Corca Dhuibhne, Co. Kerry: a musical armchair journey

As part of ITMA's Pop-Up Archive at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh in February 2020, musicians Seán Hughes and Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich were invited to research and prepare a presentation on the music, song and dance of Corca Dhuibhne based on resources found in ITMA collections. 

Seán has kindly taken time during the current lock-down to turn their February 2020 Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh presentation into an online blog.

Corca Dhuibhne 6 20
Corca Dhuibhne Map / Dómhnal Ó Bric. Used with permission by Dómhnal Ó Bric.

In December of 2019, Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich and I, Seán Hughes, heard from the Director of ITMA Liam O'Connor, asking us if we might be interested in carrying out some research at the Archive. The research was to be focused on the music, song and dance of the area in the south west of Ireland known as Corca Dhuibhne. We would then, upon completion of our research, go to Corca Dhuibhne and present our findings to the local people and to those from farther afield who had come to attend the annual Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh festival. We accepted the invitation, admittedly a little tentatively at first, as the idea of standing before the local people and presenting to them their own musical heritage caused us a certain amount of apprehension. 

We understood however that Corca Dhuibhne, being an Irish-speaking Gaeltacht region rich in cultural and folk tradition, would yield many gems and that the opportunity should not be foregone.

Ceantar Gaeltachta is ea Corca Dhuibhne go bhfuil saibhreas ann ó thaobh teanga, cultúir agus béaloideas de. Thuigeamar go mbeadh seoda sa taisce acu agus thacaíomar an deis taighde a dhéanamh orthu. 

Rince Sráide, Muiríoch, 1963.  From the Des Ó Murchú Collection at ITMA

This is a photograph that we found in the ITMA Images Collection showing a dance at the crossroads in the village of Muiríoch in 1963. We quizzed the audience during our presentation at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh on what the exact location was and who the dancers might be. It was pointed out to us that the dancers appear to be dancing 'The Siege of Ennis', which would not have traditionally been danced in the area. This led us to conclude that at least some, if not all, of the dancers were visitors to the area, perhaps Irish language scholars. 

As the map above shows, Corca Dhuibhne makes up a large part of the Dingle Peninsula, a westerly landmass jutting into the Atlantic Ocean and part of the county of Kerry. It is an area which is remarkable for the beauty of its physical landscape, a mountainous region surrounded by the imposing presence of the ocean, a source of inspiration and livelihood for many generations who have resided there. It is a patchwork of parishes and townlands all unique in their history and for the local characters who enrich them. It is an area now which is populated with families who have survived in this breath-taking landscape for generations and who have kept the Irish language alive. Also to be found in Corca Dhuibhne are Irish language enthusiasts, writers, poets, musicians, and artists who have all been enraptured by the magic and the atmosphere to be found in such abundance there. 

Of note are the renowned Blasket Islands, an archipelago off the western tip of the peninsula which were the home of a unique and extraordinary community of people; fishermen and farmers, musicians and poets, craftsmen and storytellers, whose way of life largely came to an end in the mid-twentieth century as a result of emigration from and evacuation of those islands at that time. 

This is the area which we were tasked with delving into and digging around so our apprehension and our excitement might be understandable given the depth and the scope of material which we expected to be investigating.

Tógadh Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich i gCorca Dhuibhne agus tá gaol láidir ag a muintir leis an gceol agus amhránaíocht sa dúthaigh seo. Is ón dTulach Mhór i lár na tíre dhomsa. Veidhleadóirí is ea sinn beirt agus bhogamar go Baile Átha Cliath le déanaí tar éis dhá bhliain a chaitheamh ag maireachtaint i gCorca Dhuibhne. Bhí sé i gceist againn riamh dul isteach go dtí an gcartlann agus thug an deis seo cúis mhaith dhúinn tabhairt fé. 

Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich is of course a native of the peninsula and a member of the Ó Beaglaoich family who are so synonymously associated with the music and song tradition of West Kerry. She is a native Irish speaker and a fiddle player. I am also a fiddle player and my hometown is Tullamore, Co. Offaly, in the midlands of Ireland. After a period of time living abroad we returned home to Ireland in September 2017. We spent two years in Corca Dhuibhne and it was a remarkable experience for me to live in an Irish speaking region. We then decided after those two years to relocate to Dublin. We understood that certain things only to be found in West Kerry were being left behind but also that new opportunities would be made available to us upon our relocation. One of those opportunities that we had in mind was that we would be able to explore and utilise the facilities made available to the public by the Irish Traditional Music Archives in Merrion Square, something which had long been an intention of ours. It was opportune then that, in the weeks leading up to our move from one side of the country to the other, we heard from Liam O'Connor, inviting us to make use of the facilities in a somewhat more formal capacity. It gave us a purpose and a deadline and we needed no more of an excuse.

We moved to Dublin and within the first week or so we made our first visit to the ITMA premises. We met with Liam and he handed us over to a former acquaintance and friend Alan Woods. Alan gave us a comprehensive tour of the building, from the basement to the top floor. We met all the members of staff along the way and they offered their assistance and expertise to us while we carried out our research. 

The variety of material stored in the archive was revealed to us on that tour. We were shown through rooms full of 78 rpms, cassette tapes, LPs, books, photographs, printed materials, manuscripts, digital audio files and more. We were only beginning to realise the wealth of the collection that we were lucky enough to be exploring.
Seán Hughes

The final stop on the tour, and the room with which we were to become most familiar with, was the library or Reading Room. This is the room which is generally for public use, a room full from floor to ceiling with books and commercial recordings, and also containing a selection of computers which give access to the database, the most efficient way to trawl the collection. We were shown how to search the database using the computers and after a short period of fine-tuning we soon found ourselves capable of using that facility with some degree of proficiency. 

Irish Traditional Music Archive Reading Room

Without too much of a focus other than the geographical area in question we slowly began our search. We began by searching the name of the county, the peninsula, the villages and the parishes, in both Irish and in English. We then began to search the names of musicians who we were aware of that had come from the area. We took books from shelves, and CDs from filing cabinets and were made very aware that we were welcome to do so. We kindly requested the librarian on duty (who happened quite often to be Alan Woods) to retrieve for us photographs, posters, VHS and other pieces which needed to be located in other parts of the building. 

Gradually, over time, a shape and a personal preference for the type of material we were looking for began to emerge. We decided that, in presenting to a large number of people from the local area, we wanted to show and play for them musicians and music that they may not have seen or heard for some time. While Corca Dhuibhne is home today to many fine musicians who are producing and releasing very beautiful and commendable collections of music, we felt that many people in attendance might have these albums in their homes and have a certain level of familiarity with them. 

We therefore wanted to travel back and find older musicians from past generations, who in many cases had passed away, and to reveal to people recordings and pieces of music which are a part of their musical heritage but which may not necessarily be in the mainstream today.
Seán Hughes

Tá ceoltóirí iontacha ag maireachtaint agus ag foilsiú a gcuid ceoil i gCorca Dhuibhne le blianta ach theastaigh uainn seana-cheoltóirí agus taifeadtaí nach raibh cloiste ag daoine le tamall a chur faoi bhráid an phobail. D'éistíomar le taifeadtaí páirce agus d'fhéachamar ar fhíseáin nár craoladh ar an dteilifís le fada an lá. Bhí sé go hiontach na daoine áitiúla a fheisint ag caint ar an tseana-shaol agus ar na cuimhní a bhi acu ar na ceoltóirí agus na háiteanna a bhí á dtaispeáint againn. Mar thoradh ar seo bhailíomar eolas breise i dtaobh daoine agus ceol na háite.

 

Small selection of Corca Dhuibhne CDs from the ITMA Collection / Sampla beag ón gnuasach ceoil a d'fhoilsigh ceoltóirí áitiúla Corca Dhuibhne. 

A small example of some of the many fine collections of music that have been released by musicians living and playing in Corca Dhuibhne, a fraction also of the music held at ITMA which relates to this area. 

We were intent on using field recordings if possible and we also wanted to use some materials which may have been incomplete in some detail of information such as dates, locations and names of musicians. Knowing the zeal and enthusiasm that the people of Corca Dhuibhne have for conversation, debate, and anecdote we felt that this might be a way to get the audience involved and engaged with the presentation. 

While we took photographs, ITMA staff scanned images and pages from books and manuscripts, converted older format audio files into MP3 and converted VHS into MP4. Clíodhna and I began the process of compiling our materials, selecting those pieces which stood out to us personally, and moulding these into some kind of a presentable narrative. While we drew our materials from the Archive at ITMA, it must be noted that we utilised materials which had been collected by An Coimisiún Béaloideas Éireann, RTÉ and RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, organisations which have collections of huge importance themselves and which liaise with ITMA. We are grateful to An Coimisiún Béaloideas Éireann, RTÉ and RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta for permission to use these recordings in the presentation and this blog.

Our selections were compiled and the presentation was prepared. This was the result of a number of visits to the ITMA premises at Merrion Square and also of hours of work put in at home. With our efforts condensed into a PowerPoint file and stored on a memory stick we hopped into our car on a Thursday evening and set off on the long journey to the Dingle Peninsula, our first time to return since we had left in December. 


The Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh festival, organised by Niamh Ní Bhaoill and Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich, was well underway when we arrived. We began our preparations on Friday afternoon at Áras Bhréanainn, the Community Centre in the village of Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, the focal point of the festival on the peninsula. As the hour approached the mumblings of a crowd began to make their way through the sheets of horizontal rain outside and the room began to fill up. Maeve Gebruers and Treasa Harkin, who work at ITMA, were in attendance and had set up an ITMA Pop-Up Archive at the venue. They were an invaluable source of support and assistance as we prepared for the presentation and then, with prayers that we would experience no malfunction of technology, we set about putting before our audience some of the gems we had uncovered.

I would like to include in this post a flavour of what we presented on that occasion and to give you an insight into the type of material which can be found at ITMA and that stood out to us personally as fiddle players and enthusiasts. Beidh blaise againn don gceol a d'aimsíomar sa taisce anois.

One of the most remarkable areas in Corca Dhuibhne is the Blasket Islands which I have mentioned briefly at an earlier point in this blog. We listened to numerous recordings of musicians from those islands and found their raw energy and rhythm to be compelling. One piece that we included in the presentation was this video recording of musicians Muiris 'Deálaí' Ó Dálaigh (accordion) and Seánin Mhicil Ó Súilleabháin (fiddle). The rhythm of musicians accustomed to playing for dancers is evident. The music is followed by an interesting snippet of conversation concerning the source of tunes for musicians living on the islands. This clip was originally broadcast in the 1980s and was then selected for airing on the popular television show ‘Come West Along the Road’ which was of course presented by former Director of ITMA Nicholas Carolan. 

Tá ana rithim agus spiorad sa cheol seo agus is léir go raibh seana-thaithí acu a bheith ag seimnt i dteannta a chéile agus a bheith ag seimnt do rinceoirí. Tá freagraí suimiúla ag na ceoltóirí ar na ceisteanna a bhí ag an láithreoir dhóibh maidir leis na poirt agus cad as a thánadar.

The blackbird / Muiris Ó Dálaigh, accordion; Seán Ó Súilleabháin, fiddle. With permission from RTÉ Archives

Staying with the Blasket Islands, and in fact with Muiris Ó Dálaigh, I would like to show you one of the tracks that had resounding impact on us both. This is a beautiful track of Deálaí lilting the air to one of our most celebrated melodies 'Port na bPúcaí'. The Daly family had strong associations with one of the Blasket Islands in particular, an island called Inis Mhic Uibhleáin. The tradition behind 'Port na bPúcaí' tells of a member of the Daly family spending a night alone on that island and hearing this melody on the wind, possibly a fairy lament. He took it from the air to the strings of his fiddle and from those otherworldly beginnings it has become recognisable throughout the country. What is particularly striking about this recording is that the tune is lilted in what is very close to a waltz time signature while many of us will only ever have heard it being played as a slow air. The fact that this rendition comes from so close to the source makes it a special one in my opinion. We discovered this as part of a collection of recordings and stories released in book and CD form by Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann called 'Otherworld', a fantastic and beautifully presented collection. 

Port na bPucaí, air / Muiris Ó Dálaigh, lilting, speech in Irish. With permission from The National Folklore Collection/Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann UCD

The impact of the melody upon us inspired us to learn the tune as Deálaí lilted it and we performed it as part of the presentation. Here is the recording itself and a video of our own rendition. Many thanks to John Fitzgerald who captured this video at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh and shared it with us.

Chuaigh an leagan seo do Phort na bPúcaí i bhfeidhm chomh mór san orainn go bhfoghlaimíomar ar an veidlín é. Tá taifead anseo do Mhuiris á chanadh agus ina dhiaidh san d'ár leagan féin.

Port na bPucaí / Seán Hughes, fiddle; Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich. With permission from John Fitzgerald and the performers

Má tá fonn ort a thuilleadh eolais a fháil ar na mBlascaodaí agus ar an dtraidisiún ceoil a bhí ann téir i dteagmháil leis an bhfoireann in Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir i nDún Chaoin. Ionad oidhreachta ar leith é a chomórann an pobal eisceachtúil a mhair ar na hoileáin iargúlta seo go dtí gur tréigeadh an Blascaod Mór sa deireadh in 1953. 

I would highly recommend, should you wish to learn more about the Blasket Island community, or familiarise yourself with their musical tradition, that you contact or even visit Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir at Dún Chaoin in Corca Dhuibhne. This is a beautiful interpretive centre which celebrates the lives and stories of that community and where the true sense of the magic of the Blaskets is conveyed. Also see the collection released by Ceirníní Cladaig 'Beauty an Oileán'.

We discovered an interesting and entertaining VHS from 1990 in the Archive. The title of the video was 'Páidí Ó Sé's Ireland', Páidí Ó Sé being the celebrated Gaelic footballer and public figure. The film contains scenes of Ó Sé travelling the country, discussing sports and meeting local characters. One clip was filmed in his own pub at Ceann Trá and in it we hear local singer Áine Uí Laoithe singing some verses from the song 'The Verdant Braes of Screen'.

The Verdant Braes of Screen, song / Áine Uí Laoithe, singing in English. With permission from RTÉ Archives.

Chuala Clíodhna trácht ana mhinic ar an mboscaideoir Moss Martin agus í ag fás aníos. Níor chuala sí a chuid ceoil go dtí gur tháinig sí trasna ar an dtaifead seo sa taisce.

Another clip that we found was of the accordion player Moss Martin. This lively track was discovered on a collection of recordings called 'Blas' which was released by RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta in 1992. It is a twenty-year celebration featuring a taste of songs and music from the Raidió na Gaeltachta archives. As the sleeve notes state: 

“Daoine iad seo a rugadh agus a tógadh i bhfíor-dhúchas na Gaeltachta agus is é spiorad an dúchais sin atá le cloisteáil ina gcuid cheoil” “All of the artists featured on this recording were born and raised in the true Gaeltacht mould and tradition.” 

It is a fine collection and one that we were not aware of before our time spent at ITMA. Clíodhna had long heard mention of Moss Martin as an excellent musician in the region and indeed associated a number of local tunes with his name. She had never until this point heard him playing and was delighted to come across this recording.
Seán Hughes

Ríl Pheait Lyons / Moss Martin, accordion. With permission from RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

Seo chughainn anois taifead do Mhairéad Ghineá ag portaireacht. Tá ana chleachta agus rógaireacht sa phíosa áirithe seo agus is léir go raibh sí ana cheolmhar.

Finally, I'd like to include a fine recording of lilting/singing. In this track we hear the voice of local woman Mairéad Ghineá. It is a comedic piece full of personality and divilment but also full of rhythm and musicality. It comes from a collection, again taken from the RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta archives, called 'Dúthaigh Dhuibhneach', which features singers from the area. Another fine piece of work. 

Mary in the woods, song / Mairéad Ghineá. With permission from RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

Our experience of researching and our time spent among the staff at ITMA was hugely rewarding to us. We can only recommend a visit.
Seán Hughes & Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich

Corca Dhuibhne is only one small part of the tapestry which makes up our island-wide heritage of music, song and dance and I am sure that there are many more local populations who would be delighted to have the riches of their locality, awaiting rediscovery in the archives, researched and presented to them. Our sincere thanks to everyone at ITMA for allowing us to be part of such an enriching project and to the organisers of Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh for inviting us to take part in their fantastic annual festival. 

Ár mbuíochas le lucht eagraíochta Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh agus leis an bhfoireann ar fad i dTaisce Cheol Dúchais Éireann.

Researched by Seán Hughes & Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich. 

Written by Seán Hughes.

Presented by Grace Toland.

June 2020


ITMA would like to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the publication of this blog. We are especially thankful to individuals and organisations who have supplied media and given permission to use these online.

Seán Hughes & Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich

The singers and musicians

RTÉ Archives

RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

The National Folklore Collection/Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann UCD

Dómhnal Ó Bric

John Fitzgerald

Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh

ITMA Staff