There’s a reel with the intriguing title: The Nervous Man. It’s one of many on a CD of the same name released about a decade ago by Micheal O’Raghallaigh of the famous Co. Meath musical family.
Organiser, PJ Teahan was the local personification of the title all last week and up to seven eights of the way into Saturday night’s opening of the Handed Down series in Scartaglin.
This was the first event of its scheduled nine-month run at the village heritage centre. You could gauge the success of the experiment afterwards by the look on his face alone.
Once Paul de Grae laid the slipway for the series with his wonderful introduction and blessings, the course was clear for a wonderful evening of entertainment and string of more of the same to come.
Currow box player, Mick Culloty, Tomas MacUileagóid on Fiddle; Paul Sexton on Flute and Denis O’Connor on Banjo then took their seats in the spotlight and the night was up and away.
They were followed by Timmy and Mag O’Connor of the locally based O’C Trio who were accompanied by Jackie Dan Jerry O’Connor from Castleisland. Jackie played many a tune and session with their late father, Dan Jeremiah O’Connor.
One of the never-ending threads running through the night was the playing by Timmy O’Connor of his father’s fiddle as they wound up their stint.
They were followed by a presentation of the history of the music and musicians of the area by accordion player, Paudie O’Connor. Paudie was accompanied by his wife, Aoife Ní Chaoimh on fiddle and by Paul de Grae on guitar.
Paudie’s deep knowledge and appreciation of the music of his own place was clearly evident. The points he made during his presentation became the subject of discussion as people stood around and chatted for a good while after.
For many, Paul de Grae’s cupla focal was one of the highlight of the night and I have Paul’s kind permission to reproduce it here.
“I’m delighted to be associated with “Handed Down”, this series of talks and concerts that PJ Teahan has put together, and especially delighted that it’s happening here in Scartaglen, where you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a musician or a dancer or a singer or a storyteller. You only have to look at the list of events to see the quality of what’s going to be presented here over the next few months. And I notice that PJ has even reached out to the neighbouring and overlapping cultural enclave of North Kerry (where I live).
In Ireland generally—and in this area in particular—we are blessed to have a wealth of traditional culture, still. It’s an almost incredible survival, because it really wasn’t supposed to happen. All of that richness was supposed to disappear. We, as an indigenous people, were supposed to disappear, to become absorbed into the culture of our colonial masters, to become like them. And that threat has not vanished with the achievement of independence. It has just got more insidious, harder to resist because now we’re doing it to ourselves. Instead of becoming like good little English men and women, now we are told by our own politicians and institutions that we need to become good little Europeans, good little consumers knowing our place in the globalized economy. What need have we of centuries-old tunes and songs?
The people of Sliabh Luachra never really swallowed that story. In other parts of Ireland, traditional music and so on has been revived over the past fifty years or so, and that’s great; but in Sliabh Luachra it never went away. The thread remains unbroken. That’s why, here, people are less inclined to accept what they’re told by academics, the media, and other institutions. The official line is that traditional Irish culture is dead and gone and with O’Leary in the grave; it’s no longer relevant in the modern world, but now that it’s safely dead, it can be processed and packaged and sold back to us as part of Brand Ireland, part of the heritage industry.
Not here, though. Here, despite all the homogenizing pressures of contemporary life, there is still a respect and understanding of the traditional culture, and a desire to see it continue. It’s about far more than a few old tunes; it’s about maintaining community. I like that this series is, in a sense, our community talking to itself. This is not an outreach of Official Ireland, this is people with a detailed knowledge of local culture talking to the people from whom that culture derives. At this stage of the game, I think that’s actually more important than trying to persuade the general public, in Ireland or abroad, to appreciate Sliabh Luachra culture. Let’s not look out there for acceptance and validation; let’s start with ourselves, internalizing our own acceptance and understanding of our culture before we engage with the dominant culture—which of course is, more than a little bit, inside us too.
So that’s my take on the “Handed Down” series. I see it as us reclaiming our own stuff. As I said, it’s not just about music; but music is certainly a big part of it, and I hope you enjoy the music you hear tonight. Thank you. Keep the faith!”