Best of Trad in the Deep South

By Paul Keating

With a touch of poignancy, the silver-haired gentleman lashed into the song that made him famous years before many of his tour mates were born in a last night’s reverie that closed out the 2005 Comhaltas North American Tour on Sunday evening.

In the Harp Irish Pub in an Atlanta suburb, the pride of Ballylickey, Co Cork, Seán Ó Sé, regaled all those who remained for the session after their final concert with a slightly more animated version of ‘An Poc Ar Buile’ which was featured in the earlier concert.

That song was a hit way back in 1961 when Ó Sé first linked up with Seán Ó Riada and his seminal Ceoltóirí Chualann ensemble that eventually gave rise to the Chieftains. His presence alongside so many musicians on tour who were a couple of generations younger was as nostalgic as the CCÉ tour itself in its missionary attmept to bring its brand of traditional music, song and dance to the fledgling CCÉ southern region of the US.

Over 30 years ago when the North American tours first arrived on the US and Canadian shores, they sparked a traditional music revival and a branch network that has grown to around 50 clubs and a province that is the equal of the four in Ireland and Great Britain put together.

Fifteen performers accompanied Ó Sé, who served as compere or MC on the latest edition including the colourful Cavan box player Martin Donohue and Wexford piper Pádraig Sinnott. They were both on the tour 20 yars ago offering a veteran presence to the youngsters, for whom many were making their first visit to America.

In a coach decorated with scenes of traditional musicians on the outside by Tourism Ireland and Delta Air Lines, who served as sponsors of the tour along with the newly organised Culture Ireland programme of the Irish government and Waterford Crystal, the aim was to provide a night of traditional Irish entertainment in 10 cities on the itinerary.

A great crowd turned out for the final show at the Roswell Cultural Arts Centre north of Atlanta to view the performance enhanced by the lovely theatre, lighting and sound as the artists enjoyed their last night on the American tour with memoriew that will stay with them for a lifetime.

The link to the O’Riada legacy alongside the well-recognised Comhaltas training of young people in traditional music characterised the current tour.

Appearing along with Ó Sé, Donohoe and Sinnott were Niamh Denmead (Dublin) on harp, Erin McGeown (Armagh) on fiddle, Aisling Campbell (Tyrone) on banjo and song, Clare Quinn (Tipperary) on fiddle, Janine Redmond (Dublin) on accordion, Rory McMahon (Clare) on concertina, James Mahon (Dublin) and Aisling McPhillips (Fermanagh) on flute.

Two modern stepdancers, Cathal McGarrigle (Offaly) and Áine O’Dwyer, were contrasted with a brother/sister duo, Irene and Brian Cunningham, from the Connemara town of Clifden, who stepdanced in the Sean Nós style.