Meitheal Finale Concert, Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, Ireland, July 28th, 2017.
The Swiss may have taken the walnut off their whips, but Garry Shannon and his team at Meitheal in Limerick put a huge cherry on the cake of their summer scholl at the 2017 Meitehal finale concert.
Mary Immaculate College's Lime Tree Theatre was at full capacity as we settled in for another excellent Meitheal finale. On my left were two proud parents; it was their first time at Meitheal, their daughter a new attendee, lucky girl, as this year's summer school was oversubscribed. To my right was an Ennis based fan, a bodhrán player, Mossie Griffin. He'd been to every Meitheal finale; he was expecting to be amazed by the standard of the young musicians who take part every year.
With 110 students on the course there is a large faculty of tutors who ensure that no class size is too big, and that students have a chance to learn, interact and most of all shine. The tutors this year were: Claire Egan, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh, Dónal McCague, Ronan Browne, Dave Sheridan, Simon Thoumire, Shane Bracken, Clara Mannion, Theresa O'Grady, Marcus Moloney, Damian McKee, Benny McCarthy, and Aoife Ní Argáin. Simon Thoumire, the noted concertina player from Scotland posted a video blog of his journey to Limerick. His excitement at the prospects of the week was as ecstatic as any teenager on the course.
The finale concert works to a formula; groups of students perform with their tutors then give a showcase and then the students come back to form a large orchestra that premiers a new composition. The magic is in the details; in particular the groups create stunning, imaginative and complex performances. Meitheal is at the sophisticated end of traditional music and the students rise up its challenges. One of the students joked, "We'll slow it right down now and play a few reels."
Each group was introduced by Eimear Ní Mhaolmhuaidh, mentioning those who had achieved special Meitheal Awards, such as performances at Nyah, the Fleadh, the Fleadh Nua, Blas 2018 and the Kilfenora Trad fest in 2018, scholarships to Meitheal 2018 and more besides. I was honoured to present flute player David Vesy of Laois with his certificate for a place on the Comhaltas Tour of Ireland in 2018.
The tutor's master performance began with Dubliners Ronan Browne and Shane Bracken, greeted by huge cheers, only to be out roared as Simon Thoumire played his intricate version of the Drunken Sailor. Ciarán Ó Maonaigh took us back to Donegal with his earthy and visceral Gravel Path to Granny's. Theresa O'Grady and Claire Egan cracked a joke about "being the first Irish musicians from the Brexit camp", proof that Irish traditional music is thriving with the Diaspora.
Eimear introduced the big Finale, based on The Easy Club. Mossie Griffin lit up with a huge smile. "The Easy Club, Jim Sutherland," he whispered. The Scottish reel is one of the defining moments in the history of bodhrán playing, what would the Meitheal orchestra make of it?
Simon Thoumire, wearing a garish floral shirt, pivoted to face the orchestra; the back of the shirt was plain white, as if he had two personalities, the flamboyant performer and the conductor. He raised both arms, like a swan gracefully soaring over a lake of sky blue T shirts, a wing fluttering over the banjo players. Get ready it gestured, then a precision punch from an index finger and the plucking began. The tutors turned their heads towards the orchestra. Like the rest of the audience they were spellbound by the music, by the audacity of the composition, by the zest, the smiles, the co-ordination and the careful placement of the players. It was live music in stereo; our eyes and ears were led from one section of the orchestra to another, a musical and visual treat.
Then it was time for the last two numbers, when faculty and students let rip on the Sally Gardens and The Bucks of Oranmore, no finer tunes to send everyone home happy. It wasn't the end of Meitheal 2017. With gigs at the All Ireland Fleadh to come, the friendships and the music that grew at Villiers School and The Lime Tree Theatre this past summer will echo on for years. The couple on my left said as much. "This is a memory that will last a lifetime, we are thrilled for all the young people who took part." No wonder it was oversubscribed.
A former recipient of TG4 Young Musician of the Year, fiddle player Ciarán Ó Maonaigh is heavily influenced by his extended family including Altan member Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Ciarán’s first album Ceol a’ Ghleanna was released in 2004. He is also a member of the band Fidil.
Ciarán Ó Maonaigh @ FROG
Dave Sheridan’s music has been described as "a highly accomplished free flowing fluid style, with sound technique and solid driving rhythm" (Hot Press Magazine). On the back of his critically acclaimed debut album Sheridan’s Guesthouse he released his second solo flute album entitled Drivin' Leitrim Timber in 2010.
Dave Sheridan @ FROG
Ronan Browne (uilleann pipes) is master of the music of the old masters such as Seamus Ennis and Tommy Potts. He straddles the difficult divide between pure trad and the modern world. He writes for film and TV and was the original piper with Afro Celt Sound System and Riverdance.
Ronan Browne @ FROG
Shane Bracken (concertina) spent some time in the Boston trad scene. He made two albums with Lia Luachra with whom he performed across Europe. Shane is a highly regarded performer and tutor and has given workshops on the concertina both internationally and across Ireland.
Shane Bracken @ FROG
First published @ Irish Music Magazine #266, October 2017 (www.irishmusicmagazine.com).
Meitheal Summer School 2018 will be held from July 23rd to July 27th. Application closing date March 30th.
(1) Meitheal Residential Summer School,
(2) Garry Shannon,
(3) Dónal McCague,
(4) Ciarán Ó Maonaigh,
(5) Dave Sheridan,
(6) Ronan Browne,
(7) Shane Bracken,
(8) Simon Thoumire,
(9) Damian McKee,
(10) Benny McCarthy