Welcome 2020 with the Best of 2019!

Happy 2020 from Burren Fiddle Holidays!

Looking forward to meeting you this year and playing lots of music!

2019 was a busy and diverse year here at Burren Fiddle Holidays. Here are some of the highlights:

The music year began with a brisk dusting-off of the cobwebs in February. January’s working and reflecting on music at home transitioned into some teaching work with children who are learning traditional music locally in Ennis. This was for Music Generation, a national Irish music education programme with the excellent mission of providing accessible and affordable music education in all genres to kids and young people. It is great as always to work with kids, to see the potential in each of them, to facilitate development of skills and inspire love of music wherever possible.

Playing at a musician’s Birthday Session, Lahinch, January 2019
Photo: Bob Singer

March brought the annual Corofin Festival – two miles from home – which thankfully last year was not threatened by the snowy ‘Beast from the East’. I had the pleasure of hearing some great musicians up from Waterford playing with some who are based more locally. On Sunday a blast of Kilfenora music followed, the likes of which is not so often heard these days.  

Playing at an Ennis Session, Early 2019 – photo by Neal Warshaw

During the Corofin festival and also later in the year, I was happy to be able to facilitate classes in other instruments – namely guitar and accordion –  as well as teaching fiddle. For the first time there were two classes running simultaneously at the house and how lovely it was to catch strains of other musical creativity happening in between the fiddle music. If you’re a fiddle player looking for classes and your friend or partner is looking for classes in another instrument, do enquire. Even if you’re not a fiddle player and are interested in staying, or are just passing through the area, send a message and I’ll see what can be organised.

Here’s a video recorded by one of my students back in April…I play two hornpipes, Harvest Home and The Rights of Man. I am playing them for the purpose of learning by ear. I play them very slowly as a set first, and then I play them a little faster. The slow version is plain, while the faster version has some ornamentation and variation. I’m playing my student’s fiddle, as he wanted to know what it sounded like when somebody else plays it!!

June brought the end of the spring teaching-term for some of my younger local students who I teach regularly. If you head over to the Burren Fiddle Holidays Facebook page and click on videos, you’ll see a video of us playing together in Cruises pub, Ennis. Thank you Eoin O’Neill for letting us join the session! It was much appreciated and it was really important as it was the first experience of session playing for the students.

Teaching in July – lovely students and beautiful surroundings near Corofin. Thank you to Colette for the photo.

As this blog increases in size, I realise I cannot begin to mention all the many great sessions I participated in or led last year, not to mention the festivals. Here are a few photos, however, to give a flavour of the season.

Playing viola at a ‘C’ Session during the Willie Clancy Week, Miltown Malbay, July 2019. Photo by Bob Singer.

Sending a big thank you to all of the fiddle-holiday students who came for both introductory and in-depth tuition and who stayed in the farmhouse in 2019. It is always a pleasure to share what music I can, to learn of the traditional music scene in other places and to widen connections in the trad music world.


Session in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, August 2019. Photo by Orla McGuinness
Family wedding in Scotland, September 2019. Photo by T. Ugur.
Ennis Trad Festival, November 2019. Photo by Orla McGuinness

Seasons Greetings from Burren Fiddle Holidays

Greetings from Burren Fiddle Holidays!

The summer busyness continued into October and I’d like to thank those who came on Fiddle Holidays this year, in particular Diane, Ally, Michelle and Mattias. I hope to see you all again in 2019!

Festivals attended included Cruinniú na mBád (August), a musical wooden boat festival in Kinvara, Co. Galway. Also more recently The Pádraig O’Keeffe Festival (October bank holiday) and The Ennis Trad Festival (November). All of which were deserving of posts in their own right – I’ve should write more often!

Some news I’ve been meaning to share for ages is that the summer brought a new viola to the instrument collection, woohoo! I got it from Kate Thompson of Wild Goat Fiddles, Kinvara. It’s a hand-finished Chinese instrument, setup by Kate at her workshop. It was relatively inexpensive and yet it has a lovely sound and is lovely to play! I was so happy when I got it. My friend brought it to my gig, so it was there that I  got my first chance to play it for any length of time, and I couldn’t stop smiling. When I got home I played it until 2am. At the bottom of this post there’s a video of me playing a reel ‘The Watchmaker’ on the viola, inspired by the fiddle player John Weir, who I’ve heard playing it in G minor lately. I think it’s a great tune and I like it in that key.

Some less-exciting news which is also worth mentioning is that I got a new webcam. This greatly improves the video and sound quality when I’m giving Skype Lessons. The Watchmaker video was recorded using said Webcam, as I attempted to practice, test equipment and create new blog content all at once. The result is a slightly-scowling expression, the odd careless note and by the time I got everything kind-of-okay it was dark outside! The microphone input level is quite low to allow for the volume and depth of the viola sound. For the next video I will try raising the level and sitting slightly further away. I initially recorded in a quality which was too high and when I uploaded to Youtube the video corrupted; half the quality again also had the same problem. The result below is now so compressed that the video doesn’t do justice to the webcam quality at all. I include a Webcam screenshot of one of the higher quality videos for reference. P.S. I do smile sometimes, especially when not struggling with technology, and Santa is bringing me a viola shoulder rest.

Burren Fiddle Holidays is now accepting reservations for music-filled holidays in 2019. If you’d like a musical stocking-filler for yourself or a loved one please get in touch! I hope you all have a lovely festive season, filled with plenty of tunes in good company –


P.P.S: Here is the link to Wild Goat Fiddles; http://irish-music.net/wild-goat-fiddles.htm . If you’re looking for a fiddle, viola and/or bow, I would highly recommend a trip to Kate’s workshop.

What’s been going on – The Willie Clancy!

It’s been a busy few weeks here at Burren Fiddle Holidays, I count only 5 nights in the last 21 which weren’t filled with music! Between the Willie Clancy Week, The Munster Fleadh in Ennis and new summer sessions springing up all over the place, we have been absolutely spoiled for choice. Add a few gigs and some teaching as well and it is complete immersion.

Session in the Yard with Úna Ní Fhlannagáin during The Willie Clancy Week, 2018. Photo by Orla McGuinness

This post should really be dedicated to the Willie Clancy Week, which has always been my favourite festival (if I had to choose…). I have been every year since I was 14 years old and it is a habit I hope never to have to break. This year I had a friend and fiddle student staying, she was attending the fiddle classes at the summer school, and we would often meet afterwards for an update and some tunes in Miltown. I myself remember attending classes over 5 years, always with different and diverse teachers. I love to hear about people’s experiences and the different styles and ways of teaching fiddle, especially relevant now that I am teaching myself.

I know most nooks and crannies in the town where one might find music from early afternoon to late into the night, except for

Thanks to Anton Zille for taking this and the cover photo and for calling me over to the session!

some very fancy smoking areas, which have appeared or been expanded on significantly since the advent of the smoking ban! So, to these places I went, and found many a good session over the time I was there; from Tuesday to Saturday. It is great to be in a living tradition where you are part of a continuous cycle; to know you are playing the music of past generations and in doing so to transcend time for a few moments or hours. In this regard special mention should go to a street session I had the privilege of joining on Tuesday, led by Antóin MacGabhann, Seamus Sands, Mick Mulcahy, James Keane and James Kelly, and later joined by Antóin’s daughters Bernadette and Caitlín (to name but a few). Playing outside in Ireland is usually on the cooler side, but our weather these past few weeks has been so amazing that I played from 9pm until after midnight with no mention of temperature. Antóin has been playing and championing outside sessions for many years and I admire his passion for sharing his music and spirit with others in this way. I leave you with an on-street recording of Antóin and Seamus recorded in Miltown by a 14-year-old me. I always admired the sweetness and sensitivity of this playing and the subtle but unrelenting rhythm.

Farrell O’Gara/The Providence Reel – Antóin MacGabhann and Seamus Sands

Clogher beach, burren fiddle holidays

Memories of Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh

fiddle tunes, burren fiddle holidays

Anton Zille and Sasha Hsuczyk

I became friends with Sasha Hsuczyk whilst studying at UL and, it being five years since I’d seen her, I’d been looking forward to re-living our college days. ‘Any interest in going to Kerry?’, she asked. ‘Sure’, I said. ‘Why not?’

I remembered the last time I had been to the Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area) for Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, the spring music school organised by the famous Begley family. On that occasion, I was delighted to spend half an hour speaking Irish. Thanks to Joe from Macroom, who listened patiently and didn’t mind the mistakes. It’s great to find someone who is encouraging when it comes to speaking a language which is not native to you, and no longer widely spoken. In particular, I remember a gorgeous, quiet Sunday afternoon session. Played completely in E-flat, the musicians were Conor Byrne, Caoimhín O’Raghallaigh and Carol Lieder. Giving more concern to finding a place to stay the night and being without transport at the time, I didn’t get to explore the area. I remembered my last look at a winding road down to the sea and knew I wanted to go back sometime.

ballyferriter burren fiddle holidays

Pottery – Ballyferriter

Fast-forward to 2018. We had an international session on the Saturday night; tunes with Sasha (California and Pennsylvania), Anton Zille (Moscow), Caitríona Moskovskova (Moscow), Donal Cullinane (Kerry/Dublin) and Cathy Cook (west Cork). Specifically, we played  Sliabh Luachra tunes, and more specifically, the tunes of legendary fiddle-player Denis Murphy. Distance is no obstacle when it comes to the research Anton has done into Denis’ music! On Sunday I had some free time for a scenic drive and found Clogher beach just as the sun was getting low in the sky. I took the Slea Head route from Drumquin to Ventry, which looks out over the now-deserted Blasket Islands. This route was at times terrifying (rocky cliff to my left, and a sheer drop to the ocean on my right!) but always stunning. From there I made it to Ventry and back to Ballyferriter, where the Begley’s held court for a final evening of tunes for the sets (set dancing) and of general madness. A lady from South Korea sang amazingly in both Korean and Irish, whist Brendan Begley sang a song of emigration – ‘little did she know as she stepped on that liner (…that she would never return to Kerry)’

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Tig an tSaorsaigh, Ballyferriter

music for the sets, burren fiddle holidays

Playing for the sets – Ballyferriter, February 2018

fiddle lessons dresser tea delph old photograph

Winter Music Projects

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. As a colleague when I worked in the then Clare Vocational Education Committee said once, ‘life got in the way’. An expression I instantly committed to memory as being useful in a multitude of situations, requiring no further explanation whilst being easily relatable!

We have had strong winds, snow (yesterday!), various large moons and many dramatic skies. Meanwhile music continues at Burren Fiddle Holidays, with the repertoire for regular classes ranging from various reels (obscure and not so obscure) and jigs to Ed Sheeran and Harry Potter themes for the younger fiddle-playing fans.


Sessions in Corofin village are well established on Friday nights with the usual good mix of tunes and songs.

Whistle tunes burren fiddle holidays

Whistle duet – photo by John Lambe

Mick Nestor has a lovely low F whistle –  and a whole bunch of other whistles –  while I play fiddle and improve my whistle playing skills. Liam Jones backs on guitar and sings beautiful songs and his wife Ellen is a powerful fiddle player. Tony Trundle often joins on fiddle and sings  songs, many are his own compositions. Lots of musicians from the locality come in and help keep the session going.


trad session crowleys corofin burren fiddle holidays

Crowley’s Session, Corofin – photo by Orla McGuinness




In December Frank Kilkelly invited me to take part in his ‘Cabin Session’ series – a series of music videos showcasing many different musical genres and styles recorded from one of his Eco-cabins. Frank is a great musician, who kindly played with me on some demo recordings and he has a guitar tutor out, see http://irishtradguitar.com/.  And if you are ever in Kinvara, Co. Galway, you can book a stay in one or two of his cabins also! Based on a German house boat design, they are bright, energy efficient and have everything you need. We had fun playing these tunes and hope you enjoy the videos, I have pasted them in below:

The second musical project of late is collaboration with my friend Rachel Conlan. We were in college together and recently she moved to Clare with her partner, Alan. Rachel plays fiddle and bouzouki (she can play whistle, concertina, bodhran and banjo too if you ask her!) and Alan plays banjo, whistle, oud and bodhran (apologies both of you if you are reading this – I’m sure there are a few instruments I’ve omitted from the list! Anyway, it’s great that we are now neighbours. While Alan was away touring with the band Goitse, myself, Rachel and Frank played a few tunes on Clare FM. Link is below, we are on for the last 35 minutes or so:


If you get a chance to listen to Rachel and Alan’s CD I can recommend it. A relaxed yet spirited selection of unusual tunes which would be great to have in wider circulation again, it’s aptly titled ‘A Quare Yield’. You can find it here:


Ennis Trad Festival 2017 Poster Burren Fiddle Holidays

Ennis Trad Festival 2017

Music for me is one of the easiest ways of expression. What better than to have someone stay, play tunes, take a few lessons, chat, drink coffee and even organise a session in sitting room of a free afternoon – as has just happened over the Ennis Trad Festival. Thanks Orla! Returning to normal everyday stuff is like coming out of a dream, only with a sense of joy and gratitude for what you have just experienced.

Session by the Range at Burren Fiddle Holidays HQ

Session at Burren Fiddle Holidays HQ

Friday I spent in Corofin, where I have been playing lately in Crowley’s pub. Thursday night and Saturday through to Monday I enjoyed the Ennis Trad Fest. John Lyons launched the festival with a select few, well-chosen words, and a few verses of a song sung with a spirit to match. Saturday was a day for catching up with friends, and going to see Four Men and a Dog – there was plenty dancing! Sunday I listened to Tony O’Connell play tunes to launch his new CD, ‘Live and Well’. It has been in the car CD player ever since – a great balance of tune types, keys and tempos. To me, there is an art-form evident in the order of the tracks as well as in the selection of tunes (and – almost without saying – the playing!). Our evening gig was relaxed, and in the best of company we played until closing time, whist Frankie Gavin, Derek Hickey and Alec Finn were playing a reunion concert around the corner.

Ennis Trad Festival 2017 Burren Fiddle Holidays

Ennis Trad Festival 2017 – Window into another world.

With the launch of the festival came sad news. A friend of Mick’s (a musical comrade from the Corofin session), present at the session the week before, had been killed tragically in a car accident on his return to Boston. It was surreal and in conversation with others we agreed that we need to value every experience whilst we have the chance. Dave was highly creative – an artist and creator of kinetic sculpture. Here is a link to his website, and a video of him talking about one of his sculptures:



RIP Dave Lang.

padraig o keeffe castleisland kerry concertina tab burren fiddle holidays

The Pádraig O’Keeffe Festival

The weather has settled now into a kind of sleepy heaviness. Hibernation is tempting but it’s too early!  Will that be it for storms and strong winds for a while?

That sinking feeling when you leave a festival having no more energy to give kicked in late on Monday. This was the October bank holiday just gone. There was a lot on. Traditional music festivals in Gort (the Cooley-Collins), Castleisland (the Pádraig O’Keeffe, which celebrated it’s 25th year), Doonbeg (Willie Keane), Doolin and Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. No doubt there were many more trad music events which escaped my attention. I hung out in Corofin and Ballyvaughan, before heading to Kerry on the Sunday.

Corbelled Roof of a Church in Adare, Co. Limerick

Corbelled Church Roof in Adare, Co. Limerick – taken on a short break on the journey down to Kerry.

The Pádraig O’Keeffe is a festival I had been to many times over the years. Dad used to drive me up when I still lived in West Cork. I remember the frustration of finally getting my school holidays only to get a severe head cold. I headed off with my fiddle anyway, and remember sitting in Brennan’s bar with a cup of tea and a fever, thinking that surely this was better than feeling sorry for myself at home. I think that was the year I first heard Peadar O’Loughlin play, down from Clare. He passed away last week, I didn’t hear him play many times, but he was a great musician. Another time I remember struggling with Leaving Cert English and Irish study in the hotel foyer before packing it away to allow myself to enjoy the afternoon session. Surely everybody thought I was mad – “would you not just leave the books at home, or if you were that much into study, stay at home yourself?”. It wasn’t ideal, and doubtful as to whether that extra bit of study helped in the end.

The second reel is the Ed Reavy composition, ‘The Hunter’s House’. I need to Tunepal the first!

Coming back to the present, I joined 3 lovely sessions on the Sunday and Monday. I am reluctant to name names, as I am sure most people wouldn’t want to be written about without their knowing! Maybe it’s possible to find a diplomatic balance. Richie Dwyer of the famous Dwyer family was about on the Sunday night and in fine form, moving seamlessly from the fiddle to accordion solos of his own compositions, to singing “a priceless pearl, my County Leitrim queen” with super guitar backing. I wish I could remember the names of the other songs he sang!

McFadden’s Reel. Both tracks in this post were recorded on a phone, so the quality isn’t the best!

The main image for this post is notation written out by Pádraig O’Keeffe sometime before his death in 1963. It was kindly shown to my by my housemate whilst I was a student at the University of Limerick – his mother had been a former student of Pádraig’s. It would have been used in teaching accordion or concertina (not fiddle!). Thanks Conor, for showing this to me!


Burren Fiddle Holidays panorama

Storms and Tunes

So, we’ve just had Ophelia pass over us – they say the worst storm to hit Ireland in 50 years. Here in Corofin we were lucky not to lose power and (I think) the damage did not go past a few fallen trees. The rest of the country is still regaining power in places, cleaning up and assessing the damage. The two days before she arrived were unusually warm and still, and the day after was bright, beautiful and sunny – like a day from 6 weeks earlier. Now it’s gone back to typical October weather, and I’m reading about the next storm, Brian. I hope he’s not too severe as I’m planning to go out walking in the Burren National Park at the weekend!

Tree down after Storm Ophelia at Burren Fiddle Holidays

Small tree down after Storm Ophelia

Leaves and lichen after storm ophelia at burren fiddle holidays

Leaves and lichen on the ground











Last night I played at the Cliffs of Moher Hotel in Liscannor. Met a couple who had eloped from Germany to get married at Hags Head. They had successfully flown in on the morning of the storm, and undertaken the 3 hour drive to their destination in the storm, all without incident – amazing. The only ‘hitch’ was that the registry office was closed due to bad weather, so they had to go on the morning of the ceremony instead. We played ‘Tabhair dom do Lámh’ (Give me Your Hand). Congratulations again if ye are reading this!

I spent some of last week in the company of friends  – musicians Hélène (flute and voice) and Olivier (fiddle). They were lucky to make it back to Brittany safely on the ferry, two days before the storm hit. Here is a photo of us playing (again in the Cliffs of Moher Hotel) with Kirsten Allstaff (flute), Neil Fitzgibbon (fiddle) and Moya Fitzgerald (fiddle) . The photo is by Seanie Hogan:

session at the cliffs of moher hotel liscannor october 2017 burren fiddle holidays

Session at the Cliffs of Moher Hotel, Liscannor, October 2017

We played quite a bit of music together and swapped tunes. Two or three are now on the top of my list to learn/dig deeper into. Here is a link to Hélène‘s Soundcloud profile, where you can hear her singing:

She also makes amazingly refined keys for wind instruments. Here’s a link to her website:


fiddle position hand lessons clare closeup

Laura’s Playing Style

Those already familiar with traditional music may be wondering about Laura’s own playing style. Growing up in West Cork, Laura enjoys playing slides and polkas and has a special place in her heart for Sliabh Luachra music. However, the Clare style is very different and to say that Clare players do not appreciate the slide and polka forms can sometimes be putting it mildly! More simply put, they rarely play those types of tunes. Understanding lift and drive in the different styles of reel playing in Clare (or indeed universally) is a process which Laura has been absorbed in for several years now. Her realisations are invaluable in advising others on ways to achieve the emphasis/sound they are aiming for. The skills needed to put these realisations into words have also enabled Laura to better communicate the style of the tunes she grew up with, making her a more rounded teacher. She plays in a fairly ornamented, smoothly-phrased style. She enjoys playing the various repertoires in the Clare sessions. She also enjoys playing some of the Sliabh Luachra tunes when she gets the chance. Her influences are too many to list, but they include John Coakley, Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford, Brian Rooney, Frankie Gavin and Tommy Peoples.

burren clare limestone pavement fiddle lessons holiday

Sightseeing and Local Activities

Clare is a beautiful, very varied county – from rolling green hills in the east, to the limestone pavement of the Burren to the rugged coastline from Loop Head to the Cliffs of Moher to the Flaggy Shore. The Information Point for the Burren is in Corofin village with the Burren National Park trailhead a further 4 miles away. Activities are many and of all different types – outdoor, indoor, suitable for families, the active or not so active! Burren Fiddle Holidays appreciate that many people like to explore by themselves in their free time and ‘do their own thing’. However, if you are without transport or would prefer a guided tour, Burren Fiddle Holidays may be able to show you some of the local sights.