ceol chairlinn: sharing music in winter
Through the varied political history of Ireland, people have always found ways to connect. One of those ways has been through music. Mary Black, whose father was from the north and whose mother grew up in the republic, thinks that ”When it comes to religion or difference in political belief it doesn’t matter-- if somebody likes a song, it doesn’t matter what your background is, it makes you equal to the other person who likes it. I think it’s a healing thing as well,” says Black, who among other things sang during the peace process negotiations in northern Ireland.
Music, and the connections formed through the teaching, learning, and sharing of it, was the subject of things at Ceol Chairlinn, the winter music school that just finished its fourth year of lighting up early February in north county Louth. Louth sits on the border of northern Ireland, facing County Down across Carlingford Lough. Both counties have their place in legend and in more recent history, facts which were part of the inspiration that led artistic director Gerry O’Connor and others to collaborate on the festival and school, which has grown over the years. Part of the idea behind the weekend is to allow adults and children who live in the different traditions around the area to get to know each other over sharing music .This year, there were taster concerts to allow children in nearby schools to meet the musicians who’d be offering classes, instruction across two days in flute, fiddle, tin whistle, banjo, accordion, singing, highland pipes, uillean pipes, and dance, a concert by all the tutors, and a range of sessions in pubs around the Carlingford area.
The tutors were a mix of local musicians and world renown talent. Every aspect of the weekend showed them working together with fun and enjoyment of the music and their students. The students enjoyed things as well. Two women who’d taken fiddle classes joked that they’d definitely had a full weekend “Our heads are just stuffed full of notes and tunes,” said one. “We’ve learnt so much we don’t even know how much we’ve learnt,” added her friend, laughing. Fiddle classes were taught by O’Connor and by Tommy Peoples, legendary tune smith and player with the Bothy Band among others. A man who’d taken the singing class showed the sheaf of lyrics for the songs he’d been introduced to, and when asked which one he’d liked the best, said he couldn’t choose. “They were all so brilliant to learn,” he said. “The teaching was just brilliant, so welcoming and encouraging.” The singing tutor was Cathie Ryan, well known in America and Europe for her solo career as a singer and songwriter. Cathal McConnell, of Boys of the Lough, taught flute and kept listeners engaged with his lively stories at the concert. Highland piping was taught by James Hanratty, Aine McGeeney taught tin whistle, Emmett Gill was the instructor for uillean pipes, Gary McKeown taught banjo, Elaine O’Sullivan taught accordion, and Micheal and Kathleen McGlynn taught sean nos dancing -- and received the festival’s lifetime achievement award on the concert evening as well.
A celebration and a sharing of music and the friendships and connections it allows, Ceol Chairlinn adds light and warmth to the winter season. This year -- perhaps the coldest winter Ireland has felt for some long time -- the area was blanketed with snow, but the unusally cold weather only made the three days of music, connection, friendship, learning, and laughter burn the brighter.
If you'd like to know about next year’s Ceol Chairlinn, information will be posted here. There are other winter music schools, in Ireland and in America. One of the best known is the Frankie Kennedy Winter School, in Donegal, started by the members of Altan and held usually around the new year. Workshops for both beginners and intermediate players are also part of Celtic Connections in Glasgow, a festival about which you’ve heard before here along the music road.
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