THIS week we’re taking a spin across the Galway border but the topic that fuels this particular journey is close enough to home to justify the ramble. And a fascination with the power of the voice never fails to syphon the attention of SOTB.
It was while travelling home a while back with The Wednesday Night Late Show on Mid West Radio for company, and Michael Commins churning away in Ballyhaunis, when I first encountered the dulcet tones of Ann Kirrane from Tuam. In my humble opinion her rendition of ‘Swanee River’ is as fine a version of the Stephen Foster classic as you could hear.
One thing to make an unknown song your own, but Ann has done it with an old well-worn standard.
Ann is a native of Bellharbour in County Clare and comes from a family steeped in music. Her father, Chris Droney, is one of the most highly-respected concertina players in Ireland. The Droney family are farming people, and music sessions still celebrate the completion of annual chores like threshing the corn or saving of the hay.
Ann learned her trade at the knee of the masters like her father and her grandfather Jim, Tommy Peoples and Paddy Mullins of the famous Kilfenora Ceili Band. She won the All-Ireland Fleadh Ceóil three times playing the concertina.
Taking up a position with the Ulster Bank was Ann’s road to Tuam. She recalls her first meeting with Branch Manager, Seán Smith, inquiring did she fish or sing. They were Sean’s favoured passions and Ann’s singing ability led to her to Tuam’s Marian Choral Society.
Ann’s husband Noël Kirrane was of Ballindine stock and synonymous with music in this region. His mother Nan hails from Murrisk outside Westport (she’s one of the Gills of Thorn Hill) and she is still alive and well. Noël’s passing at a young age following a short illness in 2008 has left a void that will not be easily filled.
Noël had a simple maxim that you need to be a sensitive person to fully appreciate music.
He gave his time in sharing his gift with many musical troupes. Never one to take a bow or court the limelight, Noël’s satisfaction was in seeing others, be it his pupils in St Jarlath’s College or amateur performers on stage, developing their talent and giving of their best.
That was encore enough for Noël Kirrane’s and he modestly eschewed adulation, applause and awards.
Noël was Musical Director with Ballinrobe Musical Society for fifteen years and his final show was their production of Titanic – The Musical. Poignantly enough, as events unfolded, his last baton was wielded directing the singing of ‘We’ll Meet Tomorrow’ in that production. A few years later Ann kept the Kirrane link with Ballinrobe alive when she took to the stage in Come the Dawn.
Through the cajoling of musicians like Gary Quinn, Dave Curley, Ronan Greene, and Mike Stewart, she got involved in traditional music sessions in Tuam again. Those gatherings were the catalyst for Ann to record her debut album One Small Star, produced by Séamie O’Dowd at Kenny Ralph’s Sun Street Studios in Tuam.
It’s a lovely mix of different musical styles and with Ann’s brilliant treatment of every song, it’s a must include for any half-decent record collection. Her alluring and fetching voice transports the listener on a beautiful musical journey.
It’s also a family affair as her daughter Áine is backing vocalist and did musical arrangement on ‘Down to the River’.And for concertina playing she had the genius of her dad Chris Droney to call on, and a few prayers from mum, Margaret, to give it the official blessing.
The album is dedicated to the fond memory of her husband Noël and is a fitting tribute to a great man and a renowned musical genius. Noël will give it full volume on the veranda of Heaven.
Ann Kirrane plans a Mayo launch for her CD and already its popularity is affording it regular airplay on local radio stations. The Belle of Bellharbour is a bright Tuam star too. Gold is where you find it.