread airplay and even entered the Irish charts. The enquiries that followed gave P J a chance to sing further afield beyond Clare and gave an airing on radio to his other songs, such as Joseph McHugh, The Auld Threshing Mill and Put More Turf on the Fire. He has five solo albums, Pat Murphy's Meadow, Bygone Days, The Music Man from Clare, My Father's House and The Land of the Gael. A new album is expected in time for Christmas.
P J and his wife Mary have four talented children - Jane plays concertina, Moira is a fiddler and son Seamus plays banjo and is a keen sportsman. The youngest daughter Maeve is expected to be a great dancer. Mary is a keen, lifelong set dancer who teaches a class nearby in Moyasta. She's from Castleisland, Co Kerry, and was a member of a set dancing team which won an All-Ireland competition.
There's a good chance you'll find P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon playing close to home as they travel widely. They make a few circuits of Ireland every year, visiting Cork, Wexford, Sligo and points in between. They're regulars at the All-Ireland Ploughing Championships in Co Laois, for two weeks at Fleadh España in Ibiza in April, and at the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, where they perform every afternoon seven days a week for the month of September. In addition they're also in Spain in December and January, in England in June and October and on Gertie Byrne's Caribbean cruise in February. Anyone not able to hear P J and Seamus live can take comfort in the two albums they have recorded together - My Native Sod and From Roscommon to Clare.
For more information on the music of P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon, please contact P J Murrihy.
Published October 2002.
The energetic music of the Four Provinces Ceili Band is becoming increasingly popular with dancers across Ireland. The band members are based in the midland counties of Offaly, Westmeath, Cavan and Roscommon where the local dancers like lively music at their ceilis. They're a four-piece group of box, banjo, piano and drums who produce a traditional sound that can lift a ceili with their superb repertoire of tunes and frequent changes. Their stamina is legendary - on rare occasions when the going is particularly good, they have been known to finish a ceili with a rake of reels which lasts for three-quarters of an hour.
The Four Provinces is descended from the Congress Ceili Band led by drummer Mick Gaynor based in Edenderry, Co Offaly. Mick played with Martin Hickey on box, Philip Clarke on piano, Colette Beagon on fiddle and Camaris Woods on banjo. When Mick retired in 1999 Martin and Philip took over his bookings with help from Damaris Woods, Colette and Laura Beagon from Corcaghan, Co Monaghan, and Richard, Malachy, Veronica, Mary and Pat Murray from Oranmore, Co Galway. They continued to take bookings and decided to continue playing under a new name. The Four Provinces was suggested by Malachy Murray after a ceili in the pub with that name in Rathallen, Co Roscommon. The band's current line-up was completed in 2000 when Colin Butler joined as drummer and Orla Corcoran began playing banjo with them.
True to their name, the Four Provinces visit every province of Ireland to play for ceilis and can be found in Dublin, Cork, Louth, Mayo and many other places over the course of a year. They've played twice for ceilis at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Enniscorthy. The four musicians are all highly experienced and committed musicians. They play regularly in sessions, and some of them meet at the Sunday afternoon session in the Temple Bar, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, which recently won an award as traditional music pub of the year.
The Four Provinces' leader and box player is Martin Hickey from two miles outside Edenderry, Co Offaly. Martin was raised in a family of musicians - his father played accordion, and his mother and some of his aunts and uncles were also involved in music. At age ten Martin began attending classes in Edenderry taught by Mary and Frank Brennan, who play with the Sean Norman Ceili Band. He competed successfully at the All-Ireland Fleadh in 1993, winning the senior melodeon competition, and came second in 1995. He played with the Congress Ceili Band for years and can be heard on their set dancing CD, Congress Ceili Band Plays for Set Dancing. Martin has also occasionally filled in for the Ard Erin Ceili Band.
Orla Corcoran plays banjo in the Four Provinces. She's from Ballinea, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, where her grandparents were from. Her father enjoyed going to fleadhs and her two older sisters played music. Orla began playing banjo at eight at lessons taught by Ellen Comerford of the Bridge and Esker Riada Ceili Bands, and later with Eilish Egan who plays with Reeltime. Orla played in session with Colin Nee, the box player from Mullingar, now living in Kilfenora, who was a strong influence on her playing. In competition in 1997 she came first in the Westmeath and Leinster under eighteen finals and second in the All-Ireland. Orla has played with the Dun na Sí folk club group, based in Moate, since 1984 and has travelled with them to Spain and France. She also played on the group's 1997 recording Mind the Step.
The Four Provinces' pianist is Philip Clarke of Kilnahard, Kilnaleck, Co Cavan. His father, aunt and uncle all played fiddle. When Philip was fourteen, his father sold a pig to buy him a piano accordion. At 26 he began playing piano with Pat McCabe in Aileach, a trad group. He developed his piano style in seminars with Carl Hession from Galway, and with Davy Keith from Shetland who used to visit Cavan. Philip founded the Sheelinside Ceili Band, which played for local fíor ceilis, was a member of the Congress Ceili Band, and today plays with Vincent Tighe's Carrick Ceili Band. He founded the Breffni Ceili Band for children 12-18 which competes each year and has been featured on recordings and RTÉ's Ceili House. Philip is joint 2002 Cavan Person of the Year with box player Martin Donoghue for their work in preserving the musical heritage of Cavan. The result of their work is a four-CD set, The Call from the Musical Heart of Cavan, featuring young and old musicians, some backed on piano by Philip.
Colin Butler is the Four P's drummer from Boher near Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Roscommon. His father, Seamus Butler was the drummer and leader of his own ceili band, the Seamus Butler Ceili Band. At fourteen Colin bought a snare drum and taught himself to play by practicing to tapes. His father said, "If it's in you it'll come out." He also taught himself to play bodhran. Colin's first time playing in public was when he joined the Four Provinces in 2000. Colin is well known as a set dancer; he began dancing when he was fourteen. He and his brother Gerard are members of the Elphin Set Dancers who won the All-Ireland competition in 1999.
To contact the band get in touch with Martin Hickey.
Published August 2002.
In New York there's an active set dancing scene, with ceilis in the area every weekend. There are only a small number of ceili bands, so the excitement runs high when a new band appears. This was the case in June 2000 in the Irish-American Center in Mineola, Long Island, during the first performance by Ceol na gCroí Céilí Band. The name means 'music from the heart' and it's hard to imagine a better name for five musicians who love playing for dancing as much as this band. Dancers at that first ceili responded with a great cheer after they danced the first figure, and enthusiasm for the band has remained strong since then with regular bookings and a loyal following.
Brendan Fahey, the band's drummer and manager, takes credit for the idea of the band. After a few phone calls the other musicians were soon on board - John Fitzpatrick, accordion and flute, Pat Murray, accordion, Mike Brady, fiddle, and Dennis O'Driscoll, piano. Together they produce music so perfectly suited to set dancing that the dancing becomes effortless and joyful. The timeless sound, beautiful pace and irresistible lift would be right at home anywhere in Ireland and New Yorkers are delighted to have them for their local band.
John Fitzpatrick is the musical leader of the band, in charge of their tunes and changes. He plays both B-C accordion and flute. He was born in Oceanside, Long Island, and is one quarter Irish. He has a natural affinity for music, but only started developing it at eighteen when he studied a correspondence course in piano while in the Air Force. His first exposure to Irish music happened when he was dating his wife, Mary Glynn, whose father came from Mayo. He played the melodeon and John took a great interest in it and quickly learned to play a hornpipe. His future father-in-law encouraged him and after a year he'd picked up a couple hundred tunes by ear. John played in sessions and at home with his daughter, who was a talented fiddler. Together they performed at weekend gigs in the Catskills, at step dancing feiseanna and at festivals. They were recorded together on three albums, Ireland in America, Fathers and Daughters, and Irish Traditional Music on the East Coast of America and appeared on the Pure Drop television programme.
Mike Brady, the band's fiddler, is from Flagmount, Co Clare. His father played fiddle and Mike was sent to P J Hayes to learn to play. He also played with Bill Loughnane, Vincent Griffin and Paddy Canny. He often played at house dances and sat in with the Tulla Ceili Band on occasion. He arrived in Brooklyn in 1958 and continued to play music as a member of the Patsy Tuohy Club there. When he married, he became too busy for music, but has returned to it in the past six years. He sometimes sat in with Pete Kelly's band before joining Ceol na gCroí, and today plays once in a while at the Doonbeg Social Club (see page 12). He lives in Bayshore, Long Island.
Pat Murray, from Seaford, Long Island, plays old-style C#-D accordion. His father John Murray was from Fuerty, Co Roscommon, and his mother, Ann Kilcooley, a cousin of Joe Cooley's, was from Peterswell, Co Galway. Pat was born in Brooklyn where he listened to the 78rpm records his mother often played. She bought him an accordion when he was twelve, which he learned without ever taking a lesson. Pat sat in on sessions at the Irish Musicians Association and was president of the Tom Morrison Branch, where as many as 150 people danced in the days before set dancing was revived. He also played for feiseanna, in sessions and on a record album made 25 years ago. He played with the Pete Kelly Ceili Band for three years before joining Ceol na gCroí. Pat loves to dance sets at least as much as he loves to play music for ceilis. He's also a private pilot and has been flying for 39 years.
The band's piano accompanist and singer is Denis O'Driscoll. He was born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx and lives now on Long Island. Both of his parents are Irish, his father from West Cork and his mother from Mayo. Starting in his teens, Denis spent more than a decade playing highland pipes with the Cork Pipe Band in Woodside, Queens. In the late seventies, he taught himself to play piano, guitar and bass and became involved in traditional Irish music. Besides being a sideman in a number of show and dance bands over the years, Denis has accompanied numerous traditional players, including fiddlers Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, Pat Keogh and the late Johnny Cronin from Kerry, and accordionist John Nolan, currently with Morning Star. During the nineties, Denis played for ceilis regularly with accordionist Johnny Cronin from Kerry and Joe 'Banjo' Burke, and with Sean Fahy and Mike Flanagan. Felix Dolan, Jerry Wallace and Eileen O'Brien Minogue, among others, have influenced his accompaniment style. Denis' love of singing comes from his involvement in church music in the seventies. He was a parish song leader, assisted with a boys' choir, and was a member of choral groups in New Jersey. In addition to his work with Ceol na gCroí, Denis is a member of Clare-Sligo Express, a ceili band based in New Jersey led by Eileen Clune Goodman.
Brendan Fahey, Ceol na gCroí drummer and manager, was born in the Bronx, raised in Levittown, Long Island, and lives today in Port Washington. His father's parents were from Mayo and Galway, and his mother came from Miltown Malbay, Co Clare. The family always listened to ceili band recordings at home. Brendan started drumming at the age of five and at ten joined a marching band. He's been in marching bands for most of his life, including when he was in the navy. Brendan is self-taught on drums and was highly influenced by the drummers of the Laichtín Naofa, Kilfenora and Tulla Ceili Bands. He also took piano accordion lessons with Brian Quinn. He developed his ceili drumming style at sessions and ceilis at the Irish-American Society in Mineola, and drummed with Pete Kelly's band for several years. Brendan is also a member of Clare-Sligo Express and a regular player at the Doonbeg Social Club.
All the members of Ceol na gCroí take great pleasure in their music. They've resisted requests from their fans to produce a recording due mostly to time constraints, and haven't been heard on radio or TV yet. They're mostly a local band, playing regularly in Mineola, Plainview, Yonkers and Queens, all in New York. On rare occasions they've venture as far as New Jersey or Connecticut. And if you'd like to get in touch with Ceol na gCroí Céilí Band, contact Brendan Fahey.
Published June 2002.
The unique music of the Esker Riada Ceili Band has a full and solid traditional sound which is light and quick enough to propel dancers through the sets with great delight. They play in the vigorous style of the midlands as the band members are from counties Offaly and Westmeath. They're named after a feature of the Irish landscape - the Esker Riada is a ridge of gravel hills that crosses Ireland from Dublin to Galway, passing through the midlands.
The band was formed in 1990 by Denis Ryan and Mick Guilfoyle, who are still with the band playing fiddle and banjo. Other original members of the band were the accordionist Liam Daly, who left because of business commitments, and drummer Michael Hynes, who is still missed after his death some years ago. Today Ellen Comerford is their experienced box player, and backing is provided by Pat Doheny on drums and James Hogan on piano.
Esker Riada play for their own pleasure and satisfaction as well as for the enjoyment and entertainment of the dancers. They have a loyal following which takes them regularly to ceilis from Cork and Galway to Dublin, and across to England where they have played in London and several times in Slough. Two years ago they played in the Nevele Grand Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York. They've been on Ceili House and other traditional music programmes on Irish radio and television. They made one recording - a cassette called Come West Along the Road which is still available from the band - and would like to make another.
All members of Esker Riada have a great enthusiasm and love for traditional music -
Denis Ryan is the band's fiddler and manager, and is one of its founding members. He was born in Edenderry, Co Offaly, and lives there today. His father also played fiddle, and his mother played melodeon, but Denis came late to traditional music. He studied classical violin in school and nearly completed all eight grades of study in it. When he discovered traditional music at age fifteen, something clicked in him and he dropped classical music. He joined St Mary's Ceili Band of Edenderry led by Marie Tyrell, and later Sean Ryan's ceili band in Portarlington, Co Laois, which won the Leinster final competition. Denis was one of the founding members of the Bridge Ceili Band in 1970 - they won the All-Ireland final that year and two further times. They reformed again in 1991 and won another All-Ireland in 1992. Before starting Esker Riada, Denis was involved in folk clubs and festivals, playing solo and in groups.
Mick Guilfoyle is the second founding member of Esker Riada. He plays banjo and is the sound man and driver. He lives in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath, in the same house where he was born. His father played accordion at local house dances and his mother was a classical violinist who had a strong interest in Irish culture. She was a London Cockney and a descendent of English architect Sir Christopher Wren. The family listened to Ceili House on the radio every week which Mick enjoyed greatly. From his late teens he was involved in folk clubs and played folk music on mandolin. He was an organiser of Mrs Flannery's Folk Club in Tullamore which still gets together occasionally after 35 years. He came to play Irish music late though he has been at it for twenty years now, twelve of them with Esker Riada.
Ellen Comerford is from Capincur, three miles from Tullamore, Co Offaly. Her father played fiddle at crossroads dances and her mother played a few tunes on accordion. Ellen picked up a small accordion in the house and was playing it at the age of four. She listened to A Job of Journeywork on radio to get new tunes. At twelve she played in the Ballyowen Ceili Band which played for ceilis. She joined Sean Ryan's Ceili Band and was doing live broadcasts with them in Dublin at the age of fourteen. In 1964 she won her first All-Ireland medal for solo accordion and has collected eighteen first prizes over the years for solos, duets, trios and ceili bands. Ellen was a founding member of the Bridge Ceili Band. She's been with Esker Riada for ten years. She first stood in for Liam Daly when he was unable to play for a ceili; when he decided not to come back Ellen continued with them.
Pat Doheny, from Tullamore, backs the band on the drums. He played in the Long Ridge Ceili Band as a teenager, which went to the All-Ireland finals most years, and played in a senior ceili band when he was older. Pat played drums in the town pipe band and today is drum sergeant with the Air Corps Pipe Band. As a kit drummer he is able to read music and play tuned percussion instruments. He teaches pipe band drumming to new members of the pipe band. Pat joined Esker Riada in 1997 when the previous drummer, P J Daly, emigrated. He also played with the Bridge Ceili Band in 2000.
Backing the band on piano is young musician and dancer, James Hogan, from Killeigh near Tullamore. James picked up the tin whistle at age eight and was influenced musically by James Brady, his mother's cousin. He learned piano, piano accordion, flute and most recently button accordion. He's a member of the Dawn Ceili Band which won the senior Offaly final last year and will compete again this year. James began dancing at seven and last year danced with the Rahan Comhaltas set dancers when they won the Leinster final. James also teaches music and dance - his junior set dancers got to the All-Ireland finals. Rahan Comhaltas recorded a CD called What's Next Lads? with James playing piano, and on Foster and Allen's Christmas video he plays button accordion. James has travelled with Comhaltas to Berlin and went to Prague in March with Sean Norman.
The enthusiasm of Esker Riada's players for their music is clear from the beautiful sound they produce. To get in touch with the band, please contact Denis Ryan.
Published April 2002.
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