Domhnall Ó Máirtín Collection at ITMA

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Cork Pipers' Club Slógadh Winners 1975

Uilleann piping was a relatively niche pastime in Ireland of the 1970s and, by and large, men more than women, played the instrument. However, as children learning the pipes back then from Mícheál Ó Riabhaigh in the Cork Pipers’ Club, we had no awareness of these statistics. It seemed to us all, both boys and girls, to be the easiest thing in the world to acquire a practice set and get started. Mícheál made sure that anyone who showed an interest was given every opportunity and encouragement to play. Of the eleven musicians in the above photograph, seven were pipers, four of them females: Mary Mitchell, Rosaleen O'Leary, Mary McCarthy and me. The male pipers were Mícheál himself, his son Eoin and my brother Conal, who played for a few years and would have been a fine piper had he not eventually opted for the flute.

The group of young musicians, seen above with Mícheál in 1975, were on a celebratory day out in Killarney when fiddle player and photographer, Domhnall Ó Máirtín, got us to pose with our instruments. We had just won the Ceol na nUasal category of the All Ireland Slógadh finals for the third year in a row and Mícheál was very proud of our achievement. A lot of time and effort had gone into practising for each round of the competition. Our main piece that year was The Fox Chase, with all the sounds of the hunt, barking dogs, galloping horses, horns, bugles and the crying and lament of the poor fox. To mark our victory, the club commissioned a silver medallion from the well-known Cork silversmith, Fred Archer, and presented one to each member of the group.

Looking at this photograph, taken so many years ago in glorious sunshine and with the flowering glory of the Muckross Park rhododendrons in full bloom, I realised with a start that Mícheál Ó Riabhaigh died just one year later in 1976, beannacht Dé lena anam uasal. His unexpected death was a sad blow to all of us who had grown up learning music from him at our Saturday night session. The Cork Pipers’ Club struggled to continue its activities without Mícheál’s guiding passion and commitment, though it did get back on its feet some years later.

Despite its title, the Cork Pipers’ Club was home to traditional musicians of all shades. The weekly Saturday night session in Dún Laoi on Cork’s North Mall was always a hive of musical activity, with pipes, mandolins, whistles, button accordions, piano accordions, bodhráns and fiddles in the mix. This weekly gathering was the centre of our musical lives and all generations met up and played, sang and danced together there.

Certain families had a strong presence and the mammies and daddies were as active as their children in club activities; Ó Riabhaighs, Ó Grádas, Mitchells, McCarthys, Ó Cathasaighs, O'Learys, Guinevans, Ryans and Twomeys. This was probably a factor in why the club was so good at organising excursions, outings and parties, like the one to Killarney mentioned above. One of our most enjoyable club trips was to Captain Francis O'Neill’s birthplace in Tralibawn each summer. We held a concert on a lorry in the middle of a field and it seemed to go on forever because everyone and anyone who wanted the gig got it! Afterwards we would repair to nearby Bantry town, where we would have a meal and a night of music.

I would like to thank Deirdre Ó Máirtín for kindly permitting the use of her father’s photograph for this blog. The above image is taken from Domhnall’s fascinating photographic record of Cork’s musical life in the 60s, 70s and 80s and which the Ó Máirtín family has generously bequeathed to the Irish Traditional Music Archive. It captures a proud moment for Mícheál Ó Riabhaigh, Chairman of the Cork Pipers' Club, and for all of us lucky enough to have known him and to have benefitted from his great generosity.

The Domhnall Ó Máirtín Collection at ITMA contains 335 black and white, and colour photographs of Irish traditional musicians taken in Cork 1960s–1980s by the late Domhnall Ó Máirtín. The Collection has been generously donated to ITMA by the Ó Máirtín family.

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