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!

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!

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!