Festival brings feast of music to Wexford
The first Trad & Folk Weekend in Wexford (march 1-3, 2019) has been hailed as a phenomenal success with large attendances at concerts, talks and workshops throughout the three day event. Organised by Craobh Loch Garman, the mini-festival featured some of the biggest names in Irish music, including Liam Ó Maonlaí, Zoë Conway, Rónán Ó Snodaigh, Máirtín O’Connor and – from Gorey – Mark Redmond and Patrick Fitzpatrick.
Bhí an-áthas ar Chraobh Bhaile Loch Garman an fhéile cheoil tradisiúnta seo a chur ar siúl i mBaile Loch Garman. Bhí imeachtaí de gach saghas ar siúl timpeall an bhaile, idir cheolchoimeacha, seisiúin, léachtanna, ceardlanna, taispeántais damhsa agus go leor leor eile. Bhí scoth na gceoltóirí agus ndamhsóirí ó Loch Garman ag glacadh páirte ann. Anuas ar sin bhí scoth na gceoltóirí náisiúnta le cloisteáil thar an deireadh seachtaine freisin. Ceiliúrann an féile seo an neart cultúr tradisiúnta sa cheantar. Agus bíonn fáth eile féile a baint amach ag an am seo: is é seo Mí na Márta, tús Seachtain na Gaeilge.
“The weekend was a huge success,” said branch Chairman and President Paddy Berry. “We are delighted with the support it received and the buzz generated around town. Our plan is to make it an annual fixture.”
Here's a day-by-day account of the weekend:
Friday, March 1
Liam Ó Maonlaí, Ciaran Tourish, Kevin Doherty, James Delaney - National Opera House
Liam opened the show with some stirring sean nós songs including An raibh tú ar a gcarraig, Eleanór a rún and Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealadh, and raised the tempo and involved the audience for the gorgeous Worry Not. He displayed his optimistic side with Amhráin na Féidireachta, Song of Possibilities and before the interval his piano was ringing out the sounds of Christchurch bells.
After the break, it was the turn of Ciaran Tourish (fiddle, whistle), Kevin Doherty (guitar/vocals) and James Delaney (keyboards). With former Altan member Ciaran very much the ring-master, their set list veered largely towards dance tunes with sets of reels, jigs and slip-jigs. His mastery of his instrument, the effortlessness and fluidity of his playing, suggests that Ciaran may well have done a deal at the crossroads involving his soul!
Kevin showed his love of American roots in his song about a famous Wexford character Charlie Hawker. He also sang Bob Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather with Ciaran’s low whistle and James’s softly played chords helping to lift this classic ballad to lofty heights. Liam returned to join in on whistle, bodhrán and jaw’s harp, for a couple of sets of reels and jigs, before a nod from Ciaran to James moved things in a completely different direction. Flexing his long fingers and raising his old prophet’s head to the heavens, Kilkenny’s King of the Keys let fly with some hot boogie woogie. Sanity was subsequently restored with a farewell set of reels.
The Druids - Wexford Arts Centre
Winners of the best live act at the Irish Folk Music Awards 2017, this Kildare outfit plays it straight down the middle with clench-fisted rebel ballads, which the crowd loved it from start to finish.
Wexford Traditional Singers - Mary’s Bar
Mary’s Bar was full to the gunnels for last Friday’s singing session hosted by Wexford Traditional Singers’ Circle. Indeed, the pub has become a hub of traditional singing in recent years. It was all about the song here as singers told their stories, in both English and Irish. Local ballads always get a good airing at such gatherings and so it was here in this famous venue. It was the singing of a priceless Wexford town ballad that particularly struck a chord, concerning a local rowing boat called The Fair Do, sung by John O’Byrne.
The Wild Turkeys -The Sky & The Ground
Five musicians from the north of the county doing battle with a young and lively Friday night audience. Fiddles, guitar, banjo, and accordion, classic instruments in the hands of classic musicians.
Saturday, March 2.
Tuarascáil ar an Pop-Up Gaeltacht - Margadh Fháinne na dTarbh, Loch Garman
"Is mise Aisling Ní Fhinnéigh agus tá mé ag staidéar an Baitsiléir Ealaíon i nGaeilge agus Ceoil i Ollscoil na Cathrach mBáile Átha Cliath. Is míse an Oifig na hÓige agus múinteoir pianó agus bainseo i gCeolteoirí Munna agus an Oifig na hÓige cúnta le Craobh Loch Garman CCÉ.
Go raibh an maidin den scoth a bhí ann Dé Sathairn seo caite, mar go raibh an chéad "Pop-up Gaeltacht" ar siúl isteach sa Mhargadh Fháinne na dTarbh, Loch Garman. Bhí an aimsir fuair agus fluaich ach níor chuir sé aon stop chun na cúpla Gaeilgoirí ag bualadh chun an cupán tae nó caife agus an cúpla fhocail a mhalairt. D'eagraithe Bernie Ní Bhriain ó Craobh Loch Garman an ócáid agus go raibh mise agus an Oifig na hÓige eile Sarah Ní Bhuilghéire i láthair in aontaigh leis an cúpla bhaill ó Craobh Loch Garman CCÉ. Bhainimid go léir taitneamh de mhaidin a bhí lán le comhrá agus craic agus chuir sé lúchair an domhain orm chun na bhaill ó Conradh na Gaeilge a casadh. Agus ansin chuaigh a lán dhaoine go dtí séipéal Naomh Iberius chun an trathnóna den scoth a bhí ann lán le ceoil agus craic!"
Ciaran Tourish and Kevin Doherty – Wexford Arts Centre
Buncrana duo Ciaran Tourish and Kevin Doherty delighted a packed room with tunes, songs and stories. There was lively banter throughout with questions from the floor regarding everything from astrology and triads to tuning and influences. It was a rare opportunity to see and hear two master craftsmen up close and in an intimate setting. Listen!
Louise Mulcahy – Wexford Arts Centre
Louise Mulcahy’s presentation on female uilleann pipers was as fascinating as it was detailed. Two hundred years ago women uilleann pipers were thin on the ground, the instrument perceived as the preserve of male musicians. Today, women are as likely to take up the uilleann pipes as they are any other instrument. History has shown how many independent-minded women ignored tradition and excelled on the pipes, such as Kitty Henley who, when her husband died, “buckled on his pipes and made a living on the street’. There were also Cork’s Anna Barry, “a dove among a flock of crows”, and Netta Jane Nicholl (Miss Johnston) who had a concealed blade in her walking cane, a shot-gun under her bed, not that she needed them as she was“proficient at judo”! Louise delighted her audience by finishing her presentation with some dance tunes on her own pipes.
Blas Ceolmhar Loch Garman - St Iberius Church
With an audience in excess of 250 people, Wexford Folk Orchestra, under the musical direction of Ann McClean, had the honour of opening proceedings at the Flavour of Wexford concert. Their spirited, well-rehearsed and always entertaining performance of traditional tunes and songs provided the perfect start to what was a most enjoyable concert.
Mattie Murphy, fear an tí, joined the orchestra for a fine rendition of I’m a Man You Don’t Meet everyday. In his introduction, Mattie emphasised the importance of Irish music, how much a part of our heritage it is and how it should feature more prominently in our schools. Up next was local fiddler player Alice Wickham Mc Intyre, accompanied by guitarist James McIntyre. They started with a slow air, followed by a reel and finished with a self-penned song. They were joined by Séimí Tompkins on banjo and his slick fingerpicking on the old bluegrass standard Turkey in the Straw fairly raised the church roof. John Roche, Joe Curran and Mick Lawlor are longtime stalwarts of traditional music in Wexford town and they treated the audience to a whistle-stop tour of dance styles with sets of reels, double jigs, hornpipes and polkas.
Craobh Loch Garman President Paddy Berry delivered a moving rendition of a great Wexford favourite, Nicky Rackard. The new Wexford Pipers featuring Kieran Joy of na Píobairí Uilleann and Catherine Roche were joined by Craobh Loch Garman musicians of all ages. And when the sean nós dancers took to the floor there were more than a few in the pews on the point of turning this into a free-for-all barn-dance! Mattie Murphy and many of the performers joined the musicians on the packed altar for a finale of Kelly the Boy from Killane and The Boys of Wexford.
A delighted audience showed its appreciation with whoops, cheers and a prolonged standing ovation. Then they spilled out onto Main Street, heads full of music and happy that traditional music, song and dance is still very much a living thing in Wexford.
Seisiún na n-Óg
Following the concert the younger musicians moved onto Wexford Arts Centre where, under branch Youth Officers, Sarah Bolger and Aisling Feeney, a might session of music, singing and dancing ensued.
Rónán Ó Snodaigh - Macken’s, The Bullring
Singer and bodhrán player, Rónán Ó Snodaigh, was one of the highlights of this year's Wexford Trad & Folk Weekend. The energetic frontman of Kíla has been described as ‘the living embodiment of Turlough O'Carolan and Bob Marley’. That only gets you part of the way to knowing this modern day Renaissance man as, along with being an extraordinary musician, he is also poet, storyteller, Gaelgeoir, environmentalist and activist. At Macken’s, he treated an early evening packed house to a heady mix of sean nós and grooves-driven songs, some solo and some from the Kíla songbook. These included old favourites Bí Ann and Tóg É Go Bog É, the jaunty and percussion heavy Ón Thaobh Tuathail, the elegiac The Beautiful Road, in tribute to both a lost friend and the stunning corner of west Kerry in which the two communed, and the gorgeous dream-like Tip Toe from his 2015 album of the same name. He recited The Garden Wars, the title poem from a collection published in 2007. Along the way there were plenty of anecdotes, reminiscences and witty asides. This gig was pitched just right in every way and, for the full 70 minutes duration, the energy between performer and audience palpable.
Zoe Conway, Mairtin O’Connor and Shamie O’Dowd – National Opera House
An enthusiastic audience left the Jerome Hynes Theatre last Saturday evening well-sated after a life-affirming concert by Zoe Conway, Mairtin O’Connor and Seamie O’Dowd. The last-name was called off the subs bench after John McIntyre was forced out through injury, and he played a veritable blinder, his guitar dexterity alone being more than worth the admission price. The trio delivered a lively programme that was a tasty mix of old pieces and new compositions with some well chosen songs among the jigs, waltzes, reels and polkas.
O’Connor is a shining beacon in Irish traditional music, and his ‘The Big Smoke’, which he described as a slow city reel, was a real treat enlivened by its appealing Caribbean lilt. His Road to Gort, inspired by the Brazilian presence in Gort, eased along in low gear before letting loose with a frenetic Samba-infused middle section.
Conway was equally impressive and her playing on ‘The Shetland Fiddler’ and ‘The Hangman’s Reel’, inspired by a gallows-escaping story from the Appalachians, was a wonder to hear and even watch as her fingers danced along the fretboard. She also gave us several enjoyable songs, including an O’Carolan melody she had cleverly matched with an old poem.
Seamie O’Dowd showed that he has a classic folk singer’s voice to match his peerless guitar work. His version of Thom Moore’s ‘The Cedars of Lebanon’, buoyed along by interweaving three-way instrumental magic, winning over the audience.
But when all three hit the afterburners, as on Donal Lunny’s ‘The Tolka Polka’, sparks really flew. Andy Irvine’s Lago Puelo Jig - Twenty Two with its Bulgarian rhythms and timings offered a temporary respite before they were up and off again with the ‘Desert Storm Set’, adapted from a Scottish bagpipe tune by Robbie Mathieson.
On the night there might have been a noticeable chill in the Wexford air, but the music on offer was more than sufficient to warm the bones.
Festival Hootenanny - The Sky & The Ground
The late night and free Wexford Trad & Folk Weekend Hootenanny saw over 100 people pack out The Sky & The Ground to witness a showcase of some of Wexford's finest folk talent. The night featured nu-trad duo Bladderack, singer-songwriter/guitar virtuoso The Man Whom – Ian Doyle - with Indie/folk brother duo Basciville closing the night. At least that was the plan before the Hootenanny spilled out into the beer garden, and when Kíla frontman Rónán Ó Snodaigh arrived with bodhrán and guitar he jumped headlong into the melée. Talk about pouring petrol on the fire! What followed was a wild session, into the early hours, of high-energy improvised music, singing and dancing.
Sunday – March 3
The Big Session - Centenary Stores
Wexford’s biggest, most popular and most enduring session pulled out all the stops for this special festival edition.
Mark Redmond and Patrick Fitzpatrick St Iberius Church
Mark Redmond (uilleann pipes, trad flute and whistles) and Patrick Fitzpatrick (clarinet, traditional flute, whistles, Scottish Pipes) had the honour of performing at the closing concert, on Sunday, March 3rd, of the inaugural Wexford Trad & Folk Weekend. This family-friendly afternoon concert was one of the most popular and well-received of the weekend.
Mark’s brand new set of B Flat pipes had a broad bass-rich tone which would remind one of the great Wexford pipers of old – the Dorans, the Cashes, the Rowesomes. Pat Fitzpatrick, an anchor member of the Garda Band, hopped like Mad Sweeney from instrument to instrument with his sonorous bass clarinet really working the room's fine acoustics. There was a big focus throughout the programme on Wexford music including the opening set of jigs - Courtown Harbour , Cook in the Kitchen - and the set of reels - Wexford Lassies, Redmond’s Frolics, Trip the Hills. There was, of course, a few tunes by the blind harper Turlough O’Carolan, including the hornpipe Madam Maxwell. Mark played the hauntingly beautiful Caoineadh which laments the execution in 1798 of Patrick ‘Staker’ Wallace. A hush descended when the first notes of The Eagles Whistle issued forth from Pat’s bass clarinet; it was the sound of music and nature communing. “It was orbital,” said Craobh Loch Garman President Paddy Berry. “It would remind you of your youth and the far-out music of that time we called ‘making whoopy’! Listen!
Wexford Trad & Folk Weekend was supported by Wexford County Council, Creative Ireland, Wexford Library and na Macallaí. Craobh Loch Garman could not have put the weekend together without this support. Thanks to the staff at all the venues including Macken's, Wexford Arts Centre, Wexford Library, Centenary Stores, St Iberius Church, National Opera House and, the workshop hosts, Santos Café and Juke Bakery. Thanks to Ollie Dempsey for doing such a fine job with the sound for the shows at the National Opera House and to Brian Byrne of Lantern for providing a system for the gig at Macken's.