Ring of Gullion Comhaltas

July 20, 2010

In this, the 35th anniversary year of Forkhill’s Ring of Gullion branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and to conclude this special feature, we take a walk down memory lane and revisit some of the significant events in its history, while paying tribute to those whose passion for traditional music and song made it all happen. by Brónagh Murphy –

For more than thirty five years traditional music has emanated from the village of Forkhill, the home of the Ring of Gullion branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

Based in the aptly-named Welcome Inn – its home for over three decades – this Comhaltas branch has grown in numbers and in stature since its formation in 1975.

It was in March of that year when a number of musicians came together with the ambition of forming a Comhaltas branch in south Armagh.    At that first meeting the panel of elected officers were listed as: John Campbell, Chairman; Jim Murphy, Vice-Chair; Mary Gallogly, Secretary; Michael Quinn, Asst. Secretary; Pete McDonnell, Treasurer; Art O’Neill, Asst. Treasurer; JP Leonard, Publicity Officer and committee members Bridie Leonard, Brian Quinn, Ethna Campbell, Peter Gallogly and Francie Kelly.

Since then, every Tuesday night, the Ring of Gullion Comhaltas hosts a traditional music session, which is renowned both far and near, and is enjoyed by many hundreds of visitors to the area from across the globe.

The dedication of the resident musicians is such that the session offers a platform for the young – and not so young – to play newly acquired tunes, brush up on session etiquette and listen and learn from the extensive repertoire of the maestros.

The success of this well-established session did not happen by chance but is the result of the commitment and dedication of the older members of the Ring of Gullion Comhaltas.  Their vision and overriding desire to nurture traditional music and song in their native area has led directly to the success being enjoyed by the Comhaltas today.

Early days

Having established itself in 1975, in just a few short years the Ring of Gullion Comhaltas branch rapidly developed and its musicians were soon making a name for themselves across the county and further afield.

The branch became an important benefactor to many other Irish traditional elements within the area and was closely associated with Feis Aodh Rua Uí Dhónaill and Forkhill Traditional Singing Festival throughout the 1980s and 90s.  It also contributed financially to the setting up of other Comhaltas branches throughout the county, as well as Gaeltacht scholarships, Accordian Bands and historical societies, to name but a few.

The Ring of Gullion branch hosted seven Armagh County Fleadhanna between 1978 and 1988, a reflection of its strength and influence in the traditional music circuit.  Indeed, it is anticipated that the branch will host the 2011 Armagh County Fleadh, a significant honour which is wholeheartedly welcomed by the group.


1979 was a significant year in the group’s history when it hosted a very successful County Fleadh for the second successive year and was involved in many celebrations regarding Tomás Ó Fiaich’s elevation to Cardinal.

However, the festivities that year were short-lived when a bomb demolished The Welcome Inn, leaving the Comhaltas with no base.  In spite of this, the members remained resolute and temporarily relocated to the nearby INF premises until the bar was rebuilt.

The branch quickly bounced back after this difficult period and throughout the 1980s many of it musicians featured on TV and radio programmes, most notably was the popular Downtown ‘Country Ceili’ programme.

Such was the support and interest in the talents of the musicians that the committee decided to release a cassette album of its recordings.  ‘The Ring of Gullion: Traditional Music, Song and Storytelling’ was launched in October 1985 and represented an outstanding achievement for a small, rural Comhaltas group.

Those featured on the recording were: Fiddle – Packie Carragher, Emmet Quinn, Gerard Quinn; Accordion – Jim Murphy, Louis McDonnell; Piano – Paddy Rafferty; Bodhran – James Kearney; Tin Whistle – Pauline Quinn; Harmonica – Francie Kelly; Banjo – John Quinn; Guitar – Siobhan Murphy; Singers – Petsie Campbell, Kieran Murphy, Pat Flynn, Vincent Mulholland, Brian Quinn and Storytelling – John Campbell.


That same dedication of life-time members like Michael Quinn, Louis McDonnell, Brian Quinn and Francie Kelly is nowadays being manifested through the scores of young musicians who have joined the Comhaltas group.

Buoyed by the hard-working committee which includes Martin Campbell (Chairman), Stephen Smith (Secretary), Ann Burns and Bridie Hickey (Treasurers), Philomena Quinn, Briege Quinn, Jimmy Kennedy, Eddie Mullen, Marian Mullen, Frank Gernon and Philip Hickey, the group continues to go from strength to strength.

The influx of scores of young musicians over recent years, many of whom are enjoying fantastic success in their chosen fields, has added to the vibrancy and distinction of the Ring of Gullion and will, undoubtedly, ensure its continued success in the future.

The devotion and determination of the Ring of Gullion members can perhaps be best reflected in the words of one its most prominent founders, Michael Quinn.

“Today it is with great pride that I watch the young people carry on the tradition by learning the music, the songs and the dance.  It’s then I realise that if it wasn’t for the Ring of Gullion, they might never have been inspired to do so.

“The Ring of Gullion has given me lovely memories, experiences and opportunities and all it asks in return is my support, which I shall keep on giving until I can give no more.”