Last Days at Luggala

Garech Browne asked me to come to Luggala two-and-a-half years ago, when Richard Curson Smith and Liam McGrath were filming some scenes for a proposed documentary about Garech. Some of their footage has now been used in a new film, commissioned by RTÉ and directed by Mick Mahon, which was first broadcast last Wednesday.

I knew that playing for this kind of film means the footage will be used in tiny fragments, so I decided to play a sweet simple melody – the tune “Luggala” seemed most appropriate. Garech said afterwards that he was disappointed, he had hoped I would play ceòl mór. Garech was particularly taken with the idea of ceòl mór or pibroch played on the harp; he told me that he had read the idea in William Matheson’s book The Traditional and National Music of Scotland. The previous year, I had played pieces of ceòl mór on the harp for him and a few of his closest friends; he had wept openly, and said he never thought he would live to hear it.

The new film is a very beautiful thing, capturing Garech’s character very well. It is visually stunning of course, thanks to the setting at Luggala, but the memories of Garech’s friends in the documentary are lovely as well.

The film is available on the RTÉ Player until the middle of January. Watch it if you can!

A little history

I have been asked to do a historical overview talk at almost every Scoil na gCláirseach for years and years. Every time I do it, I try to make it new and fresh, to basically come up with a new overview. I think that way, I challenge myself to think about what story I want to tell, what are the important strands that we want to focus on.

Here’s my August 2019 talk, videoed by the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

I only had half an hour allocated, which made me focus even more. In this talk I didn’t speak about the modern revivals; sometimes I would make these an important part of the story. But somehow the medieval museum ambience made this aspect seem less important. And for the week-long participants at the summer school, the revival was what we talked about each day.

I’m always interested in the questions and comments….

Erard Grecian harp

On Saturday I was at Hospitalfield house, near Arbroath. This amazing 19th century country house is now conserved and run as an arts centre. A recent project was to restore the Erard Grecian double-action pedal harp that has been at the house since about 1830.

Saturday’s event was an inaugural concert for the newly-restored harp, and I was asked to give the pre-concert talk on the harp and its place in Scottish music. Continue reading Erard Grecian harp

Playing the harp for Nathaniel Gow

“Nathaniel Gow’s Dance Band Concert” last night at the Edinburgh Assembly rooms was far, far more exciting, beautiful and moving than I had expected. The venue was just stunning, the band was amazing, the dancers were elegant and alluring, the programming was just perfect and the audience was almost full and really engaged with the entire project.

Continue reading Playing the harp for Nathaniel Gow

Colonial views of Gaelic harp traditions

Yesterday I gave my lecture on the clàrsach or Gaelic harp, to the undergraduate students on the Scottish Music degree course at the University of St Andrews.

As is my wont nowadays, I filmed the lecture for you, but there was a mix up with my battery charging, and the camera died 40 minutes in, so you are missing the last 11 or 12 minutes.

Continue reading Colonial views of Gaelic harp traditions

Medieval Gaelic harp setup and repertory

At Scoil na gCláirseach last month I presented a lecture and a workshop on the medieval Gaelic harp traditions. The lecture outlined my recent work on the setup and tuning of the medieval Gaelic harps, while the workshop later in the week explored the different strands of evidence for medieval Gaelic music.

Continue reading Medieval Gaelic harp setup and repertory

The Memoirs of Arthur Ó Néill

Today I presented my concert in St Andrews, “the Memoirs of Arthur Ó Neill”.

I read excerpts from his autobiography, and played the tunes referred to in the anecdotes.

Here is my video of the complete, half-hour performance:

Continue reading The Memoirs of Arthur Ó Néill