The tradition of two fiddles and the uniformity of just one instrument is an aesthetic that south west Donegal musicians’ ears are very familiar with. Archive recordings of two fiddles such as brothers Francie and Mickey Byrne are breathtaking and show a delicate and subtle style with a sweeping bow that is typical of the area. The late James Byrne was a huge influence on the music of the locality over the last 40 - 50 years and James was a mentor and teacher to both of us with Derek enjoying several years under his inspirational tutelage. James’ style has been a significant influence on us in our musical development.
We hope we have portrayed a sample of the fiddle music style and repertoire of south west Donegal, it is the music we have grown up with, the music we continue to play and the music we enjoy most. The recording features just two fiddles and was recorded in a cottage just outside Carrick, Co. Donegal.
We have played music together since the late 1990s, in sessions, on stage and in various projects, especially in more recent years and from these grew the idea to record together. The inspiration for the title, The Far Side of the Glen, comes from both of us living on either side of Glengesh Pass, between Ardara and Carrick. This would have been one of the main routes of access between Glenties and Glencolmcille where over the years many great musicians travelled.
Track 1: Untitled Jigs (John Phadaí Chonchubhair’s / The Nova Scotia Jig) (jigs)
Two jigs learned from James Byrne of Mín Na Croise, Glencolmcille, who sadly passed away in 2008. James Byrne and his music have had a profound effect on the music of south-west Donegal. His influence can be heard on many of the younger players of the area, including Derek McGinley.
James Byrne learned the first jig from his neighbour John McGinley (John Phadaí Chonchubhair, often referred to as simply “Conchubhair”). Tunes such as this, simple in structure, were very numerous in the past, as they were required for a part of the Lancers Set, one of the common dance figures danced in the country houses. The second jig was played by James Byrne’s father, John (John A’ Bheirnigh) and yet is found throughout the country. It may be a relatively recent arrival on these shores and is usually titled The Nova Scotia Jig, although John A’ Bheirnigh had no name for it.
Track 2: Jimmy McNelis’s Highland / Untitled (highlands)
Jimmy McNelis was a fondly remembered melodeon player from Straleel who died in 1996. The melodeon is believed to have made an appearance in Ireland some time in the 1890s. The instrument was common in south west Donegal in the early part of the 20th century, second only to the fiddle. With the decline in the occurrence of house dances in the area from the 1940s onwards the instrument itself was sadly heard less and less as the years went by.
Derek learned the first highland from his neighbour and uncle-in-law Padraig Molloy of Min A’ Chearrbhaigh, Glencolmcille. Padraig is steeped in the musical tradition of the area. His father Barnaí and grandfather Brianaí were noted fiddle players in their day. Padraig himself has many fine old dance tunes, which he has duly passed on to Derek and his sister Christina, also a fiddle player. The second highland can be heard in several settings all over Donegal and is often heard played as a reel elsewhere in the country.
Track 8: Francie Byrne’s Mazurka / Untitled (mazurkas)
The mazurka was a popular dance at one time in Donegal and beyond. However there are not many mazurka tunes in circulation. Several of the mazurkas commonly played today throughout Donegal owe their survival to Danny O’Donnell of Mín Banaid, near Dungloe. Danny lived in Kilcar in the 1970s for some years, and during his stay there, learned much music from the great Kilcar fiddle playing brothers Francie and Mickey Byrne (Francie Dearg and Mickey Bán). The first tune is one such tune, acquired from Francie. The second tune is played far and wide these days and is particularly associated with James Byrne, who can be heard playing the tune on The Brass Fiddle (Claddagh Records, 1987).
Track 9: Maggie Pickie (specific dance tune)
The Maggie Pickie was a solo step dance and this is the tune associated with it. An iron tongs was usually laid out on the floor, over and around which the dancer would dance the steps. There are, however, very few people left who can dance the Maggie Pickie, also sometimes known as the Maggie Pickens. We play two versions here. The first version Derek learned from his uncle-in-law Padraig Molloy, the second version Tara learned from Vincent and Jimmy Campbell of Glenties. Danny O’Donnell believed that the Maggie Pickie was originally an Irish tune, a very old march, perhaps several hundred years old, that became associated with the Irish Volunteers of 1798. At some stage, according to Danny, the tune travelled to Scotland where it found a new life as the Scottish strathspey Whistle O’er The Lave O’t. It returned again to Ireland and became associated with the special dance mentioned above.
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