Tunes from Cathy

Ballydehob’s Cathy Cook travels far and wide around the country to join in with music sessions and share the tunes. It’s strange for her to be confined to home at the moment – as it is for us all! However, she won’t stop playing and has sent in Facebook links to some great videos taken at home – and included footage of her son’s pet pigs! Many thanks, Cathy.

In the first video, Cathy plays two jigs – the first is a Paddy Fahy composition and – as you know by now – Paddy never gave them names. The second is The Woods of Old Limerick. This tune can be found in O’Neil’s Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody:

Secondly, we have a set of unnamed slides from Cathy – and the pigs! According to Cathy they are Kunekunes. I looked them up and find that the breed originated in New Zealand.

The Red-Haired Man’s Wife

Robin Lewando is keeping us nicely supplied with tunes and – today – he’s added a song! It’s called The Red Haired Man’s Wife or, in Irish, Bean An Fhir Rua.

Robin learned this song many years ago, but can’t remember where it came from. I delved into the internet archives and came across a whole lot of information about it, including the theory that’s it’s an allegory of the turbulent relationship between England and Ireland (although I’m not sure that I fully understood the argument on this one). If anyone wants to look into this further, here’s a discussion thread on Mudcat.

Whatever the meaning of the song, it’s a very beautiful air. Here’s an instrumental version from The Chieftains:

Thank you, Robin: it’s great to have songs here. In our normal Ballydehob weekly sessions there would always have been a song or three – from Dick, Robin or Alex. Or many of the visitors who we have welcomed in the summer months – and will welcome again, of course, when normality resumes!

A 15th century Irish Chieftain – Fignin The Red!

Master Piper

TG4 – the national Irish language public service broadcaster – has this month aired a new programme about Liam O’Flynn, probably the greatest exponent of the uilleann pipes in modern times. Liam was born in 1945 and died two years ago (March 2018). He is greatly missed, not only in the world of traditional music, but also in the whole genre of Irish culture. This 90 minute programme is a superbly crafted documentary and manages to put across the breadth of this unassuming man’s commitment to his own artistry as well as his place at the very centre of Irish traditional music. We commend all musicians, and all interested in Ireland’s intellectual heritage to watch it. It’s currently available (in Ireland) on the RTE player by following this link:

The programme is only likely to be on the RTE player for a limited time: don’t miss it!

Our sister site Roaringwater Journal has published two posts which feature Liam O’Flynn and record our own memories of him:

Piper to the End

Man of Music

A Trip to France!

A bit of a diversion! Ballydehob Session regulars will be aware that I try to inject a measure of traditional French dance music into our playing. This is because of my own background: I was playing mainly English and French music when I lived back in Devon. With other players I would go off on musical forays through Brittany and the French Massif Centrale in search of good tunes. We found many! And this was before I had really begun to digest the Irish repertoire. So they are sitting here in my French tuned GC melodeon, always ready to jump out when a change of mood is required… Also, in normal times, we have quite a few French musicians visiting us here in West Cork in the summer months, and they are quite pleased to hear us acknowledging their own traditions.

Firstly, just to be contrary, I usually preface any French interlude with a Spanish air! It’s this one – Anoraxa – and I learned it very many years ago from a bagpiper:

Usually I go straight from this slow air into some traditional French waltzes. Here are three that go well together – the first is La Marianne:

I learned the waltz from the playing of Frédéric Paris back in the day, when we attended the annual St Chartier Festival of instrument makers, music and dance. It was there that I met Eric Martin and commissioned the instrument now owned and played by our friend and neighbour, Oliver – he’s playing it here. This is Fred some 30 years ago:

You would expect Frédéric’s surname to be pronounced in the French way, like the city (Paree) but, oddly it’s actually pronounced in the Anglicised way (Parisss).

Next up, one I have always called The French Waltz, although I know that others who are familiar with it give it different names:

And the last in this set of French waltzes is known as Robin’s Waltz, and it’s a fine tune. I tend to play it in the way I first heard it: AA BB AA and then as many more ‘A’s as you care to put in… It just keeps on going!

I’ll finish off this French session, for the moment with a couple of French ‘Scottisch’ tunes. Supposedly, the history of the Scottisches in France is that they were versions of tunes picked up from Irish and Scots players and adapted to suit traditional dances. So they should be relevant to us! They are lively dances.

Firstly, Scottisch à Virmoux:

Secondly – and often played together with the last one – is Scottisch à Catinaux:

Next time we’ll return to the Irish tradition – but, a plea: we have a lot of subscribers to this site (which is great!) but very few contributors. Please, let us have your tunes. Anything goes, as you can see, and we’re not expecting ‘performances’ – let’s just get lots of tunes on the site so that we can spend our ‘lockdown’ time constructively!

Au Revoir

Encountered on my travels in Guémené-sur-Scorff, Brittany in 1987

Fiddling Away!

Ballydehob Session member Robin Lewando is keeping busy sending in the music! Thanks, Robin. Others please take note: it’s relatively easy to get a few tunes recorded and sent through. Doesn’t matter if it’s repertoire that some of us already know: there are plenty who could be reminded or benefit from learning something new. It doesn’t matter either if you are not from the West of Ireland. In a normal summer we have visitors every week who swell our local group and bring in music from far, far away: it’s great! So please contribute, whoever or wherever you are – it could help us to get through these unprecedented times in good spirit…

Ballydehob, West Cork, under the Covid lockdown – April 2020. It’s a Saturday morning, and the streets would usually be buzzing!

First up from Robin is a tune that he plays by request: Up And About in the Morning. This is an unusual three part jig:


It is suggested that this tune was collected by Breandán Breathnach (1912 – 1985), a piper who learned from Leo Rowsome but also worked for the Department of Education, where he was responsible for collecting tunes from all around Ireland. In his lifetime he collected over 7,000 traditional tunes: many of these would probably not have survived if it was not for Breathnach’s work. Some are contained in the many volumes he published as Ceol Rince na hÉireann (Dance Music of Ireland). These volumes were among my earliest introductions to the Irish tradition way back in the 1970s. As a complete sidetrack, I’ll just direct you to this version of Up And About… played in 2011 by piper Mark Redmond:

And, while we are on Mark Redmond, I’ll also direct you to this post on our sister site Roaringwater Journal: in 2018 we had one of the great musical experiences of our lifetimes when we went to a concert at the National Concert Hall, Dublin (now closed because of the lockdown) and heard Mark Redmond leading the tribute to Liam O’Flynn in a performance of Shaun Davey’s The Brendan Voyage.

Sorry about those distractions, Robin! As you know, I always like to attach a story to a piece of music… Here is Robin again, playing a set of three tunes from County Cork – Ger the Rigger, a polka, and two hornpipes: one from the Johnny O’Leary book, number 17, and the last known as Walsh’s.


A great set, Robin, and a good challenge for us all to learn… I’m finishing off with a view of our village, Ballydehob, during last year’s Jazz Festival, just as a reminder of the way things should be!

Harking Back…

Dick Miles has given us some tunes that he recorded way back, in the hope that we can revive them in our sessions. There is some excellent playing here, on the English concertina: that particular instrument is far less prevalent in Irish traditional music than its cousin, the Anglo. In fact, it was the ‘English Concertina’ that Victorian scientist Charles Wheatstone invented (and patented in 1829). As each key sounds the same whichever way the bellows are moved (unisonoric) – and because of the note layouts on each side of the instrument – it is possible to play fast, smooth runs and complex ornamentation, as well as most keys and chord combinations on the English. The ‘hybrid’ Anglo – which plays different notes when the bellows are pushed or pulled (bisonoric) is more limited in notes, chords and complexity. However, there are concertina ‘maestros’ who can work wonders whichever type of instrument they use. In the end, it’s the music that counts!

How it works: the inside of a Wheatstone English Concertina showing buttons, bellows and reeds

Firstly, an interesting track that has Dick on the English and an Anglo player – Harry Scurfield – providing accompaniment. The tunes are Paddy Fahey’s Jig and The Orphan.


Paddy Fahey (1916 – 2019) was a traditional fiddle player and composer from East Galway. He was enigmatic in that he never made any recordings of his playing, and he never gave his tunes names. Consequently, those tunes which have survived through being learned and played by other musicians are only ever known as Paddy Fahey’s Jig Number 3 – or whatever. I couldn’t find a transcription or a number for the jig on this track. Paddy died at the age of 102.

The Orphan Jig appears in several tune collections, usually written in E minor – as played here by Dick.

Secondly is a musical tour de force! Dick plays a Scottish tune – Lea Rigs – and includes variations on that tune written for Northumbrian Small Pipes by Tom Clough. Sit back and be amazed!


O’Carolan – and a Barn Dance

Susie’s beautiful rendering of Sí Bheag Sí Mhór the other day put me in the mood for more compositions from Turlough O’Carolan. So I got out my Anglo concertina and recorded these two. I play them in our Ballydehob sessions very occasionally, and it would be good if more of us took up the repertoire.


First up is a well-known one, Lord Inchiquin. I am playing this in the key of A, which is unusual, but it suits my instrument. This melody is said (by Donal O’Sullivan Carolan The Life, Times and Music of an Irish Harper 1958) to be the only tune that O’Carolan composed while visiting Munster. He stayed with the Wrixon family, Ballygiblin, near Lombardstown, Co Cork sometime before 1720. The Wrixons became the Wrixon Bechers and then the Bechers, who have been extant in West Cork up to present times. Lord Inchiquin, however, is likely to have been the 4th Earl of Inchiquin William O’Brien (1700 – 1777), whose family seat was Dromoland Castle, Co Clare. The O’Briens claim ancestry going back to Brian Boru, the 10th century High King of Ireland. Here he is:

Secondly I am playing O’Carolan’s Planxty Maggie Browne. This jig – in G – has been the subject of much debate, some claiming that it was written by Scottish fiddler Niel Gow (1727 – 1807). No matter – I’m prepared to hand it to Turlough, although I’m probably playing it a shade too fast . . . It would sound more sedate and stately, perhaps, on the harp. I can’t find out who the Maggie (or Margaret) Browne is.


Lastly, it’s back to my melodeon for a request from a Ballydehob Session member. I have been playing this 4-part barn dance, Pearl O’Shaughnessy’s, for quite a while now in our session but with little uptake. Probably, I suspect, because it’s in C, which isn’t a popular key nowadays for musicians (although it once used to be). But I think it sounds good in the range; I learned it from East Clare concertina player Mary Macnamara, whose playing style came down through generations of her family, and is quite liberal in the use of keys. In the session I would play the whole tune through three times: AA BB CC DD etc.


Susie’s Tunes

We were treated to Oliver Nares playing his Eric Martin melodeon on an earlier post – here. Today we have some wonderful contributions from Susan Nares who is a hive of musical industry up above us in Stouke townland. I’m delighted that Susie sent in a piece by Turlough O’Carolan, the travelling Irish harpist and composer who lived from 1670 to 1738. Turlough was blinded by smallpox at the age of eighteen and was then ‘apprenticed to a good harper’. At the age of twenty-one he was given a horse and a guide, and set out on his travels through Ireland composing songs for patrons. In his life he was following the tradition of the ancient Irish bards, who travelled from family to family, using poetry and story (and sometimes song) to pass on geneaology and history. It was a much respected profession, and the bards would be given free food and lodging wherever they went. I hope we will get many more O’Carolan tunes on these posts.

O’Carolan pictured on an Irish 50 Punt banknote

Susie’s first piece is played – appropriately – on her harp – Sí Bheag Sí Mhór. The title is said to mean ‘Little Hill and Great Hill’:


According to the traditional Irish whistle player L E McCullough:

. . . This piece was inspired by the folklore that surrounds two hills in Co Leitrim said to be inhabited by the spirits of ancient warriors whose mortal bodies lie entombed within the hills. From time to time these spirits revive their quarrel . . .

Oliver has sent us some photographs taken of Susie playing – they are fascinating. He says “I was attempting to photograph the music as well as the musician”. Here’s one to go with the O’Carolan tune:

Susie’s next track contains two pieces on the flute – Christmas Day in the Morning and The Cliffs of Moher. Christmas Day in the Morning is attributed to a Shetland fiddler, Fredamann Stickle, who used to play this tune to the laird every Christmas. Susie’s version is very individual – and graceful. The Cliffs of Moher is a jig we hear in the Ballydehob Session quite often and we should all have it under our belts. Thank you, Susie, for these great tunes – and for your performances!


Susie on flute, by Oliver Nares

Fiddle Tunes

Ballydehob Session regular Robin Lewando has sent in two great fiddle tunes for us to learn – excellent playing! Thank you, Robin – keep those tunes coming…

First up is Stonecutter’s Jig:

Robin tells us that this tune is taken from a 1909 collection by Patrick Weston Joyce (1827 – 1914):

Joyce was descended from Seán Mór Seoighe, a 17th century stonemason from Connemara, County Galway, so this tune is an appropriate choice! Seán Mór Seoighe was also an ancestor of the writer James Joyce. PW was born and brought up in the Ballyhoura Mountains, on the borders of counties Limerick and Cork. Described as a ‘key cultural figure of his time’ Joyce was one of the reorganisers of the national school system in Ireland in 1856, but also known for his 3 volume collection The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places, and his studies in Irish language, folklore and traditional music.

I wasn’t intending to put music scores on this site, as there are comprehensive resources elsewhere (eg, but in this case the only example of this tune appears to be the one above, from the Joyce Collection, so I have included it. Robin’s rendition is faithful to this original. Here is the only photograph I could find of PW:

Next up from Robin is a reel, Cottage in the Grove:

This tune is included by Joyce, but also appears in a collection from Francis Roche (1866–1961): Irish Airs, Marches & Dance Tunes, 1912.

Roche was a violinist, pianist and dancer, and a teacher of music and dance. He, his father and two brothers ran a family academy in Limerick city. From about 1890, Francis was engaged in compiling and arranging a collection of Irish music for publication. This first appeared in January 1912. The contents were noted down from oral tradition and from manuscripts of his father and others.

Francis Roche

Many thanks for these, Robin: they are seldom heard tunes that certainly deserve a place in our sessions, both real and virtual! It’s also great to get away from the squeezeboxes for a while… How about some contributions now from flute, banjo or whistle – I know you are out there!!

Ollie’s Tune

Oliver Nares is our near neighbour, living up in the hills above us just outside Ballydehob. He’s taken up the squeezebox fairly recently, and is getting really good. He’s sent me one of the tunes he has mastered:

Oliver’s ‘melodeon’ is in G and C French tuning (like mine!) It was hand made made by Eric Martin who is based in Maxent, Ille-et-Vilaine department, Brittany.

This lament – Battle of the Somme – is said to have been composed by Pipe Major William Laurie of the 8th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, following the infamous First World War offensive which lasted for 141 days. It ended on December 15, 1916, with over a million casualties on both sides. By the end of the campaign the Allies had advanced  just seven miles.

We Are Making A New World by war artist Paul Nash

Many thanks, Oliver! I particularly like your use of basses in your arrangement. Keep sending in the tunes!