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Thirteen, an unlucky number? Not so with super group SíFiddlers comprised of thirteen of the best female fiddlers from the County Donegal. The ladies, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, from Gaoth Dobhair, is well known as a founding member of Altan and the String Sisters. Liz Doherty of Buncrana is also a String Sister and was a member of Nomos. Brid Harper of Castlefinn is a well known, much in demand traditional musician as is Friel Sister member Clare whose roots are in Derrynamansher. In 2017, she was the recipient of the 2018 TG4 Young Musician of the Year Award. Denise Boyle of The Glenties has toured with Carlos Nunez as part of the Galician Celts. Also hailing from The Glenties is Tara Connaghan whose playing is higly requested for album appearances and is often seen on TG4. The far north town of Malin brings Melanie Houton who has played all over the world and is also a frequent TG4 guest, and Eimear McColgan, a young, extremely talented and award winning musician. Clodagh Warnock now of Moville was a founding member and multi instrumentalist of the great band Déanta. Claire Gallagher comes from a strong family background of musicians held in high esteem in Donegal and the world. Add in Culdoff’s Roisin McGrory, who was Eimear’s fiddle teacher, and Theresa Kavanagh a well respected composer and educator from Gortahork who has travelled worldwide playing and writing music. Last, but by no way least, is Aisling Drost Byrne from one of my favorite towns, Glencolmcille, who is only 3 years out of the University of Limerick and already well known and respected. Good friends with Conal O’Kane of Goitse, they have been regulars at the Blas Festival.
The ladies first played together at the Earagail Arts festival which is 18 days of music, theater and visual arts held in July all along the Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal. Much like Canada’s Celtic Colors, a variety of venues in each town offers attendees a mélange of entertainment.
The fiddle has played an important part in the music of Donegal, but it is only within recent times that female fiddlers have been given status. The album DONEGAL FIDDLE, is a treasure chest of mostly traditional tunes with several others composed by Francie and Mickey Byrne, Brid Harper, Tommy Peoples, and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. You will experience toe tapping reels such as the opening set “Jackson’s and The Oak Tree.” Jigs, slip jigs, and barndances, “The Stirling Castle Strathspey” easing into the “The Gladstone Reel,” and even the set of mazurkas, “Francie Mooney’s, Vincent Campbell’s.” Thirteen fiddlers, thirteen individual styles, thirteen different years of experience, but the play is well timed and melds together into a solid and sophisticated Donegal sound.
Like The String Sisters, the large number of band members may restrict their travel for appearances, but we can always have hope. DONEGAL FIDDLE is available for order on the band’s web and Facebook sites.
Another brand new offering is crooner Luka Bloom’s new album BITTERSWEET CRIMSON. While the songs are not “Irish,” they are lovely and sung with the heart and feeling we expect from Luka and his folk ballads. The album is a collection of songs he composed over a period of two years with a general theme of appreciating nature, human and all around us. Accompanying him are ace guitar and bouzouki player Steve Cooney, Jon O’Connell on double bass and electric guitar, Adam Shapiro on fiddle, and Robbie Harris on percussion. Their playing beautifully sets off his rich evocative voice. He sings of true love in the opening song, “CAN WE STAY.” His imagery of human feelings being represented by trees, animals, moonbeams, and crystal looking pomegranate seeds give us vivid pictures to heighten our feelings as we listen. His cry in “WHO WILL HEAL THE LAND” is poignant for our times.
A special addition is the last song on the album, “VISION FOR 2020” where Luka is joined by the amazing Niamh Farrell whose voice he heard and fell in love with just as many of us have. Their voices mesh as if they have been singing together for many years. Hopefully, this is the first of more to come.
For Luka Bloom fans, you will be thrilled with this new album. For those not familiar, BITTERSWEET CRIMON is a beautiful introduction. It is now available on his website.
Kudos need to go out to the festival organizers who have been putting on virtual fests for the musicians and us. Some have been small with sets from bands who would have been playing at the fests, others, such as Milwaukee, have put on extravaganzas including music, culture, cooking, you name it! Michigan’s Irish Fest is coming up yet, so check their website. Many, like Milwaukee, will have Utube and Facebook reruns available for you if you missed the weekend. It has been a pleasure to be able to watch and enjoy what we are missing. There is nothing like being there in person, though, where your attention is not divided, home responsibilities are not sitting on your shoulders, and you can ride on the enthusiasm of the crowd. Here’s to hoping we can get our collective act together to contain this virus to be able to enjoy our festivals and concerts by next summer. It is said music heals the soul, and I know this soul yearns for that. Slaínte!

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