Book: Cyril Maguire (with transcriptions by Sharon Creasey)
Fermanagh Traditional Music Society; paperback; 180 pages; 2003
CD: Fermanagh Traditional Music Society – no catalogue number; 48 minutes; 2003
It is almost eighteen years since the publication of Here is a Health, Seán Corcoran’s classic collection of songs and dance music from County Fermanagh and now, when least expected along come two new collections almost simultaneously.
While Musical Traditions has just released its double CD collection, The Hardy Sons of Dan (collated by Keith Summers in the late 1970s and early 1980s), Hidden Fermanagh is a similarly expansive publication, consisting of a 180-page A4-size illustrated book and a related CD of new recordings, the latter tantalisingly subtitled Volume 1.
While Keith’s collection largely focused on the eastern shores of Lough Erne Hidden Fermanagh provides a neat complement, concentrates on the music and songs of just two small areas to the west of the waterway: Derrygonnelly, northwest of Enniskillen, where the repertoires of Eddie Duffy and Mick Hoy gained an international currency thanks to both Cathal McConnell’s solo albums and his work with The Boys of the Lough; and Derrylin, south of Enniskillen, where the fiddler John McManus remains an equally strong influence.
Cathal is very much at the centre of Hidden Fermanagh (indeed the whole project sprang from his initial idea) and one of the book’s four chapters is devoted to an interview with the flute-player and singer. John McManus and his wife Valerie are the subject of the initial chapter where the fiddler’s musical versatility and dry humour are equally apparent (some great story-telling here too), while a third chapter is devoted to the local song tradition. The fourth recounts the story of The Gunn Book, an important manuscript of more than one hundred and seventy tunes compiled during the mid-nineteenth century by one of McManus’s ancestors, John Gunn.
Transcriptions of several of those tunes appear in the second half of the book alongside other examples of the local musical and song repertoires, providing a solid equilibrium to the richness of text, eloquence of the subjects and superb monochrome photographs which precede.
In contrast, the CD is somewhat disappointing. Although all the featured songs and tunes also appear as transcriptions in the book (a boon to anyone wishing to learn them), some of the tracks are swamped by too much accompaniment. The effect, ultimately, as on Milltown Lasses/Lady Gardener’s Troop (where one fiddle is accompanied a far too prominent guitar) is to diminish the tune’s impact and draw attention away from the lead instrument.
At least, for the most part, the songs, such as Gabriel McArdle’s I Have Travelled This Country and Annie McKenzie’s Kate from Ballinamore, are delivered unaccompanied and there’s the utter joy of hearing Valerie and John McManus sing what must be their family’s anthem, Pat Gunn’s Boat.
Both the book and CD are available directly from the Fermanagh Traditional Music Society and the price of only £12 for the former offers ready accessibility to the delights of Fermanagh’s music and musicians.
This review by Geoff Wallis was written for fRoots magazine – www.frootsmag.com.