Long-time London resident Brian Rooney heads the list of recipients of the TG4 Gradam Ceoil 2012 (Traditional Music Awards) announced on February 2. Born and reared near Kiltyclogher in north-Leitrim, Brian’s fiddle playing soon earned him a place at the very centre of London’s vibrant traditional music scene in the 1970s and his recordings then and since have copper-fastened his status.
This year’s awards will be presented at the Gradam Ceoil Concert at UCH, Limerick on March 24. Recipients will be joined by a host of special guests in a concert hosted by Aoife Ní Thuairisg and Páidí Ó Lionáird that will be broadcast on TG4 on Easter Sunday April 8.
Caoimhín Ó Fearghail: Young Musician of the Year
Piper Caoimhín Ó Fearghail was born in 1989 and comes from An Rinn in the west Waterford Gaeltacht. As a fledgling piper he won three All-Ireland titles under the age of 12. He has also won awards as a soloist on other instruments. In 2011 he performed with Danú on a UK tour, playing both flute and pipes, and in April 2010 he played around Boston with Kerry fiddler James Duggan. He’s also featured regularly over the past three years in the Booley House show based in Ballyduff, Co. Waterford.
He is at present studying for an MA in Irish at Cork University and can be heard frequently in session in that city at The Corner House pub with Mick Daly, Geraldine O’Callaghan, Aidan Coffey and Denis Brookes.
Danny Meehan: TG4 Lifetime Achievement Award
Danny Meehan was born into a large musical family in Drimalost, west of Donegal town in September 1940. The household was full of music. Danny’s paternal grandmother, Susie Mc Groarty sang an lilted and his parents, Jimmy and Nan played fiddle and melodeon. His father taught him the fiddle, as he did with all his siblings. Indeed Danny himself can also be called upon to play a tune on the accordion.
At the age of 16 Danny left Donegal for England. He moved around England and Wales before moving to London in 1963. At that time the city was a haven for music and Danny played with legendary figures from all over Ireland – Bobby Casey, Jimmy Power, Julia Clifford, Lucy Farr, PJ Crotty, Con Curtin and Roger Sherlock.
He also joined up with a group of musicians who went by the title Le Chéile, formed in the early 1970s by regulars at the sessions in The White Hart pub in Fulham Broadway. Members included Raymond Roland, Liam Farrell, Kevin Boyle, and PJ Crotty. This group released two albums, Lord Mayo in 1975 and Arís in 1978.
He released Navvy on the Shore, his first solo CD in 2000.
Paddy O’Brien: Composer of the Year
Paddy O’Brien was born in Daingean, Co. Offaly in 1945. He took up the accordion as a youngster and travelled widely, seeking out older players, honing his craft and carefully building up his repertoire.
Formative influences included Joe Delaney and Dan Cleary of Offaly, Galway fiddlers and composers Paddy Fahey and Eddie Kelly, Donegal fiddler John Doherty, Frank Mc Collum of Antrim, Seán Ryan from Tipperary and Johnny Henry from Mayo. He moved to Dublin in 1969 where he often played with Clare fiddlers Joe Ryan and John Kelly.
He has been living in Minneapolis since 1983 performing and teaching all over the United States.
One of his most popular compositions is Sarah’s Delight and this appeared on the classic 1978 LP entitled Is it Yourself?
Since then Paddy has composed almost 50 tunes spanning many dance forms within the tradition, 24 reels, 4 marches, 4 polkas, 1 slide, 9 jigs, 4 airs and 3 hornpipes.
In September 1994 he received a bursary from the US National Endowment for the Arts that enabled him to record the 500 tunes that comprise The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection – Volume One: A Personal Treasury of Irish Traditional Music.
He has played and recorded with a number of different céilí bands and groups since the 1960s; The Ballinamere Céilí Band, The Seán Ryan Trio, The Castle Céilí Band, Ceoltóirí Laighean, Bowhand, Hill 16, and currently O’Rourkes Feast, Chulrua and The Doon Céilí Band. His most recent CD, Mixing the Punch, released in 2011 features Felim Egan on accordion and Teresa Baker on piano.
Nell Ní Chróinín: Singer of the Year
Nell Ní Chróinín is a young sean nós singer from Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh in the Múscraí Gaeltacht of northwest Cork. Her singing is very much a product of her environment and heritage with its mix of the infectiously light hearted with more serious songs.
Born in 1990, she inherited a musical tradition from both sides. Her parents Teddy and Síle both sing although rarely in public and there is a strong legacy of accordion playing in her family, stemming from her maternal grandfather and from her aunt the late Eilín Ní Ríordáin. One of Nell’s sisters plays the concertina and she has many musical cousins.
Nell has appeared on many television programmes such as Geantraí, Anam an Amhrán, Amhrán is ansa liom and Cérbh í? She has also made a number of recordings, guesting on the 2010 compilation Rogha Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy (singing Cath Chéim an Fhia); and on Raw Bar Collective 2011 (singing two songs – Cá Rabhais ar Feadh an Lae Uaim? and Na Táilliúirí).
She’s gives masterclasses at the University of Limerick and sung at many festivals in Ireland, England and in Switzerland.
She is the youngest ever recipient of the TG4 Singer of the Year award and she is currently working as a primary teacher in Gaelscoil Osraí in Kilkenny.
Brian and Eithne Vallely: TG4 Musicians’ Award
Brian and Eithne Vallely have been married for over 40 years are two of most important figures in traditional music in their local area for most of that time.
Brian plays pipes and flute and was born into a family with strong Gaelic associations in sport and the Irish language. Eithne who comes from a family of musicians that includes the respected Donegal fiddlers.
Eithne was a young teacher when she met Brian, a young artist and piper, when both were in Miltown Malbay to hear Willie Clancy. Brian set up the Armagh Pipers Club in 1966 and through this organisation it has taught traditional music to thousands of young people. It is modelled on the Dublin Pipers Club and not affiliated to any national body.
Initially the club gave classes in Armagh city and Markethill and then later in Co. Tyrone and Monaghan. Lessons are offered for singing, flutes, whistles, fiddles, harp and pipes as well as concertina and accordion.
At present the club has 250 learners on its books, with one fifth of these adult learners, taught by thirty three tutors who themselves had come through the pipers club. An instrument loan scheme, weekly sessions and a monthly children’s sessions all form part of their regular activities. In 2009, APC established a pipe-making workshop and educational visits and music tuition for schools, all of which contribute to raising the status of traditional music in the county.
The Armagh Pipers run the William Kennedy Festival of Piping, celebrating the local eighteenth-century blind pipe maker, which is held each year in November. This festival, which attracts participants from all over the world, features sessions, lectures, concerts, workshops, discussions and exhibitions on various piping themes and issues.
Working through some of the darkest years of the troubles, the Vallely’s dedication to traditional music has been both courageous and impressive. Of their five children Niall (concertina), Caoimhín (fiddle/piano) and Cillian (pipes) all play professionally.