Connolly’s collection is the first of its kind

Séamus Connolly & Patricia McDermott at the 2014 Fleadh Nua in Ennis. Pic: Martin Connolly

Killaloe native Séamus Connolly has released a groundbreaking digital collection of Irish music.

A world renowned fiddler, Séamus’ collection which was launched by Boston College Libraries signifies vibrancy and constancy of traditional Irish music. A retired Sullivan Family Artist-in-Residence, he has been a teacher and scholar at Boston College for a quarter-century.

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Audio recordings of more than three hundred and thirty tunes and songs are presented in the Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music. Featured musicians include Liz Carroll, Kevin Burke, Matt Cranitch, Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford, Rita Gallagher, Paddy Glackin, Liz Knowles, Charlie Lennon, Tony McMahon, Tommy Peoples plus Connolly himself. Many of the recordings have never been heard before.

Project organizers note the collection links three generations of musicians and pays tribute to those in previous generations who kept the tradition alive. The collection is also a testament to the perseverance of its namesake, who for years collected and organized the materials for publication to bring the vision to life.

Speaking to The Clare Herald, Séamus stated that it was the first project of its kind. “Nothing like that has been done before to have over three hundred tracks of music and song up there which is free to download, some of the great musicians my colleagues and friends recorded all of these tunes, many of them living in Ireland and a number of them living in the United States people like Martin Hayes, Kevin Burke, Finbar Dwyer, Joanie Madden, Gerry O’Sullivan, my brother Martin did some tracks for me and my nephew Damien did some of his own compositions so it’s a very big undertaking that I’m very proud to present to the world and everybody can learn these tunes.

“I think it will make a wonderful addition to the world of music and will be helpful educationally to the young people aswell to learn these tunes, some of them have gone out of favour if you like, they were tunes that I knew my colleagues would have known and once they got to play them I think they will begin to circulate again and will be enjoyed by the younger and even the older generation of musicians, I’m very proud of it and proud to be associated with Boston College presenting it too”.

During the first two weeks after the website went live, according to University Libraries, the audio tracks on SoundCloud were streamed some 12,000 times, with more than 1,300 downloads. Users from the Dominican Republic, Germany, Brazil, Turkey and Sweden were among those visiting the site during that period.

As Irish traditional music has grown in popularity around the globe, numerous archives and resources have been made available online. But the Connolly Collection is a unique window into the life and career of the ten-time All-Ireland fiddle champion and the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship as well as a Faculty Award from the BC Arts Council. The recordings and other materials reflect many of the friendships he has cultivated throughout and even beyond the Irish music world, and evoke countless stories, anecdotes and musings associated with the music tradition.

For example, in 1990 Connolly recorded a fiddler and accordionist named Eddie Kelly playing a jig at an impromptu session. When Kelly finished, he asked “Is it any good Séamus?” Connolly subsequently used that query as a title for the tune. Manus McGuire, a fiddler from County Sligo who has been a member of several outstanding bands, recorded the tune for the collection.

When he first embarked on the project fifteen years ago, Connolly intended to perform and record 100 tunes with special meanings for him, selected from his private archives. The project expanded and progressed thanks to the generosity of fellow musicians who offered to perform and record some of these tunes for the project.

Along the way, however, Séamus was beset by a series of tragedies. First was the loss of his wife Sandy, who despite battling cancer had played a critical role in many aspects of the project, and then his son, Darragh. Another blow was the death of John McGann, a longtime friend and collaborator who had been working with Connolly to transcribe the source recordings.

Following a hiatus, with the encouragement of family members and friends, he resumed the project but found that the advent of digital technology had complicated music publishing. A conversation with University Librarian Thomas Wall convinced him that the collection could move forward, using technology to reach a broader audience.

To visit the Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music, click here.

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