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Ón Tuath (From the Country)
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 56 Minutes
Regarded as the finest home grow uilleann piper of his generation in the USA, Jerry is the very epitome of the gentleman piper, a modest soul if you’ve ever met him and yet a towering figure in Irish American music and a piper of real distinction. The breadth of his repertoire will be the first thing to impress you, almost 30 tunes in the 13 tracks of the album, played on Uilleann Pipes, Whistles, Flute, Scots Smallpipes, Border Pipes, and Highland Pipes.
That breadth of his repertoire spans from O’Carolan pieces, Sir Charles Coote/ Captain Sudley, Cian O’Hara / Si Beag, Si Mor, Eleanor Plunkett / Lady Gethin to song melodies from Percy French, The Pride of Petravore/ Phil the Fluter’s Ball and The Darling Girl from Clare, which are labelled online as a Robert Burns set. There are reels and polkas, Germans and Strathspeys, all played with wit and bravura.
Jerry O’Sullivan is a piper’s piper, and some of the tracks will get you right into the weeds of their dark arts, and talking of arts I must mention the contribution of Gabriel Donohue who adds guitar, bouzouki, field organ, drums, bodhrán and synthesizer as well as production skills to this album. Jerry O’Sullivan takes up the Scottish lowland pipes on a polka set called Patrick O’Connor’s; it’s an unusual instrument, its mellowness adds another dimension to the Sliabh Luachra canon.
Jerry’s playing on The Darling Girl from Clare recalls his time with the Green Fields of America and Mick Moloney, it has that playful vaudeville bounce of urban Irish Americana at the dawn of the 20th century. A baker’s dozen tracks in all, and each listener will find their favourite, whether it’s the lament of An Binsin Luachra (The Bonny Bunch of Roses) or the gentility of Carolan or even Jerry’s own composition Sidebrook. There is magic in Jerry’s country, and it is well worth visiting. Moreover this is a win for the tunes from rural Ireland.
Seán Laffey

Here & There
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 52.04 Minutes
Here & There is the latest album from St. Louis based, County Clare born, fiddle player Eimear Arkins, whose debut album What’s Next was released in 2018. This new collection is a celebration of both her homes, in Clare, and St. Louis. Featuring traditional sean-nós songs alongside fiddle tunes, it was compiled during Covid. As Arkins wanted to bring her two homes together in this latest work, it features compositions by renowned Clare fiddle players and composers like Séamus Connolly, Bobby Casey and Junior Crehan. It also features several St. Louis musicians too, including Eileen Gannon, Kevin Buckley, Dan Lowery.
Here & There consists of 12 tracks including two of her own compositions: She’s At It Again and Hanging On Halliday. A jig and reel respectively, She’s At It Again is a tribute to Helen Gannon, founder of St. Louis Irish Arts and a strong promoter of Irish music, song and dance. Hanging On Halliday is based around Bobby Casey’s Tuttle’s and The Porthole of The Kelp, Halliday being the road Arkins lived on during the pandemic.
This collection celebrates Arkins finding her own way in music. It’s a celebration of bringing her love of her life and music together and she does so wonderfully with jigs, songs, reels and a waltz.  I particularly like the two hornpipes in the middle of the album. There’s something unique in her composition of the tunes and there’s a clear connection linking Clare and St. Louis from beginning to end. The thread of connection weaves beautifully throughout linking the genres of each individual piece, and constantly showing the influence of both homes and her travels to date.
Arkins’ ability as a singer and musician is firmly established with Here & There.
Gráínne McCool

Setting Sun
Own Label PMB03CD, 6 Tracks, 24 Minutes
Glasgow-based singer Paul McKenna has been at the forefront of traditional song in the second city of Scotland for a decade or more, and on Setting Sun you can gauge why he is considered not just popular but the real deal. This classy album was recorded and produced by Euan Burton at GloWorm with mastering by Garry Boyle at Slate Room Studio. The final polish not detracting one jot from McKenna’s distinctive sound.
Now comparisons are dangerous, but imagine if Dick Gaughan ever fronted the Old Blind Dogs and that’s as close as I can imagine to a perfect Scottish folk band, and McKenna nails it. His voice has that same authority and authenticity as Gaughan’s and the band are as percussive and lithe as the Dogs. There’s a drive that seems to last longer than the two and half minutes of One Last Cold Kiss (not the Burns song but a story about the shooting of a swan, the birds mate for life, the anthropomorphic allegory is implied, of course). He sings The Lurgy Stream, a song from Donegal, with a familiar melody (Rocks of Bawn) with its tour de force middle break on the uilleann pipes - that is worth the price of the album, I loved it. There’s more good stuff, Solid Ground, a song by Dougie McLean is treated with respect and embellished with flute and a rhythmic guitar.
The album closes with The Wise Maid, and for all the fizz and fireworks that has been lighting up the songs, this track begins very gently, an electric guitar picking out the tune, recorded with a church-like presence, a sliding bow brings in the fiddle, and given its 7 minute length, there’s numerous twists and, turns, but once the acoustic guitar kicks in, the flute and pipes fly this kite into the highest stormy clouds.
If you ever need to lift your spirits, look up Setting Sun; it’s a joy from beginning to end, and probably like me, you’ll play it on a loop.
Seán Laffey

The Boys of Doorin
Own Label, 8 Tracks, 29 Minutes
There really is no stopping The Byrne Brothers, and their new album, The Boys of Doorin, is concrete proof of that. Compiling 8 tracks, written, recorded and produced by 18-year-old Finn Byrne, this is something special. Featuring guests such as Colin Farrell, Shane Ffrench and Eric Thorin, it’s lively, vibrant, entertaining and magical from beginning to end.
The album title track, The Boys of Doorin, just serves to highlight that they’ve never forgotten home, the homeland, Donegal. And they continue to return and bring their music and their adventures here.
Opening with Maguerite’s Lane, an instrumental, the family echoing in the background, it mixes soundscape with the music. It’s a short but very special piece. Following on with Dawn Patrol and a real sense of the morning magic throughout. Raggle Taggle Gypsy is fun with young Dempsey leading the vocals. Followed on with Boys of Doorin, P Stands for Paddy, Wendy’s Waltz, Trilogy and rounding off with Red Haired Mary, this collection of tunes is one steeped in a love of music.
One written and produced from a passion for the work. And clearly a collection of music very special to the Byrne family. From beginning to end it oozes that Donegal passion, that Donegal familial, that Donegal wonder. The Byrne Brothers have woven a tapestry of fine music and made it extra special. An eclectic mix of strings, percussion, and keys, the boys and Dad Tommy transcend the tradition of trad/folk music and Finn has zoomed onto the musical production world.
The Byrne Brothers very aptly dedicate the album to their dear friend, the late Maryann McTeague Keifer who not only befriended the family and helped them on their journey, but also did endless work for Irish musicians in the US. The Byrne family miss her dearly and this dedication is extra special.
Gráínne McCool

Small Behaviours
Own Label, 16 Tracks, 65 Minutes
Kate O’Callaghan’s recording, Small Behaviours, is a tribute to her great-grand aunt, Catherine Rooney (aka Katie Byrne), using extant material, letters, witness accounts, personal recollections and bona fide documents from the Irish Bureau of Military history.
Part spoken word, interspersed with song, orchestral accompaniment with the Donegal Camerata String Quintet, Seamus Devenny on percussion and Michael McGinty on double bass, it is of historical importance.
Celebrating the ‘small behaviours’ of women, mothers, wives, daughters and lovers who played significant roles in the War of Independence, she celebrates Catherine and her sister Alice, for their courage, loyalty and defiance, despite the fact that “their small behaviours went completely under the radar”.
Reading the essays, recorded live at Balor Arts Centre, she gives personal accounts and minute details of the sisters’ journeys to and from Glasgow, both ammunition smugglers, arms hidden in their clothing, bodies weary from the weight, yet they journeyed on beside their men, or perhaps behind them.
Abhainn Liphthe, an original composition, is a fine tribute to the River Liffey, water spirit of Joyce’s Anna Livia. She sings of its “secret tunnels below”, metaphor for the women’s collusion, their hidden activities, the river flows undaunted, through the city then ravaged from the events of the Rising, “through the rubble of Dublin city you flow”.
The Joy is a powerful essay, an account of Katie’s attempts to free Seán Mac Eoin from Mountjoy jail, carrying whiskey to dope the guards, “in her mother’s knickers”, she, among other women, were taking orders from Michael Collins. The rescue failed but Mac Eoin went on to become Minister for Justice and Defence in the new government.
Kate O’Callaghan regrets that these women, from whom she is descended, were “the invisible army”, that history “hardly recorded”. Here, she has confidently made amends to them.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Made of Sin
Own Label EP, 6 Tracks, 29 Minutes
If you were looking for evidence of the pull and power of Irish culture, Megan Nic Ruairí would be a poster girl for the phenomenon. Born in London to a mother from Mayo and a dad from Donegal, she spent a good deal of her childhood in Nottingham England before she moved to Donegal aged 11.
Since then Megan has been immersed in Gaelic culture. A fluent speaker of Irish, she is a member of the group Clann Mhic Ruairí in Donegal and the Dublin based Big Love. Now at 28 she is coming into her own as a sensitive and brave songwriter. A patient one too, these half dozen tracks were recorded three years ago, and she has waited, as she says herself to “become mature”. Patience too in the way the work was released to the public with singles from the EP, firstly in September 2023 The Woods and Twenty Two in November 2023, before the full EP came out in January 2024.
The tracks here swing in the direction of harmonic rather than melodic. These are not tunes you’d sing in the shower, this is deeper, layered, personal, reflective, reverberating with contemplation and inner focus. Take her slowing down of the Waterboys’ Whole of the Moon, there’s a feminine sadness here that wasn’t obvious in the original. The final track on the EP, Made of Sin came out of a walk on Dun Laoghaire beach. Here it is painted in sound and drums, words become an atmospheric reverb crashing on a sea wall, rebounding with foaming angst. The drum kit on this track is especially angry, an aural evocation of the frustration felt by Megan when she was left feeling isolated by false friendships.
I’m sure she will gain many more friends once this EP gets the airplay it deserves.
Seán Laffey

Left Behind
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 42 Minutes
The Donegal duo Karen Kelly and Simon McCafferty are Without Willow. With a debut album Left Behind, focused on relationships, love and loss, a youthful approach to heartbreak, their lyrics are compelling, arrangements deft and innovative.
All original compositions, the duo are well known in songwriting circles. Among other plaudits, they have been shortlisted for the IMRO Christie Hennessy song writing contest and reached the semi-finals of the international songwriting competition 2019, chosen from 18,000 entries.
Lying to Myself is a tender lament for an old love, “these days are just a memory of you and me”, McCafferty situates it with “this old town has got me down”, then into a call and answer, the two voices laying bare the breakup conversation: inner voices, stream of consciousness, lyrical, clever and a very catchy melody, Irish shades of Simon and Garfunkel.
Silver in Colorado, a reference to the tough lives of the underground miners, the inevitable tragedies of that life choice, great material gain but with a cost. With guitar, percussion and fiddle, The Heather Field is beautifully achieved, regret, longing, unrequited love, “the hardest part was letting go of you”, and regret, “if I could go back in time”.
Like a lot of great love songs, there’s rawness and pain in the lyrics, brilliant guitar playing, sweet harmonies and good use of innovative sound technology. Intricate layering of voices over instruments, the accompaniment often minimal, these are two unique voices and modern scribes worthy of the attention they are gaining. This album is a fine expression of their writing abilities, musicality and a superb vehicle on which to travel their work.
See for upcoming tour dates, starting in Donegal. They will continue to post further dates - look for them in a venue or festival near you.
Anne Marie Kennedy

A Time to Grow
CPL-Music, 12 Tracks, 46 Minutes
A Time to Grow is the much-awaited new album from Donegal folk trio, The Henry Girls. A collection of 12 songs and tunes, this is very much a collection of music showcasing the evolvement of the sisters: a maturity and a growth, and an acceptance of all three. The album title hints at an important time in life, and the music to celebrate it.
The harmonies of the sisters never fail, and throughout these tracks reminds us just why the Donegal sisters have never wavered from the music scene. A Time to Grow is enchanting and it’s enticing, and it captivates the listener from the beginning.
Opening with the title track, the album takes us on a journey and it’s not just one of music. There’s a real sense of loss with Leaving Dublin, and questioning the present in, “Where are we now?”, but there’s a connection that leaves us in no doubt that this group are only going one way, and that’s forward.
Breathe hints at leaving the past behind again, and then you just get a real sense of homecoming. The natural world seeps through at every turn also. The tapestry of instruments that weave amidst the vocal authenticity that The Henry Girls possess, is evident throughout.
The sisters are joined by Ríoghnach Connolly on their powerful single, Not Your Fight. This was a collaboration between Karen from The Henry Girls and Ríoghnach and relates to those helplessly witnessing ceaseless conflict and violence. The song serves to remind us of the shared human experience and our ability for compassion and understanding in the too cruel world.
Above all, I get a real sense of homecoming from this album. The sisters might be set to take on the world once again, but there’s a real rootedness to A Time to Grow. The Donegal sisters are never done growing, and this is yet another beginning, yet somehow, I feel it’s taken them home.
Gráinne McCool

Fàgail Bhornais
Own Label, Single, 1 Track, 5 Minutes
Traditional Scottish Gaelic singer Máiri MacMillan sings Fàgail Bhornais (Leaving Bornish) a song commemorating the mass emigration of 300 islanders from the Hebrides in 1923. They sailed on the SS Marloch to Eastern Canada. The song was written in 1923 by Donald MacDonald (Domhnall Ruadh macDomhnaill Ruadh), a passenger and emigrant on that ship. The song begins with a fond memory of home, in English translation as:
The most beautiful place under the sun,
Although it’s rocky and heathery
The land is flat and easy to work.
The most beautiful croft on which sun has shone
By the time we reach the final verse the reality and harshness of the continental climate of Alberta has sunk in:
In December the cold is torturous
And I need to wear a hat made from seal fur
I can’t go for a cèilidh, it will do no good,
I have to accept that this is where I will live
Máiri’s version is in Scottish Gaelic and a beautiful rendition it is too, voice and piano, heartfelt. It reminded me of our dear departed friend, the late Aidan O’Hara who had a grá for the shared Celtic culture of our islands and of Canada too.
Here in Ireland, we are fond of emigration songs and Fàgail Bhornais will be no stranger to us. Sometimes as Máiri’s singing proves, melancholy is the best medicine.
Seán Laffey

Own Label GA2023, 13 Tracks, 52 Minutes
Five years on and this is the second album from County Leitrim group Garadice. They formed after being involved in the Leitrim County Council’s Leitrim Equation traditional music project. The core band are: Eleanor Shanley (vocals), Dave Sheridan, (flute/accordion/ keyboards/bodhrán/whistle/backing vocals), John McCartin (guitar/ baritone guitar/acoustic bass), Padraig McGovern (uilleann pipes & whistles). They bring in a stellar cast of guest musicians: Dónal Lunny (bouzouki & bodhrán), Tom Morrow (fiddle), Neil Lyons (bodhrán), Kieran Leonard (drums) and Eleanor’s niece Eleanor Quaine on backing vocals.
Sanctuary, the title track is the second piece on the album, a song about the mines around Arigna in Roscommon. Eleanor brings a contemporary folk cadence so it’s a story of times past when the work was assured in the tight-knit mining community. The song is sandwiched between two sets of tunes: Two Mile Gate/Brigid McRory/The Woods of Caol Ruadh and The Prince’s Feather/Ted Furey’s/Support from America. The opening tunes are full-blown ensemble pieces, whereas the second selection of the Princes’s Feather begins with pipes and has the guitar backing with some very steady chords. There are moments here when I caught the ghost of the Bothy Band, their spirit haunting Ted Furey’s.
Pipes and guitar feature again on Blackwater Side with Eleanor taking lead vocals and Elaine Quaine singing in harmony. There’s an attractive instrumental break here from Dave Sheridan’s flute to the fore. The band gets every last drop of melody out of their version of Coleman’s March. If that is slowed down, they contrast this with their lively Galician Carol on track 9. There’s another European tune, Along Silver Lines composed by Jens Kommnick.
I must mention some of the traditional songs, Jock of Hazeldean, The Bonny Labouring Boy (an interesting association with the pipes on that track) and The Valley of Knockanure, a five-star arrangement of voices and instruments here. The album closes with The Ballintra Lasses/The Rock Reel/Silver Linings/The Border Collie. In its three minutes, it shifts from major to modal and back to major. Those transitions are perceptibly smooth.
We have waited for five years for this album, and it’s worth it. Play it in your own sanctuary and enjoy!
Seán Laffey

Si​ú​l na Slí
Raelach Records RR020, 16 Tracks, 49 Minutes
Diarmuid Ó Meachair was the 2022 TG4 Young Musician of the Year and you can hear why when you listen to this album from Jack Talty’s bespoke Raelach Records. The label is bringing the best of the current generation of pure drop players into the studio to make milestone albums.
Diarmuid is joined by Paddy McEvoy (piano), Ruairí McGorman (bouzouki) and Fergus McGorman (bones). Diarmuid plays a variety C#/D and BC button accordions and also excels on the melodeon, an instrument that has been in the shadows for a couple of generations. Diarmuid rekindles the magic of early recordings and his style would sit comfortably alongside the best of the past - he references Joe Cooley, Paddy O’Brien and Jackie Daly as major influences. His playing echoes an era when dance music was for dancing and tunes were played with a bouncy joie de vivre. The liner notes are full of interesting information, however, they are difficult to read as they are printed over a busy background, which detracts from their import.
Diarmuid is from Cork and is a devotee of the music of Finbarr Dwyer, such as track 2; Finbarr Dwyer’s Jigs and track 4 simply called Finbarr Dwyer’s. He taps into that old style of playing on the John J Kimmell Medley. There are tasteful selections in: The Sunshine & Dunphy’s, and two well-known session tunes Devanney’s Goat & Bonnie Kate and many more. He finishes the album with the Moneymusk Medley, he had the first tune here from his grandfather and the second is a Quebecois version of the tune which he plays as a reel; his source is the influential Canadian fiddler Jean Carrignan.
Congratulations to all involved. This is an exceptional accordion album and a deep dive into the history of the box. It’s also full of tunes to covet for years to come.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 6 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Glasgow based The Routes Quartet are Rufus Huggan, cello; Emma Tomlinson on viola; and fiddlers David Lombardi and Madeleine Stewart. So named because of their various Scottish, Irish and English origins. The album was recorded in Dumfries and Galloway; the place, like the music they’ve made on their second album, Arche, works to fill the liminal spaces between classical and traditional music with newly composed tunes.
Here is a suite of elegant music with Greek and Roman tune names that evoke earthiness, fire, timeliness and the planets. Recorded by David Donaldson and produced by Greg Lawson, Arche tells its own rhapsodic story of shifts and changes in modern music, attitudes to blends in styles and cultures - it is highly innovative and well-achieved.
Kairos is a playful number, delightful arrangements, excellent fiddling with an edge of unpredictability. A savvy mix, showcasing the individual talents and the group’s explorative, boundary-free creativity. Aster, living up to its title, is a star tune; vigorous fiddle playing, great texture and depth, surprising lifts and turns as if two Celtic fiddlers arrived unannounced into a classical music recital and all agreed, amicably, to coalesce as one band, a signature number and captivating sound to close out the album.
As a classical quartet with folk, classical, jazz and fiddling backgrounds, Routes was also nominated for Folk Band of the Year by ALBA, Scots traditional music awards. Arche will earn the Routes new fans, opening up their repertoire to a whole new audience: listeners who are searching for different, intelligent music that takes risks and is adventuresome, will find an album that will take the band in significantly new directions, reward them for knowing how to infuse genres, musically testing out the waters in many seas. Available from Bandcamp &
Anne Marie Kennedy

Roots 2 – The Best Of Show Of Hands
Hands on Music, 31 Tracks, 2 Hours, 12 Minutes
There was a time, a long time ago, in 1986, when two young lads chanced their arm singing folk songs around the clubs and university student unions of their native South West of England. They got good, they got good quickly and began to write songs, they became popular and soon became a fixture of the acoustic circuit. Those two mates: singer-songwriter Steve Knightley (guitars, mandolin, mandocello and cuatro) and composer and multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer (vocals, guitars, violin, viola, mandolin, mandocello) - they called themselves Show of Hands.
After 4500 gigs and 35 albums, the pair have decided to take an extended sabbatical, and this mammoth collection of their output from the past dozen years or so, captures a flavour of the quality of their song writing and the sheer chutzpah that a live Show of Hands concert was. The live recording in this set was made in their hometown of Exeter, in its medieval cathedral.
The duo have had a few fellow travellers over the years, notably in the past decade Miranda Sykes on upright bass and the Waterford percussion wizard Cormac Byrne on bodhrán. They have also had a thirty-year relationship with Oddy Luthiers, who has crafted and repaired instruments for the duo and contributed substantially to their recognisable sound.
There are songs here to discover; some are funny, some are sad, some are bitter and scathing. Versatile beyond measure, they delve into American country on Richard Shindel’s Reunion Hill, they splice a bit more country onto traditional English fiddling on Keys of Canterbury with Jackie Oates supplying the female replying vocals. They are joined by a brass section from the band Track Dogs on Columbus (Didn’t Find America). There’s a syncopated slap in Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed, a polemic rant against bankers who have thrown thousands into poverty.
The final track, The Best One Yet at 7 minutes, stamps their big band sound onto the anthology, and with it we wonder - and I’m sure fans will ask- like Oliver, can we not have some more please?
Their shows may have been a fun night out, but the duo always had a conscience. And that is why audiences loved them. They were, and their music is, eminently relatable, true folk heroes, troubadours for the ages, song smiths creating heirlooms from melody and lyrics, and on the evidence here, they have carved out a body of work that will transcend time itself.
Seán Laffey

One More Minute
Own Label, Single, 1 Track, 5 Minutes
Some One’s Sons are Daniel Allen, Greg Dunne, Ger Dunne and Ray Purcell. They hail from Mullingar. The lads bring a classic full-folk sensibility to this single, with its banjo backing by Greg, a strong folk chorus sung in harmony, and there is treasure in the lead voice of Daniel Allen, with its stirring echoes of Johnny McEvoy at his finest. Others have mentioned the work of the late Jim McCann as a valid comparison. Check out their website for more sample tracks.
The impulse to record the single came after their performance at Electric Picnic last year. With its universal theme of the ‘one that got away’, the love long gone but never forgotten, it is sure to resonate with the vast majority of us. I can see the chorus becoming a grave side come-all-ye:
“If I had one more minute of your time, just one last chance to say goodbye.
I’d tell the stories of our youth and I’d tell you that I love you’
If I had one more minute of your time.”
A simple song with lyrics that will burn themselves into your memory, its uncomplicated structure will be its strength. A song like this has many miles to travel before it gets old and tired; it will certainly endure for far more than a minute..
Seán Laffey