History of Music in Area

The Louisburgh area has a rich heritage in the traditional arts.
The following short extract from Annals of the Irish Harpers 1911 proves that music, song and dance were all part of the fabric of life in the locality at the start of the 19th century.

From a chapter entitled “Diary and Letters of Patrick Lynch”

Monday 21st June 1802

I went to Lewisburgh (sic) ten miles south west of Westport to a Mr Ward the Parish Priest. I proceeded to Lewisburgh and slept in a public house, Hugh O’Donnell’s cost 1s/7d.

Wednesday 23rd

I went three miles further on to Duach McKeon in quest of an Owen O’Maily, a schoolmaster. In the evening the schoolmaster brought me to a farmers house, Patrick Gibbons, where I stayed at night and got two songs but I lost my knife”.

Thursday, Midsummer day

I came back to Lewisburgh, inquired for Mass, was told it was to be said a mile and a half south towards the mountains. (the Priest, Fr. Ward) had Mass in a gentleman’s house, a Mr. Garvay’s. This gentleman kept me for breakfast, it was one o’clock. I heard of a blind piper, a Billy O’Mailly, who had the greatest variety of Irish songs. I came to him, he had a house full of young people dancing. .. I returned to O’Donnell’s, got some dinner, had some beer with Tom Byrne, a weaver, a quack and a farrier.

Friday 25th

Paid my bill, 2/2, and went to the house where I had seen blind Billy yesterday, sent for him, gave him a shilling and grog, took down six good songs, cost me 2s 8d1/2, my money is near gone. I came to Westport”.
(reproduced from “Louisburgh a History” by John Lyons)
(note: the knife was carried for the purpose of mending his pen).

In “Wild Sports of the West of Ireland”, published in 1832, William Hamilton Maxwell writes:

“The piper is merrily at work , for some of the peasant girls have come to visit us, attracted by the joyful news that a pieberagh (piper) was included in our suite. .. The fondness of these mountain maidens for dancing is incredible; .. whenever a travelling musician passes through these wilds, they assemble from prodigious distances, and dance for days and nights together”.

The “maidens” of Louisburgh were lucky not to have had to depend on visiting musicians.
According to James Berry in his “Tales of Old Ireland” there were frequent social gatherings (in this area) up to the year of the great famine (1846) and he added, with no little exaggeration:

” the pipes in these days were as plentiful as blackberries in Autumn”.

He himself remembered the last social gathering held on St. Patrick’s Day before the Famine.

“The piper a young man sat on a chair in the open air, playing haste to the wedding” .

This was Martin Moran an imposing man of 6’4″ though he was blind, the son of a local farmer. .

“considered to be the best player in Connaught in his day. It was a wonderful and glorious sight to see him seated and playing, sometimes sweeping the keys of his pipes with great long fingers. Martin became a great favourite of John McHale – the Lion of Tuam – who presented him with a set of pipes which cost 35 pounds and in presenting them the Archbishop christened Martin ‘the last of the Minstrels”.

A generation later and into the 20th century another blind piper – Martin Reilly (of Falduff, approx 2 miles east of Louisburgh), was a familiar sight as he “busked” at Old Head and played at local gatherings. Reputed to be a top class musician, Martin appears to have been the last of the pipers in the area. With the passing of the pipes, the fiddle and the accordion became the popular instruments and Dominick O’Toole, Falduff and Jim Needham, Culleen were two of the many noteworthy exponents in the early to mid 20th century.

In the early 19th century Seán Mac Conmara of Tallabaun was a well-known gaelic poet. His compositions Ruairí Ó Catháin and Neileach and Neileach Mhór were recorded in “Amhráin Chlainne Gael” and, perhaps his best known poem/song, Antoine Mac Conmara was published in “An Stoc” 1918 – 1919. Many other sean-nós songs (authors unknown) are proper to this locality.

In the 1940 & 50s the parish could boast of its own céilí and marching bands. The Céilí Band was from Cregganbawn and among its members were Pat & Anthony Kilcoyne and Mike O’Grady (Cregganbawn), Petie Corrigan (Altóir), Pat bán Kilcoyne (Cregganawoddy) and Pat Kilcoyne (Cregganagopple). The Culleen Fife and Drum band had among its members, William McDonnell, Ownie Hynes, Tommy & Eddie Joyce, John (Ted) Gibbons, Michael Moran, Thomas O’Grady, Eddie Kitterick, William O’Grady, Jim Needham, Mr Mc Govern & Mr Conway and Drummer Tom Fergus. At that time too there were Dance Halls in Ailemore, Mullagh, Cregganbawn (The Dunkirk) and Lecanvey as well as the Parochial Hall in Louisburgh.

Johnny O’Toole

Johnny O’Toole of Doughmakeon (1913 – 2010), was an accomplished ballad singer and fiddle player and released a CD/tape of ballads in 2002.

Seamus Heneghan

Seamus Heneghan of Bundorragha (1946 – 2021), was an outstanding accordion player who released a CD/Tape “Caught in the surf” in 2002.

Birth of Féile Chois Cuain

With a view to preserving this rich heritage and promoting traditional music among the youth of the area, a small group got together in 1995 and organised Féile Chois Cuain. Féile has helped reawaken interest in the traditional Music and regular classes are now taking place with very encouraging numbers taking part.
Masterclasses have been a feature of Féile Chois Cuain and you can find out more about these on the “classes page”.

Classes are however but one aspect of Féile and the almost non-stop music and singing sessions, featuring great numbers of visiting and local musicians, together with the Concerts and Céilí make it a wonderful weekend for young and old.