Cork City duo's wonderful album of gorgeous music

Hey, it’s after St. Patrick’s Day, but everyone still seems to be talking about the proud Corkman Cillian Murphy these days.  And for good reason, too, because it’s not everyday that someone from Cork (or Ireland for that matter) wins an Oscar!  But the media’s recent Corkcentricity got me thinking about “Under the Stairs,” an album Donie Carroll (of Douglas, Cork, and Sunnyside, N.Y., fame) handed me recently.  Featuring Johnny McCarthy (fiddle, flute, vocals) and Eoin O’Raibhaigh (uilleann pipes), it’s an album that was inspired by a brilliant session at the Corner House in Cork City that’s been going since 2015 and it’s a wonderful album of gorgeous traditional music, and one I think readers of this column should make an effort to hear for themselves.

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 (Hey, speaking of Corkonians, before I get into it I want to add that Máirtín de Cógáin, of Carrigaline fame, who appeared alongside Murphy in Ken Loach’s film “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” and in it famously sang a moving rendition of “Óró ‘Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile,” is bringing a tour group to the Rebel County in May.  Should be a great trip and maybe they’ll even stop in at the Corner House for the session.  For more info, visit his website at

 Anyway, I digress: it was Ó Riabhaigh and flute player and 2014 Gradam Ceoil Musician of the Year Harry Bradley who were responsible for starting the Corner House session.  It was great and reinvented itself when Bradley left Cork for Dublin (and eventually Belfast) and McCarthy slotted in.  The whole thing continued to grow out from there into its current form.

 Ó Riabhaigh is a fascinating musician.  His father Micheál was an important piper and teacher who revived the Cork Pipers’ Club beginning in 1963 and was one of the folks responsible behind the instrument’s current success.  Eoin followed his father’s lead and became a fine player.  He was a member of the great band Stokers Lodge with legendary Cork singer Jimmy Crowley in the 1970s and ‘80s, and only released his solo debut “Tiomnacht./ Handed On,” a tribute to his father, in 2000.  However, he has recorded widely with the likes of Dolores Keane, Matt Cranitch and others.

 McCarthy is also a fascinating musician.  Highly accomplished in his own right, McCarthy was a member of the Four Star Trio (which included Con Ó Drisceoil and Pat Ahern), and has recorded some high octane work with Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Sliabh Notes, the composer Antonio Breschi, and a host of others.  He is currently a lecturer in traditional music at MTU Cork School of Music.

 The album features several guests, including Pat (Herring) Ahern (guitar), Garry O Briain (bouzouki and guitar), Cormac McCarthy (piano) and Macdara Ó Faoláin (bouzouki).  Each a strong connection with McCarthy and O’Raibhaigh and each shares in the success of this album.

 The music here is sweet throughout and a very fine tribute to a session that has endured not only the “normal” sort of years but the pandemic as well.  It’s my understanding that the tune selection here reflects the tastes of the session itself, but I wouldn’t hold them to that as sessions are living, mutable things that adjust to the interests of its regulars.  This being said it’s a lovely mix.

 The album opens fittingly with a set of jigs, “The Sunny Hills Of Beara / …,” which is beautifully delivered at a calm, relaxed pace that allows the listener to really appreciate the duo’s superior rhythm and phrasing.  McCarthy and O’Raibhaigh’s rapport is also evident on the polka track “Eily Buckley's Fancy / …,” where its especially easy to hear the depth in the music they share.  However, I think my favorite “ensemble” track is “Kitty Come Down to Limerick / ….”  It has a hard swing that puts these good old tunes through their paces.

 Several solo features are peppered throughout, and of them I really enjoyed O’Raibhaigh’s playing on “The Torn Jacket / …” as it features some flawless chanter work and very tasteful, sparing touches on the regulators.  The same can be said for his playing on the polka set “Connie In The Pool / …,” which is great as well.  McCarthy’s solo flute feature on “Eye of the Needle / …” is similarly lovely.  Here, Cormac McCarthy’s piano work and especially Ó Faoláin’s bouzouki playing showcase two different approaches to musical sensitivity and each one shines here.  Johnny McCarthy also contributes a song he wrote, “My Home On The Lee,” in which Cork listeners will find more than just a note of nostalgia.

 In addition to the traditional tunes they play are compositions by both McCarthy and O’Raibhaigh, as well as tunes by Leonard Barry (whose new music we will hear about in an upcoming column), Johnny Cunningham, Connie O’Connell, Willie Coleman and Seamus Creagh.  The range of styles and types helps give the album it’s unique depth.

 “Under the Stairs” is an album that’s inviting like a pleasant spring evening.  The tunes are smartly chosen, the arrangements constrained in the right ways and the  playing is just superb.  There is everything to enjoy here.  If you love traditional music – especially if you’re from Cork – you cannot go wrong with this one.  To learn more and to purchase, visit