THE Cathair na Mart branch of Comhaltas Ceoltórí Éireann is hosting a two day Féile to commemorate aspects of Mayo’s culture and heritage, including music, language and folklore.
This annual event is centred round the figure of John McGrath from Erris, a famous composer, fiddle player and teacher of Irish music. McGrath’s contribution to Irish traditional music is largely forgotten by the general public and remembered mostly by the older generation of Irish musicians.
A study of the 78 rpm record recordings from the late 1920s will reveal a substantial body of music not previously recorded nor to be found in the dance music collections of the time, e.g. O’Neill’s Music of Ireland and the Roche Collection of Traditional Irish Music.
The conventional wisdom is that these new tunes were largely the creations of the performers – despite the obvious similarities and patterns in the tunes that point in the direction of a single composer. However, there is strong evidence that the Sligo fiddle masters who dominated the 78 rpm recording era, namely Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran and Paddy Sweeney, did not compose music and that several of the classic dance tunes of that period can, in fact, be reliably attributed to John McGrath from Rossport in Co Mayo, who dedicated his life to the promotion of Irish music from the time of his arrival in New York in 1928 until his death there in 1955.
While McGrath is still celebrated in America as one of the great fiddle masters, and perhaps the outstanding music teacher of the period, his importance as a composer has received little or no attention even though his extraordinary creativity made him one of the most sought-after musicians in New York. Not only did he write down unusual settings of standard tunes, but also he was probably unique among Irish traditional musicians in that he composed on demand.
The Cathair na Mart branch of Comhaltas feels this project gives a special opportunity to present the aims and objectives of CCÉ to a new generation and to re-brand Mayo culture in a new and exciting way, and that this strategy can be used as a model for the revival of local and regional styles in music, dance and language. Details of programme will follow next week.