>>SHANNON: I’m Shannon Heaton, and this is Irish Music Stories. It’s the show about traditional music, and the much bigger stories behind it.
[MUSIC: “The Tap Room”, Dan Gurney (accordion), Shannon Heaton (flute), Matt Heaton (guitar)]>>SHANNON: Like why 400,000 people,
including a band of 8-15 year olds from Boston, would head to the “All Ireland Fleadh,”
a contest featuring top traditional musicians
from around the globe. Musicians like Cormac Gaj. Cormac plays flute and uilleann pipes
(the Irish bagpipes) with a group of kids from Boston who competed
in the 2015 All Ireland Fleadh.>>CORMAC: It was massive!
They took over this giant auditorium. There must have been at least 1500 people there.
All there for this one competition.>>SHANNON: In this episode, you’ll hear more about
Cormac’s experience in the big Irish music competition, and what it meant to him. And to all the parents, teachers, and peers who were in on the qualifying round in New Jersey, and the big All Ireland finals in County Sligo. [MUSIC: “Grúpaí Ceoil Theme,” production
music with Matt Heaton (guitar]>>SHANNON: I’ll also take you to Comhaltas branches (Irish music schools) in Boston and in Dublin. And to Mary MacNamara’s kitchen in Tulla. That’s Mary’s little town in County Clare,
where she teaches music and organizes exchanges between Tulla kids and
young musicians like Cormac. And I promise, whether you already play the fiddle, or you don’t know anything about
traditional music or dance, this story (and the amazing and incredibly
charming people you’ll meet).. well, it’s not just about Ireland and Irish music. [MUSIC fades]>>SHANNON: But Irish music is where the story begins. And Cormac loves playing it. Now, his dad is from Ireland. But Cormac was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Playing music that came from Ireland
is a big part of Cormac’s life. His family has taken him to countless
Irish sessions (music gatherings). And he’s met a lot of other kids
through the local Comhaltas branch, which offers music classes at St. Columbkille’s
Partnership school in Brighton, Mass. [playground noise]>>SHANNON: During the week,
St Columbkille’s is a Catholic grade school. And for 6 hours every Saturday, it becomes
an Irish music zone, for students of all ages. [sounds of walking down the halls,
sounds of people speaking Irish]>>SHANNON: When you walk down the halls,
you hear people speaking Irish. There are signs on all the classroom doors
for the various instrument classes. [sounds of walking upstairs, group singing] [teacher says, “good job! Let’s try
that first verse again”]>>SHANNON: I’m right outside
Mairin Ui Cheide’s room. She teaches sean nós (or old style) singing here. So I’m walking in…>>MAIRIN: Hello! This is Shannon Heaton!
Conás átá tú!! [dude pokes his head in]>>DUDE: I’m looking for tin whistle?>>MAIRIN: Tin Whistle? Well, there isn’t
a high whistler or a low whistler here!>>DUDE: All right, I’ll ask at the
Comhaltas office…>>SHANNON: I asked Mairin, as the Irish speaker
in the room, to define Comhaltas.>>MAIRIN: Comhaltas means a gathering, or a group. It’s a gathering of everybody who’s interested in the
Irish culture, be it whatever instrument or our
traditional style of singing.>>SHANNON: Is this serious business?>>MAIRIN: Oh, yes, very serious! And you teach children
that there’s a WONDERFUL world outside of
America’s got talent! Hahahah!>>SHANNON: After I left Mairin’s class and bid adieu to
the school in Brighton, I talked to Seamus Connolly. Seamus was named National Heritage Fellow in 2013,
and he led a big event called the Gaelic Roots Festival. Later he served as Artist in Residence at
Boston College for over a decade. And he can really play the fiddle. [MUSIC: “I’m Waiting for You” from Seamus Connolly (fiddle), and Charlie Lennon (piano), recorded on The Banks of the Shannon, Grn Lnt, 1993.] >>SHANNON: When Seamus first came to the States
in 1976, he taught for the Boston Comhaltas, helping students prepare for the Fleadh,
before Irish music was searchable on the Internet.>>SEAMUS: I honestly do believe that Comhaltas are
responsible for a lot of the great music played today. And of course musicians,
they interpret it in their own way. But they got the basis from Comhaltas. And I think Comhaltas are to be complimented.>>SHANNON: Seamus is not shy to admit that
competitions weren’t always his cup of tea.>>SEAMUS: When I was growing up competition-wise,
I felt like I was boxed in very much. I felt like I had to adhere to a certain way of playing.
But I suppose that has to happen to put somebody on the right track. And then you’re freer when you’re done with competitions, you know?>>SHANNON: But competitions are something
to do. And they’re what brought Cormac and his peers together, working toward a goal, going through the process of preparation, traveling together. Competition or no, this is what sharing the
music is all about for Seamus.>>SEAMUS: There’s a sense of closeness
and camaraderie about all of it.
It’s not all to be kept in a box. It’s to be shared with
people, and we can all learn from one other. The friendships that we make in it, you know?
So it’s the music that brings all of us together. [MUSIC: “Heartstrings Theme,” production
music from Matt Heaton (guitar)>>SHANNON: Indeed, it’s brought a LOT of
people together. There are now 420
Comhaltas branches all over the world. The head office is in Dublin’s Monkstown neighborhood.
So I hopped across the pond from Boston to Dublin. My friend Lisa Coyne and I rented
a car. In fact, our car rental guy reminded us,
with a wink, to “DRIVE ON THE RIGHT!” He gave us this moment. We both looked pretty
puzzled, before he said “GOTCHA!” Man, Welcome to Ireland. NO car company would
joke about the side of the road in the States. So, we drove ON THE LEFT to the head Comhaltas
office, just a few blocks in from the coast. [music ends, birds begin singing]>>SHANNON: Now, Lisa knows all about Comhaltas.
Her kids play fiddle and accordion, and they’ve been
in classes along with Cormac. Lisa herself
has taught flute and whistle in Brighton. When we arrived at Comhaltas HQ in Dublin,
Lisa looked over the new trad releases in the store front. [birds chirp, and footsteps echo on stairway]>>SHANNON: Administrator and Flute Player,
Siobhán Ní Chonaráin took me up to the second floor. We chatted in a classroom with
a massive ceiling. She talked about how Comhaltas has grown
over the years.>>SIOBHÁN: 1951 was the foundation of Comhaltas
Ceoltóiri Éireann in Mullingar. There was a whole joining of people of likeminded ideals
and commitment to the music. And it grew from that to the extent that it is now an
international organization with 420 branches.>>SHANNON: So, Comhaltas is the institutionalized
arm of Irish music. And one focus, for many of the branches, is preparation
for the regional contests. First and second place provincial winners can go on to compete at the All Ireland Fleadh.>>SIOBHÁN: Well, Fleadh Cheoil na h’Éireann
is a phenomenal undertaking. At its core, of course, we have the competitions. And all
of these competitors come from the world over, having qualified from their various provincial
qualifying Fleadhanna Cheoil. [MUSIC: “Travel Theme,” production music
from Matt Heaton >>SHANNON:There are seven regional qualifying
contests: four from the Provinces of Ireland,
the All Britain, and two in North America (one in the Midwest, and
one in the MidAtlantic, which is where
Boston students like Cormac compete).>>SHANNON: And then what would be, say, a
very popular event at the All Ireland?>>SIOBHÁN: Obviously, the reputation and
the whole awareness of the Senior Ceili Band competition: it’s a given that at this stage it’s seen
as the accolade. [Guitar strums last chord]>>SHANNON:The Ceili BAND. It’s the Irish version of a big band. Formed
in pre-amplification days, to play in dance halls, Ceili Bands feature fiddles, accordions,
flutes, banjos, concertinas, uilleann pipes… all playing unison melodies, with a rhythm
section of piano and minimal drum kit
(with occasional woodblock). [MUSIC: “The Imperial Set, from Live in
Lisdoonvarna from the Kilfenora Céilí Band with live dancing, (Torc Music, 2002)]>>SHANNON:Ceili bands are still a big thing. And at the All Ireland Fleadh, it’s sort of like the figure skating of the Irish music
Olympics. Once all the solo and duo contests and singing rounds have played out, participants pile into a big venue
to take in the hotly contested Ceili Band championship. To see WHO will be knighted KING of the Ceili Bands that year. I mean, when you see the photo of the 2015
All Ireland winners, the Shandrum Ceili Band from Cork, the guys are all wearing black
pants, vests, and Chuck All Stars. And they have awesome haircuts. And the women are all wearing matching blue dresses.
It could totally be an ad for a mobile phone network. Only they’re all holding accordions and fiddles. [MUSIC ENDS with applause]>>SIOBHÁN: You know, we’re delighted that
that competition has reached the profile that it has. An awful lot… a very large number
of musicians and teachers, mentors and branches, would have been very involved in the Grúpaí
Ceol competition for many years, which allows the potential of up to 20 people
to take part, instead of ten.>>SHANNON:The Grúpaí Ceol (which means
music group in the Irish language) has a slightly
looser format than the Ceili Band. Competitors have eight minutes to fill, however they choose. Instrumentation is up for grabs. There’s an emphasis on creativity.
There’s room for more musicians, too.
Up to 20 per group. [MUSIC: “Grúpaí Ceoil Theme,” Reprise]>>SHANNON:No matter the category, the competitors
for the All Ireland Fleadh come from Comhaltas branches around the world.
Overseas competitors who can’t make it to a qualifying Fleadh, can apply to be evaluated to compete. That’s how two groups from Tokyo
came to the 2016 Fleadh. Independent musicians and schools can
ALSO register to participate. [MUSIC FADES]>>SHANNON:After a few nights of tunes and
hilarious reunions with friends in Dublin and Galway, Lisa and I moved on to County Clare,
home of the rocky Burren wilderness area, the scenic Cliffs of Moher, and legendary
musicians and music festivals. And surprisingly good coffee. We were on our way to see independent teacher
and concertina player Mary MacNamara in Tulla. [MUSIC: Jennifer Molloy’s” (Jig), from Mary MacNamara, recorded Live at the Burren with the
Trad Youth Exchange]>>SHANNON:From her home in Tulla, Mary teaches
concertina and prepares students to compete. She has help from Alan Kelly on flute, and
her daughter Sorcha and Eileen O’Brien on fiddle. They follow Comhaltas rules,
but they’re totally independent. And in addition to preparing students for
the Fleadh, Mary also organizes music exchanges between her students in Tulla, and groups abroad, like the Shetland Islands, Norway, and Boston, with Cormac and his peers. I had a chance to speak with Mary and her
husband Kevin about the Boston exchange
in their kitchen. [MUSIC Fades]>>SHANNON: Lisa made tea in the background,
and piped in from time to time, since she was the U.S. instigator for the
Boston-Tulla exchange. [sounds of making tea and talking in background]>>MARY: It was a great experience.
Because for most of them, they would never have been out of the country before, certainly not in America. The best memories for them is being in the
underground trains. And every day we had 3 and 4
of them to take. Trying to get 30 people on and off at the right time and
right station. We were constantly counting. They thought it was very exciting.>>SHANNON: You send them tunes,
they send you tunes?>>MARY: So I sent off a bunch of sets of tunes.
I sent them to Lisa.
And she sent me over another bunch. It is my job to make sure that the kids know the stuff.
And it is her job to make sure it is given out to the individual teachers. So the first thing when they meet, whether it is in Boston or Norway or Shetland
or wherever, they can sit down and immediately play together.>>SHANNON: They have a common language?>>MARY: They have a common language.
It’s the most important part of the exchange.
Wouldn’t you agree, Kevin?>>KEVIN: I would.>>SHANNON: And what about the Boston
kids then coming here?>>MARY: When they came here then, they were
staying in Bodyke in the the middle of the countryside. We had a big 59-seater coach.The problem was
getting the 59-seater coach down the little bog road
to the cottages where we were staying. So all the Boston kids were looking out the windows saying “look, there’s grass in the middle of the road!” And the bus can barely fit! So from that to the underground in Boston. I think for both
sets of the kids, that was the thrill. The difference between both places. You know, the experience of how to get from A to B. [MUSIC: “Travel Theme” Reprise]>>SHANNON: Another highlight on the Irish side of the exchange was the trad disco that Mary set up for the kids. A local DJ spun Ceili Band albums, and all the kids did simple Irish social dances together.>>MARY: I organized the trad disco because
I think dancing, it’s a great way for interaction. They’re all great musicians. But I find when people are sitting down playing in sessions, there isn’t much opportunity for interaction.
So the dancing is a great way to get people up, dancing together, talking together,
moving around the floor together. So they had learned some dances, but they were fun dances, like two-hand dances, and The Haymaker’s Jig. And it was okay if people went wrong, So that was a big hit, because the kids were freeing up with each other.>>LISA: And actually, that was the cover
of the album>>MARY: The cover of the album!>>SHANNON: That was Lisa. She was talking
about the live recording the kids made at the Burren, one of Boston’s best-known Irish
pubs. [MUSIC: “Joe Cooley’s Reel,”
from the Trad Youth Exchange)]>>SHANNON: A few hours later, I asked fiddle
player Rosa Carroll about the Irish side of the exchange. She’s one of the musicians on the album.>>SHANNON: What’d you think of the program?
Did you enjoy it?>>ROSA: Yeah, I loved it so much. We just
had loads of fun. We did loads of activities, played in sessions, made great friends.
We still are great friends today. And then they came back to us in Feakle and Tulla.
We did more concerts. We went to Bunratty… Yeah, we just did loads of activities.>>SHANNON: After the activities and concerts of the
exchange, Cormac and his friends
back in Boston stayed busy.>>CORMAC: Well, what now what do we do? We’ve
got all these tunes lying around. Might as well do something for those tunes
that we had. So we just pulled together the group.>>SHANNON: They pulled the group together
with a lot of help. With help from fiddle player Séan Clohessy,
who coached the kids and arranged for them to compete in the Mid Atlantic Fleadh. Tin whistle player Kathleen Conneelly and
other Comhaltas teachers chipped in. They helped prepare the Boston Grúpaí Cheoil. They’d enter in the U15 category: the Under 15 category for 12-15 year olds. But some of the kids weren’t even 12. So really, some were punching above their weight.
They called the group Realta Gaela, which is Irish for bright stars. [MUSIC: Grúpaí Ceol Theme Reprise]>>SHANNON: Now, taking a group down to New Jersey
to compete… this was kind of a big deal for Boston. Unlike their competitors in Pearl River, NY
and St. Cecilia’s parish in NJ, Boston didn’t have a track record of competing.>>CORMAC: Anyway, so we figured we’d just
head down there, just to meet some people. Just for the fun of it.>>SHANNON: Nobody expected Boston to win.
They were in it for the experience and the learning. And the hotel pool. They’d worked hard in Brighton. But they also horsed around between classes.
They jumped on gym mats stacked in the hallway. They acted like kids. They took breaks from the tunes. When fiddle player Liz Carroll was growing
up in Chicago, she went to the Irish Musicians’ Association to play tunes. And to play around with other kids. I had a chance to eat blueberries in Liz’s kitchen, and hear a few stories about her early days with the fiddle. [MUSIC: “Heartstrings Theme” production
music by Matt Heaton (guitar)]>>LIZ: My early memories are of going to a pub, and it was on Ashland Avenue, right off of 55th street. It had a pub on the first floor. And there were meetings of the Irish Musicians’ Association on the second floor. And I remember that there was a player piano on the first floor—very attracted to that. And going upstairs meant a round group of people playing. And I remember sitting in
the back, of rather a dusty room with a wood floor… …and people playing, and just picking
out my fiddle and sitting in the back. I could put that fiddle away and run around for an hour. And I could hear a tune in the distance,
maybe that I kind of knew or I liked. And I could run up and take my fiddle out,
you know and stay there for a while. Very nice existence, Shannon! Hahaha! [END MUSIC]>>SHANNON: As I traveled around Chicago and Ireland,
I kept Cormac’s story in mind. From Chicago to Boston to Tulla… [MUSIC: Travel Theme reprise]>>SHANNON: There are so many Independent teachers,
and music clubs, and Comhaltas branches. And that’s where the All Ireland competitors come from.
There are groups from Australia, Luxembourg, Chile. And I imagine they all have their own stories.
And rivalries. Here’s Cormac’s account of the day
Realta Gaela competed in the MidAtlantic Fleadh. Remember, only first and second place winners
go on to compete in the All Ireland. Cormac and I were talking at a holiday party. At this point in our conversation, a few family members and friends had sat down to take in the story. [END MUSIC]>>CORMAC: There were two other teams competing,
two other bands. And they’re pretty big deals. They practice for pretty much the whole year
leading up to the Fleadh. We figured our band would be lucky to get third. They got up there, completely serious. One of them even had, like, a custom shirt for each one of them, complete with the name of the music school
on the front and the back. [Laughter]>>PHOEBE: Yeah, and I think it’s the type
of competition that if there are three teams, if you’re not good enough to be awarded third place,
they will just award first and second.>>SHANNON:That was Cormac’s mom, Phoebe.>>CORMAC: They don’t even have to give
anybody anything. So we figured we’d just got there for the fun of it.
Just play a few tunes and then leave. So after we get up there and play, at least half the team
leaves to go to the swimming pool. I stuck around for the awards. And when they announced one of the bands in third place, everyone looked at each other.
We thought, “did we actually get SECOND?” And then they announced second place.
You figured, “oh that’s bad. Nobody got first!” [Groans.]>>CORMAC: And, honestly, the whole place just
exploded when they said that we’d gotten First!!>>FRIEND IN ROOM: So, half of your people
were still at the swimming pool at that point?>>CORMAC: At least they’d changed.>>PHOEBE: I think they had come. But in
the photo, a bunch of kids are in bathing suits. You know, in tee shirts and bathing suits, holding a tennis ball—because they were ready to go play.>>SHANNON: Hahaha! That’s so great! Yeah, it’s a great Bad News Bears story.
But it doesn’t end there. The kids went on to raise money and try their luck in Ireland, where they’d face MANY more competitors. [MUSIC: “Triumph Theme,” production music by Matt Heaton (guitar)]>>SHANNON: Irish musicians and teachers from
all over the world.. thousands of players invest
all this time preparing for the Fleadh. All this, and there’s no money in winning the competition. And the Comhaltas pay scale for teachers
is, well, quite modest. So what drives people? I asked Cormac what he thought.>>CORMAC: These people tend to find the competition,
and the ones who aren’t interested don’t really… …it’s not like anyone’s pushing them to go
to the competition. They’re going because they want to
compete against people and be the best.>>SHANNON: For many of the teachers who are
passing on the tunes, it’s a mission. Here’s Boston singing teacher Mairin Ui Cheide again.>>MAIRIN: I think it’s incumbent upon me
to give, like I was given. I was fortunate that I had come from a musical family
that passed songs on for generations. So now it’s my turn to pass this on,
because it IS important. [END MUSIC]>>SHANNON: Because Irish singing and instrumental
tunes are commonly passed on by ear,
directly from one player or teacher to the next, it is a pretty profound living link between
the people who played the tune before,
and people who are playing it now. In this way, it’s not so much about any one player
or time period. It’s older. It’s bigger. Now, as charming and timeless as giving
and handing down music is, sometimes Irish music is passed on less directly. [MUSIC: “Grúpaí Ceol Theme Reprise”]>>MAIRIN: I teach by ear,
and then I send an mp3. After all it’s 2017! The Bard can’t travel to Cape Cod and Brighton and Braintree and Milton. It’d take me all day. So it’s much easier to send it via mp3.
Then they can download it on all their devices. [MUSIC ENDS]>>SHANNON: And sometimes it’s even more remote
than getting a sound file from your own teacher. Some people are learning songs and tunes
from random YouTube videos. And remember, these guys can apply to compete, too. But they might not have the same context as, say,
the Boston kids, who DO get to meet Marin
in person on Saturdays, right? I asked singer Karan Casey what she thinks
about learning traditional music in isolation. You’ll hear a lot more from Karan next month,
in our one on one Cuppa Tea chat.>>SHANNON: And what about people learning it online?>>KARAN: Yeah, absolutely! Any way you can.
Any access, any way you can. You just have to go out there and really
follow the threads and the streams. There’s great information out there. There’s people on Mudcat Cafe. They’ve all the different versions. They know more about it than I do!>>SHANNON: Yeah, you mean the MudCat online
discussion group? That’s an amazing song database. You think it’s cool to get songs that way?
Can you really learn online and in isolation?>>KARAN: I mean, I do think if you can befriend someone. I had the privilege of befriending Frank Harte. And you know, if anyone wants to come to come to my house for a cup of tea and learn a few songs, they’re welcome. And that, you know. That’s the way it works. Of course do the stuff online. But I think if we can reach out to one another and establish more connection that way, it’s really good.>>SHANNON: So, most people who learn Irish
music make connections. And unless you’re really learning in isolation and you
never find a social context for your tunes and songs, you’re bound to meet people with a similar connection
to the tunes, to the rules, to the conventions. There’s shared humor and respect for very
particular details when you go deep like that. And when you go to a Fleadh, you’ll find a
room full of people: the competitors, and also the onlookers,
the parents, and the judges who are all in on the style and the prevailing fashions. Here’s Liz Carroll again. She’d started out
at the Irish Music Association in Chicago; went on to win the All Ireland fiddle championship; and has this story about the finer points
of woodblock playing, and what happened when
one group of musicians went off book.>>LIZ: There was a moment that I have on
tape, actually. A ceili band had won in Ireland. I want to say it was the Bridge Ceili Band.
So now they’re being presented. So on my little cassette tape, it’s
“Winners: Bridge Ceili Band.” [cassette tape] The band usually had to play a dance that night.
But I think this was just the moment
when they play a tune. They’ve just won,they’ve all grabbed their instruments, they’re up on the stage, and they start in. Couple of taps, and off they go. [MUSIC: two taps into “High Part of the Road” (Jig),
live recording of Bridge Ceili Band made by Liz (1976)] >>LIZ: At the time, it was not cool to play the block. So, they go into the second part. And the drummer goes to the block. [laughter]>>LIZ: On the tape there’s this murmur… into a well… into a CHEER!! It’s like one of the best things I’ve ever heard! That whole room knew.
This is a room full of musicians, their families. Everybody knew when he went to the block. Hahahaha! [END MUSIC]>>SHANNON: That’s what happens
when the village invests. [MUSIC: “Travel Theme” Reprise]>>SHANNON: When everybody knows about the
tradition, a woodblock can really convey something. Because everybody’s bothered to learn about
the music. And about the tunes. The tunes. The tunes. The tunes! There are so many tunes. And these Boston kids learned a lot of tunes. They took those tunes, and formed Realta Gaela. They took the group to the MidAtlantic Fleadh and enjoyed an unexpected victory. They raised money and went on to the All Ireland Fleadh in County Sligo. So, how did the Boston kids do in Ireland? Well, in short, they didn’t even place.>>SHANNON: What was Sligo like?
Were there lots of kids competing in the Grúpaí Ceol.>>CORMAC: Yes, it was massive.
They took over this giant auditorium. There must have been at least 1500 people there.>>SHANNON: What was it like to be
in that room with 1500 people? Here’s Cormac’s mom Phoebe again.>>PHOEBE: Oh, the tension was so thick. Yeah. That atmosphere where I feel like people
are listening for the mistakes. And you start to see other people giving ‘the look’ in the audience. It’s like, I can’t even enjoy it.>>CORMAC: No one else we really knew from
before was competing.>>SHANNON: But the Boston kids weren’t alone. Their friends from Tulla, the kids who had
taught them some of their competition tunes
were right there in that room. [MUSIC: “Triumph Theme” Reprise]>>CORMAC: There were a bunch of people we’d
met back in the exchange cheering us on. Just like a little speck out in the audience.>>SHANNON: So, was it worth all the effort and expense? I asked Cormac and his mom what they thought.>>PHOEBE: I think it was nice to get to know the
other kids, as well as the teachers,
through the exchange program first. Where the focus was really on
building community through music. And the competition was so clearly secondary. So, I think if the competition had come first,
that might have felt a little different.
But starting with that was really nice.>>CORMAC: A lot of people compete.
They get there for the competition, they compete. Then after that you forget about it for another year.
And that’s when you hang out with other people.
Just go down to the pub for a session. [END MUSIC]>>SHANNON: Here’s Siobhán Ní Chonaráin
from Comhaltas.>>SIOBHÁN: It provides them and their parents
with an opportunity to come to this festival with so many like-minded people and families, many of
them much further on, in that sense of development. They are entering into a community. [MUSIC: “Travel Theme” Reprise]>>SHANNON: Back in Boston, Mairin Ui Cheide
talks more about that community feeling
that grows by going to the Fleadh.>>MAIRIN: You can go across the Atlantic
to Ireland to participate. And it’s an experience that’s forever with you.>>SHANNON: It’s not just about the competition?>>MAIRIN: Oh, no! The competition
is just the minor part of it. It’s the people you meet, the music you hear,
and the relationships you build. And the community that you belong to after going
to a Fleadh. It’s very different.>>SHANNON: You’ve all been there?
You’ve all run the marathon?>>MAIRIN: Yes, you may have been the slowest
one in the marathon, but that’s okay. You finished. You reached your goal.
You got to the end! And that’s what sustains you as a human being:
to belong. And belonging in our community of musicians,
especially Irish musicians…. You know, Ireland is such a small country. But the impact that its people has had all over the world, is…
you know, you can’t contain it! It keeps growing, and growing. And it keeps on growing. And it’s wonderful. And to start so young and to be part of that.. of the seedlings of that. I think, for me,
I find it one of the most fulfilling things I do. [back in County Clare]>>MARY: I think it’s been the biggest pleasure
for me in music, is the exchanges.>>SHANNON: And they’re fun for you?>>MARY: Oh, it’s great fun. I mean, I love
travelling myself. And I love watching the kids have an opportunity to have
a platform to perform. They live on this.>>SHANNON: And you do, too?>>MARY: Oh yeah, I do. I often sit down…
I mean, looking at those photos this morning. My heart skips a beat when I open
that Boston book and look at the photographs. And I think it’ll live with them. And when they’re older musicians they will go back and think about it. And we will always know each other, which is great. [MUSIC: “Heartstrings Theme” Reprise]>>SHANNON: By the time they were in that room in Sligo for the competition, the Boston kids
had already been through a lot together. They’d formed a band. They’d held up a giant trophy wearing
flip flops and damp hair. They’d ridden a huge bus on small Irish roads and navigated the Boston transit system. They’d developed friendships across the ocean. And the Grúpaí Ceol FORMAT was a chance to take what they’d learned and do their own thing with it. They got these old tunes from
a concertina player in Clare, who’d learned it from older musicians. [MUSIC ENDS]>>SHANNON: And then they arranged
and sculpted the music in their own way
(with guidance from their teacher Sean Clohessy). Here’s Seamus Connolly’s take
on invention and innovation.>>SEAMUS: We have to move forward, particularly
with traditional music, wherever it may be from. It’s a living tradition! And the younger people who are playing have to add
to the music how they feel it should be interpreted, and give us something new. But at the same time we shouldn’t forget what the older people did, too—what they put down. But that was in their time. Now it’s 21st century, with new people coming along. And it keeps it vibrant. It keeps it alive. And when I’m gone and the young people who are
now playing it, when they become older, they will
hear something different as well. So again, it’s very much a living tradition.
And it should be that way. [MUSIC: “Seamus Connolly’s” from Kevin Griffin (banjo), Eoin O’Neill (bouzouki), Sharon Shannon (accordion)]>>SHANNON: And at the end of the day, the
Boston kids got to swim in the hotel pool! [Sound of SPLASH into swimming pool]>>SHANNON: This episode of Irish Music Stories
was written and produced by me, Shannon Heaton, with invaluable assistance
and musical contributions from Matt Heaton. My thanks to the incredible people I interviewed for this
story, Especially to Mary MacNamara and her husband Kevin who welcomed us into their home in Tulla. And to Paula Carroll, Anne Marie and James Kennedy, and Aidan Collins and Pauline Logue and Sean Thank you for hosting us, and supporting
Irish Music Stories. Thank you to Lisa Coyne for being a great
traveling companion and sounding board, and to David Laveille for encouraging me to focus
more on stories, and less on academic abstractions. You can head to IrishMusicStories.org to learn
about the music in this episode, and to find links to videos of Realta Gaela
performing in New Jersey and in Sligo. If you’d like to support the show,
click on the donate button. Every little bit helps. It’ll help defray travel
and production costs. And it’ll show me that this is meaningful to you,
which means a lot to me. To thank you for listening, this episode’s
Coda features poet Anne Marie Kennedy, reading The Wandering Aengus by William Butler Yeats,
to the accompaniment of a ticking clock. [Anne Marie Recites The Song of Wandering Aengus]