Máirtín de Cógáin is a regular on the US touring circuit, writes Pet O’Connell
Traditional music and song being one of Ireland’s most enduring exports, the strains of Sliabh Luachra tunes or songs extolling the delights of Fairhill and Carrigdhoun are as likely to be heard in New York as in Cork.
But four Corkmen whose musical paths crossed on the far side of the Atlantic will bring it all back home next Tuesday for an event show-casing some of the county’s most widely-travelled cultural exponents.
Opening Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan in Cork City, a ‘Glór Chorcaí’ concert reunites musicians Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly with singer-songwriter Jimmy Crowley and storyteller, bodhrán player, dancer, and singer Máirtín de Cógáin. All four have been regulars on the international circuit, performing together at festivals across the US. The only one of them permanently resident in America, Máirtín de Cogáin jets back for Tuesday’s concert in CIT School of Music for reasons close to his own heart.
The Munster Fleadh, an annual cultural gathering that draws thousands to its competitions, workshops, concerts, céilís, sessions, and street entertainment, was never before held in a city.
Its arrival in Cork is a momentous occasion for those involved in its organisation, not least Barry Cogan, president of Cork Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and chairperson of its Douglas branch, responsible for hosting the event. Perhaps as momentous on a personal level will be the arrival home of Barry’s son Máirtín. “Dad has been pushing to have the fleadh in the city and when he got the nod I said I’d come home for it, to support it,” said Máirtín.
Performing at the opening concert will be “a proud moment for me and I suppose for him too, after all the years of teaching me”.
A winner of two All-Irelands for storytelling, Máirtín said his father “taught me about stage performance; he encouraged me always, and he would also have brought me to meet Danny Maidhcí Ó Súilleabháin, who I learned so much from as a singer”.
Máirtín’s mother Aislinn “tried and she tried” to fix her son’s musical interest on instruments including tin whistle, accordion, and piano, before he settled on the bodhrán, learning initially from Eric Cunningham of De Dannan.
Barry Cogan has been among those pressing Cork’s case to host Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, a cause that won’t be harmed by an impressive showing at Munster level next week. “You’d never know, if the city gets behind it,” Máirtín said. “That would be a huge economic boom with the amount of people coming to the city, and the craic cannot be quantified.” He will be joined on stage at Glór Chorcaí by Sliabh Luachra masters Cranitch and Daly.
“There are no bigger names than Jackie and Matt,” said Máirtín. He toured too with balladeer Jimmy Crowley, the pair collaborating as ‘Captain Mackey’s Goatskin and Stringband’ for an album of songs of soldiering and emigration, some of which may be heard on Tuesday, said Máirtín, hinting at the likes of ‘Down Erin’s Lovely Lee’ and ‘Maria de la Rosa’. “We toured many states together for a good five or six years,” he recalled, “then Jimmy moved back to Cobh, to his dream house, to look out on Cork harbour, but I always touch base with him when I’m home.” It was from Jimmy’s vast store of Cork ballads that Máirtín learned the likes of Gus McLaughlin’s ‘Johnny Go Boating’ and Michael O’Brien’s ‘Away Down the Marina’, both of which appear on his 2010 album From Cork with Love as the ‘Máirtín de Cógáin Project.
His move to the US came 14 years ago. “I was 23/24 when I started coming to the States playing music and my first paid solo gig was in Western Missouri — just me and my bodhrán for an hour and 40 minutes. It was a tough gig.” The following year he returned with the Cork-based Fuchsia Band, appearing at Kansas City Irish Fest. “We used to do 11-week tours in the States, but now some of us have mortgages and babies,” added Máirtín, now settled in California with wife Mitra and children Milo and Finn.
In addition to Glór Chorcaí, Máirtín will be reunited with the Fuchsia Band, playing the fleadh gig rig on Sunday July 22, followed by a seisiún in the Deep South bar.
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