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Archive for the tag “kilfenora ceili band”

From Bob Dylan to Clare Sets

The Reflections had neither a rehearsal space or sound equipment. We just had our instruments, and we hired out gear when we gigged. I never remember us having any formal rehearsal, apart from what we did in venues when we got there early, which was rare.

We were North Clare latchicos, playing songs most people never heard of. And when we did popular stuff, we put our own twist on it and that was always different. Officially we were a four piece unit — Brendan Killoran on piano and keyboards, Johnny Rockett on bass, Jimmy ‘Drummer’ Hill on the sticks and me on electric guitar. Most nights we were joined at some point by a ‘ghost’ fifth member, Aughty Tá, an older multi-instrumentalist from Ennistymon. Aughty played sax, flute, piano, whistles, fiddle, clarinet and saw. Sometimes he just joined us for the National Anthem and the booze up after the gig. Other times he could be at the venue before us, ready to rock and roll, in a blue blazer from Micky Hogan’s band. You never knew how the night could go with with Aughty Tá.

Unwittingly, we were Clare’s poor version of the Grateful Dead. Like them, we arrived late and took a long time to set up. Sometimes band members were a bit canned or maybe well canned, when we hit the stage. Occasionally our starts were disastrous, and we had to stop and begin the number again. But it was all part of the show, and our fans forgave us. And like the Dead, we had long solos that could go anywhere, especially if Aughty was on board. He was a genius to improvise and go ‘out there’.

Ennistymon used have a Happy Family Festival back in those days. It was held in July and the pubs stayed open legally until 2am. The town used be mobbed every night. There was a huge white marquee in Blake’s Field and the showbands played there. Open air dancing was held in the town square, where ceili bands played on a stage. Fr. Easton, a hip padre, asked The Reflections to play for a teenage hop in the marquee one Wednesday night. He offered us twenty pounds, to play from 9pm to midnight, and we agreed. By Aughty’s calculations, that was at least two hundred pints.The same night, the Kilfenora would be playing in the square, and there was sure to be a huge crowd in town. We were looking forward to the gig. We’d be finished early and in good form for a bit of craic.

The Reflections had two roadies at the time: Talty the Vet and Tires O’Dwyer. Talty had a grey Ford Anglia estate, reg number DIE 999. His parents also had a grey Anglia Estate with the same reg. Anyway, he was in charge of things electrical and Tires’ job was to make sure the gig went smoothly, by opening bottles of beer and cider, and rolling spliffs for the band. Tires was a cousin of Aughty Tá’s.

On the afternoon of the gig, Talty and myself went to rent the sound gear from Mr. Tierney in Corofin, a local genius who had recently built a one-man submarine. Mr. Tierney showed us the craft and told us of his plans to launch the sub in Lake Inchequin. He already had 2 crates of Harp larger for the celebration. Talty said we played a song called ‘Yellow Submarine’ and Mr. Tierney smiled and said, “See, everything is connected.” He opened a few bottles and we drank to that. Several more bottles clinked while we listened to him expound on physics, cosmology and hydromechanics.

The rest of the lads were loitering around back-stage when we arrived with the gear. There was a bit of annoyance that we were late and a tad oiled. Aughty said,
“Let there be no panic. Sheo! Sheo and a Box. Galtee, voo!”
I knew he was half-pissed too.

The roadies set up the gear in a hurry, and plugged us in. Father Easton looked a bit nervous and had four frowns ploughed across his forehead. Drummer Hill clicked the sticks and we just hit the groove like turning a tap. We sort of surprised ourselves. Everything was spot on — the sound was just right and the band was earnest and tight. I spotted Aughty playing maracas to ‘Lovely Rita’ and thought, ‘this is going to be a great night’.

In no time at all, we had the marquee hopping, and lashed out all sorts of stuff. We knew the melody and chorus of many songs, but not a lot of the lyrics. Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was in that zone, but we did it anyway. Killoran played a masterful introduction, swirling on the keyboards, and I invoked Bob, making up the words as I went. The rest of the lads joined in the chorus and so did the crowd. A few girls from Liscannor swayed in front of the stage, screaming “How does it feel? How does it feel?” and that drove us further. I think our version had more verses than Dylan’s one.

The gig was flying, when one of the roadies thought we needed a light show. We were in the middle of a Stones’ number — ‘No Expectations’ or ‘Sweet Lady Jane’ — a slow, check to cheek song anyway, when I noticed activity a little away from me. Tires was standing on a beer barrel with a black cable, which was strung with colored bulbs. Soon a string of flashing lights ran across the top of the stage, with a huge Christmas Star shimmering in the middle. We went into another orbit.

Whoever was ‘doing’ the lights — switching then on and off — couldn’t keep time to the music, and Drummer Hill got pissed off by the distraction. But it’s hard to tell a roadie anything. Eventually the light switch burned out and everything returned to normal on stage. Johnny Rockett sang a Doors’ number and the drummer did “Sunny Afternoon,” by the Kinks. We were back in the groove.

Just as I twanged the opening of the Beatles’ “Revolution,” the light show began again. It was horribly out of time, and I shouted at the roadie to stop. No good. When Aughty did a searing sax solo, I smelled electrical discharge and looked around. I saw a spray of sparks coming from behind the stage, like there was welding going on. Everyone else seemed oblivious, as if it was part of the show. Aughty stood on one leg like a yogi, eyes closed and he blew his heart out. Suddenly there was a boom, total darkness and a little sizzle. Then confusion.

The audience began foot stamping and shouting, “We want more! We want more!”

But there was nothing we could do. It was an emergency beyond the band’s control. A man from the Festival Committee appeared in a hurry with a long silver flash light and announced that the gig was over and told everyone to go home. Two cops arrived and shouted “Home! Home!” Then Fr. Hannon and Fr. Easton rushed into the tent with flashlights, and escorted the audience outside. The Committee man fecked us out of it, said we couldn’t play for nuts and our shit had blown the town’s electrical transformer. We had plunged Ennistymon into darkness. He was drunk, and Aughty told him to shag off before he banjaxed him. Fr. Easton passed me twenty quid and sighed ‘thanks’. Then we were left to ourselves in the dark, until Aughty produced a candle from his sax case.

While the gear was being packed away, we finished the beer and smoked a few spliffs. Aughty decreed that we, The Reflections, did NOT blow the town transformer, per se, BUT we may have conspired the circumstances for such an event to take place. He said it MAY have been written in the planets, and that strange stuff could, and DID happen when great music was being played. He reminded us that the crème de la crème were playing in the town that night: the venerable Kilfenora Ceili Band, and us, The Reflections. Timidly, one of the roadies suggested that he might have helped the situation along, because he recalled something going wrong while he tipped two naked electric wires together, to the beat of Revolution.
“Anything is possible,” Aughty conceeded, “Strange things are done in the midnight sun, by the men who mine for gold. Sheo! Sheo!”
I knew we were not far from launch time.

We left the marquee and strolled up the road to the square. The town was in beautiful blue darkness, and night was happy to see us. There were stars in the July sky and candles in every pub. The Kilfenora Ceili Band played on without amplification, warriors that they were. Dancers did sets in the dark and battered sparks from the road stone. It was magical to hear the rousing cheers from the town when the band changed tune, like someone had scored a goal. And they had. We stood listening to the jigs and reels, tapping and shuffling our feet as good as the rest of them. A few West Clare girls who had been to our gig, dragged us out for a set. From Bob Dylan to ‘The Pigeon on the Gate’, in no time at all. That was Clare in those days. Music had no boundaries. We were all tuned in, in some inexplicable way.

The Kilfenora Ceili Band


(courtesy of Clare County Library)


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A Musical Youth in West Clare

The Tulla Ceili Band, 1952, Georgie on piano, far right

I read the news today, oh boy, and learned that Georgie Byrt had died. It put me thinking about my musical journey and the musicians I played with, back in West Clare during the 60’s and 70’s. Piano player and taxi man, Georgie was from my hometown of Ennistymon and the first time I ever played on stage, it was with Georgie and Mickey Hogan’s Dance Band. I was fifteen and scared and excited as if I was going on my first date.

Mickey Hogan had invited me to his house a week or so beforehand, and I figured it was just to play a few tunes; he played the fiddle and tenor sax and had the reputation of being a maestro. I brought my electric guitar and amp and we played for an hour or two — tunes and songs that my parent’s generation danced to.

After the session, his wife served us tea and plain biscuits, and we chatted. It turns out Mickey was checking my musicianship, and asked if I was free to play at an upcoming wedding with his band.  I said yes, yes of course. We shook hands and his wife said that a musician would always find a wife. She told how she fell in love with Mickey when she danced to his music, forty years beforehand.

“It was the uniform that got me,” she said, “Mickey had a beautiful band uniform, snow-white with gold buttons and I was smitten.”

At the wedding, Mickey wore a red tunic with gold buttons and the rest of us wore blue blazers, which he supplied. Mine was oversized, and I had to turn up the cuffs so I could play the guitar. I forget who the other band members were apart from Georgie, who told me to stand near him. When Mickey announced the next number, George would whisper to me, something like: “Key of G and there’s an E minor in the second part.” That’s how the evening went. The band blasting out tunes and songs, and Georgie telling me the keys and the chords. Georgie was a gentleman, may he rest in peace.

Ennistymon, 1961

For a town as small as   Ennistymon, there were more  musicians than houses. Fiddlers, drummers, piano players, accordionists, sax players, trumpet blowers, guitarists, flute and whistle blowers — you name it, we had it. Some musicians had regular gigs with bands like the Tulla Ceili Band and the Kilfenora; others were hired hands and could flit from trad to country to old-time, jazz to soft pop. We were crossover musicians, guns for hire and in spite of my father’s disapproval, I was sneaking out and playing with some outfit most weekends. School took a back seat and I used fall asleep at class on Mondays. Eventually it was too much for my parents and they decided to pack me off to boarding school in Galway, telling me to ‘mind the books and forget about the music for the time being.’ Of course I didn’t, both parents came from musical families and music was in my blood.

A few weeks before I left for boarding school, I was invited to join a ‘pop’ band in Miltown Malbay, a few miles down the coast from Ennistymon. It was Fintan Malone’s band and called The Merchants. Another Miltown guy — Alsie Clancy was the singer, Malone played lead guitar and Willie Healy, a friend from Ennistymon played drums. We had no bass, but it didn’t occur to us that was odd, as we rehearsed Kinks, Beatles and Rolling Stones songs in Malone’s Markethouse. We were rebels, playing rock and roll in the sacred shrine of Irish traditional music. In shop doorways around the street, local teenagers listened to us rehearse, and when we had a few dozen numbers together, we did our first gig.

That was on a Sunday afternoon and called a ‘hop’, something less serious than a night gig, which might have freaked parents and Fr. Kelly. The gig went well, even though we fluffed a few numbers. I made a shambles of a Kink’s song ‘Tired of Waiting’ and Malone cracked up laughing and the drummer lost time. Alsie took a song in the wrong key and we couldn’t find where he was until the second verse. It must have sounded woeful, but the Miltown crowd was loyal and clapped rather than booed. Afterwards, Mrs. Malone had dinner ready for us, and excited as Oscar winners, we plotted our course to the top of the charts. We also decided to let our hair grow long.

Miltown, 1973

The following summer, we were a tight outfit. Willie Healy got a job in Dublin and our new drummer was my good friend Jimmy Hill. We practiced a few of times a week, Jimmy and myself hitching to Miltown, often staying the night in Malone’s house.

Every Sunday night we did a gig in the Markethouse and it was always crammed. We did a mixture of pop and rock, dressed in mod gear, inspired by Limerick band, Granny’s Intentions. In West Clare we were hotshots, an up and coming young band which priests were wary of. Getting gigs in parochial halls was tough work and a lot of padres turned us away from their doors. But we got other breaks — playing support to top band in ballrooms around the county. For those gigs, we had a roadie-cum-driver called Christy Body, who had a sister called Annie.

People in West Clare still talk about The Merchant’s gigs, and hindsight makes the band appear a lot better than we were. One night, a group of Girl Guides from Limerick who were at camp in Spanish Point came to our gig and screamed every time we played a number from the charts. It was like we were the Beatles, the way they crowded around the stage, beaming and waving at us. The local girls were a bit miffed and there were a couple of cat-fights. When I began ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ the place went gaga, and I struggled with stage fright until Malone joined in the chorus.

Since I was a toddler, I spent the summers with my grandmother and grandfather — Susan and Tommy O’Sullivan — in Lahinch. Grandma played fiddle and concertina and tried her best to get me interested in traditional music. She played tunes every night of her life and my grandfather tapped a box of matches for percussion. She used finish the session with a reel called ‘My Love is in America,’ but granda didn’t tap for that one. Many years later she told me she had fallen in love in America in 1922, when she was on the run from the Black and Tans at home. Grandma never forgot the cop from Cork who arrested her for picking flowers in Central Park, on her first Sunday in New York. He let her go and asked her for a date. She fell in love, came home to do her duty in the Civil War and never went back to New York. I’d say she went to bed thinking of him every night,  after playing that tune. She called my guitar ‘the yaw-yaw’, inspired by the Beatles ‘She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.’ She rooted out an old mandolin she brought back from America and encouraged me to learn it, but my head was with the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones.

And then I was struck on the Road to Damascus…or rather the road to Miltown. It was in the month of August, when Miltown hosted the ‘Darling Girl from Clare Festival.’ Every night there were big crowds in town and we were gigging heavy, we had groupies and girlfriends and were waiting for our big break. I hitched from Lahinch with my guitar and got a ride to Spanish Point crossroads, about a mile from Miltown. It was late afternoon, warm lazy weather that brings out the best of West Clare. I walked towards town, in the distance I could hear music playing from the speakers mounted on telegraph poles, ceili bands, flutes, pipes, fiddles. This used be the fashion, to ‘warm the town’ and invoke a festive feeling. Paddy Flynn was the local DJ and PA expert. I wasn’t paying much heed to the music, probably thinking of the girl I would meet after the gig, a good-looking chick called Bríd, who wrote love poems and gave me one every night we met. The old railway station was on the outskirts of the town and here was the first telephone pole which had a speaker. As I was approaching it, Paddy Flynn put on a record that I hadn’t heard before. It began with harmonica, guitar, mandolin and maybe another instrument. Then a guy began singing and the first words brought me to a standstill.

‘Sullivan’s John to the road you’ve gone,
Far away from your native home…’

Sweeny's Men — Johnny, Andy and Terry

The hair stood on the back of my neck. I leaned against a stonewall and listened, not with my ears as much as with my heart. Something came over me and I’ll never forget those few minutes. I remember thinking, ‘who is that?’ Then Paddy Flynn played a tune I knew — The Exiles Jig— by the same group. I’d never heard traditional Irish music played like that, with counter melody and harmonies weaving around the tune. It was Sweeny’s Men — Johnny Moynihan, Andy Irvine and Terry Woods — musicians who I would become friends with a few years later. Traditional Irish music suddenly became relevant to me, after listening to it for well over a decade.

I don’t recall how our gig went that night, or if I got a love poem from the girlfriend. The following day I took out the mandolin grandma had brought back from New York and asked her to teach me The Exiles Jig. I remember her blessing herself and saying,

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what has come over you?”

She got the fiddle and we sat in the kitchen while bread baked in the oven. She showed me how to tune the mandolin and then played The Exile’s Jig until I got it. Then she taught me Banish Misfortune, Patcheen Flanagan’s Jig and Hardiman the Fiddler. Local tunes which rose easily from my  genetic memory. Later I went up to the attic and practiced on my own.

That night when she took down the fiddle, we played my new tunes and granda tapped the box of matches. I vamped along and picked a note here and there when she played her own selection. As she drew the notes at the beginning of ‘My Love is in America’, granda put the box of matches in his pocket. And for the first time, I felt the wistful longing and loneliness she channeled into that tune. I had finally arrived at the Well.

Tom Barrett, Susan O'Sullivan and Kevin Houlihan


All Clare images courtesy of Clare County Library


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Wrenboys, Swarees and Scrap Parties in County Clare

On St. Stephen’s Day, December 26th, groups of musicians and dancers would get together in Clare, dress in disguise and set off around the countryside. Known as wrenboys or mummers, they called to houses, played music and danced sets, sang and recited. Then they collected money and invited donors to a mummers dance or swaree, which would be held locally a few nights later. A troop of wren boys was called ‘a batch’ and they gave a great boost to the Christmas.

Paddy Pharaic Shannon of Doolin, County Clare recalls the wrenboys of the 1930’s:

T’would still be dark on St. Stephen’s morn when you’d hear the horns blowin’ callin’ the wrenboys. If you looked out the window, you’d see all the candles bein’ lit in the cottages all around. The wrenboys used gather below at the bridge in Fisherstreet, they might be thirty or forty people in it between dancers and players and an amadan and an oinseach. They’d be dressed up with coats turned inside out and ribbons of green and gold. Stepheneen Hardy was their leader when I was young and he rode a black ass.

The wrenboys would travel the country that day and come back here at night. We’d hear the noise of them comin’ and everyone would go down to the bridge to meet them. Stepheneen would lead them through Fisherstreet and stop below outside Connor’s pub. That was their last stop. There used be great excitement and of course t’would go on for hours, music, set dancin’ and a bit of singin’. And then a few nights later there would be a big swaree beyond in Anton Moloney’s place.”

Swarees were held in houses that had a big kitchen with plenty of room for dancing. They were the most clandestine of country dances and had a wild edge or energy — Christmas spirit gone native. The ring of the word swaree conjures up mayem, even though it’s a corruption of the genial French word soiree. There was loads of drink at swarees and they lasted from dusk to dawn and longer. Nothing sent parish priests around the bend more than a confessional whisper that a swaree had taken place in the fold. It was like an ambush of the faithful by Beelzebub.

A notorious swaree took place in Coor, near Miltown-Malbay, County Clare in the 1950’s. Held in the house of a ‘strong’ farmer on the 28th of December, the place was mobbed and makeshift bars were set up in the cowshed to cater for the attendees. Musicians came from as far as Doolin and dancers from Inagh were there out of a face. Late at night there were emergency dashes to Miltown, Lahinch and even Ennistymon for barrels of porter and bottles of whiskey.
The following night there was a scrap party from the leftovers— a ‘low key’ event for the musicians and high dancers. This was also a mighty night and went on very late. And just when it was winding down, musicians arrived from a swaree in Cree with crates of beer.
Like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the drink seemed the replicate itself or something, and there was enough booty for a third night’s lashing. Word traveled fast and far and the second Scrap Party was a whale of a session. The Kilfenora crowd arrived, long coats and hair oil, machine guns in fiddle cases, they could have been from Chicago. Their music was turbo charged: their players took no prisioners and their dancers could batter heel or sole.
People said that the music from the swaree and the scrap parties hung over the countryside for weeks, like some sort of a fog. There wasn’t a minute of the day when they weren’t hearing jigs and reels and the clattering of steps on a flag floor.

A priest raided a swaree in the parish of Liscannor, County Clare. The ‘night’ was held in John Killoughrey’s house on New Year’s Eve. The place was packed and there was two barrels of porter and assorted bottles of poitin and whiskey in the parlor. On the kitchen table, Pakie Russell, concertina; Gussie Russell, flute; John Killoughery, fife; Paddy Killoughry, fiddle. The place was hopping when the priest arrived. He told John that the devil was in the house. John said,
‘Well isn’t it great work Father but I can’t see him.’
The priest supposedly tried to turn John into a pillar of salt or something, but the mumbo jumbo didn’t work.
‘And then he came at me with the umbrella,’ said John, ‘and wasn’t the dog under the table and didn’t he go for him. Well he got the fright of his life. He thought the dog was the devil! He ran out of the place roarin’ prayers.’

I took part in one of the last wrenboy expeditions who went collecting for a swaree in North Clare. We were a strange crew— a matchmaker, a carpenter, a boatman, a farmer, three students and four women mad for dancing. We weren’t the best mummers in Clare but we had rhythm and style. It was a rainy day and our progress was slow, delayed by hospitality and hot whiskeys. Our route took us through Corofin and there we tarried in Bofey Quinns, when we met a group of kindred wrenboys from Ruan. We played tunes and drank porter and lost track of our mission but had a mighty session. By the time we got back to Ennistymon that night, we were footless. Our money box was empty — only a few copper coins and a miraculous medal from Lourdes. There would be no swaree, a tradition was breaking.

The swarees died out in Clare in the 1980’s but the wrenboy tradition continues. So let it rip on day, Banner boys and girls, though my heart is in San Francisco, my spirit is with ye. Beir búa.


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Biddy Early’s Magical Blue Bottle found on eBay

Regular readers of this blog will recall that Patrick Saint twittered the universe a few weeks ago, asking where was Biddy Early’s magical Blue Bottle. Glass_Bottles_BlueSadly, he received no response and we were beginning to think that all was lost as time went by. Our mind was on other things — hay, visitors, gigs, slugs in the garden. Then, out of the blue, as is the way with cosmic events, we received an email from America that perked us up. A fan of the blog relayed vital information to us: Biddy’s bottle was in the US! This fan — we’ll call her Ms. M — sent us the url of an eBay page which has the following heading:

IMPORTANT! PLEASE READ! *ONE OF A KIND GODDESS SPELL$$$ BIDDY’S BLUE BOTTLE! FAST WORKING GREY MAGICK!! HAUNTED

Naturally we were intrigued and read that the eBay vendor was selling a magic ring for $500 which was described as:

~~~COVEN CAST USING BIDDY EARLY’S BLUE BOTTLE~~~
VERY OLD AND MAGICKAL BEYOND WORDS!
***THE ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN EXISTENCE***

Glistening Garnets and Citrines. Sterling Silver, size 8.

Fascinating! So we read further and learned:

The use of the Blue Bottle and Biddy Early’s participation in the procedure is thought to be a main ingredient in the spells! INCREDIBLE and obvious potency and is most likely the reason for the manifestations of Goddess’ Energy in visible form. If the winner of this auction is psychically sensitive, they too may experience such visual manifestations.

Wow! Then we discovered that Biddy’s one and only last descendant, a Ms. Irél Flannery has recently passed to ‘the otherside’. Apparently Irél was a great Irish Druidess, something we were not remotely aware of. Irél had the Blue Bottle and used it to cast numerous documented miracles, including the magic ring for sale on eBay. Then she died, and Biddy’s Blue Bottle came into the vendor’s possession.

Remains of Biddy Early's home, Feakle, Co. Clare

Remains of Biddy Early's home, Feakle, Co. Clare

We were flabbergasted. After all these years, after all the stories we’d heard as young lads, and all the theories about Biddy’s Bottle, all the chatter from folklorists, eccentrics and self-promoters, we’d located someone in California who has possession of the magical vessel: a lady named Anna Kikiandpops. She even had an extract from Meda Ryan’s Biddy Early book on her eBay page to show she was tuned in to the real deal. Another wow!

For Clare people, this knowledge is like learning the Fatima Secrets…Biddy’s Blue Bottle could unjinx many hexes. Just being aware of its existence alone would be a tremendous boost to the county’s hurlers…And of course any politician who had access to it could fix everything. Can’t you picture Taoiseach Brian Cowen and a few Clare stalwarts huddled around it in some dark back room…spells being cast, brandy lashed back? The recession would be over in a flash and we’d all be in clover. Again we’d have white vans zipping around on the wrong side of the road while drivers talked on cell phones. Auctioneers back on the hair gel and driving like Eddie Jordan, while builders would tear up our remaining green fields, making huge messes…speeding construction trucks driven by men with shaved heads and tattooed arms would haunt us…

We had nightmarish flashbacks of the Boom and decided no, Brian Cowen could not be privy to this info. We knew it had to be handled with the utmost care and so we passed it on the Patrick Saint via Twitter. Our allegience was to Gertie Gorm. In her capable hands, Biddy’s Blue Bottle could change the world for the better, or at the very least, Clare hurlers would win an All Ireland.

Biddy Early Country

Biddy Early Country

Patrick was upset when he called us. He was with Gertie at her cottage in Scroppal, East Clare and she was moaning in the background. He’d sent Ms. Kikiandpops an email on his yPhone asking if she had Biddy’s bottle. He got an instant responce:

Hello Paddy. Yes, we do have the Bottle. Eventually it will seek out a new owner, but not right now. If the Bottle is up for sale, it will be under very close scrutiny, and may not be public–I’m not sure how it will work, but it will be quite an event. Many Blessings Have a wonderful day. Anna Kikiandpops

“I’m afraid that Gertie is loosing it,” Patrick told us, “how are we going to get Anna Kikiandpops to sell us the bottle? And if she does decide to sell, how are we going to raise the money?”

We said that raising the money would be no hassle. A few concerts would bring in a good boodle of dosh…we could ask the Kilfenora and the Tulla Ceili bands to do a benefit in Cusack Park. Plus we’d have a few surprise guests…pull in a few favours…The Pogues would be ideal if they were around. Also, we might get Shannon Development involved, although that might be stretching it…the Clare Champion might sponsor the deal…And not to be outdone, the Clare People would come up with some scheme for us…like a treasure hunt or spot the ball. Maybe some Banner entrepreneur could set up a tour of the bottle around the county like the bishops did with St Theresa’s relics…Clare FM would want to be involved. Clare Heritage might be wary of us after the leprechaun story… An Arts Council grant could be applied for…like, they’ve funded a lot more cockeyed ideas. Really, the money was no problem.

“The main thing is,” we consoled, “Biddy’s Bottle has been located. It’s in Los Angeles. And surely Ms. Kikiandpops will sell if the price is right.”
We could hear Gertie sobbing ‘I want my bottle…I want my bottle.’ It was heart wrenching. So near and yet so far. But we were out of steam…we’d been to the Clancy Week in Miltown Malbay and before that, we’d had all the leprechaun stuff to deal with. We suggested Patrick sit tight.
“Maybe your reader’s could help,” he said desperately, “maybe Ms. Kikiandpops would be more inclined to deal with a third party…”
“Maybe,” we sighed, “we’ll mention it in the blog.”

We’re not sure if a great mystery has been solved or another one created. But woe to poor Kikiandpops if it’s a hoax, because Biddy would not like that sort of carry on done in her name. We note the following at the bottom of her web page:

Legal Stuff: Per the regulations: Paranormal objects are for entertainment purposes only. We cannot take responsibility for activity that may or may not occur in association with this item. Paranormal items are not dangerous but please handle with care and respect.

At last, here’s the link to Biddy Early’s long lost Blue Bottle: http://is.gd/1wiFU
(scroll half way down the page and mind your eyes…Ms. Kikiandpops has a spacey web designer ) And of course, Let the Bidder be aware.



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photos: Mary Gaynor


Irish Traditional Music: thoughts after a night in East Clare

A view of Ennistymon from the Falls

A view of Ennistymon from the Falls

For those of us who grew up immersed in Clare music, we were always aware of a friendly rivalry between our two great ceili bands, The Tulla and The Kilfenora. Each had won several All Ireland Ceili Band Championships, and had huge followings, both in the county and far beyond. Every year they battled it out at the famous fleadhs of the Fifties and Sixties, packed halls and were often on the radio. We were proud of them. The Tulla were based in East Clare and the Kilfenora in North Clare, but in our county, a few miles made the world of difference in musical styles, tunes and rhythm.

The Tulla Ceili Band, 1952

The Tulla Ceili Band, 1952: Ennistymon's Martin Garrihy on drums + George Byrt on piano

Both bands had musicians from my home town of Ennstymon, and a few musicians changed bands over the years. Though we were geographically closer to Kilfenora — and were part of their ancient diocese — we also had a proud East Clare connection. Our native poet Brian Merriman, who wrote the famed Midnight Court, had moved to Feakle some 200 years earlier. Art stands the test of time in Clare, and so Feakle and Ennistymon were bonded forever by him. Merriman was also a fiddler, so we played that card as well.

Brian Merriman — poet + fiddler

Brian Merriman, poet + fiddler of Ennistymon & Feakle

Almost like political alliances, there were Tulla supporters and Kilfenora supporters in the town, there were closet supporters and suspect supporters. There were torn loyalties, blood loyalties and each year the town awaited the outcome of the All Ireland Fleadh Ceili Championship like the winning score of a hurling final. This was back in the days before television, computers and texting, and our contact with the outside world was a public phone in the Square, a green kiosk with a rickety concrete slab floor and broken windows.

our only contact with the outside world

our line to the outside world

I remember the Sunday evening of The All Ireland Fleadh one August when I was a boy. A staunch Kilfenora female supporter stood beside the kiosk smoking a cigarette and fumbling with rosary beads. She was waiting for ‘the call’. I was watching her from the door of our pub and every now and again my mother would appear and look down anxiously at the woman. My mother was smoking too, the tension was sizzling. A few men in pub were discussing drummers — Ennistymon men drummed for both bands.

The ringing phone echoed up the quiet square on that warm evening. The woman rushed into the box and you could hear her shouting “Hello?” above in Dublin. Then we heard her say, “Thanks be to Sweet Jesus and his blessed mother, I was prayin’ all day…”
My own mother announced to the bar,
“The Kilfenora won.”
The following year it was probably the Tulla. We were blessed with great music in Clare.

The Tulla, Ennistymon Hall, 1/1/1962 (Martin Vaughan drums, Francie Donnellon + PJ Hayes fiddles)

The Tulla, Ennistymon Hall, 1/1/1962 (Martin Vaughan drums, Francie Donnellon + PJ Hayes fiddles) courtesy of Clare Co Library

When bands played at the hall in Ennistymon, they drank in our bar and generally took a crate or two with them for the road home after the dance. One night The Leitrim Ceili band from Galway, anchored by accordion player Joe Burke, played in town. They had a great crowd, collected their crate of porter or beer for the road and headed home through the Burren. They were travelling in an old VW bus and somewhere near the Corkscrew Hill, they slowed down so an on coming vehicle could pass. It was the Kilfenora Ceili Band on their way home from a gig so they stopped and everyone got out. The bands had a chat, discussed the night and the crowds they played to, praised and razed dancers. Then another vehicle approached and slowed down. It was the Tulla, bringing home a few of the Ennistymon boys. So they stopped too, got out and there was great jollity. There was a full moon, and the musicians sat on the silver limestone wall, opened multiple bottles and had the crack. A most beautiful summer’s night, moon beaming down on the Burren and away in the distance, the twinkling light of Galway in another province. Then someone said,
“You know, since we all met, we might as well play a tune.”
And so it was. Music was played that would make the stones dance. A gift to the night and the moon, a gift to the land from where the tunes came.

The Tulla, 1982 (Andrew Mac + Martin Hayes on right)

The Tulla, 1982 (including Martin Hayes, Andrew + Mary McNamara and Jim Corry)

Last weekend was Kilfenora’s big do, a celebration of one hundred years on the go. This past weekend, there was a small gathering in Feakle, East Clare in memory of PJ. Hayes, a founder and leader of the Tulla Ceili Band. I rambled over there on Sunday afternoon and can say there’s many more than forty shades of green in East Clare. It was a beautiful sunny evening and nature was alive after rain. I lost count of the shades at fifty…

There was a session in full swing in Peppers Bar, fiddlers Martin Hayes and Mark Donnellon, local box player Seamus Bugler and guitarist Dennis Cahill. East Clare music, lyrical with a swing, the boys were back in town. Tunes in minor keys, tunes by Cooley, Fahey and Canny. It was like finding a well spring for the soul.

After the session finished there was the chat and the catch up. Accordion player Andrew MacNamara arrived, just back from a tour of Australia with guitarist Brendan Herrity. Stories are related, experiences parlayed. We discussed boomerangs and the size of kangeroos…Jim Corry, the Tulla piano man enters the company, he’s back from a week in Spain with the Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band. He apologised for his tan: in these stricken times, not many can afford a tan. Jim is excused and has a pint of beer before getting ready for a gig with the Tulla Ceili Band in the tent behind the pub.

The Tulla in Ennistymon, 2006

The Tulla in Ennistymon, 2006

A photographer comes to the table as Martin Hayes, Mark Donnellon and myself are finishing dinner + discussing the state of the nation. He’s from a local publication and needs a photo of the lads…Instruments are taken out of cases for the shoot and a session begins…a few more musicians join, evening sun shines through the window and there’s a golden glow in Feakle. A well known business man comes in with Rayban shades on his head and tiger trappings around neck…he does a bit of glad handling and back slapping and a wizened man with a pint and a cap mutters, “Will someone tell that shaggin’ idiot that the boom is over…”

Mark and Martin stop playing after an hour or so, take a break before going on stage with the Tulla for the ceili. Andrew Mac takes out his box in the bar, twirls a few notes and like bird call, a flock of musicians join him. His side-kick Brendan Herrity twangs the guitar and the energy amps up. Dance music rocks the bar and a group of locals hit the floor for a half-set. Mac is in his element, driving his box like a man in control of a rocket heading for the moon.

High voltage music from Andrew MacNamara in Feakle, May 2009

High voltage music from Andrew MacNamara in Feakle, May 2009

Sometime later a Cajun box player comes in from Seattle— he’s a fan of Andrew’s and he joins the session. Cajun two-steps, songs in French, we all play along. Music is music, it all comes from the heart and soul. A Japanese violinist joins and amazes everyone with her playing of East Clare reels. Mac smiles broadly when a man known as ‘The Waneling’ tries to sing a song called ‘Johnny on the Mountain’. It’s a magical night in Feakle, a fitting memorial to PJ Hayes, the quiet man who guided us all here with his music.

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The Kilfenora Ceili Band — a century of great Irish music

Some of my earliest musical memories are of Kilfenora musicians playing in my father’s pub in Ennistymon in the 1950’s. Kilfenora was the home of my paternal grandmothers people, the Murphys, and so our ‘house’ was a natural ‘stand’ or calling house for people from that parish when they came to town. The first time I saw or heard a tape recorder, was when my cousin Tim Murphy came to our place with a huge Grundig and played a recording he’d made of the Kilfenora Ceili Band. To us youngsters, the Kilfenora had the aura, energy and spell of U2. They made us feel good on the dark nights and the rainy days. They were friends of the family and as their then leader Kitty Linnane used whisper to me ‘We’re all the one, we’re all connected.” And so we were through bloodlines and through music.

This year the Kilfenora are 100 years on the go…that’s a lot of Clare music, a lot of Clare sets. Here’s a brief History of the band from their website:

“Kilfenora boasted a fine fife and drum band founded in 1870, which later gave way to an accomplished brass and reed band in 1910. It appears the fife & drum was regarded as a boy’s pursuit. The move to the brass & reed was in order to hold onto the musicians into adulthood. The trumpet player was Jim Mulqueeney
who was a founder member of the céilí band and became a seminal
influence on the fiddlers of the area. The Brass & Reed band proved to be a
solid foundation for the céilí band that started in 1909.

Kilfenora Brass & Reed Band, 1908

Kilfenora Brass & Reed Band, 1908

“In 1908, the parish of Kilfenora was in debt. The new priest, Canon Cassidy from Moughana set to clearing the debt and refurbishing the church. At the fundraising dances he held in the schoolhouse, members of the old Brass & Reed band like John Joe Lynch, (fiddler and drummer) and Jim Mulqueeney (fiddler) were involved, though were deferential in the presence of the senior players such as fiddle master Michael Slattery.

“The ’20s core group consisted of Jim Mulqueeney, Jim McCormack, John Joe Lynch, Austin Tierney and Lynch’s sister, Mrs. Brigid McGrath, on concertina. Tom Ward – (fiddle) Lil McCormack, (piano), Paddy “Pepper” Linnane, Tommy Mulqueeney, Pat Madigan (banjo, clarinet, bass), Jimmy Leyden (drums), brother and sister Paddy and Nora “Marshall” McMahon (flute and fiddle respectively) and Maureen Kelly (piano).

By the thirties, there were already a couple of radios in Kilfenora village. The first broadcast by the band was in 1932 from Athlone. The radios were taken out in the open, as the crowd of listeners was as big as when Eamon de Valera came to the village for the Clare election in 1917. There was another broadcast in June 1935 relayed from the town hall in Ennis. They were half-hour programmes and entailed lengthy rehearsal beforehand. On June 30th 1940, the Kilfenora broadcast from the Convent of Mercy, Ennis on Radio Éireann, a prize for winning the Céilí Band Competition at the Ennis Carnival.

They had a three-year standing contract to play for the céilithe in the Queen’s Hotel, Ennis, during the winters of ’35, ’36 and ’37. The regular lineup during the ’30s was: John Joe Lynch, Jim Mulqueeney, Tom Ward, Nora McMahon (violins), Paddy McMahon, Jim McCormack (flutes), Jim Ward (piccolo), Paddy Byrt (concertina), Pat Madigan (Sax & Clarinet), Jimmy Leyden (drums).

During the ’40’s some of the Kilfenora stalwarts played under a different banner. The Corcomroe band was organised in 1942 by, Barry Ward from Northern Ireland, who came as an engineer to the phosphate mines in Doolin, which were opened in that year. According to Jim Ward, this Barry Ward (no relation) played the piano accordion and was “music mad but apparently didn’t know much about traditional music”. It was his good fortune though, to gather around him some of the finest traditional musicians in North Clare.

Kilfenora-Corcomroe Ceili Band, 1946

Kilfenora-Corcomroe Ceili Band, 1946

The Byrt family featured very much in this band and the photo shows four of them. Paddy Byrt, a founder member of the Kilfenora in 1909 was a gifted musician with an unmatched knowledge of music and traditional lore, which he passed on to his sons, one of whom, John in particular was regarded as one of the foremost fiddle players of his time and according to some of his peers, he possessed more tunes than any other of his contemporaries.

As a young adult, P.J. Lynch liked to go off for a few days playing music with his friends and he smelled an opportunity for enjoyment when he heard of the All-Ireland fleádh to be held in Athlone in ’53. He was excited by the concept of a céilí band competition and took part there with a hastily assembled ad-hoc band of musicians he met at the festival.

During the autumn after his return, he assembled a group of musicians from within a five-mile radius of the village. They rehearsed and started playing for céilís every Sunday. They enlisted the assistance of Molly Conole, daughter of Michael Slattery, the 1909 founder, as coach. They duly travelled to the ’54 fleádh in Cavan and a vigorous performance brought them victory.

Kilfenora CB, 1956

The Kilfenora obviously had devised a winning formula. Much to the delight of their supporters, they triumphed at the next two fleádhanna, completing the celebrated three-in-a row on home ground in Ennis in ’56, The lineup that year was: Gerry Lynch, Kitty Linnane, Frank O’Mahony, PJ Lynch, Gerald O Loughlin, Shamus McCormack, Gus Tierney, Noreen Lynch, Jim Ward and Ita Mulqueeney. (

The 1958 album The Kilfenora Céilí Band was the only commercial recording by most of that line-up. After that, there were substantial changes in personnel and it was a very different band that won at the fleádh in Swinford in 1961. .

P.J. Lynch stepped aside and the steady hand of Kitty Linnane steered them through the next three and a half decades. The band was extremely busy on the céilí circuit. They played every county in the Republic. They went on a series of trips to Britain during Lent when demand was quiet at home. It is surprising that caution prevailed in preventing them from accepting the numerous invitations to the U.S.

From the mid-’70s onwards, their work as a full-blown céilí band was greatly diminished. During the early ’70s, the band did produce two more albums, Clare Céilí (E.M.I.) and The Kilfenora Céilí Band (Transatlantic). By the ’80s, their activities were limited to special occasions of nostalgia. The fact was that set dancing was at that time becoming pub-based and céilí bands weren’t getting many bookings till the resurgence of the ’90s.

The band members who appeared on the Clare Céilí album were: Kitty Linnane, Paddy (Organ) Mullins, Tommy Peoples, Gus Tierney, Jim Ward, Michael Sexton, Jimmy Leyden and singer P.J. Murrihy.

During the ’70s and ’80s, the aforementioned fiddler Gus Tierney was passing the music on to the next generation during his classes all over North Clare. Many of his pupils went on to turn professional and several formed the basis of the present Kilfenora band.

With Kitty in failing health, John Lynch, son of P.J. stepped into the breech in ’91. He assembled a young lineup to carry the torch. The group (with the help of mentors Phil McMahon and Gerry Lynch) achieved three titles in a row from ’93 to ’95, forty years after the original achievement.

The band in the past decade has been commercially very active. This is the third album by the current personnel (sixth in all by the Kilfenora). They gig the length and breadth of Ireland and travel regularly to Britain, Europe and the United States. Their performances are no longer confined to playing for céilí dancers and they regularly entertain at the larger U.S. festivals for audiences of thousands.
KCB, 2002

Lynch has been very careful to preserve authenticity by keeping innovation to a discreet minimum and staying true to traditional instrumentation and repertoire. To date, the band has continued in the style of its predecessors.

(for more info: http://www.kilfenoraceiliband.com)

PROGRAM OF CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

23-26 April 2009, KILFENORA, CO. CLARE

Thursday, 23 April 2009
9 pm Céilí with Four Courts Céilí Band – Vaughans Barn
10 pm Singing Night – Linnanes Pub, Session – Nagles Pub

Friday, 24 April 2009
9.30 pm – 12.00 am Céilí with Kilfenora Céilí Band – Community Hall

Saturday, 25 April 2009
10 am – 12.00 pm Childrens’ Sean Nós & Step Dancing Workshop
1 – 3 pm Recital by local musical families – Community Hall
4 – 5.30 pm Lecture on History of Kilfenora Céilí Band by Garry Shannon and Photography Exhibition (from 3.00 pm) – Community Hall
8 – 10.30 pm Gala Celebration Concert with Kilfenora Céilí Band and special guests – Community Hall
10.30-1.30 pm Old Time Céilí with PJ Murrihy and Michael Sexton Vaughns Bar

Sunday, April 26th 2009
11 am Aifreann Traidisiúnta for deceased members of Kilfenora Céilí Band
– St. Fachnans Church
12 pm Unveiling of plaque commemorating 100 years of the Kilfenora Céilí Band – Burren Centre
1.30 pm Traditional music and entertainment by local musicians and school children – The Square, Kilfenora*
3.30 pm Launch of “Century” CD by Kilfenora Céilí Band – The Square, Kilfenora*
4.15 pm Tulla Céilí Band – The Square, Kilfenora*
5 pm Final concert including presentation to past members of Kilfenora Céilí Band – The Square, Kilfenora*
9 pm Céilí with Four Courts Céilí Band – Vaughans Barn
*Please note: Programme subject to change. In the event of rain, open air sessions will take place in the Community Hall
TRADITIONAL MUSIC SESSIONS IN ALL PUBS NIGHTLY

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