Ring of Gullion Comhaltas

July 20, 2010

This week we take a look at the Traditional Singing element which is enjoying renewed interest in the Ring of Gullion this year.  Dozens of young singers are availing of the opportunity of expert tuition in the skill since it was added to the group’s weekly music classes.  The learning and performing of traditional songs are of great importance to their preservation.  Many of these songs have been passed through generations and offer a unique and important insight into the history (and humour) of Irish culture.

by Brónagh Murphy –

Traditional Singing has long since been associated with the Ring of Gullion branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

Indeed in 1993 the group’s long-time stalwart, Michael Quinn, claimed its first All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil title in the Traditional Singing category with his rendition of ‘The Still at Carrigan’s Pass’.

In recent years, both Pearse McMahon and Tony O’Callaghan have flown the flag for the branch in Fleadh Cheoil and individually have enjoyed excellent success.

This year, however, the element has taken on a new dimension with the arrival of several young members to the group.

Since September, tuition in Traditional Singing has been added to the repertoire of the weekly music classes in Mullaghbawn and this has afforded many young performers the opportunity to improve on their individual talent through the expert guidance of tutor Pearse McMahon.

For the past number of years, Pearse has been offering private tuition in traditional singing from his home in Crossmaglen and says he is delighted to have been invited to join the other tutors at the Mullaghbawn classes.

County success

Last month a dozen talented singers took to the stage at the Armagh County Fleadh to represent the Ring of Gullion in Traditional Singing in both English and Irish.

Many of these members were successful in progressing to the Ulster Fleadh – which takes place this weekend in Castlewellan – where they will represent the Ring of Gullion branch.

Successful competitors from the Armagh Fleadh were: Under-12 Ladies Ballads first place Niamh Daly, Crossmaglen singing Craigie Hill and Nell Flaherty’s Drake.  In second place Niamh Downey, Silverbridge singing The Factory Girl and The Flower of Corby’s Mill and in third place Sarah Kilgallon, Dromintee, who sang The Bantry Girl’s Lament and Four and Nine.

Niamh Downey also took first place in the Under 12 Ladies Ballads in Irish with her songs Moll Bhán Ní Chuilleanáin and An Lachach Bachach.

Also in Under 12, this time in the Men’s Ballads, Tiarnan Conway from Dorsey was awarded first place with his renditions of The Factory Girl and The Skillet Pot.

In the Under 15 Ladies Ballads, Alana Flynn from Mullaghbawn came in in first place having sung The Maid Of Culmore and Ballyconnell Fair.

In the Over 18 sections, Martin Cullen from Keady was awarded first place in the Men’s Ballads singing My Parents Reared Me Tenderly and The Wearing of The Britches, while Noreen McCreesh from Creggan took second place in the Ladies Ballads in English with The Lone Shanakyle and The Creggan White Hare.  Noreen also competed in the Ladies Ballads in Irish where she obtained first place with Fil a Rún and Fuigfidh Mé An Baile Seo.

Pearse himself was second place in the Senior Men’s Ballads with Matt Hyland and The Rangy Ribs I Bought From Mickey Doo, while Tony O’Callaghan took first place with Whiskey in the Tae and The Boys of Mullaghbane.

Another young singer who was highly commended for her performance was Dearbhla Daly from Crossmaglen.  Dearbhla, who is just eight years old, impressed the judges with her rendition of November Keady Fair and The Maid of Culmore and is certainly one to watch for in the future.

Not surprisingly, Pearse is delighted with the success of his protégées and hopes some of these achievements can be emulated in this weekend’s Ulster finals.

Although he enjoys the competitive element of the Fleadh comórtas, Pearse says his interest is driven by the pure enjoyment of performing

“Ring of Gullion Comhaltas does some really good singing nights where the focus is mainly on the traditional singing, as opposed to the music,” he said.

“These nights give singers a great opportunity to perform in public, to have our songs heard by other Comhaltas members.

“It gives me great satisfaction to listen to the younger members singing in public…..”

Songs Around Ulster

Last year Pearse and fellow musicians Padraig Carragher from Crossmaglen, Gareth Doran, Mullaghbawn and Chris McMullen from Strabane formed a traditional music group, calling themselves Rulya.

Aside from playing gigs in venues around the country, a key feature of the group has been the setting up of its ‘Songs Around Ulster’ project.

Songs Around Ulster is a significant and ambitious project aimed at sourcing, arranging and documenting traditional Irish songs, unique to their individual county.  These songs have been passed from generation to generation and most of them have never been formally recorded.  It is Rulya’s ambition that these songs will not be lost with the passing of time and thus has set about preserving them for future generations.

In the long term, the group hopes to secure funding which will allow it to extend the scheme to include the provinces of Leinster, Munster and Connacht.

At present, Rulya is in the process of recording its first CD of Songs Around Ulster and it is hoped this will be finalised in the near future.