The Bothy Band.

'An Bothy Band' is a must-see

A quick reminder at the top that the Ward Irish Music Archive’s “Archiving Irish America” conference takes place this week from April 11-13 in Milwaukee.  Attend in person or online, to learn more and register, visit

 Very early last week, I learned of the passing of the great Mattie Connolly.  A fabulous musician and a kind and gentle man, Connolly’s passing represents another lost link to an older generation of graceful, genteel players whose music embodied the soul of the tradition.

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Connolly was born in New York in 1940, but he found his musical grounding in Scotstown, Co. Monaghan, where his family moved when he was 6.  He grew up around music, his mother Lena being a noted fiddle player who attracted a great deal of music to the house. Inspired by the playing of Sean McAloon (County Fermanagh), he took up the pipes under McAloon’s tutelage and later became part of a pipers group in nearby Knockatallon.  Soon, he became a favorite at house parties and feiseanna.

Connolly returned to New York in 1960. In search of more modern musical opportunity, he took up the bass and co-founded the very popular Majestic Showband with Martin Mulhaire, another giant of traditional music, in 1963.  After a trip to Ireland in 1970, he rekindled his love for the pipes and honed his skills once again.  A brilliant musician, he won the Senior All-Ireland Uilleann Pipe competition at the Fleadh Cheoil in Buncranna, Co. Donegal in 1980, was a member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s tour of the U.S. and Canada in 1981, and appeared on “The Green Groves Of Erin,” the album CCÉ released of the tour that year.  In 1985, he was a featured performer alongside his daughter Deirdre (a superb player herself) on the Cherish The Ladies album “Fathers and Daughters” and on Deirdre’s 2001 album “A Song in Turn.”  He was inducted into the Mid-Atlantic region of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Hall of Fame in 1984.

 His wake and funeral, which took place last week, were crowded with family, friends and colleagues, and musical tributes were made.  Connolly will be well remembered and sorely missed by all those who knew him.

 In related news, Steve Duggan, co-founder of Paddy Reilly’s, “the only all- Guinness bar in the world,” passed away last Thursday.  Duggan was a great friend to traditional music for a very long time and under his stewardship, Paddy Reilly’s became a leader in New York City’s nightlife and a home for artists and bands like Solas, Joannie Madden, Eileen Ivers, Black 47, The Prodigals, Susan McKeown & Chanting House, Niall O’Leary and many, many others.  Duggan moved to New York City in 1983 to manage singer Paddy Reilly and with him opened the eponymous bar in 1986.  In addition to his support of the music, for many years he ran the New York City Marathon and raised tens of thousands of dollars for worthy causes, including the Children's Hospital in Crumlin. One of the great characters, he, too, will be well remembered and missed by many.

Finally, this week I was able to watch TG4’s new Bothy Band documentary.  Called “An Bothy Band,” it is an absolutely incredible production about the premiere traditional band of the 1970s that combines documentary and performance, and it’s something that every fan of traditional music will want to rush to see.

Billed as the band’s first reunion in 50 years (which is not exactly true, as group members have played together as the Bothy Band in three different, incomplete configurations since their 1979 break-up), this film brings together Paddy Glackin, Matt Molloy, Paddy Keenan, Dónal Lunny, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, and Kevin Burke.  To fill the absence Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, who passed away in 2006, they’ve selected Seán Óg Graham, best known for his work with the band Beoga, who slots in beautifully with an effortlessness that is impressive.  The musical might here is truly something to behold.

The film’s “meat” consists of six days of rehearsal footage leading up to a concert at Dublin’s Complex arts center.  Interviews and archival elements are interspersed among this footage that provide background and give the film a documentary feel.  But this film is far from being a “nuts and bolts” history lesson.  For example, we don’t learn much about the transition from Seachtar into the Bothy Band, nor is the group 1691 mentioned.  Nothing is really said about the group’s demise, either.  

Rather, “An Bothy Band” is more of a concert feature that explores the band’s identity and reflects on what they “meant” during their existence. To this end, the band’s “rock and roll” quality is put fully in the foreground.  Keenan and Burke’s wry commentary about the past and the “appropriate for TV” tour stories Molloy, Lunny, and Glackin share as they drink tea are delightful and give us a fleeting sense for how the band’s lifestyle separated them from “traditional music” at the time.  The tributes to Ó Domhnaill and Peoples (with reflections from his daughter Siobhan) that are included provide important insight into this part of the story and are moving in themselves.

 Alongside this is a focus on the band’s special musical chemistry.  It’s very interesting to have a peek into how the music came together (especially as they try to recreate their arrangements in rehearsal) and to learn about who was responsible for the band’s innovative approach.  Here the importance of Lunny, Ó Domhnaill, and especially, I think, Ní Dhomhnaill (who has really interesting things to say about what it meant to “be on the road with the lads”), come to the fore and helps create a very rounded picture of the band.

The concert footage that comprises the film’s second half is exceptional.  The band is in excellent form, the pieces they’d selected for their program are superb and the concert is beautifully shot and mixed.  As a climax to the first half’s focus on the rehearsal and storytelling, the concert becomes a payoff that will thrill fans.

I cannot recommend “An Bothy Band” more highly.  It’s very well done and a wonderful tribute to a band that blazed a trail and changed things for traditional music in a very real way – it is “must see” for traditional music lovers.  You can stream “An Bothy Band” through the TG4 Player on your computer’s browser at, or through the TG4 app on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Android TV and Google TV.