The Celebration of Traveller Music gigs, organised by Poster Fish Promotions and Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group, are designed to showcase the great musical talents among Travellers and the amazing, and often overlooked, contribution that they have made to Irish traditional music. The gigs are also about providing a space for Travellers to come together and celebrate the tradition and allow it to flourish. BTDG Chairperson Freda Hughes and renowned traditional Traveller singer Thomas McCarthy spoke about how they came about and where they are going.
The first Celebration of Traveller Music event was held during Traveller Pride Week 2014 in The Cobblestone pub in Smithfield in Dublin. There has since been five gigs in The Cobblestone and two Celebration of Traveller Music events in Kerry, with a number of other events and a radio production planned for the rest of the year.
Chairperson of BTDG and founder of Poster Fish Promotions, Freda Hughes said, “After the tragic halting site fire that claimed 11 people in Carrickmines in Dublin many of the musicians came together to organise a fundraiser for the families who had lost their loved ones. While the movement had grown and developed throughout the gigs prior to that, there was a spark felt by everyone involved in this gig and we decided to take the show on the road and do it in our own way and at our own pace. Despite packing out The Cobblestone at every gig we don’t really want to move to a big venue. We’ve decided instead to link in with Traveller musicians around the country and organise gigs with them.”
Thomas McCarthy who travels home from the UK to play at the nights said, “The Celebration of Traveller Music nights are very important. They are actually unique. I don’t think Traveller musicians and singers have ever bonded like this.”
The other performers who are part of the Celebration of Traveller Music include Jack Delaney, who sings in a mixture of English, Irish, Romany and Gammon/Cant reflecting his own background. One of his songs, Lashún Gatna, was used in the RTE crime series Love/Hate. Stephen Dunne, the son of the famous Pecker Dunne, is also doing his father proud with powerful performances. His older brother Paddy also joined the performers at Listowel gig.
Trish Nolan is an excellent song writer. Her rich vocals are captivating and her blues influences evident in her guitar and harmonica playing. Bernie McDonagh is a virtuoso on the tin whistle with a powerful singing voice who has been playing in venues big and small all over Dublin for most of his life. Flute player and singer Katie Theasby often performs with renowned blues guitarist Ron Kavana.
Well known Dublin band Lynched have also played at many of the gigs and shared some of the old songs they have collected. Eoin Dillon who plays uilleann pipes with Kíla played at the first gig. Folk legend Finbar Furey played at the last gig in Dublin and was joined on the night by Lisa O’Neill and Liam O’Maonlaí. Among the others who have sang at Celebration of Traveller Music events is the actor John Connors, Selina O’Leary, Paddy Collins, Martin Anthony Collins, Johnny Hand and Brigid Doyle Collins of the famous Doyle musical clan.
McCarthy, is from a long line of traditional singers and musicians, and believes the nights are crucial to the maintaining the strength of the tradition.
“Traveller music has developed enormously over the centuries. Field recordings from the last 60 years have inspired many young travellers to play instruments and it makes them feel proud of their heritage. To me there is a fire in Traveller music that most settled people have not got. For instance listen to the Raineys play, I don’t think anybody can play like them, but that is just my opinion. It has developed so much, in every family you will find a good singer and more and more are coming out of the woodwork. I feel it is getting stronger and long may it continue to do so.”
Photos by Colm Keating and Steven DePaoire