Camlough musician makes history scooping back-to-back Fiddler of Oriel titles

June 28, 2011

by Brónagh Murphy

Last month Camlough musician, Niall Murphy, wrote himself into the history books when he became the first person to win back-to-back junior and senior titles in the prestigious Fiddler of Oriel competition.

Having taken the junior title in last year’s annual Monaghan-based event, Niall fought off stiff competition to be crowned the 2011 senior winner during 42nd Feile Oriel in May.

Already an established fiddle player, this win is the latest accolade in Niall’s impressive music career which has taken him throughout Ireland and Europe in recent years.  Despite being just 20-years-old, Niall has already carved out a name for himself among some of the greatest fiddle players in Ireland.

Niall attributes the bulk of his success to his former tutor, Jimmy Burns from Camlough, with whom he first began playing the fiddle at age eight.

“Jimmy was a fantastic teacher and if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be playing today.  Jimmy has played a big role in my music and has encouraged me a lot and when I meet him at any competitions he always has encouraging words,” he told The Examiner.

Coming from a family steeped in music, Niall is one of five siblings who are all talented musicians.  His mother, Martina, herself an accomplished fiddle player, has been the driving force behind the family’s impressive musical talent.

“Mum had a big influence on all of us and has encouraged us a lot. She had to put up with the never ending screeching on the fiddle…and still does, so fair play to her!  Music has been passed down through the generations and now rests on myself and my brothers and sister, but no doubt it will be passed on down,” he added.

Having been crowned Fiddler of Oriel, Niall’s name is now mentioned in the same breath as other renowned traditional fiddlers from throughout Ireland.  This, he says, is a great privilege.

“I couldn’t believe it when I was announced as the winner.  It felt great. Both to win the competition but also to have my name on the trophy, and along with all the previous winners of the competition like Tommy Peoples, Gerry O’Connor, Jim McKillop, among other great musicians, is a great privilege,” he said.

Niall has also competed in Fleadhanna for many years, though not always with the same success.

“I’ve been entering competitions for years.  Some years have been lucky and some not so lucky but that’s part of it. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth and take on the constructive criticism from the adjudicator. Apart from the competitive side of the competition, it’s great fun and you meet a lot of people through it.”

When asked from where he draws inspiration for his music, Niall mused: “Where do I start to mention all the people who inspire me? Mainly Cathal and Steven Hayden and Brid Harper as regards fiddle playing, however Brian and Eithne Vallely are huge inspirations in both their music and the great work they do in the Armagh Pipers Club”

He has also been teaching music himself for the past five years and says he really enjoys this aspect of his career.

“It’s always a bit of craic in the class and it’s rewarding to see everyone making noticeable progress.”

Niall was a member of the traditional group Ioscaid that won last year’s Siansa Gael Linn competition.  Initially formed to take part in the contest, the group has since enjoyed unrivalled success with numerous gigs and is planning an album and tour, taking in America and Russia, later this year.  Although its members are well spread out across the country, Niall says this isn’t a significant hindrance.

“It is difficult to get a full practice but we usually meet in Armagh as it’s the most central point between everyone. It’s usually a last minute practice before we go on stage though any preparation is good preparation,” he quips.

Closer to home, Niall still enjoys attending as many sessions as he can.

“I usually try to gather up mates and head somewhere. It’s always good craic and good for expanding your repertoire of tunes.”

Having completed his A’ Level studies at St. Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, Niall decided he’d rather “be out earning and learning” and took a break from studying. Currently serving his time as an apprentice plumber, there’s little doubt this talented musician has a bright and promising musical future ahead of him.