Fiddling in the time of coronavirus

Danny Meehan.

MORE than one hundred fiddlers around the globe marked World Fiddle Day on Saturday last with the sound of Donegal tunes.

While musical celebrations were low key this year, though due to public health measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, musicians took the time to offer up some tunes from their living rooms.


Over the past week, the Donegal fiddle organisation Cairdeas na bhFidléirí has put all the pieces together in a series of two-hour Donegal fiddle concert on their Facebook page which have been viewed by thousands of fiddle fans across the world.

The decision to move the annual gathering of fiddle players online this year was taken by Rab Cherry who sent invitations to musicians across the world.

“World Fiddle Day started five or six years ago after our Donegal Fiddlers chairman Caoimhín Mac Aoidh came up with the idea. It seems to have taken off worldwide with Canada adopting their own National Fiddle Day on the same day,” he said.

Formed in the early 1980’s to help support and promote the art of fiddle playing in the Donegal tradition Cairdeas na bhFidléirí has been put some virtual events on their Facebook page since the lockdown started. These include fiddle concerts on a Sunday night and a movie night, with a fiddle/music related film, on Wednesdays.

“About two weeks ago I decided to ask people to send me in clips of them playing to put together in a concert,” he said.

“There’s a few Donegal fiddle players in America and there’s others who aren’t from here at all but have attended summer schools over the years and kept working at it. I’ve had contributions from New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Finland, all over the States, various parts of Europe, including Denmark and the Netherlands, as well as England and Scotland – a great spread,” he said.

“I quickly realised I was going to have more than enough material for one concert on World Fiddle Day so I started the concerts last Thursday and we had number six to Tuesday night.


“I still have some more left so I’ll show them over the next two Sunday nights. They’ve been really well received across the world,” he said.

Each concert lasts up to two hours and includes some archive clips of fiddle players who aren’t with us any more.

“They’re still such a big part of the whole scene. People still talk about them when they reference where tunes came from,” he said.

Some of the younger musicians have also been included in the videos – players of the future – as well as more famous fiddle players like Altan’s Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh and her daughter Nia Byrne.

“When I got my initial one hundred names I decided I better stop but since then I’ve come up with a list of another one hundred names. It seems like too good an idea to drop now so what we’ll probably do is roll it on a bit and make it a feature around culture night in the middle of September,” he said.

“There will be lots of people who haven’t been contacted just yet but we’ll look to include as many of those as possible in the next stage of the process,” he added.

Some of the pieces are the best part of twenty minutes long while some clips might last only five minutes with some archive pieces shorter again.

“The youngest player is probably eleven year old Brandon Shovlin from Dunkineely while Jimmy Campbell is 82 while Danny Meehan will be eighty this year,” he said.

“You’ve everybody from the likes of Mairead, who everyone knows, to a fella from Ballyshannon, Oisin McCauley, who teaches music in Berkeley College outside Boston which is a pretty prestigious music school,” he added.

All in all the concerts present a pretty amazing snapshot and shows that Donegal fiddle playing is in rude health at the moment.

“Donegal has a massive range of different types of tunes but some music that people think might be a Donegal tune because of the way it’s played could well be Scottish – composed two hundred years ago,” he said.

“They play a wide range of tunes in Donegal. You could hear the waltz being played at a session in Donegal – it’s a musically diverse place. There’s a massive repertoire that’s commonly played around Donegal,” he added.

The next concert featuring Donegal fiddle players from around the world can be heard on Sunday evening at 8pm on the Cairdeas Facebook page.





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