Mickey Doherty

Garvan Hill

Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann CBE005

CD 1: 1. Jig learned from the Fairies - Slip Jig;  2. Miss MacLeod's and Philip O'Beirne's Delight - Reels;  3. Blanche's - Hornpipe;  4. Maggie Pickin's - Maggie Pickin's;  5. The Cameronian - Reel;  6. The Sligo Maid and McBoy's Favourite - Reds;  7. The Swallows Tail and Drowsy Maggie - Reds;  8. The Hound After the Hare Pt 1 - Descriptive piece;  9. The Hound After the Hare Pt 2 - Descriptive piece;  10. The Four Posts of the Bed - Descriptive ptece;  11. Bonnie Kate - Reel;  12. The Templehouse and Flogging - Reels;  13. Kitty's Gone a'Millking and The Merry Sisters - Reels;  14. Liverpool and Deny Hornpipe - Hornpipes;  15. The Scholar and The Rights of Man - Hornpipes.
CD 2: 1. The High Level - Hornpipe;  2. The Black Haired Lass - Reel;  3. The Job ofJourneywork and The Little House under the Hill - Set Dance and Double Jig;  4. Paddy's Rambles and The Irish Washerwoman - Double Jigs;  5. The Reeks ofSt Patrick and The Geese in the Bog - Double Jigs;  6. The Blackbird and Paidin 6 Raifeartaigh - Set Dance and Double Jig;  7. Cailin Deas Cruite na mBd and Dulaman na Binne Buidhe - Air and Highland;  8. Stirling Castle and Flowers of Edinburgh - Highland and Reel;  9. Green Fields of America and Heather Breeze - Reels;  10. The Hound After the Hare - Descriptive piece;  11. The Four Posts of the Bed - Descriptive piece;  12. The Cuckoo's Nest and Paddy's Trip to Scotland - Reels;  13. The Harvest Home and The Green Mountain - Hornpipe and Reel;  14. The Jolly Widow and No Other Fellow as Happy - Double Jigs;  15. My Love she has Deceived Me and Unnamed - Marches.
CD 3: 1. Clare's Dragoon's and The National March - Marches;  2. Nora Crionna and Miss MacLeod's - March and Reel;  3. The Jaunting Car and Off She Goes - Double Jigs;  4. The Five Mile Chase and The Wild Irishman - Reels;  5. The Enchanted Lady and Tatter Jack Walsh - Reel and Double Jig;  6. Ta Do Mhargadh Deanta and Maids of Mullagh - Single Jig and Reel;  7. The Harvest Home and Gravel Walks - Hornpipe and Reel;  8. St Patrick's Day and Haste to the Wedding - Set Dance and Double Jig;  9. The Fiddler and the Fairy (story) and Inver Bay Looks Charming - Story and Air;  10. The Star of Donegal and Belphegor - Air and March;  11. The Rocky Road to Dublin and The Sailor's Bonnet - Slip Jig and Reel;  12. The Stack of Barley and The Corn Rigs - Hornpipe and Corn Rigs;  13. The Hound After the Hare - Descriptive piece.
Back in 1990 The Irish National Folklore Commission, Comhairle Bhealoideas Eireann, issued a two cassette tape collection of Mickey Doherty's music, collected by Kevin Danaher and Sean O' hEochaidh over two nights in February 1949 at the house of local teacher Eoin Mhichil Mhic an Luain in the Blue Stack Mountains.  The tape was a selection - the cream as they said at the time; this set presents all 21 surviving double sided acetate discs recorded during this historic session, covering three CDs.  These discs were 16" or 12" aluminium platters with a thin coating of cellulose acetate that would withstand about a dozen plays before they started to deteriorate.  Kevin Danaher is quoted as saying there were upward of 40 people in the house during the recordings.  Apart from the occasional background conversation, the recording quality is very good and modern techniques have been used sensitively to clean up the old discs. 

Mickey Doherty was the fourth of five brothers born to Mickey Mor Doherty of Donegal.  Fiddle playing ran through the family from both parents.  His younger brother John was filmed and recorded more and is perhaps better known, and for a long time was considered as the archetypical Donegal fiddler.  Mickey was born in 1894, married in 1916 and made his living as a travelling musician and tinsmith, both honourable professions in the early days of the Irish Free State and Republic.  He was at the peak of his mastery of the fiddle when Danaher and O'hEochaidh recorded him.  He was recorded again in the '50s and the odd track track was included on the Folksongs of Great Britain series but no commercial recordings were made by Mickey.  He died at home in Donegal in May 1970.

The first CD starts with Mickey's voice introducing an old slip jig "learnt from the fairies" which sets Doherty's life at the heart of a now lost culture and societal structure where superstition, piseoga and the supernatural were an integral part of rural life.  This contrasts starkly with the following track where Doherty copies the Michael Coleman 78 of Miss McLeod and Phillip O'Beirne's reel released in 1936.  There are a number of selections from Coleman's recordings and those of Paddy Killoran.  These 78s, played on wind-up gramophones in better off houses all round Ireland, must have had the same effect on repertoire that the first Bothy Band LP had on a later generation.  Interestingly, Mickey plays an old, local version of Miss McLeod on CD 3 where he imitates the highland bagpipes by retuning his fiddle to allow an almost constant drone under the reel.

The influential fiddle player Neillidh Boyle lived in Dungloe and Doherty spent a lot of time with Boyle.  Neillidh Boyle had an effect on both Doherty brothers, and may have encouraged both of them to play in second and third position on the fiddle which is still unusual in Irish traditional players.  Boyle also influenced Mickey's repertoire as Boyle was acquainted with Meath fiddle player Frank O'Higgins.  O'Higgins played with Seamus Ennis' father in the Fingal Trio and made some solo 78s in the late 30s and was broadcast up to 6 times a year on 2RE in the 1930s.  Through Boyle, Mickey picked up both tunes and technique that Higgins ably demonstrates on the 78s that are available commercially on various CD compilations and Doherty replicates on Kitty gone a Milking.  These influences meant that Mickey played in a different way to his bother.  In the notes we're told people thought Mickey played for dancing, John played for listening.  At the same time, John's genius for variation took his playing in a different direction away from the family tradition.

The actual recording methods, using acetate discs, meant that the recordists were looking to the musician to fill each five minute side, rather than play a single tune through as seemed to be the preferred way of the brothers.  As a consequence, some tunes get repeated more than normal and some awkward changes are evident; but in other such as the Cuckoo's Nest selection, the transition to the reel Paddy's trip to Scotland is very smooth as a slight accelerando is used to get up to full speed over the first few bars of the reel.  On a few tracks the ending is pretty abrupt and sometimes mid part as the recording time runs out, others use a more tasteful fade.

Doherty's playing is very pleasing, using a fairly staccato bow, rolls and triplets to ornament the tune, the music is steady with a clear pulse with double stops to emphasise the rhythm.  Some of his settings show a lovely syncopation that seems typical of Donegal playing, but may just be the influence of Neillidh Boyle again that has now spread deep into the fiddling psyche.  His sympathy with dancers is well illustrated when Conal Mc Ui Luain, a well-respected local dancer, steps out to Fisher's Hornpipe and Maggie Picken's.  Conal was pretty old at the time and aparently used a chair back to help him keep steady.  Reels are taken at a brisk but punchy pace and hornpipes may be a bit quicker than some might prefer but the pace is by no means hurried.

Doherty's take on Bonnie Kate, one of Coleman's masterpieces, shows an interesting combination of Coleman's variations and what might be considered Donegal motifs.  The resulting setting, played over more than a dozen times through the tune, shows a unique interpretation of the tune that shows up a new idea at each turn, a mark of true mastery.

The Dohertys were well known for their descriptive pieces and Mickey's party pieces get plenty of airing in this collection.  The Hounds after the Hare, Doherty's version of the piper's Fox Chase appears on each of the 3 CDs and the Four posts of the Bed appears twice.  Marches from local tradition as well as Boyle's copying of a brass band march sit side by side with set dances and airs.  Purely local tunes, especially highlands are rare on this recording.  It was suggested in the original notes that Doherty was playing his 'Sunday best' tunes rather than the humbler local repertory.  A story on CD3 shows the other side of Mickey as story teller and the seanchai traits of little set phrases to punctuate the story are evident.  Later recordings by Lomax and Kennedy on behalf of the BBC produced more storytelling.

As with all the recordings produced by Comhairle Bhealoideas Eireann and Cairdeas na bhFidileiri, the package is well presented with extensive notes and illustrations.  Jackie Small's notes from 1990 have been updated, and enthusiasts are encouraged to seek out the additional background that those notes provided.  This collection sits well alongside the productions on Neillidh Boyle and Frank Cassidy from Cairdeas na bhFidileiri as well as the Gael Linn recordings of John Doherty to illustrate the legacy of Donegal fiddle playing.  Highly recommended, it is available from the Cairdeas na bhFidileiri website: http://donegalfiddlemusic.ie/product/garvin-hill-fiddle-music-of-mickey-doherty/ and hopefully this release will reintroduce a true fiddle master to a new audience nearly 70 years after he was recorded.

Ken Ricketts and Marya Parker - 16.2.18

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