Hello from Burren Fiddle Holidays. December 1st marked ‘an end’ of sorts to the second Coronavirus lock-down in Ireland. This one was as strict as the very first back in March, but without the closure of the schools and universities. It’s been good that these have been able to stay open. The middle-ground restrictions-roll-out which we have moved to now seems so much more free again as we swing backwards and forwards between restriction levels. As we await the vaccine I think many of us in the effected industries will become strategists out of necessity as we try to plan for differing eventualites.
As a teacher I’ve been organising my first ever online Christmas fiddle recital. Interestingly this format would never have entered my mind previously as many of my students locally would have been able to meet in person. Now that we are all online, it seems a great way to connect all of us, regardless of which countries we live in; location is no longer a barrier. I’m really looking forward to it!
In familiarising myself with an online format which involves many people as opposed to my usual format of one-to-one teaching, I am opening a window to other opportunities for group music. I’m also planning to improve my video making skills and knowledge of sound recording. During a time when many things are in limbo, we need to branch out as well as sustain, or to branch out to sustain.
Hello from Burren Fiddle Holidays in continuing times of Coronavirus. As I read over my last post, I was surprised how fearful and unsettled it sounded in places; by how complete the lock-down was, such that the act of four people being allowed to meet outside again was suddenly liberating. By now restrictions on numbers allowed to gather together have been revised many times, most recently yesterday, which marked two weeks of the schools and universities having reopened.
Life is still slower than pre-virus, however many pre-virus habits have returned. Wood-chopping took a break for the summer as the weather was warmer, and the electric oven is now in use again. The summer weather wasn’t as good as for the total lock-down of spring but there were still moments for some outside music sessions and conversations. Thank you to my friends for organising these and keeping me sane as a result! The car got it’s certificate of road-worthiness and it is back on the road, balancing the less-travel-is-good-for-the-environment with the need to get out. Re bread making, I imagine flour producers are doing better than they have in many years as the increased interest in cooking and baking seems to endure! Buying new things is still at an all-time low, even for me, and grocery shopping is no longer something stressful, just something routine for which you have to wear a face mask. It’s amazing what you get used to.
We are now allowed to have up to 50 people indoors, so some theatres, galleries and venues are going ahead with staging socially distanced and managed events. The ‘Wet’ pubs as they’re calling them – the pubs which don’t serve food – should be allowed to reopen on the 21st of this month – the ones outside of Dublin, that is. Those which do open have to allow for distancing and it’ll be table-service only for a maximum group size of 6 people from 3 households. As far as I understand live music is allowed, however there won’t be much space for us musicians – ruling out anything resembling the former glory of the music session. As I write this I don’t want to sound bleak, however; as we have a government survival strategy for ‘living with Coronavirus’ over the next six months, it is clear we need one for society too. From a music standpoint, I’ve been following a group called the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) who have been doing their best to address this from an industry perspective; they’ve been requesting support packages which would enable financial survival for musicians, artists, event managers etc as well as the continuation of creativity in a restricted setting; so far success has been mostly for the larger venues and record producers…it is hoped that some kind of artist package will become available for the independent gigging musicians too.
Closer to home, the Burren Fiddle Holidays survival package revolves around teaching; since the accommodation offered as part of the fiddle holiday package is shared, this will remain closed for the moment. In-person fiddle holiday tuition is available, though I know it has been too risky for the most part for you all to get here! I’m teaching most of my regular students online this year, however in-person lessons are available too with safety precautions. I have hand-sanitizer, soap and anti-bacterial wipes (masks are available too if you would like) and I will have wiped down the chairs and door handles in preparation for your arrival. If you’d like to book in for lessons – online or in person – let me know. There are still some spaces left for the autumn term.
Lastly, I wanted to write that the individual survival package also revolves around keeping the music and conversation going and – even though restricted – to be social whenever we can. I know it’s Ireland and winter is approaching – that’ll mostly mean the end of outdoor music – so we’ll have to play indoors in tiny groups! It might take a bit of extra effort to organise and get motivated but it will be worth it. Hope to see you soon.
Hello everyone. I woke up this morning with a sense of clarity and lots of ideas for a news update from Burren Fiddle Holidays HQ – it’s about time! It’s been just over 8 weeks since the schools and universities closed here in Ireland and slightly less since we’ve been in lock-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When this hit on March 13, I’d been so excited by the promise of my last post. It was days from St. Patrick’s Day, typically the signal of the start of the tourist season in Ireland – also of better weather, festivals and music gatherings to come after a long winter. I’d been looking forward to hosting fiddle holidays and guests from many different parts of the world. What followed for me – and for many of us, though I know our circumstances may differ substantially – has evoked a whole range of emotions and questions.
Life here is simplified and I am lucky that Burren Fiddle Holidays is located on my neighbour’s farm. We had a 2km distance allowance for exercise (now extended to 5km), but on the farm 2k is more like 3 or 4km when you are already quite a distance from the main road! Thankfully the Coronavirus did not halt the change in seasons. There have been lambs, calves and a new foal born. The grass is growing like mad. There are hares in the fields and all of nature seems to appreciate the cleaner air and the peace and quiet. There are more bees and insects than I’ve seen in years, and we have had only about 3 days of rain since this started. 3 days in 8 weeks? Amazing.
The car still has petrol in the tank despite having been filled over two months ago. And its National Car Test which indicates road-worthiness has been out of date since the end of March, but it doesn’t matter – the test centres are closed. Things are not running by the book. My oven is broken (there are actually steps under way to fix this!) but in the meantime I’ve been using the solid-fuel range. I’ve been gathering wood from the hedges each day to burn, which also heats the main room in the house and provides hot water. I’ve used it to make soda bread, as it’s now more difficult (though not impossible) to get the strong flour I use for the bread machine. Twice I thought I might like to replace an item of clothing which had worn out, so I looked on EBay for some which were pre-loved . Not finding anything that I wanted, I thought better to make do with what I still have. I have a very basic lifestyle anyway, but this time of lock-down is a test in sustainability. What do we really need to live?
I’ve been learning some new tunes, including some of Tommy Peoples compositions – thanks Ken for the copy of Tommy’s book. Here’s ‘The Fairest Rose’. I learnt this in 2006 during Tommy’s class at the Willie Clancy Summer School. It is still a work in progress.
Emotionally there was the initial thought that ‘weren’t the school closures very sudden and a bit drastic’? How would lock-down work on our comparatively small island? Things in those first few days still looked the same, but the feeling in the air could be described as apocalyptic sci-fi. A couple of days later came the shock realisation; people are getting really sick and many are dying. Our health service is under pressure on a normal day, so how is it going to cope with a pandemic which is growing exponentially? I quickly understood that we need to play our part, however small, to follow restrictions and limit the number of cases that our exceptional and already over-worked healthcare workers have to deal with. Going shopping for groceries has become a mission to be planned like never before, and the big supermarkets are a bit of a minefield involving social-distancing logistics which others sometimes don’t adhere to, and high levels of stress. The idea of making a trip like this on my own makes me a little uncomfortable. This is somewhat ironic, when there have been times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to escape my immediate surroundings.
Here’s a clip of me playing some polkas. Excuse the lateness of the hour, the wood-gathering clothes from earlier in the day, and the Coronavirus hair style! I recorded this in memory of Maurice O’Keeffe, whose festival I would have been at this past Easter. The tune names I have for the first two are Bill the Weaver’s (one of them) and The Glountane Monument polka (one of two). The third is from Martín O’Connor’s first album.
Economically, many of us have been unable to work at all. Even as the first stage of restrictions lift on May 18, many will still not be able to. Some friends who work in the arts and the hospitality industry wonder if they will have to find different types of work in the meantime, and have started planning. This is of course difficult, when you realise that thousands of people are in the same situation. I really miss playing music sessions, hosting guests and students and teaching in person! I have been very lucky in so far as some of my regular students switched over to online lessons and I have been able to work on a part-time basis. Thank you to my students! Until recently, it felt like talking about work or financial survival would be insensitive, considering so many others were fighting to survive at all. However, We – the able (touch wood) – need to be able to survive ourselves in order to look after and care for those who need it most. Neither are emergency payments from the government sustainable in the long-term. What with music being such an irrepressible form of expression, I’m looking forward to working face-to-face as soon as it is safe to do so. After the 18th, all going to plan, we will be able to have socially-distanced gatherings of up to four people outside. I am anticipating classes and sessions here at the farm, facilitated by this most beautiful weather we’ve been having. August is suggested as the month when some of the cultural things may be able to start happening again. I post below an Irish Times article by John G. O’Dwyer written in early March. It is about activity holidays in Ireland and features Burren Fiddle Holidays. I initially felt I couldn’t post this, but I share it now as something to look forward to when we have a better understanding of the virus and how to manage it:
I leave you, hoping that you are all safe and well, and sending my thoughts to those of you who have suffered under the effects of the pandemic. For anyone who is in need of distraction and has always wanted to learn fiddle, or would like to improve and take a few online lessons, please do get in touch through the contact page or email firstname.lastname@example.org directly. I would be delighted to hear from you.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)’
Tig an tSaorsaigh, Ballyferriter
Playing for the sets – Ballyferriter, February 2018
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 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.
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:
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 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 – 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:
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 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!