Trip to Sligo

How a Boston band earned a trip to the west of Ireland.
Episode Trailer
Ep 01 Thumbnail

The inaugural IMS Podcast episode investigates why 400,000 people–and a band of kids from Boston–ended up at the All Ireland music competition in Sligo. With visits to Boston, Dublin, Clare, and Chicago, “Trip to Sligo” digs into what the competition meant to all the kids, parents, and teachers who were involved in the qualifying round in New Jersey, and the big summer Fleadh in Ireland.

You’ll meet young piper Cormac Gaj, teachers at Comhaltas Music Schools, concertina player Mary MacNamara in Tulla, singer Karan Casey, master fiddle players Seamus Connolly and Liz Carroll. There’s a Yeats poem here, too, recited by Anne Marie Kennedy.

Thank you to all the guests in this episode, especially to Mary MacNamara and her husband Kevin who welcomed IMS into their home in Tulla. And to Paula Carroll, Anne Marie and James Kennedy, and Aidan Collins and Pauline and Sean. Special thank you to Lisa Coyne for being a great traveling companion and sounding board, and to David Laveille for his encouragement to focus more on stories, and less on academic abstractions.

Episode 01 – Trip to Sligo: How Boston band earned a trip to the West of Ireland. This Irish Music Stories episode aired February 14, 2017

Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 
>> Cormac Gaj: When this podcast aired, Cormac was a young uilleann piper in Boston’s Comhaltas music school
>> Seamus Connolly: Master fiddle player, educator, and festival organizer with ten All-Ireland solo fiddle championships, National Heritage Fellowship, and Boston College Faculty Award
>> Siobhán Ní Chonaráin: Flute player, tutor, administrator for Comhaltas main branch in Monkstown
>> Mary MacNamara: East Clare concertina player and educator who facilitated the Trad Youth Exchange with Lisa Coyne, between her young students and Boston Comhaltas students
>> Lisa Coyne: Melrose, Massachusetts-based flute player and clinical psychologist who helped facilitate the Trad Youth Exchange with Boston Comhaltas and Clare musician Mary MacNamara
>> Rosa Carroll: County Clare-born fiddle player who formed a duo with concertina player Lily Connor
>> Liz Carroll: Chicago-based fiddle player and composer who has been named All-Ireland champ, Grammy nominee, National Heritage Fellow, and TG4 Cumadóir
>> Phoebe Wells: holistic health practitioner and mother of piper Cormac Gaj
>> Karan Casey: Waterford-born folk singer and songwriter who has appeared on stages and recordings with numerous projects
>> Anne Marie Kennedy: Galway based writer and journalist 


>> Shannon: I’m Shannon Heaton, and this is Irish Music Stories, the show about traditional music, and the bigger stories behind it…. 

[ Music: 

Tune: “The Tap Room” (reel), from rehearsal, circa 2009 

Artist: Dan Gurney (accordion) with Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

… like why 400,000 people–including a band of 8-15 year olds from Boston–would head to the “All Ireland Fleadh,” a contest featuring top traditional musicians from around the globe. 

Musicians like Cormac Gaj. 

Cormac plays flute and uilleann pipes (the Irish bagpipes) with a group of kids from Boston who competed in the 2015 All Ireland Fleadh: 

>> Cormac: It was massive! They took over this giant auditorium. There must have been at least 1500 people there. All there for this one competition. 

>> Shannon: In this episode, you’ll hear more about Cormac’s experience in the big Irish music competition –and what it meant to him… and to all the parents, teachers, and peers that were in on the qualifying round in New Jersey, and the big All Ireland finals in County Sligo. 

[ Music:

Tune: “Grúpaí Ceoil Theme,” production music made for this episode 

Artist: Matt Heaton (guitar) ]

I’ll also take you to Comhaltas branches (Irish music schools) in Boston AND in Dublin. And to Mary MacNamara’s kitchen in Tulla: that’s Mary’s little town in County Clare, where she teaches music and organizes exchanges between Tulla kids and young musicians like Cormac. 

And I promise, whether you already play the fiddle, or you don’t know anything about traditional music or dance, this story—and the amazing and incredibly charming people you’ll meet—well, it’s not just about Ireland and Irish music. [Music fades.]

But Irish music is where the story begins–and Cormac loves playing it. Now, his dad is from Ireland. But Cormac was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Playing music that came from Ireland is a big part of Cormac’s life. His family has taken him to countless Irish sessions (or music gatherings).

And he’s met a lot of other kids through the local Comhaltas branch, which offers music classes at St. Columbkille’s Partnership school in Brighton, Mass. [Playground noises.] During the week, St Columbkille’s is a Catholic grade school. And for 6 hours every Saturday, it becomes an Irish music zone, for students of all ages.

[Sounds of walking down the halls, sounds of people speaking in Irish.]

When you walk down the halls, you hear people speaking Irish. There are signs on all the classroom doors for the various instrument classes. [Sounds of people singing]

>> Mairin: Good job! Let’s try that first verse again.

>> Shannon: I’m right outside Mairin Ui Cheide’s room She teaches sean nos (or old style) singing here. So I’m walking in… 

>> Mairin: Hello! This is Shannon Heaton! Conás átá tú!!

>> Guy: [Some dude pokes head in the class]: I’m looking for tin whistle?

>> Mairin: Tin Whistle? Well, there isn’t a high whistler or a low whistler here! 

>> Guy: All right, I’ll ask at the Comhaltas office.

>> Shannon: I asked Mairin. as the Irish speaker in the room, to define Comhaltas: 

>> Mairin: Well, Comhaltas means a gathering, or a group. It’s a gathering of everybody who’s interested in the Irish culture, be it whatever instrument or our traditional style of singing.

>> Shannon: Is this serious business? [Said wryly.]

>> Mairin: Haha! Oh, yes, very serious! And you teach children that there’s a WONDERFUL world outside of America’s got talent! Hahahah!

>> Shannon: After I left Mairin’s class and bid adieu to the school in Brighton, I talked to Seamus Connolly. Seamus was named National Heritage Fellow in 2013. And he led a big event called the Gaelic Roots Festival. Later he served as Artist in Residence at Boston College for over a decade. 

And he can really play the fiddle 

[ Music:

Tune: “I’m Waiting for You” from The Banks of the Shannon, Green Linnet 1993 

Artist: Seamus Connolly (fiddle), Charlie Lennon (piano) ]

When Seamus first came to the States in 1976, he taught for the Boston Comhaltas, helping students prepare for the Fleadh, back before Irish music was searchable on the Internet. 

>> Seamus: I honestly do believe that Comhaltas are responsible for a lot of the great music being played today. And of course musicians, they interpret it in their own way. But they got the basis from Comhaltas. And I think Comhaltas are to be complimented 

>> Shannon: Seamus is not shy to admit that competitions weren’t always his cup of tea. 

>> Seamus: When I was growing up competition-wise, I felt like I was boxed in very much. I felt like I had to adhere to a certain way of playing. But I suppose that has to happen to put somebody on the right track. And then you’re freer when you’re done with competitions, you know? 

>> Shannon: But competitions are something to do. And they’re what brought Cormac and his peers together: working toward a goal, going through the process of preparation, traveling together. 

Competition or no, this is what sharing the music is all about for Seamus.

>> Seamus: There’s a sense of closeness and camaraderie about all of it. It’s not all to be kept in a box. It’s to be shared with people, and we can all learn from one other. The friendships that we make in it, you know? So it’s the music that brings all of us together. 

[ Music: 

Tune: Heartstrings Theme,” production music made for this episode 

Artist: Matt Heaton (guitar) ] 

>> Shannon: Indeed, it’s brought a lot of people together. There are now 420 Comhaltas branches all over the world. The head office is in Dublin’s Monkstown neighborhood. 

So I hopped across the pond from Boston to Dublin. My friend Lisa Coyne and I rented a car. In fact, our car rental guy reminded us with a wink to “Drive on the right!”

He gave us this moment. We both looked pretty puzzled, before he said “Gotcha!”

Man, Welcome to Ireland. NO car company would joke about the side of the road in the States.  So, we drove ON THE LEFT to the head Comhaltas office, just a few blocks in from the coast. [Music ends. Birds sing.] 

Now, Lisa knows all about Comhaltas. Her kids play fiddle and accordion, and they’ve been in classes along with Cormac. Lisa herself has taught flute and whistle in Brighton. When we arrived at Comhaltas HQ in Dublin, Lisa looked over the new trad releases in the store front. 

Administrator and Flute Player, Siobhán Ní Chonaráin took me up to the second floor. [Footsteps.] We chatted in a classroom with a massive ceiling. She talked about how Comhaltas has grown over the years.

>> Siobhán: 1951 was the foundation of Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann in Mullingar. There was a whole joining of people of likeminded ideals and commitment to the music. And it grew from that to the extent that it is now an international organization with 420 branches. 

>> Shannon: Comhaltas is the institutionalized arm of Irish music. And one focus, for many of the branches, is preparation for the regional contests. First and second place provincial winners can go on to compete at the All Ireland Fleadh 

>> Siobhán: Well, Fleadh Cheoil na h’Éireann is a phenomenal undertaking. At its core, of course, we have the competitions. And all of these competitors come from the world over, having qualified from their various provincial qualifying Fleadhanna Cheoil. 

[ Music: 

Tune: “Travel Theme,” production music made for this episode 

Artist: Matt Heaton (guitar) ]

>> Shannon: There are seven regional qualifying contests: four from the Provinces of Ireland, the All Britain, and two in North America (one in the Midwest, and one in the MidAtlantic, which is where Boston students like Cormac compete). 

[asks Siobhán] And then what would be, say, a very popular event at the All Ireland?

>> Siobhán: Obviously, the reputation and the whole awareness of the Senior CB competition: it’s a given that at this stage it’s seen as the accolade. 

[Guitar strums last chord]

The Ceili BAND. 

It’s the Irish version of a big band. Formed in pre-amplification days, to play in dance halls, Ceili Bands feature fiddles, accordions, flutes, banjos, concertinas, uilleann pipes… all playing unison melodies, with a rhythm section of piano and minimal drum kit (with occasional woodblock). 

[ Music:

Tune: “The Imperial Set, from Live in Lisdoonvarna, (Torc Music, 2002) 

Artist: Kilfenora Céilí Band with live dancing ]

Ceili bands are still a big thing, and at the All Ireland Fleadh, it’s sort of like the figure skating of the Irish music Olympics. Once all the solo and duo contests and singing rounds have played out, participants pile into a big venue to take in the hotly contested Ceili Band championship. To see WHO will be knighted KING of the Ceili Bands that year. 

I mean, when you see the photo of the 2015 All Ireland winners, the Shandrum Ceili Band from Cork, the guys are all wearing black pants, vests, and Chuck All Stars. And they have awesome haircuts. And the women are all wearing matching blue dresses. It could totally be an ad for a mobile phone network, only they’re all holding accordions and fiddles.

[ Music ends with applause ]

>> Siobhán: You know, we’re delighted that that competition has reached the profile that it has. An awful lot… a very large number of musicians and teachers, mentors and branches, would have been very involved in the Grúpaí Ceol competition for many years, which allows the potential of up to 20 people to take part instead of 10. 

>> Shannon: The Grúpaí Ceol (which means music group in the Irish language) has a slightly looser format than the Ceili Band. Competitors have eight minutes to fill, however they choose. Instrumentation is up for grabs. There’s an emphasis on creativity. There’s room for more musicians, too. Up to 20 per group. 

[ Music:

Tune: “Grúpaí Ceoil Theme,” Reprise ]

No matter the category, the competitors for the All Ireland Fleadh come from Comhaltas branches around the world. Overseas competitors who can’t make it to a qualifying Fleadh, can apply to be evaluated to compete. That’s how 2 groups from Tokyo came to the 2016 Fleadh. Independent musicians and schools can ALSO register to participate. 


After a few nights of tunes and hilarious reunions with friends in Dublin and Galway, Lisa and I moved on to County Clare, home of the rocky Burren wilderness area, the scenic Cliffs of Moher, and legendary musicians and music festivals. And surprisingly good coffee. 

We were on our way to see independent teacher and concertina player Mary MacNamara in Tulla. 

[ Music: 

Tune: Jennifer Molloy’s” (Jig), from From Tulla to Boston: Live at the Burren 

Artist: Mary MacNamara (from the Trad Youth Exchange) ]

From her home in Tulla, Mary teaches concertina and prepares students to compete. She has help from Alan Kelly on flute, and her daughter Sorcha and Eileen O’Brien on fiddle. They follow Comhaltas rules, but they’re totally independent. And in addition to preparing students for the Fleadh, Mary also organizes music exchanges between her students in Tulla, and groups abroad–like the Shetland Islands, Norway, and Boston, with Cormac and his peers. 

I had a chance to speak with Mary and her husband Kevin about the Boston exchange in their kitchen. Lisa made tea in the background, and piped in from time to time, since she was the U.S. instigator for the Boston-Tulla exchange: 

>> Mary: It was a great experience. Because for most of them, they would never have been out of the country before, certainly not in America. The best memories for them is being in the underground trains. And every day we had 3 and 4 of them to take. Trying to get 30 people on and off at the right time and right station, and we were constantly counting. They thought it was very exciting. 

>> Shannon: You send them tunes, they send you tunes? 

>> Mary: So I sent off a bunch of sets of tunes. I sent to Lisa, and she sent me over another bunch. It is my job to make sure that the kids know the stuff; and it is her job to make sure it is given out to the individual teachers. So the first thing when they meet, whether it is in Boston or Norway or Shetland or wherever, they sit down and can immediately play together.

>> Shannon: They have a common language? 

>> Mary: They have a common language. It’s the most important part of the exchange. Wouldn’t you agree, Kevin? [Mary’s husband Kevin replies, “I would.”]

>> Shannon: And what about the Boston kids then coming here?

>> Mary: When they came here then, they were staying in Bodyke in the the middle of the countryside. We had a big 59-seater coach. The problem was getting the 59-seater coach down the little bog road to the cottages where we were staying. So all the Boston kids were looking out the windows saying look, there’s grass in the middle of the road, and the bus can barely fit! So from that to the underground in Boston. I think for both sets of the kids that was the thrill. The difference between both places, you know, the experience of how to get from A to B. 

[ Music: “Travel Theme” Reprise ]

>> Shannon: Another highlight on the Irish side of the exchange was the trad disco that Mary set up for the kids. A local DJ spun Ceili Band albums, and all the kids did simple Irish social dances together. 

>> Mary: I organized the trad disco because I think dancing, it’s a great way for interaction. They’re all great musicians. But I find when people are sitting down playing in sessions, there isn’t much opportunity for interaction. So the dancing is a great way to get people up, dancing together, talking together, moving around the floor together. So they had learned some dances, but they were fun dances, like two-hand dances, and The Haymaker’s Jig. And it was okay if people went wrong, So that was a big hit, because the kids were freeing up with each other.

>> Lisa:  And actually, that was the cover of the album 

>> Mary: The cover of the album! 

>> Shannon: That was Lisa. She was talking about the live recording the kids made at the Burren, one of Boston’s best-known Irish pubs. 

[ Music:

Tune: “Joe Cooley’s Reel,” from From Tulla to Boston: Live at the Burren 

Artist: Tulóg and Realta Gaela (from the Trad Youth Exchange) ]

A few hours later, I asked fiddle player Rosa Carroll about the Irish side of the exchange. She’s one of the musicians on the album. [Asks Rosa] What’d you think of the program? Did you enjoy it?

>> Rosa: Yeah, I loved it so much. We just had loads of fun. We did loads of activities, played in sessions, made great friends, which we still are great friends today. And then they came back to us in Feakle and Tulla. We did more concerts. We went to Bunratty… yeah, we just did loads of activities. 

>> Shannon: After the activities and the concerts of the exchange, Cormac and his friends back in Boston stayed busy: 

>> Cormac: Well, what now what do we do? We’ve got all these tunes lying around. Might as well do something for those tunes that we had. So we just pulled together the group. 

>> Shannon: They pulled the group together with a lot of help. With help from fiddle player Séan Clohessy, who coached the kids and arranged for them to compete in the Mid Atlantic Fleadh. Tin whistle player Kathleen Conneelly and other Comhaltas teachers chipped in. They helped prepare the Boston Grúpaí Cheoil. They’d enter in the U15 category-the Under 15 category for 12-15 year olds. But some of the kids weren’t even 12, so really some were punching above their weight. They called the group Realta Gaela, which is Irish for bright stars.  

[ Music: Grúpaí Ceol Theme Reprise ]

Now, taking a group down to NJ to compete… this was kind of a big deal for Boston. Unlike their competitors in Pearl River, NY and St. Cecilia’s parish in NJ, Boston didn’t have a track record of competing. 

>> Cormac: Anyway, so we figured we’d just head down there, just to meet some people. Just for the fun of it. 

>> Shannon: Nobody expected Boston to win. They were in it for the experience and the learning. And the hotel pool. They’d worked hard in Brighton, but they also horsed around between classes. They jumped on gym mats stacked in the hallway. They acted like kids. They took breaks from the tunes. 

When fiddle player Liz Carroll was growing up in Chicago, she went to the Irish Musicians’ Association to play tunes. And to play around with other kids. I had a chance to eat blueberries in Liz’s kitchen, and hear a few stories about her early days with the fiddle.

[ Music:

Tune: “Heartstrings Theme” production music made for this episode 

Artist: Matt Heaton (guitar) ]

>> Liz: My early memories are of going to a pub, and it was on Ashland Avenue, right off of 55th street. It had a pub on the first floor. And there were meetings of the Irish Musicians’ Association on the second floor. And I remember that there was a player piano on the first floor—very attracted to that. And going upstairs meant a round group of people playing. 

I remember sitting in the back, of rather a dusty room with a wood floor. And people playing, and just picking out my fiddle and sitting in the back. I could put that fiddle away and run around for an hour. And I could hear a tune in the distance maybe that I kind of knew or I liked, and I could run up and take my fiddle out, you know and stay there for a while. Very nice existence, Shannon! Hahaha! 

[ Music ends ]

>> Shannon: As I traveled around Chicago and Ireland, I kept Cormac’s story in mind. From Chicago to Boston to Tulla.

[ Music: Travel Theme reprise ]

There are so many Independent teachers, and music clubs, and Comhaltas branches. And that’s where the sea of All Ireland competitors come from. There are groups from Australia, Luxembourg, Chile. And I imagine they all have their own stories—and rivalries.

Here’s Cormac’s account of the day Realta Gaela competed in the MidAtlantic Fleadh. Remember, only first and second place winners go on to compete in the All Ireland. Cormac and I were talking at a holiday party; and at this point in our conversation, a few family members and friends had sat down to take in the story.

>> Cormac: There were two other teams competing–two other bands. And they’re pretty big deals. They practice for pretty much the whole year, leading up to the Fleadh. We figured our band would be lucky to get third. They got up there, completely serious. One of them even had, like, a custom shirt for each one of them, complete with the name of the music school on the front and the back. (Laughter) 

>> Phoebe: Yeah, and I think it’s the type of competition that if there are three teams, if you’re not good enough to be awarded third place, they will just award first and second. 

>> Shannon That was Cormac’s mom, Phoebe.

>> Cormac: They don’t even have to give anybody anything. So we figured we’d just got there for the fun of it. Just play a few tunes and then leave.

So, after we get up there and play, at least half the team leaves to go to the swimming pool. I stuck around for the awards. And when they announced one of the bands in third place, everyone looked at each other… we thought: did we actually get SECOND?  

And then they announced second place, you figured, oh that’s bad. Nobody got first! 

[Everybody in the room groans.]

And… honestly, the whole place just exploded when they said that we’d gotten first!! 

>> Guy in room: So, half of your people were still at the swimming pool at that point? 

>> Cormac: At least they’d changed. 

>> Phoebe: I think they had come.. but in the photo, a bunch of kids are in bathing suits. You know, in tee shirts and bathing suits, holding a tennis ball—because they were ready to go play. 

>> Shannon: Hahaha! That’s so great! 

It’s a great Bad News Bears story. But it doesn’t end there. The kids went on to raise money and try their luck in Ireland, where they’d face MANY more competitors. 

[ Music: 

Tune: “Triumph Theme,” production music made for this episode 

Artist: Matt Heaton (guitar) ]

Irish musicians and teachers from all over the world–thousands of players-invest all this time preparing for the Fleadh. All this, and there’s no money in winning the competition. And the Comhaltas pay scale for teachers is, well, quite modest. So what drives people? I asked Cormac what he thought: 

>> Cormac: These people tend to find the competition, and the ones who aren’t interested don’t really… it’s not like anyone’s pushing them to go to the competition. They’re going because they want to compete against people and be the best. 

For many of the teachers who are passing on the tunes, it’s a mission. Here’s Boston singing teacher Mairin Ui Cheide again.

>> Mairin: I think it’s incumbent upon me to give, like I was given. I was fortunate that I had come from a musical family that passed songs on for generations. So now it’s my turn to pass this on, because it IS important. 

>> Shannon: Because Irish singing and instrumental tunes are commonly passed on by ear, directly from one player or teacher to the next, it is a pretty profound living link between the people who played the tune before, and people who are playing it now. In this way, it’s not so much about any one player or time period. It’s older. It’s bigger. 

Now, as charming and timeless as giving and handing down music is, sometimes Irish music is passed on less directly: 

[ Music: “Grúpaí Ceol Theme Reprise” ]

>> Mairin: I teach by ear, and then I send an mp3. After all it’s 2017! The Bard can’t travel to Cape Cod and Brighton and Braintree and Milton. It’d take me all day. So it’s much easier to send it via mp3. Then they can download it on all their devices. 

>> Shannon: Sometimes it’s even more remote than getting a sound file from your own teacher. Some people are learning songs and tunes from random YouTube videos. And remember, these guys can apply to compete, too. But they might not have the same context as, say, the Boston kids, who DO get to meet Marin in person on Saturdays, right? 

I asked singer Karan Casey what she thinks about learning traditional music in isolation. (You’ll hear a lot more from Karan next month, in our one on one Cuppa Tea chat.) 

>> Karan: Yeah, absolutely! Any way you can. Any access, any way you can. You just have to go out there and really follow the threads and the streams. There’s great information out there. There’s people on Mudcat Cafe. They’ve all the different versions. They know more about it than I do! 

>> Shannon: Yeah, you mean the MudCat online discussion group? That’s an amazing song database. You think it’s cool to get songs that way? Can you really learn online and in isolation? 

>> Karan: I mean, I do think if you can befriend someone–I had the privilege of befriending Frank Harte. And you know, if anyone wants to come to come to my house for a cup of tea and learn a few songs, they’re welcome. And that, you know, that’s the way it works. Of course do the stuff online. But I think if we can reach out to one another and establish more connection that way, it’s really good. 

>> Shannon: So, most people who learn Irish music make connections. And unless you’re really learning in isolation and you never find a social context for your tunes and songs, you’re bound to meet people with a similar connection to the tunes, to the rules, to the conventions. 

There’s shared humor and respect for very particular details when you go deep like that. And when you go to a Fleadh, you’ll find a room full of people–the competitors, and also the onlookers, the parents, the judges… who are all in on the style and the prevailing fashions. 

Here’s Liz Carroll again. She’d started out at the Irish Music Association in Chicago; went on to win the All Ireland fiddle championship; and has this story about the finer points of woodblock playing, and what happened when one group of musicians went off book: 

Liz: There was a moment that I have on tape, actually. A ceili band had won in Ireland. I want to say it was the Bridge Ceili Band. So now they’re being presented. So on my little cassette tape, they say, “Winners! Bridge Ceili Band!” 

The band usually had to play a dance that night. But I think this was just the moment when they play a tune. They’ve just won, they’ve all grabbed their instruments, they’re up on the stage, and they start in. Couple of taps, and off they go. 

[ Music: 

Tune: “High Part of the Road” (Jig), field recording made by Liz Carroll (1976) 

Artist: Bridge Céilí Band ]

At the time, it was not cool to play the block. So, they go into the second part, and the drummer goes to the block. 

>> Shannon: Hahaha! 

>> Liz: On the tape there’s this murmur, into a well, into a CHEER. It’s like one of the best things I’ve ever heard. That whole room knew. This is a room full of musicians, their families. Everybody knew when he went to the block. Hahahaha! 

>> Shannon: That’s what happens when the village invests. When everybody knows about the tradition, a woodblock can really convey something, because everybody’s bothered to learn about the music. And about the tunes. 

The tunes. The tunes, The tunes! There are so many tunes. And these Boston kids learned a lot of tunes….  

They took those tunes, and formed Realta Gaela. They took the group to the MidAtlantic Fleadh and enjoyed an unexpected victory.  They raised money and went on to the All Ireland Fleadh in County Sligo. 

So, how did the Boston kids do in Ireland? Well, in short, they didn’t even place. 

>> Shannon to Cormac: What was Sligo like? Were there lots of kids competing in the Grúpaí Ceol.

>> Cormac: Yes, it was massive. They took over this giant auditorium. There must have been at least 1500 people there. 

>> Shannon: What was it like to be in that room with 1500 people? 

>> Phoebe: Oh, the tension was so thick. Yeah. That atmosphere where I feel like people are listening for the mistakes. And to start to see other people giving the look, in the audience. It’s like, I can’t even enjoy it. 

>> Cormac: No one else we really knew from before was competing. 

>> Shannon: But the Boston kids weren’t alone. Their friends from Tulla, the kids who had taught them some of their competition tunes were right there in that room. 

[ Music: “Triumph Theme” Reprise ]

>> Cormac: There were a bunch of people we’d met back in the exchange cheering us on.. just like a little speck out in the audience. 

>> Shannon: So, was it worth all the effort and expense? I asked Cormac and his mom what they thought. 

>> Phoebe: I think it was nice to get to know the other kids, as well as the teachers, through the exchange program first. Where really was the focus on building community through music. And the competition was so clearly secondary. So, I think if the competition had come first, that might have felt a little different. But starting with that was really nice.

>> Cormac: A lot of people compete, they get there for the competition, they compete, then after that you forget about it for another year. And that’s when you hang out with other people. Just go down to the pub for a session. 

[ Music ends ]

>> Shannon: Here’s Siobhán Ní Chonaráin from Comhaltas.

>> Siobhán: It provides them and their parents with an opportunity to come to this festival with so many like-minded people and families, many of them much further on, in that sense of development. They are entering into a community. 

[ Music: “Travel Theme” Reprise ]

>> Shannon: Back in Boston Mairin Ui Cheide talks more about that community feeling that grows by going to the Fleadh. 

>> Mairin: You can go across the Atlantic to Ireland to participate. And it’s an experience that’s forever with you. 

>> Shannon: It’s not just about the competition 

>> Mairin: Oh, no! The competition is just the minor part of it. It’s the people you meet, the music you hear, and the relationships you build. And the community that you belong to after going to a Fleadh, it’s very different 

>> Shannon on tape: You’ve all been there? You’ve all run the marathon? 

>> Mairin: Yes, you may have been the slowest one in the marathon, but that’s okay. You finished! You reached your goal. You got to the end! And that’s what sustains you as a human being, to belong. And belonging in our community of musicians, especially Irish musicians. You know, Ireland is such a small country, but the impact that its people has had all over the world, is. You know, you can’t contain it! It keeps growing, and growing, and keeps on growing. And it’s wonderful. And to start so young and to be part of that, of the seedlings of that, I think. For me, I find it one of the most fulfilling things I do.

>> Shannon: Here’s Mary MacNamara again, from her home in Clare.  

>> Mary MacNamara (back in County Clare): I think it’s been the biggest pleasure for me in music, is the exchanges. 

>> Shannon: And they’re fun for you? 

>> Mary: Oh, it’s great fun. I mean, I love travelling myself. And I love watching the kids have an opportunity to have a platform to perform. They live on this. 

>> Shannon: And you do, too? 

>> Mary: Oh, yeah, I do. I mean, looking at those photos there this morning. My heart skips a beat when I open that Boston book and look at the photographs. And I think it’ll live with them. And when they’re older musicians they will go back and think about it. And we will always know each other, which is great. 

[ Music: “Heartstrings Theme” Reprise ]

>> Shannon: By the time they were in that room in Sligo for the competition, the Boston kids had already been through a lot together. They’d formed a band. They’d held up a giant trophy, sporting flip flops and damp hair. They’d ridden a huge bus on small Irish roads and navigated the Boston transit system. They’d developed friendships across the ocean. And the Grúpaí Ceol FORMAT was a chance to take what they’d learned and do their own thing with it. They got these old tunes from a concertina player in Clare, who’d learned them from older musicians. And then they arranged and sculpted the music in their own way (with guidance from their teachers Sean Clohessy and Kathleen Conneely ). 

Seamus Connolly has also encouraged many players to explore and experiment with old Irish tunes:

>> Seamus: I think it’s important to remember the past, but we can’t stay locked in the past either. We have to move forward, particularly with traditional music, wherever it may be from. It’s a living tradition! And the younger people who are playing have to add to the music how they feel it should be interpreted, and give us something new. But at the same time we shouldn’t forget what the older people did, too—what they put down. But that was in their time. But now it’s 21st century, and there’s new people coming along. And it keeps it vibrant. It keeps it alive. And when I’m gone and the young people who are now playing it, when they become older, they will hear something different as well. So again, it’s very much a living tradition. And it should be that way. 

[ Music: 

Tune: “Seamus Connolly’s” (Jig), from Traditional Music from Doolin Co. Clare 

Artist: Kevin Griffin with Eoin O’Neill, Sharon Shannon ]

>> Shannon: And at the end of the day, the Boston kids got to swim in the hotel pool! 

[Sound of SPLASH into swimming pool)]

>> Shannon: This episode of Irish Music Stories was written and produced by me, Shannon Heaton, with invaluable assistance and musical contributions from Matt Heaton. 

My thanks to the incredible people I interviewed for this story, especially to Mary MacNamara and her husband Kevin who welcomed us into their home in Tulla. And to Paula Carroll, Anne Marie and James Kennedy, and Aidan Collins and Pauline and Sean: thank you for hosting us, and supporting Irish Music Stories. Thank you to Lisa Coyne for being a great traveling companion and sounding board, and to David Laveille for encouraging me to focus more on stories, and less on academic abstractions. 

You can head to to learn about the music in this episode, and to find links to videos of Realta Gaela performing in NJ and in Sligo. If you’d like to support the show, click on the donate button. Every little bit helps: it’ll help defray travel and production costs. And it’ll show me that this is meaningful to you, which means a lot of me.. To thank you for listening, this episode’s Coda features Galway poet Anne Marie Kennedy, reciting The Wandering Aengus by William Butler Yeats, to the accompaniment of a ticking clock. 

>> Anne Marie: [recites William Butler Yeats poem, “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” in her kitchen in Galway]

I went out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And someone called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

Irish Music Stories Podcast Episode 01: Trip to Sligo

Japanese Translation by Tomoaki Hatekeyama



エピソード1  “スライゴーへの道”


今日登場していただくのは、メアリー・マクナマラ / マリーン・イ・キーダ / コーマック・ガイ / フィービー・ウェルズ / シェイマス・コノリー / シボン・ニ・コナラン / ローザ・キャロル / リッツ・キャロル / カラン・キャセイ / アン・マリー・ケネディの皆さんです。



音楽:”The Tap Room”(リール)、2009年ごろのリハーサルから

アーティスト:ダン・ガーニー(アコーディオン)、 シャノン・ヒートン(フルート) マット・ヒートン(ギター)







音楽:“Grúpaí Ceoilのテーマ,”このエピソードのために作られたオリジナルBGM 




















マリーン: Comhaltasは「集まり」とか「グループ」という意味です。アイルランドの文化に関心のある人の集まりです。楽器でも伝統的な歌い方でもね。





音楽:“I’m Waiting for You”( The Banks of the Shannon、グリーン・リネット1993より)

アーティスト:シェイマス・コノリー(フィドル), チャーリー・レノン(ピアノ)








音楽:“Heartstringsのテーマ” このエピソードのためのオリジナルBGM


















音楽:“Travel のテーマ”  このエピソードのためのオリジナルBGM









音楽:The Imperial Set リズデンバーナのライブから(2002年 トーク・ミュージック)







シボン:このコンクールが今のような注目を浴びるようになって嬉しいです。本当に多くの音楽家や教師や指導者や支部が長年の間Grúpaí Ceol(グルーピキヨール)のコンクールに関わってきました。これは10名ではなくて20名まで参加できるグループです。




音楽:“Grúpaí Ceoilのテーマ,” 







音楽:” Jennifer Molloy’s”(ジグ)From Tulla to Boston: Live at the Burrenより

アーティスト:メアリー・マクナマラ(Trad Youth Exchange)


















音楽:“Travel のテーマ”



メアリー:私はトラッド・ディスコを企画しました。踊ることが触れ合いの素晴らしい方法だと思ったからです。彼らはみんな立派なミュージシャンです。でも座ってセッションしているだけでは、あまりふれあいの機会がないと思ったのです。ダンスは人々の気持ちを掻き立てるいい方法です。一緒に踊って、おしゃべりして、フロアーを動きまわる…。それでみんなは幾つかのダンスを習ってきました。楽しいダンスです。2人1組のダンスとか、The Haymaker’s Jigです。間違ってもいいのです。これは大当たりでした。子供たちはすっかり打ち解けたのです。





音楽:“Joe Cooley’s Reel”  “From Tulla to Boston: Live at the Burren”から。

アーティスト:Tulóg and Realta Gaela(トラッド・ユース交流から)










ティン・ホイッスル奏者のキャサリン・カナーリーや他の音楽家協会の先生も協力してくれました。彼らはボストン・グルーピキヨール(Boston Grúpaí Cheoil)の準備を手助けしてくれました。彼らはU15に出願しました。12歳~15歳のカテゴリーです。でも12歳になっていない者もいました。実際彼らは実力以上に頑張ったのです。そのグループの名前はレルタ・ゲイラになりました。アイルランド語で「明星」という意味です。


音楽:Grúpaí Ceolのテーマ  







音楽:“Heartstrings のテーマ” このエピソードのためのオリジナルBGM





























音楽:“Triumphのテーマ,” このエピソードのためのオリジナルBGM












音楽:“Grúpaí Ceol のテーマ”  






歌手のカラン・ケイシーに独学で伝統音楽を学ぶことをどう思うか聞いてみました。(カランからは来月Cuppa Tea chatでもっとお話を聞かせてもらいます。)















音楽:“High Part of the Road” (Jig)リッツ・キャロルの屋外での録音(1976)








音楽:“Travel のテーマ”














































彼らは音楽を自分たちなりのやり方でアレンジし、作り上げました。(先生のショーン・クローシーの指導で)… シェイマス・コノリーの創案と刷新に関する意見です。


音楽:“Seamus Connolly’s”(ジグ)クレア州、ドゥーリンの伝統音楽から

アーティスト:ケビン・グリフィン with エオイン・オニール、シャロン・シャノン









Companion Chapters

Related essays

Bonus Content

Related videos

Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Cormac Gaj


When this podcast aired, Cormac was a young flute & uilleann piper at Boston’s Comhaltas music school.

Conamara-born, Boston-based sean nos singer from a long line of poets and singers

Master fiddle player, educator, and festival organizer with ten All-Ireland solo fiddle championships, National Heritage Fellowship, and Boston College Faculty Award

Siobhán Ní Chonaráin


Flute player, tutor, and Comhaltas administrator

Mary MacNamara


East Clare concertina player and educator who facilitated the Trad Youth Exchange with Lisa Coyne in Boston

Lisa Coyne


Melrose, Massachusetts-based flute player and clinical psychologist who helped facilitate the Trad Youth Exchange with Mary MacNamara in Clare

Rosa Carroll


County Clare-born fiddle player (no relation to Liz Carroll) who formed a duo with concertina player Lily Connor

Chicago-based fiddle player and composer who has been named All-Ireland champ, Grammy nominee, National Heritage Fellow, and TG4 Cumadóir

Waterford-born folk singer, songwriter and activist who has appeared on stages and recordings with numerous projects

Galway based writer, journalist, and playwright who has presented numerous Irish music events

The Heaton List