Tommy McCarthy

Sporting Nell

Maree MMC CD52

McNamara Family

Leitrim's Hidden Treasure

Drumlin LHTCD 1

Two CDs with common traits are up for review here.  Tommy McCarthy's Sporting Nell is rooted in the local tradition of West Clare, its repertoire and the influence of its great musicians - in this case notably Willie Clancy. Cover picture (Clancy is cited as a source of many tunes along with other local heros like Bobby Casey, Stack Ryan and Micho Russell).  Like Clancy, McCarthy is a piper and whistle player, but McCarthy's third string is that he's also a fine concertina player.  His concertina playing is gentle and unhurried, and reminds me of Mrs Crotty of Kilrush.  The piping has both Clancy and Leo Rowsome in it (but without the Rowsome regulator playing).  It's his whistle playing which most forcibly reminds me of Clancy - as in The Ravelled Hank of Yarn, or the spirited, yet mournfull Dear Irish Boy.  Slip jigs, flings, hornpipes, slow airs, double jigs, reels and one planxty, all played solo, show Tommy McCarthy's skills and - despite 40 years spent in London - his connection to the tradition which formed him as a child and a young man.

With the McNamara Family's Leitrim's Hidden Treasure, we also have a body of music rooted in locality and, in this case, family.  Although somewhat overshadowed by 'Coleman Country' (ie Sligo), whose style dominated for several decades of this century (1930s to mid-'60s), this recording reveals south Leitrim to have a real claim to be a musically rich area.  Cover pictureTwo manuscript collections - the Grier (late 1800s) and the Sutherland (early 1900s) form the backbone of this recording.  Both collections were made in the area of south Leitrim and have tunes specific to the area as well as local versions of nationally known tunes.

play Sound ClipThis locally sourced music is played on flutes, fiddle, two sets of pipes and concertina.  The ensemble playing is wonderful (sound clip, Leitrim Quickstep - Grier MS).  The precision, clarity and lift achieved by the family members - father, sons and daughter - would be the envy of many a professional touring band.  The accompaniment, by either piano, guitar or hammered dulcimer is always spot-on, subtle and effective.  play Sound ClipMy personal favourite is Síle Ni Ghadhra, played as an air, a jig and in the florid and stately 'piece' way (sound clip from the latter, with repeats removed).  This track, and indeed much of the album, reminds me of the early Chieftains recordings were, before the string-driven sounds of Planxty, Bothy Band and De Danann, the emphasis was on the beauty and clarity of the melodic line and the contrasting textures of the melody instruments.  Apart from the MS collections mentioned above, local musician John Blessing (flute) appears to be both the source of several tunes and the carrier of the local style.

play Sound ClipThis CD is indeed a treasure trove of good tunes and fine playing - a window on a music unknown to me before this first hearing (sound clip - Miss Dunbarr - Grier MS, unknown elsewhere).

Both records are fine examples of the traditions from which they spring and prove that the so-enriching regional styles in Irish music are alive and flourishing.  Tommy McCarthy's is recommended, the McNamaras' is a 'must have'.

Both are available from Copperplate Distribution (, price £12.99 each + 80p P&P.

Tomás Lynch - 15.6.99

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