seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Martin Fay, Founding Member of The Chieftains

Martin Fay, Irish fiddler and bones player, and a former member of The Chieftains, dies on November 14, 2012. The Chieftains collaborate with musicians from a wide range of genres and cultures and bring in guest performers such as Mick Jagger, Van Morrison and James Galway. Yet traditional tunes lay at the heart of the band, with Fay’s fiddle a vital part of their distinctive sound.

Fay is born in Cabra, Dublin, where his mother teaches him to play the piano. As a boy, he is captivated by the music in the film The Magic Bow (1946), about the life of Niccolò Paganini, and he changes instrument. He progresses well in his classical violin lessons and at fifteen is playing in a Butlins holiday camp orchestra. After leaving school at eighteen, Fay works in an office by day and in the evenings plays in the Abbey Theatre orchestra, where he meets the Abbey’s musical director, Seán Ó Riada.

In the 1950s, traditional music is regarded as distinctly old-fashioned in Ireland, but Ó Riada’s success with a film score, and a play at the Abbey, encourage him to establish a folk orchestra which includes Fay, piper Paddy Moloney and the tin whistle player Seán Potts. Instead of all the musicians playing together in unison, as in the established cèilidh bands, Ó Riada wants to create a chamber orchestra, playing arrangements of folk music. Fay’s classical music background is essential for this approach. The resulting ensemble, Ceoltóirí Cualann, enjoys radio success and, in 1961, plays the soundtrack for a film of The Playboy of the Western World. Fay was soon earning more playing traditional music than in his day job.

Garech Browne, a member of the Guinness family and founder of Claddagh Records, asks Moloney to record some traditional Irish music. Moloney brings in Fay, Potts and Michael Tubridy on flute, and uses a similar approach to arranging the tunes. Their eponymous album, The Chieftains, is released in 1964, before they first perform in public. The success of this new approach to traditional Irish music leads to radio and television work, and they attract celebrity fans. Browne is a great thrower of parties, where the guests included Jagger, Princess Grace of Monaco, Peter O’Toole and Sean Connery, with The Chieftains invariably playing through the night.

By 1968, Moloney is working full time for Claddagh Records, and when he, Potts and Fay are offered a recording contract by a rival company, Gael Linn, Moloney refuses to sign. Potts and Fay believe that their future lay with Gael Linn and they leave The Chieftains, only to return a year later. In the meantime, Seán Keane has joined to play fiddle, but on Fay’s return the pair work well together.

The Chieftains’ popularity is extending far beyond folk enthusiasts but they are still playing only in their spare time. That changes in 1975 when they provide music for the Oscar-winning score of Stanley Kubrick‘s film Barry Lyndon and the promoter Jo Lustig books the group into the Royal Albert Hall in London on St. Patrick’s Day. The sell-out concert is a triumph, and Fay and his fellow Chieftains finally give up their day jobs.

The relentless international touring takes its toll on band members with young families, and Tubridy and Potts leave, to be replaced by the flautist Matt Molloy. Fay is happy to continue. A reserved and modest man with a great sense of humour, he is unfazed by the pressures of extensive touring. He is the only Chieftain not to be racked by nerves when playing to well over a million people at Phoenix Park during Pope John Paul II‘s visit to Dublin in 1979.

Although he has a classical training, Fay has a natural understanding of traditional music. He is a master of changing the mood at Chieftains concerts from the lively onstage parties to a more tranquil atmosphere, through his emotional interpretations of the slow airs. In total, Fay records more than 30 albums with the group before he withdraws from touring in 2001 and retires altogether in 2002.

Martin Fay dies in Cabra, Dublin, on November 14, 2012 after a lengthy illness.

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Birth of Uilleann Piper Willie Clancy

willie-clancyWillie Clancy, an Irish uilleann piper, is born into a musical family at Islandbawn near Milltown Malbay, County Clare, on December 24, 1918.

Clancy’s parents, Gilbert Clancy and Ellen Killeen, both sing and play concertina, and his father also plays the flute. Clancy’s father has been heavily influenced by local blind piper Garret Barry and passes much of Barry’s music on to his son.

Clancy starts playing the whistle at age five, and later takes up the flute. He first lays eyes on a set of pipes in 1936 when he sees Johnny Doran playing locally. He obtains his first set of pipes two years later. His influences include Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis, John Potts, and Andy Conroy. Clancy wins the Oireachtas competition in 1947. Unable to earn a living from music he emigrates to London where he works as a carpenter.

Returning to Milltown Malbay shortly after the death of his father in 1957, Clancy records some influential 78 rpm recordings for the Gael Linn label, among them the classic reel selection “The Old Bush/The Ravelled Hank of Yarn.” He develops a highly distinctive and individual style of piping. From 1957 until 1972 the Summer music sessions in the West Clare town become widely renowned, with Clancy as one of the main attractions. Pipe-making, reed-making, and all things connected with the instrument are explored and advanced by the Clancy influence. He gives many performances on both radio and television as well as live sessions in his local area.

He lives out the remainder of his life in Milltown Malbay. Clancy marries Dóirín Healy in 1962. He dies suddenly in a hospital in Galway on January 24, 1973, and is widely mourned among friends and musicians alike. He is buried in Ballard Cemetary just outside Miltown Malbay.

Later that year the Willie Clancy Summer School is established in his honour by his friends Junior Crehan, Martin Talty, Sean Reid, Paddy Malone, Paddy McMahon, Frankie McMahon, Jimmy Ward, JC Talty, Harry Hughes, Michael O Friel, Séamus Mac Mathúna, and Muiris Ó Rócháin. He is also the subject of a major television documentary “Cérbh É? Willie Clancy” on TG4, first broadcast in November 2009. In this programme, one of a series in which major figures in contemporary traditional music, profile and pay homage to a master of their craft from a bygone age, Peter Browne traces the life and legacy of Clancy.

A statue of Clancy is unveiled on November 9, 2013 on the Main Street in Miltown Malbay.


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Death of Irish Dramatist Seán O’Casey

Seán O’Casey, Irish dramatist and memoirist, dies of a heart attack in Torquay, Devon, England on September 18, 1964. A committed socialist, he is the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.

O’Casey is born John Casey at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin on March 30, 1880. He is a member of the Church of Ireland, baptised on July 28, 1880 in St. Mary’s parish and confirmed at St. John the Baptist Church in Clontarf. He is an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties, when he drifts away from the church.

As O’Casey’s interest in Irish nationalism grows, he joins the Gaelic League in 1906 and learns the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicises his name from John Casey to Seán Ó Cathasaigh. He also learns to play the Uilleann pipes and is a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and becomes involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, established by James Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled labourers who inhabit the Dublin tenements. In March 1914 he becomes General Secretary of Larkin’s Irish Citizen Army. On July 24, 1914 he resigns from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers is rejected.

In 1917, his friend Thomas Ashe dies in a hunger strike and it inspires him to write. He spends the next five years writing plays. O’Casey’s first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, is performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This is the beginning of a relationship that is to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ends in some bitterness. It is followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

The Plough and the Stars is not well received by the Abbey audience. There is a riot reported on the fourth night of the show. His depiction of sex and religion offends some of the actors who refused to speak their lines. W.B. Yeats intervenes and describes the audience as “shaming themselves.”

In 1928, Yeats rejects O’Casey’s fourth play, The Silver Tassie, for the Abbey. It is an attack on imperialist wars and the suffering they cause. The Abbey refuses to perform it. The plays O’Casey writes after this include the darkly allegorical and highly controversial Within the Gates (1934), which is set within the gates of a busy city park based on London’s Hyde Park. It closes not long after opening and is another box office failure.

Over the next twenty years, O’Casey writes The Star Turns Red (1940), Purple Dust (1943), Red Roses for Me (1943), Oak Leaves and Lavender (1945), Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). In 1959, O’Casey gives his blessing to a musical adaptation of Juno and the Paycock by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, is a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. Also in 1959, George Devine produces Cock-a-Doodle Dandy at the Royal Court Theatre and it is also successful at the Edinburgh International Festival and has a West End run.

On September 18, 1964, at the age of 84, O’Casey dies of a heart attack, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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Executions of Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, & Con Colbert

colbert-ceannt-mallin-heustonIrish patriots Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, and Cornelius “Con” Colbert are executed by firing squad in the Stonebreakers Yard at Kilmainham Gaol on May 8, 1916, as the executions following the 1916 Easter Rising continue.

Éamonn Ceannt, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, is born in Ballymoe, Glenamaddy in County Galway in 1881. Prior to the Rising, Ceannt is an employee of the Dublin Corporation. He is a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers, partaking in the successful Howth gun-running operation of 1914. His involvement in republican activities is complemented by his interest in Irish culture, specifically Irish language and history, although he is also an accomplished uilleann piper. Ceannt is appointed Director of Communications of the Provisional Government and is Commandant of the Fourth Battalion of the Irish Volunteers, who are stationed at the South Dublin Union, now the site of St. James’ Hospital. Ceannt has about 100 men with him, including his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W.T. Cosgrave who goes on later to become Taoiseach. Ceannt and his men at the South Dublin Union take part in some of the fiercest fighting in the rebellion and hold out against far superior numbers of British troops.

Michael Mallin, a silk weaver by trade, is born in Dublin on December 1, 1874. Mallin is the Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), second in command only to James Connolly. He trains and drills the ICA, and is the Commandant of the St. Stephen’s Green Royal College of Surgeons garrison during the Rising. Countess Markievicz is his second in command. This location sees less action than some of the other sites chosen by the rebels because the British concentrate their efforts on the most strategically important targets such as the General Post Office (GPO) and Four Courts. Mallin surrenders on April 30.

Seán Heuston, born in Dublin on February 21, 1891, is responsible for the organisation of Fianna Éireann in Limerick. Along with Con Colbert, Heuston is involved in the education of the schoolboys at Scoil Éanna, organising drill and musketry exercises. Heuston is the Officer Commanding of the Volunteers in the Mendicity Institution on the south side of Dublin. With 26 Volunteers under his command, they hold their position for two days. With his position becoming untenable against considerable numbers, and the building almost completely surrounded, Heuston sends a dispatch to Connolly informing him of their position. It is soon after sending this dispatch that Heuston decides to surrender. Heuston Railway Station in Dublin is named after him.

Con Colbert is born on October 19, 1888, at Monalena in Limerick, and is one of the younger generation of Irish republicans who take part in the Easter Rising. Prior to the Easter Rising he is an active member of the republican movement. He is one of the founding members of Fianna Éireann. A dedicated pioneer, Colbert is known not to drink or smoke. During the Rising, Colbert is the commander of a group of Volunteers stationed at Watkin’s Brewery on Ardee Street, and later at Jameson’s Distillery on Marrowbone Lane. They hold their position until receiving the order to surrender from Patrick Pearse.