THE Donegal Master Fiddlers gala concert is a celebration of the lifetime achievement of three of the county’s greatest living traditional fiddlers at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny, on July 27 as part of this year’s Earagail Arts Festival.
Each Master fiddler – Vincent Campbell, Dinny McLaughlin and Danny Meehan – will be introduced in turn by a younger renowned fiddler, Vincent by Martin McGinley, Danny by Aidan O’Donnell and Dinny by Roisin Harrigan.
This feast of traditional Irish music will also feature the Campbells (Vincent, his brother Jimmy and nephew Peter), Dinny McLaughlin’s group and Aidan O’Donnell and Damien McGeehan from the renowned Fidil.
The opening performance of this incredible night of music will come from an even younger generation of musicians drawn from Paul Harrigan’s Ceol na Coille music school.
County Donegal is famous the world over for its rich and distinctive fiddle style. The Donegal style of fiddle playing is generally regarded as being fast and aggressive with a distinctive bowing style. The tunes played include highlands, strathspeys, mazurkas and germans as well as the standard reel, jigs and hornpipes found elsewhere in Ireland. Donegal has long-established, links to Scotland.
This is naturally reflected in the strong Scottish accent in the Donegal music in its tunes types and elements of style. Fiddlers in this county mainly played solo for house dances, and sometimes in duet in order to be heard by the dancers. It was common indeed for the fiddler to use the table of the house as a stage, the better to be heard.
Donegal is famous for its travelling fiddling families, one of the most highly regarded of which has been the Dohertys. A family of tinsmiths, pipers and master fiddle players, they were skilled craftsmen who made and mended household and agricultural utensils by day and played music by night. Most famous of this family was John (1900 -1980) who travelled from house to house on a circuit that took him from Ballybofey, through Killybegs, Kilcar, Glencolmcille, Ardara, and Glenties. His most famous recording is ‘The Floating Bow’, which features recordings made of him by Allun Evans between 1968 and 1974.
Other famous past Donegal fiddle stylists have been Néillidh Boyle, Con and Frank Cassidy, James Byrne, Francie Mooney, Francie ‘Dearg’ and Micí Bán Ó Beirne and Hugh Gillespie.
The Fiddle Tradition Today
The Donegal fiddle tradition continues strongly today in the hands of such legendary figures such as Vincent, Jimmy and Peter Campbell, Dinny McLaughlin and Danny Meehan. Effective efforts have been made to maintain and develop Donegal’s fiddle tradition, most notably with the setting up of Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí, which holds an annual summer school in August in Glencolmcille, and a weekend in Glenties in October. The organisation has encouraged a whole new generation of fiddlers, as has the influence of the internationally touring band Altan, which was formed in the 1980s by Gaoth Dobhair fiddler Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.
With a core driving fiddle sound, Altan has brought Donegal style music to audiences all over the world and has contributed much to its popularity.
The new generations of Donegal include Liz Doherty, Róisín Harrigan, Ciaran Tourish, Martin McGinley, Aidan O’Donnell, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and Damien McGeehan, Derek McGinley, Ronan Galvin, Iarlaith and Breffní Ó Domhnaill, Tara Connaghan and Mícheál Cherry among others.