Monday, September 28, 2009

The Irish musical delights of Donegal

KILCAR, Co. Donegal -- The tide is rolling steadily into Tawny Bay towards Kilcar Town as the rain falls softly down for the first time on my current rambles in Ireland.

Alongside a warm comfortable fire burning in the holiday home of friends Patricia and Jim Flynn, access to wireless Internet affords me the opportunity to pen some lines about the first visit to Donegal in a score of years. It is only a flying visit for the weekend, but anytime spent in such a beautiful part of the world is memorable, especially when you can take in some traditional music and dancing along the way and reconnect with old friends and meet new ones which is so easy to do in Ireland.

Twilight was ebbing last Friday night as I drove across the Derryveagh Mountains on a winding country road leading to the sandy shores of Gweedore. There was enough light remaining to make out the majestic form of Mount Errigal in Glenveigh National Park in the distance, one of the most distinguishable summits among the spectacular hills of Donegal.

The first stop in my Destination Donegal tour would be Bunbeg and the famous house for music, Hudi Beag’s Tavern, brought to greater recognition by Altan, the traditional music group that helped raise the profile of the unique Donegal music style a number of years ago.

Fridays and Mondays would be nights where tunes are shared and arrangements are made to meet up with Ciaran O’Maonaigh and Caitlinn Nic Gabhann (visiting from Co. Meath before she headed back to her studies in Cork). We were also joined by Ciaran’s father Gearoid O’Maonaigh who plays guitar. and a piper from Belfast, Conor Tay.

Ciaran O’Maonaigh is one of those extraordinary young musicians carrying on the musical heritage of Donegal who was recognized back in 2003 as a comer by TG4, which named the fiddler the Young Musician of the Year.

The following year he produced a fabulous CD, “Music of the Glen,” that also featured Dermot McLaughlin and John Blake, that highlighted the music of this region which has been further enhanced by his latest recording with two other Donegal musicians, Aidan O’Donnell and Damien McGeehan, as a fiddle trio called Fidil.

Caitlinn is the youngest daughter of Cavan fiddle master Antoin MacGabhann who plays the concertina, and a part of the very vibrant Co. Meath music scene.

Hudi Beag’s was relatively quiet this night in terms of a crowd, but the music was sublime and intense and well worth making the journey all the way from Dublin that day. Quiet tunes in pubs like this are really to be treasured, because in noisier or more touristy timeframes, one wouldn’t have the pleasure of hearing the music with such clarity and beauty.

By Paul Keating

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