Clare duo honor O’Donoghue

By Daniel Neely

A little while back I received Elaine Hogan and Sheila Garry’s new CD “The Shores of Lough Breda.” Packaged with a beautifully illustrated technicolor cover, it’s an album of instrumental music that focuses on the compositions of Clare flute player and composer Paddy O’Donoghue. It’s a great album that stands well on its own musically, but it’s the story it tells about O’Donoghue through his music that sets it apart from what’s out there at the moment.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

Hogan and Garry, both of whom hail from the Banner County, are the album’s stars. Hogan comes from Ennis, where, as a youngster, her musical talents found expression on a number of instruments, including piano, violin, flute, and harp. Hogan’s abilities led her to the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, where she earned a Master’s in Irish Music Performance. Over the last few years, she’s performed with dance shows like the Second Coming (with Mike McGoldrick, John Joe Kelly and Damien O’Kane), has been the harpist in residence for Shannon Heritage, working extensively in Bunratty, Knappogue and Dunguaire castles, and performs around Clare with the likes of Siobhan Peoples, John Joe Kelly and Michael ‘Blackie’ O' Connell.

Garry comes from Ballynacally and like Hogan, grew up in around the music. (Among her formative influences include fiddlers Vincent Griffin and Paula McMahon.) Her early interest in traditional music led her to University College Cork where she won was Sean O'Riada memorial prize recipient in 1998 and to the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick where she earned a Master’s in Ethnomusicology. Since they, she’s been a past member of the Kilfenora Ceilí band, worked at Bunratty Castle, and recorded for the “Baltimore Fiddle Fair” series and the “Riches of Clare” series. She is currently a member of the acclaimed Shannon Vale Ceilí.

The pair got together here because they shared a passion for composer Paddy O’Donoghue’s music. O’Donoghue (1928-2013) was one of County Clare’s great old guard. He lived in Ballycunneen, Newmarket-on-Fergus when he passed, but he was originally from Ballinahinch, Bodyke in East Clare. He played fiddle and pipes as a young man, but was best known for his flute playing. (He was one of a relatively small number of flute players in the tradition who played the silver Bohem-system flute.) He had an auspicious start in the 1940s as a member of the Ballinahinch Ceilí Band with Martin Rochford, Paddy Canny, his own brother Jim and others. That group later changed its name (rumor was so it would fit better on the bass drum) and rode into international acclaim as the Tulla Ceilí Band. A noted music man throughout the county, he he hosted a regular session at Daly’s Bar in Ballynacally for years, published “Ceol an Chláir,” a book of 35 of his original compositions and recorded, “The Rose of Killagh” (2008) and “Life in the Slow Lane” (with Seamus Bugler, Pat Mullins, Pat Costello; 2010) among them. If that weren’t enough, his son Cyril O’Donoghue, is a renown bouzouki player and carries on the family’s musical tradition. (He also appears on this album!)

[caption id="attachment_81404" align="alignnone" width="300"]

Elaine Hogan and Sheila Garry.[/caption]

Given the strength of the material Hogan and Garry are working with, it seems odd that O’Donoghue’s music isn’t more widely known. The album starts with “The Shores of Lough Breda,” a lovely tune Garry learned from O’Donoghue directly, with another O’Donoghue original “The Woods of Ballinahinch,” and the well known “Humours of Carrigaholt” following. It’s a tidy group of solid tunes and Hogan and Garry bring the music to life with great thought and vigor.

"Doyle’s Castle / The Visit of Ned Lehane,” a pair of jigs, is another track I’m partial to. The duo’s playing once again blends wonderfully, but the two tunes they’ve chosen are not just lovely on their own, they work well together.

One of the album’s great moments is “Tribute to Micko,” an air O’Donoghue composed in 1994 on the death of Micko Russell. Hogan, who performs solo here, reveals her amazing talents with playing that is complex, layered, and carefully wrought emotionally. The track of reels that follows, “Red Gates / The Road to Ballygirreen / Drumline Castle,” starts with Garry’s fiddle and maintains the intensity of Hogan’s playing, but over the course of the set that energy is transformed, lifting the track into something lighter, with more bounce.

There are a couple of more common tunes thrown in for good measure. Musicians in New York, for example, will appreciate Hogan and Garry’s take on “Andy McGann’s / Humors of Scariff,” which Andy McGann, Joe Burke, and Felix Dolan recorded together in 1979 on their “The Funny Reel” album. Here, the keys have been changed, a move that gives the tunes a fresh sound without changing their character.

"The Shores of Lough Breda” is a warm, loving tribute to a musician and composer whose renown will surely grow as a result. Hogan and Garry have done a marvelous job here, bringing top flight musicianship and a clear vision to how O’Donoghue’s music should sound – Irish music aficionados take note, this one’s easy to love. To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/TheShoresOfLoughBreda.

Daniel Neely writes about traditional music in the Irish Echo each week.