From Galway to Dublin:

Early Recordings of Traditional Irish Music


Rounder CD 1087; 77 minutes; 1993


Milestone at the Garden:

Irish Fiddle Masters from the 78 RPM Era


Rounder CD 1123; 76 minutes; 1996


Apart from regularly reviewing new releases, one of the functions of The Irish Music Review is to draw attention to recordings which should comprise an essential element of anyone’s collection. Two unquestionable components of such should be these two compilation albums produced by Dick Spottswood and Philippe Varlet in the 1990s.


Of course, there are many similar collections available, including Reg Hall’s splendid compilations for the Topic label such as Round the House and Mind the Dresser, but these two albums are equally worthy of attention.


The first, From Galway to Dublin, takes its title from the opening track, a novelty song recorded by Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band in 1929, and its cover features a striking photograph of the fiddler Neillidh Boyle outside his cottage near Dungloe, Co. Donegal whose set of the hornpipe and reel Harvest Home and The Green Mountain, recorded in 1937, appears as track number nine. Indeed those tracks reveal the breadth of the compilation which also features songs popularised by Delia Murphy, Murty Rabbett, Paddy Beades, James Mullan, Frank Quinn and John Griffin, as well as a welter of fine fiddlers (Paddy Killoran, James Morrison, Paddy Sweeney and Denis Murphy). There are also several tracks of uilleann piping, accordion and flute music and, unusually for the times, a piano solo by Eleanor Kane dating from 1935.


If there has to be a quibble then it lies in the accuracy of the album’s subtitle. Denis Murphy’s set of reels was recorded in Dublin in 1959 and uilleann piper Tommy Reck’s hornpipes in 1950. Neither could possibly fall within the meaning of said subtitle, but nonetheless two such graceful players are always worth hearing.


In contrast to the above, Milestone at the Garden (again the title comes from the opening track, a reel played by James Morrison) is far more specific in its coverage, relying almost entirely upon 78rpm recordings, though again there are exceptions. There is another Denis Murphy track from 1959, leading one to wonder whether the producers and/or Rounder had sought approval from Gael Linn before using it, since it, the previously mentioned track on From Galway to Dublin and another here, Seán Ryan’s The Dash to Portobello and Paddy Canny’s Garret Barry’s, were all released as 78s and would still have been under copyright in 1996 at the time of the album’s release – no mention of Gael Linn’s approval is included in the liner notes. The exceptions come in the form of two tracks by Louis E. Quinn and James ‘Lad’ O’Beirne (from Ed Reavy’s private collection), a Copley 45rpm release of Seán McGuire and an acetate demo of Sligo fiddler Kathleen Harrington.


Whatever the case regarding provenance Milestone at the Garden remains a basket of delights, not least in the shape of Paddy Cronin’s wonderfully enthused playing of The Doon Reel/Quinn’s Reel which, had it been a chocolate, would instantly acquire the adjective ‘moorish’! The album is also to be valued for its inclusion of fiddlers whose names are nowadays less familiar than the acclaimed Sligo trio (Coleman, Killoran, Morrison), such as Frank O’Higgins, Packie Dolan and John Howard. Additionally, there’s a rare opportunity to hear a side from one of Donegal fiddler Danny O’Donnell’s 78s which have rarely appeared on any similar compilations.


Both albums feature extremely detailed liner booklets detailing not only the date of recording, when known, providing background information on the musicians and the tunes. The quality of the remastering is exceptional, even if it is well nigh impossible to eradicate the hiss produced by the early ‘acoustic’ recordings.


Geoff Wallis


10th April, 2006



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