Seamus Heaney commemoration at Los Garos Irish Writers’ Festival

Playing at a celebration of Séamus Heaney – ‘The Berkeley Years’

Programme extract:

“We kick off this year’s Irish Writers’ Festival with a tribute to Seamus Heaney, the 1995 Nobel laureate in literature, who is often referred to as the greatest Irish poet since Yeats.

Heaney, who passed away in 2013, spent a considerable amount of time at UC Berkeley in the early 1970s, arriving from the Northern Irish conflict only to be faced with a troubled UC campus stirred by anti-war protest.

Joining us from Ireland this festival weekend is Seamus Heaney’s son, journalist and broadcaster Michael Heaney, who chats today with close family friend and UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus, Robert Tracy.

Featured poet and Fulbright Scholar, Tess Taylor, recently returned from the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast, joins visiting poets and writers with tributes and readings, offering insights into Heaney’s work and influences during this pivotal time of his career in the Bay Area.

Music by virtuoso violinist Colm O’Riain, and Irish traditional flute player, researcher and writer, Fintan Vallely.

Moderated by Conor Howard, Anna Livia Books

Start: 5 October, 2017
End: 5 October, 2017
Venue: Montalvo Arts Center
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Saratoga, United States

Launch of Sara Lanier’s Annals of the Irish Harpers at Art O’ Neill Commemoration, Benburb, Co. Tyrone

lanier, fox annals irish harpersLaunch of Sara C. Lanier’s new edition of Charlotte Milligan Fox’s Annals of the Irish Harpers, as part of the Art O’ Neill Commemoration: “The Last Minstrel of Ireland” Saturday 2nd July from 9.30am

Saturday the 2nd of July will see a dedicated all-day seminar held in the Great Hall at Benburb Priory which will celebrate the life and music of Art O’Neill, the Blind Harper from Tyrone.  This unique and special event will commemorate the 200th anniversary of Art’s death in 1816 at Maydown near Benburb.

Arthur Ó Néill (circa 1734-1816) was born into thatfinal generation of itinerant harpers who carried the music of the Irish wirestrung harp into the early nineteenth century.He was born in the townland of Drumnastrade, the Ó Néill family home,between Benburb and Dungannon, a few miles from Benburb village. After losing his sight in childhood, Ó Néill was taught the traditional harptechnique by Owen Keenan of Augher. He travelled Ireland enjoying the patronage andhospitality of many of the significant figures of late eighteenth century Ireland.

Sixteen years after taking part in the Belfast Harpers Assembly of 1792, whichfeatured the music of Ireland’s leading Harper’s including Ó Néill, he was selectedin his seventy-fifth year to administer the Belfast Harp Society’s project for theeducation of blind children in the traditional harp technique, the final seriousattempt to save the tradition as a living culture. One of his first pupils and his successor was Valentine Rainey, nephew of Robert ‘Rabie’ Burns, the Bard of Scotland.

At Edward Buntings prompting, Ó Néill had earlier dictated hislife story to Bunting’s secretary Thomas Hughes, although his Memoir wouldwait a full century before Charlotte Milligan Fox first published this in her‘Annals of the Irish Harpers’ (1911).A new improved reprint of this book will be launched at the seminar.

The seminar will be chaired by Brian Mullen of BBC Ulster and Radio Foyle.  It will feature scholars and musicians such as Siobhán Armstrong who is one of Europe’s foremost historical harpists and chairs the Historical Harp Society of Ireland;Dr Colette Moloney, a County Cork musician who is currently Assistant Registrar at the Waterford Institute of Technology. Herpublications include ‘The Irish Music Manuscripts of Edward Bunting (1773-1843): AnIntroduction and Catalogue’ (ITMA 2000); Dr Sara C. Lanieris an acknowledged authority on the historical Irish HarpTradition, the Belfast Harper’s Assembly of 1792 and the life and work of CharlotteMilligan Fox. She has researched the mid twentieth century harp revival instigated by the Folk Harp Movement in California and is the originator of the term “California Celtic”; RolandSpottiswoodeis a writer and visual artist. After a successful career in filmproduction (Pink Floyd The Wall, 1981; The Snowman 1982) in 1996 he returned to full-time painting; FintanVallelyis a musician, writer, lecturer and researcher on Traditional music, originally from Armagh; Dr Peter Smithis Reader in Irish at the Ulster University. He is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the University of Oxford.His publications include ‘Songs fromthe Sperrins: Traditional Singing from Mid and North Tyrone’ (Derry 2009); and, Éamonn Ó Bróithe is a piper and singer from Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, buthas spent his adult life in the West of Ireland, where he now lives.

Everyone is welcome to attend this event which promises to be a very special and unique opportunity to look in to the life, times and craft of Art O’Neill, and the legacy he left.

To book your place on this event, please visit or  please contact James Kane on 07876 385282.

Start: 2 July, 2016
End: 2 July, 2016
Venue: Servite Priory
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Benburb, Co. Tyrone, Tyrone, Ireland

Cape Breton Fiddle Companion


Liz doherty and Mats Melin book launches, Derry City, UU, Feb 5, 2016
Fintan Vallely

Trains run to schedule, but buses are prone to unexpected delays, so much so that two might arrive together. Well, here we are with that syndrome in the music of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia: we arrive at 2016 with not one, but two major books on its music culture: Liz Doherty’s Cape Breton Fiddle Companion, and Mats Melin’s One with the music: Cape Breton Step Dance Tradition and Transmission.
Why the two volumes come out so close together, and at this time, is of course that music, and writing about it, are more like the roads than railways, subject to interruption in the form of declines, revivals, unexpected turns and temporal hazards, and human decision-making. Both these books have had a lot of the unexpected to contend with, but their writers have somehow found and negotiated space amid high-pressure teaching of traditional music and dance, performance, travel, research and academic administration.

And so the two poles of Cape Breton island’s music are being launched here, representing the aesthetic and kinaesthetic, cultural and artistic, sociability and community. Both writings are – appropriately – published by Cape Breton University Press, but,
it has to be said, perhaps most amazingly, both of them are compiled by scholars based in universities here on the island of Ireland where they are teachers in Traditional music studies. Liz Doherty is perhaps the longest-serving lecturer in this field in Ireland at this point, and was the youngest to gain such a role when she began third level teaching 22 years ago in 1994; she has now been nine years in University of Ulster. Mats Melin has taught for 21 years; he is from Sweden, but his interest in Scottish dance took him to Glasgow in 1995, and he has been in University of Limerick for eight years. There is something in this of course, because of the strength of the resurgence of Traditional music in Ireland – its track record for more than a century, peaking, somewhat surprisingly, in the Pop era after the 1950s. Indeed, we already have quite a stimulus to new writing in the form of the considerable body of academic and practical literature on Traditional music, all of which can be accessed on the shelves at the State-financed ITMA archive in Dublin. We have taught the music formally up to post graduate level too, most seriously since the 1980s.

Canada of course has done all of this as well (Liz’s book lists 440 publications) if perhaps not with quite the same cultural meaning or political impetus. But the music of Canada’s fiddlers has been part of the soundscape of that country’s social life and broadcasting for all of the 20th century,  with many popular stars.
In that light, the compilation of these books by Limerick and Derry city lecturers and performers is a comment on the opportunities created by the mature out-looking of a confident – and State supported – Traditional music in both parts of Ireland rather than it being a failure of Cape Bretoners.
But even that does not strictly apply, for neither of these writers is quite an “outsider” at all.
Liz and Mats have in fact utterly absorbed themselves in the aesthetic and social fabric of Cape Breton music-making and dance, making it their cultural homeland for a quarter of a century; in a way they are the  inverse of (but no different to) the many Cape Breton music exiles who spent much of their working and music lives in cities in Canada or the United States.

These books are each a work of passion. They explore every nook and cranny in their observations, quotations and questions;
each presents a quite amazing narrative e of a small island community of only c. 140,000 people which has evolved intricate music and dance forms and styles which are now core to Cape Breton’s identity and form a central plank of its tourism, a considerable economic boost to an economically-marginal region of Canada.

You read Mats and Liz as voices from within the music and dance communities, contemporaneous and historical at one and the same time. Their lists of performer biographies shows the particular relevance of music and dance to Cape Breton’s local communities – receding, as everywhere in the mid-20th century, but reviving with determined commitment after the 1970s. Indeed, as documented in the books, the symbiosis of dance and music on Cape Breton island itself has retained an efficacy long after it has slipped in the Scottish place of origin of Cape Breton’s music traditions. Particularly strong in this is the role of the piano: the appropriation of the supreme emblem of Western-music rationalisation by a music of the people, its many facets documented indeed in Liz’s book.

Mats Melin’s work is a tremendous  window on every possible dimension of step dance and social dance: Transmission, teaching, meaning, aesthetics, tradition, dance structure, and biographies on key figures. Quotations from stylists reflect the breath, depth and time-span of his investigation; they are warm and powerful. Mats’s own observations are no less profound, notably his assessment of the aesthetic space dance represents for its performers: “a home from home where one can feel spiritually refreshed or feel rooted”.
He observes two styles of learning: the visual and the kinaesthetic, watching and feeling. In this regards he cites dance teacher Minnie Macmaster who would hold the hands of learners: “so they could feel the beat through my hands”. And Harvey Beaton, who considers that: “Dancing should be a personal language … subtlety, rather than fancy steps”.
Mats remarks on one dance class being held on a wooden bridge, so the dancers could feel the vibrations of their actions, and quotes anecdotes about dancers who, when travelling, might stop at a wooden bridge to have a bit of a dance, to feel the dance;  He tells us too of lumbermen who when felling large trees would try out a dance on a freshly cut stump.
This draws in gender, change over time  from this robust masculinity to the fact that dance in the home was in the past taught by the women, and in the 19th century classes were run by specialist male dance teachers, but now it is dominated by women.

Dance is not separated from music however, and their confluence and interconnectedness is noted in Mats’ observations on the vocabulary, dancers’ aesthetic keywords such as ‘timing’,  which enabled: “ease of dancing and creating a lift that matches the swing of the music”. He notes too the overlap of the kinaesthetic and the aural – speaking of how the varying volume of stepped-out rhythms were a mnemonics patterning, remarking on the superiority of particular tunes for which a dancer would have a special “take”. His observations on changes since the 1970s are related to this – the disappearance of those very tune-specific dances, along with increasing complexity which is paralleled by weakening of aesthetic concepts.

Liz Doherty’s volume also summarises social dance practices in Cape Breton, but as an encyclopedia: with compact entries in a massive four hundred pages of data on fiddlers, fiddling style, tunes, fiddle history, revival, professionalism and change – a profound document with 900 individual topics.
The Fiddle Companion encompasses repertoire, aesthetic absorption, dedication, regional pride, professionalism, technology, and ongoing composition that bridges the music of this small place to mainstream Popular entertainment. There is much here for performers, lovers and students and teachers of any music form, since well ahead of the post-1977 fiddle-revival period there is a well-established professionalism shown among Cape Breton musicians, some of whom were nationally regarded in Canada. The exile community in the USA and Canadian cities are in themselves a tremendous story, and the legacy, influence – and often family trees – are traced through from vaudeville and 78rpm recording to modern-day world touring bands and digital transmission. We appreciate too from this book the importance of family reputation and influence, with documentary on families of musicians over several generations, many of them key players in modern time: there are some 900 indexed names, quite a statistic for a music from a population of 140K playing a derivative of Scottish Traditional music.
Yet this is not nostalgia, or a document of past glory, it is about a contemporary music form that is part of the modern-day commerce of professional music making as much as it is about cultural  identity and preference: broadcasting, recording, migration and media are a binding medium in this text, rendering understandable the huge array of performers, their family histories, instrumental preferences, fiddle and piano technique and range of tune types, making the huge spectrum, technology and aesthetic preferences understandable, a comprehensive narrative that fills the mind with a sense of richness among economic poverty, worth in the hardship of Cape Breton as a developing region, and cultural and economic value on the music in today’s ruthless world. This book is nominally about Cape Breton, but like Mats Melin’s it is also fundamentally about the artistic integrity of a regional artform, the human need to connect with relevant music-scapes which have long historic roots, the psychological value of music in modernity.

Both these books are vital reading for the understanding of any regional Traditional music. They have much to say to Irish musicians in particular, because we in this country have also had a lengthy, extensive Traditional music revival that spans casual, functional dancing in kitchens to display on university platforms.

Start: 5 February, 2016
End: 5 February, 2016
Venue: Ulster University
Phone: 028 70123456
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Northland Road, Derry

JB Vallely art exhibition at the Sol Gallery, Dublin

brian caoimhin niall fintan paddy moloney sol 15Powerful new paintings of musicians at the Sol Gallery, Dawson St., Dublin until Dec. 12th

Brian Vallely art launch, 26 Nov, 2015
Launch address by Dr. Fintan Vallely, Professor Adjunct University College Dublin, School of Irish, Celtic Studies, Irish Folklore and Linguistics

I am delighted to have been asked to launch this exhibition of the work of the Armagh painter JB (Brian) Vallely, not least because my field is music, what I know most about, and    that is what his work is best known for addressing. At a first glance it is surely larg

e scale art, and I am reminded by that that I was taught drawing in

school by JB’s earliest mentor, his father John, also a painter, who showed us how to use the wrist and forearm in our nature-study copybooks, not just the last two joints of the fingers. I only became aware of this years later in UCD when my Botany tutor was intrigued that I filled the whole page with plant images instead of the customary postage-stamp-size miniatures being done by my colleagues.

jbv flute player invite card

This exhibition is indeed of bold painting: sweeping and dashing brush and palette strokes, without parsimony as regards paint, and assured in the finesse of its disposition. The work here follows on JB’s progress through the years – from compositional, abstract and semi abstract forms, to more figurative work which seizes the mood of the occasion from inside the head of the subjects. Only occasionally does the viewer seem to be drawn in, most notably in his  Ó Riada theme “hosts of the air” where snapshots of music occasions were juxtaposed as if in the clouds; but that was the 1960s, a time when Traditional music was mostly experienced on the wireless.

This intense interest in and accordance of nobility and primacy to the act of performance has been followed though too in JB’s sports imagery – the road bowlers (‘bullet’ throwers) with their studied intensity, who are observed in the act of galvanising themselves, focusing, compressing and synergising their mental and muscular resources for the spring that delivers the one chance at a perfect throw. The heroes here too- as in JB’s music, are always capped, masculine icons. This is as things were, not of course as they have come to be, for music in particular is well populated by women in modern time. But since it is a fact that this painter simply ‘does men better’, so be it: his figures are representative of passion in an artform, not prescriptive models for it.

None of this fabulous expressiveness has the explicit, accountable detail of photo-realism; it is musicians at work – music being made. It is no more about age than it is about gender, but it is about intensity and process. More variety of strong colour is in evidence in his work today, but this entered cautiously – via thin strands of often primary colours, but massed and intertwined so that they eye mixes to a final impression as it does the strands in woven fabric. Today’s work has more courageous celebration and disposition of colours, to the same effect: it is a tapestry at times indeed, with Bayeux shadows recalled in some work of recent years, such as the celebration of the 1600s Flight of the Earls; this was not so much political idealism as symbolism, an Irishness / Gaelicness – representation of the moment at which the centuries-ongoing development of a culture was suddenly arrested by political climax. Indeed, aggression as such appears little in Brian’s work: there have been some soldiers, some coursing, the latter vivid in its finale. But his themes hold a solidly introspective intensity that implies the body performing acts of careful consideration and subtlety, underscoring that a performance is always valuable, if not momentous, since every performance is unique.
The new work here has shadows of the rough-hewn muscularity of William Conor’s Mayo dancers and accordionists, a regional subliminality perhaps that may trace to JB’s mother being from Ballyhaunis. But the ruralness suggested by his work does generally imply its subjects being “of the soil”, an earthiness and standard by which few or any of our associates do actually live today – or can be let live by society. In that sense the work is heedlessly but confidently idealistic. Overall, what comes through in the work is quite the antithesis of what late 1900s novelists have vividly observed and described in modern society – ennui, boredom, what the Egyptian writer Naguib Mafouz highlights as “irrelevance” in post-revolutionary societies which leads to loss of sight of one’s personal value, and self esteem. None of that is here, no hopelessness. The participants  in this work of JB Vallely are classic ‘sophisticated amateurs’, what might be regarded as “inverted professionals” – a concept which is has been established via the cultural re-enfranchisement of Irish Traditional music which was made possible by the post-1951 revival, a statement which in the mouths of JB’s subjects might take the form of:   “our music is valuable … what we do is of worth … culturally important … we are artistes …”

The work also displays definitions: in particular the uniqueness of that we call  ’the session’, which is not at all the long-standing tradition it is often assumed to be, but a modern-time response first to emigration, then latterly in Ireland to the weighty implications and impelling force of ‘revival’. You see in these figures care only about WHAT they do – the blanked faces, averted gaze, the inward-facing circle, activities engaged in primarily if not totally for the performers/players themselves; they are ‘minds at work’ in music-making, gender is not an issue, they are in a dimension outside of everyday representative reality. This can be seen too over the years in JB’s runners and cyclists too as well as the bowlers: all have an over-riding sense of noble purpose:  the drive of physical exertion, the ‘high’ of personal achievement, the consequent, debilitating physicality of it all lifted by collaborative activity – in the team of runners in a field of teams,  the lone cyclist in the pack, each of whom and all of them a link in a linear pulse of spatial progress.

Runners, cyclists, musicians, singers, dancers – these are what the artist depicts so well. Not the officials, rule-makers, commentators, not even the observers, the sports’ consumers. He shows us those who make the sport, the art and and action: structured contexts, depicted movement, suggested sounds, impulses and motion in which the observer has the freedom to invest themselves. In that sense the art work reaches the peak of visual art’s democratic potential. The fundamental representation theme is also a vital achievement because today we live in an age where artistic and sporting activity can be dwarfed by a preponderance of backroom directive, controlling, often financially self-serving, debilitating structures generated outside of the actual activity, against which participants and the artists alike have to battle for survival .
These paintings are like lyric fiction, poetry, scientific exploration and historical unravelling. In and though them we see life freshly, we selectively re-invest our selves. And in response to the painter’s skill the canvasses’ messages and mediation can change with the light and with the times, expand, and will live on.

Samples of work in the exhibition

Start: 26 November, 2015
End: 12 December, 2015

The Complete Guide to Playing the Irish Flute, new edition launch

Matt Molloy will perform the honours for the launch of this new flute tutor at 6pm at the Harcourt Hotel, Dublin. Refreshments provided, and ALL flute players welcome … flute tutor coverFeb8 13

Start: 27 November, 2013 6:00 pm
End: 27 November, 2013 8:00 pm
Venue: Harcourt Hotel
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Harcourt Street, Dublin, Ireland

Crosbhealach an Cheoil – The Crossroads Conference 2003, publication of papers

Papers from the conference held on the Magee campus of University of Ulster, Derry City, Northern Ireland over 25-27 April, 2003. These are a stimulating insight into the assessment and provision of traditional music education at all levels from the practical to the academic, throughout the island of Ireland and abroad. While the concern and focus is on Irish Traditional music, the ideas and methodologies presented in this landmark selection of papers take other European-style Folk / Traditional musics as well – those of Norway, Scotland, Isle of Man, Northern England, Newfoundland, Mid West USA, Norway and Brittany. The papers address group and one-to-one instrumental teaching of children in organised classes, summer schools and seasonal workshops, the specialised and well-established music schools, third level teaching, and also cover teaching via tutor books, CD ROMs, CD, videos and the internet.

Start: 24 May, 2013
End: 24 May, 2013
Venue: Central Hotel
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Exchequer Street (off Dame St.), Dublin 2, Ireland

Launch of Companion at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, Cavan

The Companion will be given an Ulster launch on saturday afternoon, 18th August, the main weekend of the All-Ireland fleadh at Cavan town, at 12.30 (mid day) in the Farnham Arms Hotel Conference room. At this, Fintan Vallely will give an illustrated lecture on the compilation of the book. This will be part of a programmed formal event sponsored by the Arts Council’s Deis Traditional Music Awards body. The event opens with ‘Another World’ – a lecture by Marcas Ó Murchú at 11 am.

Start: 18 August, 2012
End: 18 August, 2012
Venue: Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann
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Clare launch of Companion by Neil Rosenberg, Spanish Point

The Companion will be formally launched as on the opening Sunday of Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy by Neil Rosenberg (author of ‘Transforming Tradition’) on Sunday afternoon at The Convent, Spanish Point.

Start: 7 July, 2012
End: 7 July, 2012
Venue: Willie Clancy Summer School
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Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, Ireland

Ben Lennon – The Tailor’s Twist Book Launch – Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare

A study in text, photographs and graphic design of the fiddler Ben Lennon of Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim.

Ben Lennon is known widely as a stylistic performer and teacher in the national and international world of Irish Traditional music. He began playing the fiddle at the age of ten, growing up in an atmosphere of home, céilí-house music-making and served his time with his father as a tailor. He developed his skills in post-World War 11 London among superb artisans and there immersed himself in a cosmopolitan city lifestyle. Back on Irish soil he returned to traditional music in its headiest revival years, first in Limerick and then Cork, while also engaged as an innovator and organiser in major clothing businesses. He returned north to Leitrim after twenty five years and relocated himself in local music, going on to teach his instrument, and to record and broadcast.

Ben Lennon’s life is documented here in words by Fintan Vallely. The fiddler is also presented within his music society in a hundred and more striking photographs by Nutan Jacques Piraprez. These elements are integrated by a vigorous, complementary design by Martin Gaffney as the visual story of a personal journey in music by a commentator who has a bird’s eye view that is a panorama of the technological and artistic transformation from the old Ireland to the new, from  traditional music redundancy to its artistic supremacy.

Launched at the Willie Clancy Summer School, Miltown Malbay on Sunday, 3rd July, 2011.

TO ORDER FROM A BOOKSHOP – ISBN 978-0-9511569-2-6
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Start: 3 July, 2011 4:00 pm
End: 3 July, 2011 7:00 pm
Venue: Willie Clancy Summer School
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Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, Ireland
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