The Island of Saints and Scholars

Clare, Galway, Conemara, Sligo, Dublin
The instruments

A trip to Ireland often reserves the pleasant surprise of an encounter with musicians playing simply for pleasure, their own or that of their close friends. That is when one regrets not having brought along a cassette recorder !

This record is devoted to traditional music, such as it is practised in Ireland today following successive revivals and the country's recent history. The leading groups of the 70's and 80's had many followers and instrumental music is flourishing as never before.

Music is an inherent part of life in Ireland. In many cases, a musician's first musical experience is within the family circle. One frequently comes across whole families involved in traditional music, song and dance. The phenomenon of the singing pubs appeared in the sixties and was followed by that of the traditional music sessions.

Today, more and more pubs invite a few musicians (particularly during the summer) who find themselves playing around a table or, occasionally, on a small stage. Over the past few years the practice of paying one or two musicians, who lead the session and who are likely to attract other players, has developed. Spontaneous sessions still take place of course, generally in the country and outside the summer holiday period ; simple encounters between musicians and an occasion for the public to hear the music ! Some musicians also play for the booming record industry and in groups which export this music to the United States, Australia, Europe...

County Clare

The tremendous enthusiasm for traditional music in County Clare is concentrated in its capital, Ennis - a haven for a great number of musicians from all over Ireland.

Kevin Crawford, James Cullinan

Kevin Crawford is the finest example of the above : he left his native England to go to a wedding in this area and never returned home ! Kevin who is one of the most promising flute players of his generation, wonderfully sociable and of incomparable energy, is very much in demand in the area. He plays with The Moving Cloud and has recently brought out a solo CD ("D Flute Album"). James Cullinan is a fiddle player from the Ennis area.

Martin Ryan, Marcus Moloney, Seán Fitzpatrick

English domination was first established in the port towns of Ireland. Despite this, traditional music is still alive in these towns, as witnessed by this trio (accordion, banjo, guitar). Martin and Marcus are from Limerick, while Seán is from the Falls Road in Belfast, the famous Catholic area of the city. They play three reels in which their exuberance is surpassed by a distinctive cohesiveness.

Eithne Ní Donaile, John Weir

Eithne is a young harp player from Ennis, who learned by ear in the sessions. This musical background, unusual for a harpist, led her to appreciate the role of the accompanist, whereas most harpists are, above all, soloists.

John is a native of Belfast and lives in Ennis with his wife Eithne. His calm style and his tunes are closer to his adoptive region, County Clare.

Garry Shannon, Maurice Griffin

Garry is one of a very well known family of musicians from Corofin, in west Clare. He is very creative in exploring new ways of playing the concert flute.

Maurice's sisters, solo step dancers, gave him the taste for percussions. From dancing, Maurice moved on to play the bodhrán and the bouzouki. All bodhrán parts on this recording are played by him.

John Lyons

John lived in Kanturk, County Cork, until the age of 20, when he emigrated to England. He has now lived in County Clare for 20 years. It was in England, for the well known TOPIC record company, that John made his first record. His mother sang traditional songs but was known chiefly as a good dancer. John plays the accordion and considers that nowadays singers are not enough in demand in sessions in Ireland.

Michael Collins, Tim Collins, Eithne Ní Dhonaile, Maurice Griffin, Denis Liddy, Garry Shannon, John Weir

This is an informal group, created for the occasion. All of the musicians live in Ennis and play together from time to time, when they meet at family gatherings for example (Michael and Tim are brothers), at sessions and also in small bands.

Seán Talty

Now we come to Miltown Malbay, County Clare. This little town, with its market and its shops is the centre of the surrounding rural community. It is also the birthplace of the famous piper Willie Clancy and the location of the Summer School dedicated to him. Seán Talty, son of Martin Talty, who was a musical companion of Willie Clancy, has always lived in this town. Seán started to learn the tin-whistle around the age of 5 and at 17 got his first practice-set. Although during his childhood the music of West Clare was his environment, it was only little by little that Seán felt the importance of preserving the style and the tunes of his area. On his uilleann pipes, dating to the 19th century, Seán plays a slow-air, A Stór Mo Chroí ("love of my heart") and a reel, The Beauty Spot.

Paul Dooley

Paul Dooley is a harp player, born in Dublin, now living in Ennistymon.

Paul is one of the few musicians who play in the manner observed by Bunting in 1792 at the Belfast Harp Festival. This consists mainly in playing with the nails on metal strings. Paul made his own harp, modelled on the most ancient harp in existence in Ireland, and even in Europe, that of Brian Boru (last High King of Ireland), which is now in Trinity College Dublin.


The main city of the West, Galway is always full of life thanks to a large student population.

Maureen Fahy, Élís Egan, Chris Kelly
(members of the Reeltime band)

Maureen and Élís play the fiddle and button accordion. Their instruments have sounded in harmony for years. Maureen also plays with the Templehouse Céilí Band, one of the best céilí bands (bands specializing in playing for dancers). Chris Kelly played jazz and rock music before meeting Maureen. He and Élís also play with the well-known Frankie Gavin.


It is amongst the wild landscapes of Connemara that the Irish language and the traditional style of singing are best preserved.

Bríd Ní Mhaoilchiaráin / Róisín Nic Dhonnacha

For Bríd and Róisín, both from Carna, in south Connemara, Irish is the mother tongue. Although still adolescents, both have won numerous competitions. With Táiliúr An Mhagadh and Na Páiréir Á Saighneáil, Bríd gives us two examples of her fluid and richly ornamented style of singing. Róisín plays the tin-whistle. The influence of her musical environment, made up of excellent singers, comes through in her playing, such as the slow-air Róisín Dubh, this version of which is sung in her family.


It is in Sligo, the capital of county Sligo, that one meets those musicians from the surrounding countryside who have not emigrated to the United States or England. The region, which musically speaking, includes the north of County Leitrim, the north of County Roscommon and the west of County Mayo, was made famous by the musicians who, having emigrated to the United States, made the "Sligo" style universally popular through their 78' recordings of the 1920's.

Kevin Mc Tiernan, Michael Carroll

Kevin Mc Tiernan and Michael Carroll have been musical companions since their childhood days in County Leitrim, in the fifties. Their houses were well­known for their evenings of music and dance. The only music available to them at that time was Irish music, as electricity was installed relatively late. They have always played for dancing and find that the tempi required by the dancers are faster and faster.


Dublin has been a source of musicians for a very long time. Thomas and Ivan are part of the new generation. Their instruments combine beautifully, producing a sound where the fiddle and the uilleann pipes may scarcely be distinguished.

The instruments

Harp, Uilleann Pipes, Fiddle, Tin-whistle
Concert flute, bodhrán, Concertina, Accordion


The harp is the most representative instrument of Ireland - the young Republic having chosen it as its emblem. During the Middle Ages Irish harpists were renowned throughout Europe and later the harp became the favourite instrument of the Irish nobility. The earliest repertory is little known because the Irish harpists did not write down their music. The decline of the instrument began in the 17th century with the repression enforced by the English occupiers.

Uilleann Pipes (Irish bagpipes)

This is Ireland's most characteristic instrument. No other bagpipes in the world have reached the same degree of complexity. Uilleann pipe players were amongst the first musicians to live from their music. The bagpipes were virtually forbidden by the English, which resulted in encouraging their use ! As it was forbidden to play standing up, the Irish adopted bagpipes that could be played sitting down and quiet enough to be played indoors. The "full-set" usually has seven pipes, the main one, called the "chanter", used to play the melody, rests on the players thigh most of the time. Two fingerings are used : "open" fingering which produces tied notes and staccato or "closed" fingering which produces detached notes. The "open" fingering is used when the musician lifts the chanter - to maintain the tuning. As the musicians fingers are busy with the chanter, the regulators are operated with keys which are activated with the edge of the player's right hand, producing an accompaniment in the form of simple notes or chords. The other three pipes are drones, tuned with the keynote of the chanter.


The fiddle is the name given to the violin in Ireland, to differentiate it from the instrument played by the classical musicians. The main difference is in the way of playing. The bowing style (which varies from region to region) is of capital importance for the rhythm. The ornamentations, inspired by uilleann pipe playing, are very distinctive.


This is a small metal flute with a cylindrical bore. Its low cost and apparent simplicity have made this instrument very popular in Ireland. Here again, the technique and ornamentations are greatly inspired by the uilleann pipes.

Concert flute

The concert flute used in Ireland is derived from the instruments used by the classical musicians in the 19th century. The instrument is made in ebony and sometimes has silver keys. Nowadays, copies of the ancient instrument, adapted to Irish music playing, are used more and more frequently.


The bodhrán is a hand drum played with a stick with expanded ends. The left hand is used to change the tone by varying the tension of the skin.


The concertina is a small hexagonal accordion, particularly popular in county Clare. A single reed (vibrating sliver of metal) is used for each note, producing a very precise sound and its lightness makes it very easy to handle.


The accordion is very often a small instrument with two rows of buttons, separated by a semi-tone (C # - D or B - C). The larger piano accordion is also popular.


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