A Gift From Cathal McConnell

Willie Clancy playing the pipes.

Willie Clancy playing the pipes.

With the Willie Clancy Summer School happening at Miltown Malbay in the County Clare each year, the middle of summer becomes a busy time for Martin Doyle. There is a steady stream of visitors to his house near Liscannor and, when he gets a chance, Martin heads into Miltown Malbay to socialise and catch a session or two. Flutes to deliver, orders to take – the busy life of an artisan flute maker!

During the Willie Clancy, Miltown Malbay is packed with hundreds of visitors, musicians, singers and dancers, young and old, from all over Ireland, Scotland and further afield. Standing room only! Traditional music flows like the water in the rivers and streams of Ireland and a unique traditional culture lives, breathes and is propagated during this ‘gathering of the clan’.

Cathal McConnell

Cathal McConnell (photo credit*)

One visitor Martin had the opportunity to welcome into his home this year was the renowned flute player, tin whistler and singer Cathal McConnell, who gifted to Martin a copy of his latest CD, Auld Springs Gies Nae Price. Needless to say, Martin was thrilled at Cathal’s kind gesture. Auld Springs Gies Nae Price is a joint effort between Cathal McConnell and Duncan Wood. A multi-instrumentalist musician, artist and author, Duncan Wood hails from the North East of Scotland and plays fiddle on the album.

Like most developed flute players, it is probably a safe bet that Cathal has more than one flute in his quiver. If that is the case, we know that at least one of them is the Martin Doyle C flute as it features in one of the tracks on Auld Springs Gies Nae Price and with Cathal on the CDs jacket photos. The track in question (track eight) comprises two lovely airs, The Fairy Strain and The Hon Mrs Maule of Panmure’s Favourite, and is introduced in the CDs accompanying booklet thus:

Auld Springs Gies Nae Price

Auld Springs Gies Nae Price

The first lovely air came from the playing of the great Irish piper and song collector, Seamus Ennis. According to the words of the original song, a young woman was stolen away by the fairies on her wedding day, never to be seen again. Cathal here plays homage to the talented Irish flute maker Martin Doyle, who made his wooden C flute. The second tune, a wistful air written by Nathaniel Gow, appears in A Fourth Collection of Strathspey Reels, dedicated to the Earl of Eglinton and published in 1800. Nathaniel Gow, composer and publisher, was a great favourite with the Prince Regent and the best known of Niel Gow‘s five sons.

Most of Cathal McConnell’s published music has been with Boys of the Lough. He has not recorded much as a solo artist. Previous to Auld Springs Gies Nae Price, Cathal recorded Long Expectant Comes at Last – a lovely offering of nineteen tunes with a Fermanagh and Ulster connection – and to unearth his other solo effort we have to go back to 1978.

Cathal McConnell with Martin Doyle maple wood C flute.

Cathal McConnell with Martin Doyle maple wood C flute.

This excerpt is from the Cathal McConnell page on the Compass Records website:

Despite over thirty years on the road as a performer, McConnell has never become jaded about playing or singing. Music is his passion and he approaches it with undiminished enthusiasm. It is not uncommon for him to reach for an instrument before breakfast and continue to play well into the evening. On greeting a friend or acquaintance, he will often produce a tin whistle from his pocket and entertain the companion with his latest composition or discovery. Not content to rest on his laurels, he is constantly learning, revising, experimenting and growing. Yet he always returns, as he does on this new album, to the music of his native Fermanagh and the neighboring counties of the province of Ulster.

Sitting at my desk in New Zealand on a rainy winters morn writing this little piece, I am delighted to be listening to Auld Springs Gies Nae Price. It is at once simply beautiful and beautifully simple. Don’t expect the tight, fast or technically slick ‘trad’ music of the 21st century. This is the perfect pairing of two great traditional musicians though – with accompanying cameos from their friends. And it is tight, but in a different way. It oozes a common bond of oneness and love for the music that represents the cultures of Ireland and Scotland – a warmth, lightness and gentleness pervades throughout. It is what you would expect perhaps in a good house session, a fireside set worthy of praise and gratitude.

Regarding Auld Springs Gies Nae Price, Martin Doyle had this to say:

This music is the essential music – it depicts the true essence of the music of Ireland and Scotland. It is music that is made to bring joy to people and does not indulge in self-gratification. It is music from the heart and it transcends the complexities and sufferings of the modern world.

So here’s thanks to Cathal and Duncan and to the lads and lassies who accompanied them on this joyous whirl through a beautiful tradition in music – the language of the human heart and spirit. Thanks indeed to all involved!

Here’s a wee treat – Cathal McConnell and Duncan Wood playing some tunes together…

* The topmost photo of Cathal McConnell was reproduced on this page with the kind permission of Kerstin Grünling from Ciorstain Photography.

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