Sunday 17 February 2019

Singers club hit high notes

After the success of the fleadh, expect the wealth of traditional singers in the region to bloom over the coming year. Caroline Kavanagh reports

Gerry Cullen singing in the Singers Club in Boomerang Cafe
Gerry Cullen singing in the Singers Club in Boomerang Cafe

With inspiration coming from traditional singers, local or otherwise, from You Tube or even from 'the fairies', the singing and the songs were breathtaking at the Singers' Club and Singers' Cafe at the recent Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.

Drogheda singer and Voice Squad member, Gerry Cullen, said he was fortunate to have collected songs from the late Mary Ann Carolan, and others. 'I know hundreds of songs. I got lots from Mary Ann, and know some sung by John Sheils, a weaver in Drogheda in the 1800s who is buried in the Chord Cemetery.

He sang songs like Sweet Beltray, The Star of Slane, The Flower of Beamore, The Factory Girl which mentions streets in Drogheda, and Bonny Light Horsemen, both of which we know were sung in Drogheda in the 1840s. In fact, 30 of us sang Bonny Light Horsemen in harmony together one night - it was amazing!'

With the Fleadh Singers' Club running Thursday-Sunday night in the Barbican, and the inaugural Singers' Cafe running all day over the weekend in Boomerang Cafe, a marathon session ran on for over five hours in the Barbican! 'The club was hugely popular. Boomerang was packed and set a new standard for singing at the Fleadh!' said Niall Wall from Wexford, one of the organisers.' We almost had too many singers! The best singers come to the Singers' Club to share their songs. The Singers' Cafe is a new and innovative concept and worked really well. It's open to all ages - we even had a man from Kilkenny aged 91 with us this week!'

Organised by Noelle Bowe, another Wexford native, but now resident in Drogheda, singers came from all over the country. 'Many had never been to Drogheda before, but all said they are dying to come back. I contacted singers beforehand as I knew them from singing circles across the country. There has never been a Singers Cafe in the Fleadh before and it really worked! Pubs are really too busy and noisy to have serious singing.'

Noelle acknowledged the help she got from Vivian and Goretti Molly from Armagh, Stuart Carolan and Noel Bailey from Drogheda, and Niall Wall from Wexford in organising the Singers' Club. Noelle herself represented Drogheda in the All-Ireland finals of the senior singing competition this year and last year.

'I didn't have to worry about a thing as Noelle was organising it! The Singers' Club as grown over the years and is extremely popular this year! Fleadh has opened up to a whole new audience,' said Lolo Robinson, Fleadh President.

Singing some popular local songs was David O'Connor from Balbriggan. 'I have lots of songs about Bellewstown and Laytown races!' he said, as he shared a long song about Bellewstown Races and a legendary fight that occurred, but was resolved so the men continued backing horses! The former Fingal County Councillor enjoys singing and thought the standard of singer and song was tremendous at this year's Fleadh.

Eimear O'Kane is a regular singer at Good Thyme Thursdays, and at the Singers' Circle in Carberry's pub. She attended the Singers' Club, and Scoil Eigse during the day. 'I learned a few new songs - some of them are hilarious! We got to learn a wide variety of styles too,' said Eimear. 'Since I started all this singing I have got the confidence to write my own songs - I have been inspired by the fairies!'

With her newly-released CD called 'Faoi Draoícht', singer Marianne McAleer was happy to share her songs at the Singers' Club too.

Popping his head in to hear the singers was new listener, William Sullivan from Drogheda. 'It's fantastic!' he said. Anna Archer also loved listening and described the singing as 'nostalgic and moving'. Regular Fleadh-goer Declan O'Connor from Sligo enjoyed the singing enormously.

'It's my first time to get involved and hearing these local songs is incredible. I find it very moving,' said Carol Wardlaw from Clogherhead, who commented on hearing accents from the four corners of Ireland, from Kerry to Belfast.

Brian Monicholl, was involved in the Derry Fleadh and is a member of Limavaddy's new Comhaltas branch, loved the Singers' Club.

'I love these singing sessions,' said Paddy Branigan. 'The Singers' Cafe was a great idea and it would be great to see it on a regular basis in town.'

Noel Bailey from Drogheda sings with the Singing Circle in Carberry's pub - the only Singers' Club in Ireland to run weekly!

The idea for the Singers' Cafe grew from a session held in Relish at Highlanes over St Patrick's Weekend. 'We wanted to bring traditional Irish singing to the public, and share it with families,' explained Noelle. 'We started singing at 3pm in Relish and the restaurant was full to capacity in a short time - people kept pouring in to listen and to sing. So we decided to try it out during the Fleadh. Boomerang wanted to be involved and we thought the location would be ideal, and manager Catherine Culligan was very supportive. Singers' Cafe ran 11am - 6pm over the weekend and was packed every day. The County Singing Circles were scheduled for different times and it worked well.'

A Dubliner who has taken Drogheda to her heart is singer Maria Clarke who lives in Bettystown. 'I am into singing, drama, pantomime and performing,' said the Meath County Singing Champion, who joined Comhaltas last October. 'The highlight of the Fleadh for me was singing at Michael Holohan's Mass for the Archbishop of Armagh, singing on the Gig Rig and at Music at the Gate. I sang at the Club and Cafe too. I love it because the songs tell a story. I now know some local songs and singers are willing to share their songs. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, and has given me the confidence to sing these songs in public.'

Brendan Murray from Ropewalk, Drogheda, learned his songs in both Irish and English from YouTube! 'I used to speak in Irish with Bean Uí Chairbre and I still drop in occasionally. I'm sorry that I haven't learned more songs in Irish - but I will! I sang Mo Ghile Mhear in the Singers' Cafe.'

The late Caitlín Bean Uí Chairbre also inspired Gerry Cullen and others. 'A group of us used to meet in Carberry's 50 years ago - in the kitchen because we were too young to be in the pub!' recalled Gerry. 'There was myself, Sean Corcoran, Nicholas Carolan and Eamon Campbell, as well as Paddy Carolan and Jim McArdle from the White Horse. As young teens we were very interested in singing traditional Irish music.'

Hoping to encourage more young people to appreciate Irish traditional music and to hand on local songs, Gerry Cullen feels that Wednesday night's Singing Circle in Carberry's has a lot to offer.

Maria Clarke has a busy weekly schedule where music is concerned - she attends Darragh O hEiligh's session in The Grey Goose on a Monday night, weekly Comhaltas music sessions on Tuesday evenings in Ballsgrove, Carberry's Singers' Circle on Wednesdays, singing classes with Noelle at Comhaltas on Thursdays followed by tin whistle lessons and also Breifne Holohan's Good Time Thursday sessions in the Good Thyme Cafe!

It's apparent that if you are a singer or musician in Drogheda looking for a venue to perform in - there's plenty going on!

Drogheda Independent