Connolly humbled to return home for the Fleadh

Connolly humbled to return home for the Fleadh


Seamus Connolly with his nephew Damien in session.
Seamus Connolly with his nephew Damien in session.

‘From Clare to here’ is a very popular ballad about Irish emigration but for Seamus Connolly, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann Inis 2016 gave him the opportunity to return to his home County.

A native of Killaloe, Seamus emigrated to America in 1972 as part of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s first tour of North America. He first settled in New England and then upped sticks to Conneticut where he stayed for a couple of months before relocating to his now home in Boston.

Seamus was one of the featured artists of the Fidil Beo Series which ran each lunchtime as part of the Fleadh in Ennis. In fact his lunchtime concert drew the biggest attendance of the whole series. The world renowned fiddler told The Clare Herald how humbled he was to be asked to come home for the Fleadh.

“I haven’t been at a Fleadh Cheoil for twenty six years and living in America to be asked to come back to the Fleadh in Ennis was a deep wonderful honour and I was humbled that Micheál Ó Riabhaigh would invite me back so it was wonderful to be back and be involved in the Fleadh Cheoil and to see how well that the concert went, it was an amazing crowd, it was the largest crowd that they had for the noon time concerts”.

For the concert he played alongside his brother Martin, nephew Damien and his wife Sally plus their son Colmán. It brought his mind back to times of old when he played beside Martin at home. Indeed it was the first time they all played on the one stage together.

“To have the opportunity to play back at home if you like here in Clare with my brother Martin and his son Damien and his son Colmán and Damien’s wife Sally was just a treat, I never get that chance in America because I’m a long way away from Damien over two hundred miles, to get the chance to play in my home county was just amazing, playing with them was just like growing up at home when I played with Martin and played with my family, there was that very much a musical connection and bond so I felt that playing with them and it was just great to be there and to see the audience reaction and humbled by the amount of people that would show up to see us so that was just great”.

He reveals that he didn’t have to think long and hard when asked by Micheál Ó Riabhaigh to come back for the festival. “Why would I hesitate? I was honoured that they would think of me because I’m gone a long time and there’s a lot of new young great musicians playing music now, time and distance makes an awful change in people’s lives and everything changes we all change aswell so I’m sure there’s thousands of young people out there that would not have even heard of me or my music so to get an opportunity to be able to come back and play some of the older style music was nice for me. It was great to be able to let even if there wasn’t a lot of young people in the audience to let the older audiences hear the older music, I think they liked to hear it”.

Seamus & Damien Connolly.
Seamus & Damien Connolly.

It’s been twenty six years since Connolly attended a Fleadh and he’s noticed some changes in the meantime. “It was lovely to see the young people playing, that was one of the big changes that I saw in the twenty six years, the whole event to me seemed very much a wonderful family affair, I took particular notice of younger people even though they weren’t musicians but just young children playing in the hotel altogether, they weren’t from the same families but they mixed in together and that was a delightful thing to see that it’s now very much a family event and the committees are to be complemented on that”.

Special praise is given to Micheál Ó Riabhaigh and his team by the musician who says the event made him proud of where he comes from. “It wasn’t the kind of Fleadh that I had remembered being so long away but things change and we all change and we have to go along with the changes if we don’t we’ll be left behind, the committee under Micheál Ó Riabhaigh are to be complemented for the work that they did, very professional an undertaking, I was very proud to be part of it as a Clareman”.

In 2013 Seamus was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts which is the highest honour the US government can grant to a traditional artist. It’s a sign of the respect the Americans have for the man from East Clare. “I got the Ellis Island Gold medal in 2013 for my contribution to the arts in America and then I got the highest honour in the nation ‘The National Endowment for the Arts’, a national scholarship and we were all in Boston and I got a letter from President Higgins which is framed we had a wonderful night in the Ambassador’s Residence in Boston and I got a letter from the United States President Barack Obama so that was the highest honour for my contribution to the arts in America so that was humbling and I was really delighted to get it”.

Ennis will once again host the Fleadh in 2017. Will Seamus be flying back in twelve months? “I haven’t been asked yet” he laughed. “This one is just over so I’m heading back tomorrow to Scotland the week after next, I was over in Italy for a few weeks, it’s great being retired you can do all of these things and it gives me an opportunity to meet musicians from different parts of the world and when I was at the Fleadh I met some of my old friends like John Ball from Birr who lives in London a wonderful accordion player, Brendan Mulcaire from London he lives in Crusheen now in the old family home but Brendan taught so much music in London there’s hundreds of kids he put through his hands, meeting these people was wonderful for me at the Fleadh Cheoil and that was one of the highlights too to be able sit and talk to my friends that I’ve known from the past so that’s what the Fleadh gives you an opportunity to do”.

During our conversation Seamus mentioned that he was sure thousands of young people that wouldn’t have heard of him or his music. If you fall into this category it would worth your while to look him up!