Breandán Breathnach Memorial Lecture

Fintan Vallely will give this year’s Breandán Breathnach Memorial lecture at 7.30pm on Saturday, July 7th on the opening night of Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Venue: The Community Hall.

The Sight of Sound: Traditional music in Irish Art
A century and a half ago, the Young Irelander Thomas Davis urged that the plain people of Ireland and their cultural practices deserved to be represented in painting and sculpture; he regarded Art as: “biography, history and topography taught through the eye”.
Fintan Vallely assessed this aspiration by examining more than five hundred artworks that are the visual record of Traditional music over two centuries of painting and drawing. Much of the work was done by artists from outside Ireland, but despite that he finds that it is a detailed and valuable resource. Dancing is the main feature; bellows-blown pipes are the popular instrument, and there is evidence of teaching and learning. But a change is seen as we approach modern time, with the painter’s eye following the trend in music from music and dance being part of community activity, to a focus on the individual performers. Dance style can be seen to have changed too, as has the gender balance of musicians. These findings, and others, are presented in a lecture supported by images of two hundred wonderful oils, watercolours and engravings which have not been seen together or on such a scale before.
Picture: Session, by Pam O’Connell
Start: 7 July, 2018
End: 7 July, 2018
Venue: St. Joseph's Community Hall
Phone: (065) 7084129
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Church Street, Miltown Malbay, Clare, Ireland

Compánach at National Folk Festival, Canberra, Australia

Performance of Compánach at Canberra. Numerous solo and group performances by members of the group.

Queries on classes in flute, fiddle, step-dance and song in early April in the Sydney-Melbourne axis welcomed.

Start: 29 March, 2018
End: 2 April, 2018
Venue: National Folk Festival
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Canberra, Australia

Edward Bunting’s mark on music today

Fintan Vallely will speak on the persisting mark on music in Ireland made by the 18th-19th century collector Edward Bunting, and the importance of Charlotte Milligan Fox’s publication of his papers. A Saturday 1pm talk, illustrated with music, at St. Mary’s Hall, Rosemary Street, Belfast, part of weekend Edward Bunting festival in Belfast.

Start: 17 February, 2018 12:00 am
End: 17 February, 2018 11:00 pm
Venue: St. Mary's Hall
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Rosemary Street, Belfast, Ireland

Teaching flute, playing and speaking at Boxwood festival, Nova Scotia, Canada

Flute workshops, performance and talks in an assembly of musicians from several countries. July 22-29 2017. Further details.

2017 Performers and Guest Artists:

Start: 21 July, 2017
End: 29 July, 2017
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Ed Reavey Tribute at Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy

usa reavey 127Chairing Mick Moloney’s tribute talk on Cavan/Philadelphia fiddle composer Ed Reavey.

Start: 5 July, 2016
End: 5 July, 2016
Venue: Community Hall
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Miltown Mavbay, Clare, Ireland


nutan book cover 69 frontLaunch of this fabulous book of photographs taken by Guy Jungblut in 1966, and Nutan in 1969, images that are rare, nostalgic, humourous and tragic, and food for thought should we ever consider exiting the EC …

[photo courtesy Nutan]heaney o'd's, 1969

Start: 8 June, 2016
End: 8 June, 2016
Venue: Embassy of Ireland in Belgium
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Brussels, Belgium

A ‘terrible beauty’ is sung …

song ballad books feb 14 2-811CANCELLED

Popular song as morale-builder, call to action, memorial and “pike in the thatch”  in Irish revolutionary agitation … an Illustrated lecture on Songs of Rebellion, in Bow Street Studio 1, just off Church St in Smithfield, Dublin, live lecture commissioned and to be recorded for broadcast by RTÉ (Easter Monday), 11am

Start: 28 March, 2016
End: 28 March, 2016
Venue: Bow Street Studio 1
off Smithfield, Dublin 1

A thurible beauty is born …

Thurible beauty DCU 2016 NO FV.001Irreverence, slagging and satire in agit-prop political song

DCU Conference 2016: Non-Violent Resistance: Irreverence and counter-discouse as subversive weapons in Irish culture

Start: 11 March, 2016
End: 11 March, 2016
Venue: Dublin City Universtiy
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Glasnevin, Dublin

A terrible beauty is bodh-rán … the invention of the fabulous Irish drum

ibodhran 0800 bodhranIn 2016 the dogs of the street know what a ‘bodhrán’ is. It is played in hundreds of sessions nightly all over Ireland, flaunted by the major Irish Traditional bands, and is used as a noise-maker at not only GAA but also soccer and rugby matches and even at international cricket where Ireland is involved. Every major Irish politician has posed with one, and every kind of product has been advertised on them. Yet the revolutionaires who went out a century ago in 1916 would never have heard it or seen it. So where does this magnificient, seductive percussion instrument come from? Fintan Vallely here cheerfully challenges myth, imagination and wishful thinking in the currently accepted history of that unique Irish drum. He explores the perceptions of Irish drum culture, looks scientifically at the evidence of the drum’s antecedents,  and the meaning of the word bodhrán itself. His interim conclusions are that the famous Irish drum has no ancient artistic past: it was universally known in the late 1800s and early 1900s as what it was – a ‘tambourine’, and the actual ‘bodhrán’ was only a common agricultural and household utensil, and often a sieve. So indeed,, the history of the bodhrán that we have is riddled with holes. Yet the bodhrán IS around, and being brilliantly played, as solid and sought-after an art and presence as the harp or the pipes. But we borrowed the rhythms from dancers’ feet, the device itself from Black & White Minstrels, The Salvation Army or regimental bands, and we synthesized the modern playing style from the sounds of Ulster Lambeggers, Indian tabla tippers and Scottish pipe-band snare drummers.

Start: 7 February, 2016
End: 7 February, 2016
Venue: Féile na Tána, festival, Carlingford
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Carlingford, Louth, Ireland

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
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