Music For Our Times

This is a Swantonstown Sessions ‘one-off’. I’m putting up a link to a continuing project set up by Music Networks in Ireland to commission new works in all genres, including traditional music. Here’s a track of a piece written by the brilliant concertina player (and traditional dancer) Caitlín Nic Gabhann – a slow march called An Ciúnas (Stillness). It’s played by Caitlín on Anglo concertina with Ciarán Ó Maonaigh on the fiddle:

Great music! And a wonderful enterprise to help players who are losing out at this time because of the Covid19 restrictions. Three time All-Ireland champion on concertina, Caitlín would normally be a regular performer at festivals and in concert halls across the world. From a strong family musical background, and writing tunes since the age of ten, Caitlín gained first class honours at both University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin.

She Moved Through the Fair

One of the great Irish airs played for us on the whistle by Ballydehob Session regular Swithun Goodbody – She Moved Through the Fair:


The beautiful tune is well known as a song, and has a complicated history, involving various claims as to its composition. The song tells the story of two lovers who meet at the fair:

. . . The narrator sees his lover move away from him through the fair, after telling him that since her family will approve, “it will not be long, love, till our wedding day”. She returns as a ghost at night, and repeats the words “it will not be long, love, till our wedding day”, intimating her own tragic death (possibly at the hands of her disapproving family), as well as the couple’s potential reunion in the afterlife . . .

It’s a haunting song, and a haunted story. The melody is almost unworldly, and has been described as ‘Eastern’ in tone.

The Co Longford poet Padraic Colum (1881 – 1972) claimed to have written the majority of the words, having heard a traditional singer reciting one verse. This was challenged in a lengthy correspondence in the Irish Times in 1970 when collector Proinsias Ó Conluain (1919 – 2013), said he had recorded a song called “She Went Through the Fair”, given to him by an elderly singer who had learned it as a young man from a basket-weaver in Glenavy, Co Antrim.

In my opinion by far the best rendering of this song is by Margaret Barry (1917 – 1998) – top photo, who features in a Roaringwater Journal post here. When Margaret was once asked where she had got this song (presumably by someone hoping to sort out the controversy) she explained that she had learned it from a recording by Count John McCormack, made in the 1940s! I can’t resist sharing with you one of Margaret’s versions of the song, recorded in the mid 1950s:

Thank you, Swithun, for allowing me to expand on one of my favourite folk singers, but also providing us with these further fine tunes, on the fiddle: – Only Our Rivers Run Free by Mickey MacConnell (of Co Fermanagh, Dublin and Co Kerry), followed by another version of O’Carolan’s Sí Bheag Sí Mhór.


As an encore we have from Swithun a great jig which always goes with a swing – Smash the Windows (also known as Roaring Jelly):


Remembering Derek…

Derek Hare (above) born November 1925, died Easter 2018″…playing music to the end…”

Derek was a stalwart member of the Ballydehob Sessions, ever since he arrived in West Cork in 1990. He was brought up in Scotland (where he spoke Scots Gaelic), and lived in Norfolk, Hampshire and Leicester before coming to Ireland. But he had many adventures in between. He was in the armed forces in Word War II, serving in Finland and N Norway. During a period in Winterton, Norfolk, he met up with Bob Roberts (who owned and skippered the last commercial sailing barge to trade in the UK) and Sam Larner, both of whom were involved in a lively traditional music scene in East Anglia. Derek had many stories to tell about that particular period in his life, and his own adventures in traditional music.

Bob Roberts (left) at the wheel of his Thames Sailing Barge Cambria (peter Kennedy Collection), and (right) Sam Larner’s Topic album recorded in 1958

As a little Sessions project I would like to invite all Ballydehob Session members (or anyone else who knew Derek in his lifetime) to contribute something to these pages. Either tunes that you know he played or liked, or any stories about him. Please send them in and we’ll put up a future post featuring them.

I’m kicking off with two waltzes which I often heard him play in our sessions: The Marino Waltz – composed by John Sheahan of The Dubliners and (Derek’s own favourite) Margarets’ Waltz – composed by Pat Shuldham Shaw. I’m playing them in G at a reasonably sedate 100 BPM – good for dancing to!

It’s Spring – Look Out For The Bluebells!

Finola Finlay took this photo only the other day on the Greenmount Road, near Ballydehob!

With the Covid19 lockdown upon us, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the natural world carries on regardless. Cathy Cook has brought some fresh air and spring sunshine with two tunes on this Facebook link – The Grassy Path and The Bluebells are Blooming:

Both of these jigs were written by Michael Dwyer, who was born near Ardgroom on the Beara Peninsula, West Cork, in 1942 – one of a family of nine children whose father, John Dwyer, played accordion and fiddle while his mother, Kathleen Mc Carthy, (whose family came from Skibbereen) played accordion and sang. The family therefore grew up steeped in the musical traditions of Cork and Kerry. Michael became an All-Ireland champion tin whistle player, but was also a prolific composer. His twenties were spent in London where he met and played with every well-known Irish musician in that vibrant scene, and absorbed their music. Michael returned home to the Beara when his father died in 1972.

…While in London  Michael would have been walking along the street … “humming away and composing to himself”. Back at home, he often walked the roads of the locality especially those between Ardgroom and Castletown. He saw the beauty in nature and felt the rhythm of the natural world like others could not. To him it was as if the rocks and heather, the streams and ferns, nestled between mountain and sea were like a fairy land that lightened his step as he strode along … How could a man with music in his heart not share it?

(These extracts are from an extensive biography of Michael Dwyer on the Irish Tune Composers site)

…Michael was a typical Munster style player, and the jigs and reels which were his favourites were played alongside hornpipes, slow airs, polkas, slides and set dances. After returning from England he was a regular session player in the Beara region and in his own words, always willing to “go for a tune”. He would sometimes play at home and take the opportunity to play in many different keys for his own enjoyment. Even though he never taught formally, and could not read music he sometimes gave lessons on a one to one basis especially in his aunt’s house in Castletown. Even though he could be regarded as a quiet man he was very fond of company and was never shy about playing…

 …Michael Dwyer was drowned in Ardgroom harbour on the 9th of June 1997. He was only 55 years of age. His family and close friends still mourn his loss. He was buried in Eyeries cemetery on a calm June morning. By the graveside his good friend Joe Burke played the haunting slow air Sean O Duibhir an ghleanna (John O’Dwyer of the glen). You could hear the strains of the accordion dance their way across the “Green fields of Beara” and melt into the broad Atlantic…

Thank you, Cathy, for taking us on this little journey through our beautiful landscapes and musical traditions.

History and Landscape, Ardgroom, Beara Peninsula

A Halfpenny for a Jig…

A pair of jigs from Robin Lewando. The first is called Wild One and was written by Mer Boel from Ithica, New York, as a ‘contra dance’. What is a contra dance? I found this definition in the newsletter of the Santa Barbara Country Dance Society and I take no responsibility for it whatsoever!

…English country dancing gained a certain legitimacy in the 17th century … The French, who thought that they invented country dancing (as well as anything else culturally significant), and who were miffed at the notion that the English should receive credit for anything, converted the name ‘country dance’ to French contredans (which conveniently translates as ‘opposites dance’), then turned around and claimed that the English term was a corruption of the French! Later, the French term evolved in the USA into contra dance

I am sure you are all much the wiser! But it’s a terrific tune, so why should we worry?

Robin follows this with another fine jig – The Mad Jig, also known as Pat Mahon’s. Give them a listen:


Robin has usefully given us the following background to The Mad Jig, gleaned from the excellent website The Session:

…This tune was composed by the blacksmith, John Mosey McGinley, who travelled throughout Donegal. Paddy’s father Denis heard both John Mosey and his brother Paddy play. John Mosey, who was born in 1840 and died early in this century, sold secondhand clothes from a horse and cart. He taught fiddle tunes at the following rates: two pence for a hornpipe, a penny for a reel and a halfpenny for a jig, highland, march or mazurka. The title was given by a key figure in the musical and social life of Teelin, Mickey Golly (Gallagher), an accordion player who died in 1986…

How wonderful to now have the relative value of our Irish tunes enumerated. The pic at the top, by the way, is a rendering of Tartini’s Dream, by Louis Léopold Boilly (1761 –1845). One night, composer Giuseppe Tartini dreamed that the devil appeared before him and offered his services, and so Tartini ordered him to play on the violin. It was such an exquisitely beautiful solo it took Tartini’s breath away. Upon awakening, he feverishly tried to transcribe what he experienced in his dream. The piece is now his best known work: the Devil’s Trill Sonata. It is an enduringly difficult piece. It was rumoured Tartini had an extra finger on his left hand to allow him to play the piece…

Just how many fingers do you have, Robin? You do all know, I’m sure, that the fiddle is the Devil’s instrument?

Flute Tunes from Antje

Two more really lovely tunes played on the wooden flute by Antje Guest: I have never heard them played in the Ballydehob Sessions, so great for us to learn.

They are both Barn Dances – one of my favourite trad tune types – relatively neglected. First up is The Dances at Kinvarra, Composed by Ed Reavy (1897–1988). Ed was born in Barr na gCnó, Knappagh, Co Cavan and emigrated to Philidelphia in 1912, staying there for the rest of his life.


The second Barn Dance has the title Are You Maloney. I have searched high and low but cannot find any mention of this title in any of the standard tune books, or on tune sites. It’s a great tune, though! Perhaps someone can enlighten us…


Antje’s flute has a lovely sound and I was delighted to learn that it was made by Martin Doyle – who is an old friend of ours. In fact, Finola grew up with Martin in Bray, Co Wicklow. He now has his workshop near Liscannor in Co Clare. He pursues the sourcing of sustainable timber – particularly in the case of African Blackwood (Mpingo as it is known in east Africa) which is the most popular of the woods used for making flutes and wind instruments. This has led to his being involved in several African Blackwood conservation projects. Here’s some pics taken when we last visited him in Clare:

Finola with Martin Doyle in Liscannor, Co Clare and – below – raw materials taking shape in his workshop

From Uwe

Session in The Sandboat, Ballydehob 2015

We are very pleased that Ballydehob Session regular Uwe Hage has sent us some tunes on his flute!  Uwe plays a wooden instrument, hand made by Eugene Lamb in Fanore, Co Clare in the 1970s. More on Eugene Lambe in a minute, but let’s hear the tunes. First up is an air by Turlough O’carolan – Eleanor Plunkett:


…Nellie of the flowing hair,
eyes the colour of green grass
And always up with the day, you lovely sunny one…

O’Carolan, again, composed Madam Maxwell:


O’Sullivan (1983) writes that Madam Maxwell was probably Judith Barry (1699-1771) of Newtown Barry, Co Wexford, daughter of James Barry. She married John Maxwell of Farnham, Co Cavan, in 1719, who later became MP for Cavan (from 1727-1756), High Sherriff (1739), and, upon succeeding to the estate of Farnham on the death of a cousin, became in 1756 the Baron Farnham of Farnham, Co Cavan, thus transforming Madam Maxwell into Lady Farnham.

Lastly from Uwe (for now) is a tune which we do hear in the session on occasion. It’s a hornpipe: The Boys of Blue Hill:


The question is – where is The Blue Hill? Knockgorm (or the Irish An Cnoc Gorm) literally means ‘Blue Hill’, and you will find these in Co Cavan, Co Kerry (near Tralee), close by us in Bantry, West Cork (opposite Whiddy island) and even – it has been suggested – Chicago! But nobody seems to know which one, or who ‘The Boys’ were… If anyone knows for sure, please drop us a line.

Regarding wooden flutes, Eugene Lambe was one of the first to revive making traditional flutes in Ireland, beginning around 1977. In time he also turned to making uilleann pipes. Here is an archive clip from RTE in 1984. I can’t find out whether he is still making, but in 2013 the following was written about him:

…Eugene has been many things: marine biologist, consort of beautiful women, historian, singer and writer of wonderful songs, etc. He moved to Kinvarra (Co Clare), where he built a boat … and now sails the world…

Maybe that’s exactly where he is now – sailing the world. But here he is also, in 2013, talking about the responsibilities of playing Irish traditional music:

Tunes from Swithun

Swithun Goodbody is a Ballydehob session regular and frequently contributes new repertoire to the group. We are pleased to have some tracks from him in this collection.

Firstly, a slow air with a story attached: Mná na hÉireann (Women of Ireland):


If you ever saw Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film Barry Lyndon you will have heard this: the recurring love theme from that film is played by the Chieftains and taken from one of their earliest albums (1973) – incidentally the first to feature Derek Bell on the harp. The music was composed by Seán Ó Riada to words by the Ulster poet Peadar Ó Doirnin (1700 – 1769):

…Tá bean in Éirinn a bhronnfadh séad dom ‘s mo sháith le n-ól
‘S tá bean in Éirinn ba bhinne léithe mo ráfla ceoil ná seinm téad
Tá bean in Éirinn, ‘s níorbh fhearr léi beo
Mise ag léimneach nó leagtha I gcré is mo thárr faoi fhód
Tá bean in Éirinn a bheadh ag éad liom mur’ bhfaighfinn ach póg
Ó bhean ar aonach, nach ait an scéala, is mo dháimh féin leo
Tá bean ab fhearr liom nó cath is céad dhíobh nach bhfagham go deo
Is tá cailín spéiriúil ag fear gan bhéarla, dubhghránna cróin
Tá bean in Éirinn a bhronnfadh séad dom is mo sháith le n-ól
Tá bean in Éirinn s’ba bhinne léithe mo ráfla ceoil ná seinm téad
Tá bean in Éirinn is níorbh fhearr léi beo
Mise ag léimneach nó leagtha I gcré ‘s mo thárr faoi fhód…


Next, Swithun plays two Kerry polkas Ballydesmond Number 2 followed by Knockabower:


Knockabower – a lovely three-part polka – goes by a variety of names. It’s most likely to be from Knockaboul, in the Sliabh Luachra area on the Cork / Kerry borders, although there is a suggestion that the name should be Knocknabowl – from the Irish `Cnoc na buaile’ – The hill of the milking place.

Swithun has also given us Brian Boru’s March on the tin whistle:


Battle of Clontarf – painted by Hugh Frazer, 1826

Brian Boru (you’ll find him here) died at the Battle of Clontarf on 23rd April 1014. That’s exactly 1,006 years ago! So this is a timely post…

Swithun lives just over the hill from us, so I can happily say ‘Thank you, neighbour!’

The Glen of Aherlow

Robin Lewando – one of our most prolific contributors – has sent in two really beautiful tunes, and I’m using the title of the second one – The Glen of Aherlow – as an excuse for putting up the photograph above, which shows what a spectacular place it is. The Glen is in Co Tipperary, which is the largest landlocked county in Ireland, situated between the Knockmealdown, Galtee and Silvermines Mountains. It’s a place full of history.

Robin starts with a slow air Árd Tí Cuain which comes from an old Gaelic song of exile:

By myself I’d be in Ard Ti Chuain
Where the mountains stand away
And ’tis there I’d let the Sundays pass
In a quiet glen above the bay

But my heart is weary all alone
And it sends a lonely cry
To the land that sings above my dreams
And the lonely Sundays pass me by.

Robin then adds the reel The Glen of Aherlow:


The reel was composed by a famous traditional musician, Sean Ryan (1919–1985) who was born in Nenagh, Tipperary but wrote most of his music when living in the village of Rosenallis, Co Laois, in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. We are fortunate to have some surviving documentary film of Sean’s playing – here are two sets (which finish up with the Glen of Aherlow reel) from 1982:

Anyone who wants to know more about the history hiding away in the Glen of Aherlow can look up these two posts from our sister site, Roaringwater Journal:

A Secret in the Glen of Aherlow


Searching out Péacáin

County Tunes

Mark Geddis used to come to the sessions in Ballydehob many years ago: he lives a few kilometres from the town boundary. He has sent in two jigs and I think they are great! I really like Mark’s relaxed fiddle style – it sounds so natural. I have called this post ‘County Tunes’ because the first  – Clare Jig – should come from Co Clare (as you might expect), while the second – Shandon Bells – should be from Co Cork.


In fact ‘Clare Jig’ is more usually known as The Mug of Brown Ale, and associated with traditional players from Counties Galway and Longford, among others.

The original Shandon Bells are housed in the Church of St Anne in the Shandon district of Cork City, built in the early 1700s. It’s worth a visit because you can climb the tower and play the bells yourself on a carillon! (That’s a series of hammers attached to ropes forming a kind of keyboard). But the jig tune… It seems to have many incarnations and is particularly associated with Joe Bane from Feakle, Co Clare! I learned it myself (in the key of G) from concertina player Mary Macnamara who is also from Clare. Some say the name should be ‘Shannon Bells’… It all gets very confusing when you start to ferret out tune names and sources, but none of it really matters, as it’s the music that’s important. Many thanks, Mark.

Shandon St Anne’s, Cork City, and ‘playing’ the bells!