There aren’t too many heroes left in Irish folk. With the passing of Barney McKenna in April 2012, Ireland lost one more. He was part of that group of musicians who, in the 1960s and 70s, revived traditional music and brought Irish songs and culture to the international stage.
Luckily, however, four such musicians are still going strong, and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival marquee in Custom House Square provides the perfect stage on which Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Liam O’Flynn and Paddy Glackin can shine.
It could almost be a Planxty reunion, were it not for the absence of former leading men Christy Moore, Paul Brady or Johnny Moynihan. Instead, renowned Dublin fiddler Paddy Glackin joins the Planxty stalwarts on stage to lend an added spark to proceedings. The sound of a full-toned fiddle working its magic on numbers such as ‘Arthur McBride’ is an added bonus to those more familiar with the group’s original arrangements.
‘The Blacksmith’ takes on a new texture too, not least when the tune breaks down and segues into the uproarious ‘Black Smithereens’. It is a classic Planxty medley, and Glackin’s fiddling fits effortlessly in unison with O’Flynn’s majestic piping. O’Flynn is regarded, after the late, great County Clare piper Willie Clancy, as being Ireland’s finest exponent of Uileann piping; a title he never fails to justify.
More sensitive songs from the group’s repertoire such as ‘As I Roved Out’ and Irvine’s self-penned, nostalgic tear jerker ‘The West Coast Of Clare’ provide a poignant rest between the rousing numbers.
Planxty fans are certainly not disappointed with the set. There is plenty to please listeners of the musicians’ solo work also. Lunny sings the haunting Gaelic lilt 'Siún Ní Dhuibhir' in a fine display of vocal harmony shared with Irvine.
Irvine, meanwhile, performs one of his most famous solo efforts, ‘My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland’: a harking back to his days in Sweeney’s Men, playing and touring with Johnny Moynihan and ‘Galway Joe’ Dolan in the early 60s.
Nostalgia seems to be the emotion of choice tonight for Irvine, as he pours great gusto into a more recent composition entitled 'O’Donoghue’s'. It is a celebration of the famous Dublin watering-hole, where a young Irvine found his musical feet playing with musicians such as Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly and Seamus Ennis. The song is dedicated, fittingly, to Barney McKenna.
As could be expected, Glackin and O’Flynn steal the show when it comes to the instrumentals. A whirlwind of jigs, reels, hornpipes and flings fills the tent, and the sound of the communal tapping of feet and slapping of thighs can be heard spreading around the audience like a Mexican wave.
Instrumentals of note include the much-loved reel ‘The Virginia’, a classic jig of the folk repertoire ‘The Pipe On The Hob’, and a medley that Planxty named ‘The Starting Gate’ on their 2004 live reunion album, featuring ‘The Woman I Never Forgot’, ‘The Pullet’ and ‘The Ladies’ Pantalettes’.
By the end of the night, the yelps and whistles indicate an audience well warmed up and ready for more. As O’Flynn points out before the encore, ‘There’s no point in us going all the way backstage when there’s plenty more music to be played’. Songs are sung, stories are told, and names like John Kelly, Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis are praised.
This is a quartet soaked in tradition and history. The performers on stage tonight learned from some of Ireland’s finest musicians and they, in turn, have become worthy of that nomenclature. It is undoubtedly an historic performance. Folk musicians of this calibre don’t come about too often.
Check out What's On for information on forthcoming Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival events.