Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Great news from the world of archival recordings! On Sunday, the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin announced the existence of four previously unknown private recordings by Sligo fiddle legend Michael Coleman and their plans to make them available to the public. The discs feature Coleman and Lad O’Beirne (a Sligo fiddle icon in his own right) and were made in O’Beirne’s home in Woodside, Queens, in 1942. Several years after they were made, O’Beirne’s son passed them on to accordion great Joe Burke, who only recently passed them on to ITMA.
ITMA director Liam O’Connor will premiere these recordings on Aoife Nic Cormaic’s RTÉ 1 program “The Rolling Wave” on Feb. 14 at 4pm ET. They will also be made available through ITMA’s website, www.itma.ie. To read more about these historic recordings, visit tinyurl.com/ITMAColeman.
ITMA’s new Coleman recordings complement those that resurfaced in the Joe Lamont Irish Music Recordings collection at Boston College’s John J. Burns Library in June 2019 (tinyurl.com/NewColeman). It just shows you there’s still important stuff out there! Incidentally, the documentation and preservation of objects like private recordings, photographs, manuscript music, paper ephemera, and the like, helps tell the story of Irish traditional music, which is especially important in America. If you are in possession of any such material (no matter how insignificant it may seem), please contact your local Irish music archive!
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Speaking of RTÉ and “The Rolling Wave,” back in May Aoife Nic Cormaic and ITMA worked together on “Faoiseamh,” a project that commissioned 10 Irish musicians, including Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Johnny Óg Connolly, Josephine Marsh, Eoin Dillon, Edel Fox, Charlie Lennon, Emer Mayock, Liz Carroll, Timmy Fitzharris, and Bryan O’Leary, to compose new music in response to the covid lockdown. The results were presented on RTÉ in June and July, and posted to ITMA’s website in November (tinyurl.com/Faoiseamh).
This commission had a particularly dramatic effect on O’Leary, who used it as the basis for a recently released seven track EP of original compositions called “Tranquility in Tureencahill.” Some of these tunes were written under the yoke of covid, some before it, but as a whole they reveal a great talent who seems as at home with writing tunes as he is playing them.
O’Leary, who comes from Tureencahill, Gneeveguilla, Co.Kerry, has a very compelling background. He is the grandson of renown Sliabh Luchara accordion Johnny O’Leary and in 2014 was named Ceoltóir Óg/Young Musician of the Year at TG4’s Gradam Ceoil awards. The following year, he recorded “Where The Bog Is,” a fabulous album with flute player Colm Guilfoyle.
The tunes he’s recorded here have a definitive Sliabh Luachra flavor to them. (How could it not, with the polkas and slides?!) Although some were brought about with lockdown as motivation, many were written to honor his influences and inspirations, including his parents, his grandmother and grandfather, and musical figures like Nicky McAuliffe, Billy Clifford, Jackie Daly, and Jimmy Doyle.
This is an interesting EP, because it feels cohesive and genuine. The tunes don’t sound contrived or insecure and they all sit together well as a group. O’Leary, of course, brings them to great life. For example, the jigs “Era mo léir! / McAuliffe’s Musical Mind” (the former, a phrase O’Leary’s grandmother would utter) are wonderfully introspective and balanced. They sound “old,” and instead of being built around harmonic or technical novelty (as is the case with some newly composed tunes) they use sound, perhaps even “conventional,” melodic ideas to forge something that’s interesting and new. These two would be a most welcome set at a session.
The polka set “Dance Your Way to Heaven / Granda’s Dream Visit / From Gullane to Tureencahill” and slide set “The Sí Gaoithe / Ballydesmond Mass / The Man from Jib” are similarly inventive and “of the turf.” If you didn’t specifically know they were new, you’d just assume they were some nice, old tastefully selected tunes. As new contributions to the tradition, that’s about as good as it gets, I’d say. (Shout out to Brian Mooney, by the way, who provides excellent bouzouki accompaniment on these tracks and elsewhere on the EP.)
One of the album’s finer tracks – a product of covid lockdown – is “Créde ó Chiarraí Luachra.” Inspired by local legend, it’s a slow air that with a reflective element about it. The recording includes includes guest musicians Sharon Howley (cello) and Therese McInerney (fiddle) who help bring out the tune’s tender nature.
However, I think the finest track here is “I’ll Meet You on a Day That Never Ends / The Ballinahulla Butterfly / Tranquility in Tureencahill,” which was written for the RTÉ commission that inspired this EP. “I’ll Meet You…” is a lovely, upbeat waltz that would be lovely to dance to. The polkas that follow are well wrought and interesting as well. O’Leary delivers the tunes confidently, with aplomb, making the whole just exceptional.
“Tranquility in Tureencahill” is a lovely EP. I know there are a lot of fans of Kerry and Sliabh Luachra music out there, and this is definitely an album for you. (Accordion fans, too!) But really, anyone interested in traditional music will enjoy this. There are some great tunes for the musically inclined to learn, but they’re so natural and “at home” sounding that you can get lost in the performance. Check it out! O’Leary’s album can be purchased through Bandcamp (sliabhluachra.bandcamp.com) or via the Sliabh Luachra Music Trail’s website (sliabhluachra.ie).