Traditional Musicians from the Glens of Antrim

The Glens of Antrim have produced a number of accomplished singers and musicians

Traditional instrument classes in Cushendall have produced some fine young local musicians. Among them are Rory Dempsey, who plays the fiddle, Michelle Quinn, who plays the flute, and the accordionists Ciaran O’Kane, Ciaran Graham and Paul O’Donnell. These musicians owe their skills to the teaching from older musicians like Dominic McNabb and Denis Sweeney, who play the fiddle, and accordionists James McElheran and Ciaran Dempsey, as well as John Kennedy, who plays the flute and whistle.

There are a number of accomplished singers from this area who have kept the tradition of unaccompanied singing alive. These include John McKeown, Archie McKeegan, Mick Quinn, Charlie McDonnell and Caitlín McElheran, who have preserved and passed on the old songs of the area. Thanks to the work of this older generation, the Glens of Antrim have produced a new generation of instrumentalists and singers and the tradition has been handed down.

James McElheran is one of two button accordionists who regularly play in McCollam’s pub, Cushendall. He has an extensive repertoire of Irish and Scottish tunes and is an experienced ceili band musician. He has featured with the Ard Ri band of Belfast and most recently the Denis Sweeney Band of Antrim. McElheran is especially proficient at playing for set dancing, but also plays in the parlour of McCollum’s, where his accordion lends an air of authority to any session. While McElheran plays a variety of accordions, his wife Caitlin is an accomplished singer in both the Irish and English languages.

Another musician who is a regular at McCollum’s Bar is PJ Hill, from Ballycastle. Hill plays both the banjo and sings. An enthusastic member of the Ballycastle branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Hill performs at the many festivals and fleadhs. Dominic McNabb and Leo Brown are also from Ballycastle and play regularly with Hill and others at both McCollam’s and McCarroll’s Bar.

McNabb is a master fiddler, being both sweet in tone and rhythmic with dance tunes. He is especially noted for his extensive range of Irish and Scottish tunes. With their close proximity to Scotland, many Glens musicians have a good selection of Scottish music in their repertoire. Brown plays the accordion and has appeared with McNabb around the fleadhs.

Other musicians from the Glens include Alex Higgins from Glenravel, an enthusiastic local musician who brings his banjo regularly to sessions in McCollum’s. Charlie McDonnell is a popular local singer and Ciaran Dempsey, a native of Cushendall, is a regular accompanist on piano to the sessions in McCollum’s and also plays piano accordion. Like Dempsey, Seán Quinn plays a full size Crucianelli piano accordion and is another experienced ceili band musician who loves a session in McCollam’s parlour.

© Seán Quinn