The physical characteristics of the Inishowen Peninsula have resulted in the music being quite unique. Inishowen’s close proximatey to Scotland meant that much of the movement of people was more acessable by sea than land. Among the older muisicians the influenece of Scottish music is widely heard, and married with the great Northern music tradition of Tyrone and Sligo can be heard.
The music was very much associated with dancing and so the repertoire served this purpose. Listening tunes were confined to airs marches and popular tunes of the day.
Over recent decades traditional music in Inishowen has become much less associated with dancing and so has developed a broader repertoire, the playing style changing through teaching and through the influence of the broader community of musicians being heard today.
The most popular outlet for performance is the session although the house gatherings involving music song and dance is still part of our culture. In Inishowen traditional music has always sat comfortably alongside contemporary music and most music sessions will include singing of traditional folk songs and contemporary songs.
ITMP is working to maintain the connection between music song and dance
Earliest noted musicians
Carndonagh Cross dates back to the late sixth century A.D and eveident on the west face of the North Pillar beside the cross now faded in the stone is a craving of a harper. This would signify the importance of this to the people of the time.
Other references to early harp music in Inishowen are to be found in ‘The Last of the Name’ where Charles Mc Glinchey refers to the poet Seán Mac an Meirge Doherty who lived at Keenagh Malin and a decendent of this Doherty clan was a harper described “as a great harper, the best in Ireland”. Denis Hempson also studied under the harper carragher who resided for a time at Buncrana Castle.
Mael Iosa O’Brolchain, a monk associated with Both Chonais (Carrowmore near Culdaff) composed many religious poems and hymns. One of these hymns ‘Deus Meus’ written in Gaelige and Latin was composed at the beginning of the last milennium is still performed to this day.
Music in Inshowen during the 1900s
Among the tunes commonly played throughout Inishowen were tunes for dances popular in the area such the Lancers, Highlands, Four-Hand Reel, Military Two-Step, Barn Dance, Haymakers’ Jig, Lannigan’s Ball, Maggie Pickins, Shoe the Donkey, the Polka Round and the Pin Polka. Other dances included old-fashioned waltzes termed the Versovienna and the Veleta. Solo pieces, songs and recitations would be performed as well as step dances, generally hornpipes, performed by men. Another favourite was the Cripple Dance, a dance performed in a squatting position by men in competition with each other. It was danced to the reel ‘The Swallow’s Tail’ known locally as ‘The Bonnie Fair of Carn’. The Stack of Barley, Showmans Fancy, Maggie Pickens, and Garden of Daises. Musicians who came to the area also influenced the people and their music bringing new tunes. The influence of Scottish music was very strong during the early 1900s this was because of the close prominity to Scotland, publications that were available locally. As Inishowen borders Derry many publications were bought to gain information on how to read music or to learn the music made popular on radio at that time.
The Clonmany area has a strong musicial tradition. A noted musician in the Clonmany area up until his passing in the 1920s was the blind fiddler Paddy Kelly who played at many local house dances. Another fiddler influential in the music of Clonmany was Neily McColgan, a blind fiddler from Ballyliffen. When not entertaining on pleasure boat trips on the Foyle or boat trips to Scotland, Neily was called upon to play for big events in the community. Travelling musicians by the name of McGinley and Gallagher were frequent visitors to the area as well as Pat McDonald and the famous Doherty brothers.