|Report of the McGlinchey Summer School 2004|
Clonmany, Co. Donegal
24th – 27th June 2004
Who would believe it? A grand piano on the stage of the Clonmany Community Centre? After his lyrical opening talk on traditional music, Professor Michael O Suilleabhain went jamming at the piano, accompanied by Mel Mercier on bodhran and 'The Oriel String Quartet'. Local sean-nos singer Grace Toland, lifted the spirits of her audience with her robust rendering of the ever popular 'The Cambria'. Local fiddler and farmer Seamus Grant demonstrated his dexterity and rich repertoire of dance tunes to the delight and pride of the home crowd. These are just some of my memories of the opening night of this year’s McGlinchey Summer School which celebrated the musical heritage of Donegal’s Inishowen peninsula.
The wholesome mix of the academic and local talent in the opening concert was reflected in the whole weekend programme. As Donegal fiddle music has a world-renowned reputation, it is no wonder that that instrument figured prominently among the talks. Damhnait Sweeney, a native of Ballyliffin, who now lectures in the Music Department at UCC, gave an erudite exposition of the tunes and styles that make up the Donegal tradition; Paul Doyle, a fiddle maker, now based in Galway, enthralled with stories about his craft. The Seandroim fiddler Dinny Mc Laughlin, who for forty years has taught music to young people in Inishowen, including Ciaran Tourish of Altan and Liz Doherty of Fiddlesticks, recalled in an entertaining interview with Liz how he learned to play the fiddle and how he passed it on to another generation.
The singing tradition in Inishowen was the subject of Breda Mc Kinney’s talk. A beautiful singer herself, Breda inherited her love of singing from her grandfather, Pat Hegarty and has recently completed postgraduate research on the topic. South Armagh is another part of Ulster with a great song tradition and it was a delight to have two of the finest exponents, Padraigín Ni Uallachain and her husband Len Graham share their knowledge and repertoire of that tradition with us. They sang songs in English and Irish sometimes together in harmony, sometimes separately, rekindling the almost forgotten Gaelic song tradition of Oirghialla. Dancebands brought modern music to Inishowen in the 1930s and 1940s.The lead singer and fiddle payer in one of these, John Donovan from Inistrahull Island and Malin Head, was their star performer who popularised the local ballad style of singing with his six recordings. Jim Toland, who is married to Anne Donovan, John’s niece, gave a fascinating talk on the life and times of this legend.
Besides the talks many more events were held over the weekend. Concerts, a Ceili, a Big Night in the Doagh Island Famine Village were the evening highlights. A Field Trip, led by John Conaghan, local expert on Fauna and Flora of the area, brought us this year to two contrasting locations – the shore at Ballyliffin and the bog at Mindoran. The vast Community Centre throbbed with life all weekend as hundreds came to view the huge art exhibition and many interesting musical exhibits, including the story of the Clonmany Ceili Band, The Northern Fiddler exhibition (courtesy of Irish Traditional Music Archives) and the 100 year-old AOH Band’s big drum, played by Eddie Shields and now restored by his son, John.
The McGlinchey Summer School has become an important cultural and social occasion in Inishowen and throughout the North West, attracting many overseas visitors, especially those with local connections and now incorporating a Golf Classic on the world famous Ballyliffin Links.
So next year, plan your summer to take in the 8th McGlinchey Summer School
in Clonmany on the last weekend in June to celebrate the 2005 theme: The
Waters Around Us (Uisce: Beatha agus Sláinte).