August 18, 2005

Fiddling in Feakle: Irish music is cool in Clare

By Michael Roddy

FEAKLE (Reuters) - Wayne Webster wandered along the only
street in the tiny village of Feakle in western Ireland,
clutching his fiddle and looking for a place to play.

It was after midnight and the catchy rhythms of traditional
music spilled out of the town's four pubs, but there was barely
elbow room anywhere, let alone space for another fiddle.

"You can't even get into a pub, let alone a session,"
lamented Webster, a retired American teacher.

Irish traditional music, with its hint of American
country-western and links to the music of Scotland and
Brittany, has gone through periods of being out of favor, even

But these days, the Irish blend of toe-tapping reels, jigs,
shanties and hornpipes, wistful airs and haunting tunes, played
with pipes, flutes, fiddles, concertinas, guitar, mandolin and
the bodhran -- a goat-skin drum held with one hand and played
with a stick -- pops up everywhere.

Fans flocked to Feakle in County Clare earlier this month
for the town's International Traditional Music Festival.

"This is No. 18 and it's getting frightening, it's so
successful," said organizer Gary Pepper.

"There's an influx of thousands of people and they're
coming back year after year...It's unreal to see all the
musicians in bars ... playing here and there and everywhere."

Louise O'Connell, a teacher from Cork, watched her friends
tear through jigs and reels outside Pepper's Bar.

"You could meet an awful lot of people who would say
they're not into it," O'Connell said, adding that she would
probably have been in a disco if her friends had not dragged
her along.

"But I'd say that you would also meet a lot of people now
who would say it's not uncool."


The crowds of professional musicians, amateurs, tourists
and locals packing Feakle's pubs would certainly agree.

Thanks in part to the enormous success of Irish dance
extravaganzas like "Riverdance" and "Lord of the Dance," which
have been seen by tens of millions of spectators, Irish
traditional music, or trad music, is enjoying a renaissance.

Trad musicians cross the globe and wherever there's an
Irish-themed pub, there's a good chance of hearing Irish music.

"Irish music is no longer something that just happens in
Ireland, it's not even something the Irish own, no more than
the Jamaicans own reggae," said Martin Hayes, born into a
family of musicians in Feakle and now one of the world's top
interpreters and innovators of the Irish fiddle.

Hayes, who got his first fiddle aged 7, wowed a sell-out
concert audience at the festival with a medley that came to a
heart-stopping climax then carried on for another 15 minutes,
his curly locks shaking madly as he played.

Jeroen Hoogeveen, 33, who works at a flower auction in the
Netherlands, traveled to Feakle to hear Hayes, improve his
fiddle technique and immerse himself in music.

"For me, it's music without selfishness, it's from the
heart and from life and you feel it and you get it," he said.

Feakle isn't the only town in Ireland using music to woo
visitors. Doolin, near the dramatic Cliffs of Moher in west
Clare, is renowned for nightly trad sessions in its pubs.

Festivals like Feakle offer amateurs a chance to rub
shoulders with professionals at concerts and workshops.

But farmer Mark Donnellan, 29, who plays fiddle at Pepper's
Bar in Feakle every Wednesday, thinks there is also another
reason why more and more people are rediscovering Irish music,
some after giving it up during adolescence.

"It's probably harder to meet people through the more
conventional methods," he said. "There are always nice people
around Irish music."