Saturday May 20th 2017 was World Fiddle Day – an annual world-wide celebration of fiddle music. This day is celebrated in many parts of the world, with various fiddle performances, sessions and other fiddle related festivities. And so is the case in the tiny village of Scartaglen, Co. Kerry, where a group of passionate people led by PJ Teahan work hard each year to make World Fiddle Day a day to be remembered! As part of my immersion in the Irish traditional fiddle culture, and the Sliabh Luachra fiddle culture in particular, I decided to visit Scartaglen once again for this great occasion, together with my two good friends and fiddlers Katja vander Poorten and Christoph Wiekart.
The three of us met at Amsterdam arport on the Friday before World Fiddle Day, all packed with fiddles and all! Even though the flight to Cork is only a short trip, it is good to know that taking a fiddle on board with Aer Lingus is never a problem. Our first destination after landing at Cork airport was to pick up our rental car and drive to our B&B: The Tailors Lodge in Castleisland – only 8 minutes drive from Scartaglen itself. We have been coming to this B&B for several years now and the owners of the B&B are so supportive of musicians that it is never a problem to share a few tunes in the living room. So within 10 minutes of arrival, fiddles were unpacked and tunes were played!
The next day, on World Fiddle Day itself, we arrived at Scartaglen at noon time. The festivities were located throughout the day in 4 separate venues: the Scartaglen Heritage Center and the three pubs next to it. It is the Heritage Center where PJ and his team organise the so-called ‘Handed Down’ sessions throughout the year. These sessions are combined lectures and performances on traditional Irish music from the locality with speakers such as Matt Cranitch, Liam O’Connor, Bryan O’Leary and many more. All these Handed Down sessions culminate into the World Fiddle Day celebration.
There were various different activities planned for the day, ranging from a photo exhibition with historic material related to music from the area, singing and poetry recitals, sessions in the various pubs, a concert in the evening and – as is special for the celebration in Scartaglen – a tribute recital.
Central to the World Fiddle Day celebrations in Scartaglen is the fiddle recital where a particular influential album of fiddle music gets selected to be played by all the fiddlers as a tribute to the fiddle music and key figures in that history. Two years ago, the influential album ‘Star Above the Garter’ by Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford was chosen as the recital album and the year after that an album of Julia Clifford was selected . This year however, the great and influential album ‘Jackie Daly agus Seamus Creagh’ was chosen, celebrating its 40 year-old birthday.
This recital is always held in Lyon’s Bar which played an important part in history, with fiddle master Padraig O’Keeffe himself frequenting here often. In preparation for this recital, guitarist Paul de Grae took upon himself the task of transcribing all tunes from the album in the weeks before the event. This resulted in a great tune book which every fiddler could use to get the tunes prepared for the great occassion.
Jackie Daly himself was present to accompany the more than 25 fiddlers. Between the tunes he was interviewed by Joe Thoma which revealed some lovely – and often funny – anecdotes of his collaboration with his long time friend Seamus. The Slow Airs on the album were played by a single performer. One of them was played by the talented Caoimhe Flannery (16 years of age) of which I made a small clip:
Also on display for this day was a photo exhibition in the heritage center. In addition to photos of this years theme – Seamus Creagh and Jackie Daly – there were many photographs and newspaper cutouts of musicians and music events of the locality. To open this exhibition, a fine group of musicians from Newmarket gave a small performance with musicians both young and old. These musicians, led by Eoin Stan O’Sullivan, are a fixed figure in the Newmarket music scene as they help with organising the Scullys Fest festival each year.
Traditional photograph at the statue
Each year, a photograph is taken of all the fiddle players who have come to celebrate World Fiddle Day in Scartaglen outside at the square. As is usual in Ireland, it can be a bit challenging to get the moment just right in between showers that occur on a regular basis. As luck would have it, the sky cleared just as it was time to take a photo!
The photo is a tribute to all fiddle players who have passed away and kept the fiddle tradition in place in a time that it was “fashionable nor profitable”. In the middle of the photo is the statue of Padraig O’Keeffe, the fiddle master himself. Gerry Harrington led the fiddlers into the ‘Knockaboul polka’s’ that all fiddlers played to honor the fiddle heroes of the past.
The fiddle concert in the evening was a must-see-and-hear for anyone who loves fiddle music! The theme of this year was the fiddle tradition as approached by the older and the newer generation (where I use the term ‘older’ with the utmost respect ofcourse 😉 ). During the concert, several older generation fiddlers were coupled with the new generation of fiddlers, usually in duo format, where the two generations would perform three sets. Both players would play a solo set with the final set being played in a duet.
Two things really struck me during this concert. The first is that one can see that Irish traditional fiddle music is alive and well with the younger generation! It was a great experience to hear the young people play with such devotion and high level. Secondly, the enormous importance of being able to hear the older generation play live which is inspirational to all fiddle players or, indeed, any devotee of Irish music. I think it goes without saying that PJ and his team play an important part in these kinds of musical exchanges throughout the year.
A celebration of music like this would not be complete without the chance to be able to play the music with friends, so throughout the day there were many different sessions going on in the pubs. A host of well known musicians like Matt Cranitch, Jackie Daly, Aidan Coffey, Gerry Harrington, Charlie Piggot and many many more could be heard playing some lively tunes! Needless to say, these sessions were great to listen to and even take part in!
Unfortunately, we had to leave Scartaglen the following day. It is always a bit sad to leave Ireland and especially when being so immersed in the music as on World Fiddle Day. I would like to end this article with the following notes:
Many thanks to:
PJ Teahan and his team for making this celebration possible.
The staff of Scartaglen Heritage centre for their wonderful hospitality and food!
Liz Galwey for some of the photographs used in this article.
Facebook group of World Fiddle Day Scartaglen (where you can also download Paul de Graes tunebook): https://www.facebook.com/groups/283125488560326/
iTunes store link to ‘Jackie Daly agus Seamus Creagh’: https://itunes.apple.com/nl/album/jackie-daly-s%C3%A9amus-creagh/id1089991773?l=en
Scully’s Fest website: http://scullysfest.com
More information about Seamus Creagh: http://www.feileseamuscreagh.com/about/