Trad meets technology for World Fiddle Day

A marriage of tradition and technology may be a match made in heaven for this year’s World Fiddle Day, writes Pet O’Connell

Séamus Creagh and Jackie Daly as they appeared on the cover of their 1977 album. Picture: Domhnall Ó Mairtín

IRISH traditional music: Its name alone conjures images of a craft distilled by time, its techniques dropping slow to each new generation. The very antithesis, in fact, of the internet’s one-click, instant download of knowledge.

A marriage of tradition and technology, however, may be a match made in heaven for this year’s World Fiddle Day. Scartaglin, Co Kerry, has made this worldwide event into its own international gathering, centred around local Sliabh Luachra fiddle master, the late Pádraig O’Keeffe.

But this Saturday, fiddle players will also pay tribute to two rather more recent icons of the musical style of the Cork-Kerry border. In recent months, those bound for Scartaglin have been practising the tunes recorded on Gael Linn’s seminal 1977 album Jackie Daly and Séamus Creagh which will be performed in the order they originally appeared, at a mass recital in Lyons’ bar.

Accordion legend Daly, 71, will be guest performer. His musical soulmate, Westmeath-born fiddle player Creagh, passed away in 2009 but their collaboration will be celebrated with by those influenced by the recording 40 years back and those barely old enough to put bow to string at the time of Creagh’s untimely passing.

Guitarist Paul de Grae falls into the former camp. The album was the Dubliner’s first taste of Sliabh Luachra music before his move to Kerry. Having played with Daly and Creagh in the intervening years, he is now responsible for transcribing their tunes in ‘fiddle-friendly’ notation and making them available online for World Fiddle Day.

Handing down the music has been one of the chief objectives of PJ Teahan, driving force behind World Fiddle Day in Scartaglin, and De Grae saw a way to broaden the reach of Teahan’s project by harnessing social media.

“It was always PJ’s idea that as many people as possible would play the tunes from a particular recording of Sliabh Luachra music on World Fiddle Day,” says De Grae.

“This would be a group activity and would be something different from an ordinary session in which you make it up as you go along to some extent.”

De Grae says the internet provides a very effective way of getting the music into the hands of people who would want to turn up on fiddle day.

Creagh and Daly had a “pure drop sound” and their album “has a particular importance because it opened the door for Sliabh Luachra music in a lot of ways. It caught that rising tide of the folk revival of the mid-70s when you had the Bothy Band and Planxty getting people interested in traditional music.

“Jackie and Seamus weren’t following the official national style of traditional music; they were playing Sliabh Luachra music which has a repertoire of polkas and slides, which at that time were not much respected by the rest of the musicians in the country but they played them with such freshness that it really got your attention.”

Scartaglin on May 20 will be a hubbub of activity, with a fiddle recital hosted by Joe Thoma, sessions, poetry, and singing workshop, but centre of attention will be that Daly-Creagh magic.

While an exhibition of photographs of Creagh forms a visual reflection of his legacy, Skype will link fiddle players unable to join his former musical collaborators – among them de Grae, Daly, Matt Cranitch, and Aidan Coffey — in a tribute performance by all those now part of Sliabh Luachra’s new internet connection.

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