Gleann Cholm Cille is a remarkable locale
with plenty of ways to spend your time. We have gathered
together some information for you and hope you enjoy
your time in Glen.
Gleann Cholm Cille and its music
There is a long and vibrant fiddling tradition in South West Donegal. It is
particularly strong and rich in Gleann Cholm Cille. In the early 1900s, there
was, it is said, a fiddle in every house in the townland of Mín na Croise!
The local style is fast and attacking with little ornamentation. It may be
heard throughout the year at seisiúin in private houses, pubs, and Foras
Every year Cairdeas na bhFidléirí (www.donegalfiddlemusic.ie),
the Donegal Fiddlers' Society, holds a summer school in Gleann Cholm Cille
to celebrate this important part of local culture. In addition Cairdeas na
bhFidléirí, in association with Oideas Gael, has established
a traditional music archive in Foras Cultúir Uladh. The archive houses
a collection of photographs and recordings of south-west Donegal fiddlers.
Available on cd - Cairdeas na bhFidléirí - "The Fiddle Music
of Donegal" Vols 1, 2 & 3. MacAoidh, Caoimhin, "Between the Jigs
and the Reels" - The Donegal Fiddle Tradition.
Donegal fiddle players Con Cassidy from Teileann and James Byrne
from M ín na Croise, playing McFarley's Reel.
Mósaí Mac Fhionnlaoich
Born in th early 1800s, Mósaí had ten children, many of
whom became accomplished musicians; three of his sons, Muiris, Pádaí and
John were exceptionally fine fiddlers. His contemporaries considered
John Mhósaí to be the best fiddler of his generation. The
composer of such tunes as the Glen Road to Carrick, Tobaca Daor and
The Rambling Pony, he spent many years travelling through the northern
half of Ireland selling clothes and towards the end of his life, he travelled
around County Donegal selling fish and playing his fiddle. He died about
1920 and is buried in Gleann Cholm Cille.
James Byrne, Master Fiddler
James Byrne of Mín na Croise was considered to be one of the
most accomplished fiddlers in the country by his fellow musicians.
He recorded a solo album "The Road to Glenlough" (Claddagh
Records, CC52) and he also performed with Vincent Campbell, Con Cassidy
and Francie O'Byrne on "The Brass Fiddle" (Claddagh Records,
CC44) and with Con Cassidy on "Ó Bhun Shliabh Liag" (Forge
Brae, FBC 007). Sadly James Byrne passed away early November 2008 and
will be sorely missed.
James has left a wonderful legacy of music and fiddle playing within
his own family, and his music that he shared with fellow musicians from
all over the world.
Eunan McIntyre - Singer and Songwriter
Eunan McIntyre, born and raised in Gleann Cholm Cille area is the winner
of both the Sean McCarthy and Keadue International song-writing competitons,
as well as double winner in the highly respected Clonmany Songwriter
contest. Click here for more information
Eunan's albums include "All the Love You Bring", "Rathlin
Sky" and his latest album released early August 2007 "Blown
on a Breeze". Rathlin Sky by Eunan McIntyre, video by Máire McSorley
- Written and sung by Donegal singer/songwriter Eunan McIntyre. Eunan
commissioned Máire McSorley to make 11 short films illustrating
and interpreting the lyric of his songs. The DVD was released in November
In the early 1900s, the English composer Sir Arnold Baxe (1883-1953)
spent several years in Gleann Cholm Cille. He developed
a deep interest in Gaelic culture and, under the pen name Dermot O'Byrne,
several works inspired by his stay, including Sea-foam and Firelight (1910,
a collection of poems); Children of the Hills (1915,
a collection of short stories); and Red Owen (1919, a play). Bax, who
was appointed Master
of the King's Music in 1942, had a very high regard
for the travelling fiddlers, particularly Micí Mac Conaill. Years
later, he recalled how he had asked Micí, a deceptively rough-looking
man, to play An Chúilfhionn, a well-known slow air. 'After a few
bars he let his bow fall', wrote Bax, 'and with tears running down his
sobbed out, 'Arú, I can't play thon tune. It's too beautiful altogether'.
Still, it was local singers who made the deepest impression
on him. He lodged with Pádaí John Mac Niallais, a publican
and renowned singer. In his autobiography, he includes a touching picture
of the old
man, forgetting the songs that once came easily to
"When he was nearing his end and his memory beginning to fail I
once found him, with tears streaming from his rheumy light blue eyes. 'Och,
it's a poor thing to be old', he lamented. 'Sure there does
be music all through my head, and it rising up to the roof of the house
this minute, but I can't be minding it any more'."
Music and Travelling People
In the 1800s large groups of travelling people used to come to Gleann
Cholm Cille. Among them, there were master tin-smiths who made and mended
household goods known as pandaís, and highly accomplished musicians.
At times over forty of them would come together and they would stay for
over a month, making tin goods and playing music. Such was their love
of music, that they made tin fiddles for children to practise on. these
metal instruments were cheaper than the standard wooden fiddles and much
easier to mend if damaged! These travelling musicians were honoured guests
in houses throughout the county.
In the early 1900s a dispute arose between the Catholic curate and a
large group of travellers camped in the glen. The priest drove them out
of the area and they never came back in such numbers. Still, some families
continued to come, particularly those with an interest in music, most
notably the McConnells, Rourkes and Dohertys. They greatly enriched the
local repertoire and also helped to spread Gleann Cholm Cille tunes throughout
As time went by, however, plastic removed the demand for tin goods and
the decline of housedances ended the centuries-old tradition of travelling
musicians. By the 1970s few travellers continue to visit the area. They
have left their mark on the music of the glen, however, and their unique
tin fiddles are still in use.
It was once a proverb that in Donegal there was a fiddle in every house.
While many parts of Ireland have a wealth of traditional music, the music
of Donegal has certain unique features which set it apart from the rest.
The noted Tyrone harper Arthur O'Neill (1734-1818) mentioned in his memoirs
that in 1760 he was invited to a wedding in Ardara "without my harp,
for there were plenty of pipers and fiddlers".
In Donegal there is a long-standing tradition of duo fiddling. Instruments
such as the tin whistle, flute, concertina and accordion were very rare
in Donegal until modern times. Traditionally the píob mór
and the fiddle were the only instruments used. Also, there was a much
wider variety of social dance steps in common use there, so musicians
were required to play for mazurkas, Germans or barndances, lancers and
highlands in addition to the usual jigs, reels and hornpipes found elsewhere
in the country.
On a fair day in the early 1800s, a competition was held to establish
who was the best poet in southwest Donegal. Two poets, Eoghan Óg
Mac Niallais, of Ard an Rátha, and Séamas Ó Doroián,
of Cill Charthaigh, were put into separate rooms and each was told to
compose a song about a mountain in his own parish. Mac Niallais composed
a song praising An Maoineach while Ó Doroián's song praised
Sliabh Liag. The latter won. It is not known whether there was any prize
other than pride but both songs entered the regional repertoire and local
singers still perform them. If you would like to have a poem included
on the site please contact the Webmaster.
Like fiddling, traditional singing declined somewhat in the mid-1900s,
due largely to the cultural corrosion caused by high emigration.
In recent years, however, there has been a revival in singing. To encourage
this development, Oideas Gael,
supported by the Arts Council, holds a sean-nós - 'old style'
singing - workshop every summer. The leader of the workshop is Lillis Ó Laoire,
the first Ulsterman to win Corn Uí Riada, the most prestigious
prize for sean-nós singing in the Oireachtas. The origin of Irish
music can be found in the sean-nós singing tradition. It is a
highly ornamented, complex style featuring elastic rhythms and continuous
variation of a basic melody. Sean-nós singing is almost always
a solo art.
The local repertoire includes classic Ulster songs such as Doimnic Ó Dónaill,
Mal Dubh an Ghleanna, and An Seanduine Dóite. Among the popular
songs connected with the immediate area are Lá Chois Cuain, Cailíní deasa
Shrath Laoighill, Soitheach an Chamuis Mhóir and Bhí Mé Thiar
Interesting Music Links:
No Irish traditional band in the last dozen years has had a wider impact
on audiences and music lovers throughout the world than Altan. For more
information visit their site Altan www.altan.ie
Aidan Mullinder, firstname.lastname@example.org,
wrote a song about Glencolumbcille in 2001. There is a video clip of
it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtaTKkhPxIo.
Fiddle Lessons with Cairdeas na bhFidileiri
Explore the fiddle lessons section of the Cairdeas na bhFidileiri
Cairdeas na bhFidileiri present a number of lessons, given by a selection
of fiddle players who are active in teaching Donegal fiddle music.
If you find yourself particularly drawn to the teaching/playing of any
of the teachers in particular and would like to arrange
further lessons with a specific teacher, either in
person or by skype, you should make
contact with Cairdeas na bhFidileiri with your request
and they will pass it on to the relevant person.