OUTSIDE THE BOX Renowned Mayo musician David Munnelly, whose interviews document Irish music and folklore in Mayo during the pandemic.
Over the past six months, Mayo musician David Munnelly has been immersed in a rich and cultural project, documenting some of the many characters involved in traditional Irish music and folklore across the county of Mayo, interviewing both established and new talent within the artform.
The result is Stór Ceoil Mhaigh Eo, an exploration of Ireland’s rich song, music and storytelling traditions, among the richest of its cultural resources. The project is comprised of eleven one-hour interviews by Belmullet-born button-accordion player and composer Munnelly, a series that will ultimately culminate in a documentary film by celebrated Westport-based photographer and filmmaker Michael McLaughlin.
Munnelly is intent on providing a valuable record in an ever-changing cultural landscape, a musical snapshot revealing how the county’s creative musical minds are responding to the world around them, as well as to the music that has gone before. “The landscape of traditions is changing,” he says, “this includes the physical and linguistic landscape, in addition to the landscape of music, song and the imagination. Music and song are fundamental elements of folklore, just as folklore is a fundamental element of music and song.”
His interviews engage Mayo’s finest musicians, discussing their influences, the changing world of Irish music and its legacy, along with how County Mayo has shaped their work. Featured artists include Diarmaid Gielty (fiddle), Gráinne Hambly (harp), Joe Byrne (flute), John McNamara (singer/storyteller) and Mary Staunton (accordion).
The project is supported by both Creative Ireland Mayo and the Linenhall Arts Centre and will be shared via the Linenhall Arts Centre social media pages over eleven weeks.
“This is a crucial time to investigate and record the changing landscape of Irish traditional music, as the past year has been unprecedented for artists across the globe,” says Linenhall Arts Centre Director, Bernadette Greenan. “Despite the challenges, artists have continued to work, create and inspire, us and David is capturing a period of time that will long be remembered in Mayo’s musical history, due to its impact on the artform.”
The first of the recordings features Joe Byrne. It will be released this Thursday, January 21, at 8pm on the Linenhall’s Facebook Page and YouTube Channel, and will then be made available on a purpose-built website for archival purposes.
Lifetime of music
Multi-award-winning box player David Munnelly, dubbed the ‘The Bullet from Belmullet’, was born into a musical family and grew up surrounded by music. Widely regarded as one of the most influential Irish accordion players of his generation, he has played with legendary Irish bands De Dannan and The Chieftains.
He also fronts The David Munnelly Band (with Shane McGowan on guitar and Joseph McNulty on fiddle), which formed in 1999 by David after a suggestion from a very good friend, who loved the idea of the three individual styles coming together and playing music that sounded very natural to all three musicians. This diverse union proved a winning combination, allowing them to ‘weave in and out of different musical styles while [remaining] firmly rooted in the earthy tones of Irish traditional music … with every member bringing their own unique stamp to the overall sound’ (davidmunnelly.com).
In 1999, Munnelly, who specialises in Irish and world music, also recorded his debut solo CD, entitled ‘Swing’. He has since gone on to record a slew of respected albums, both solo and collaborative. A huge advocate of the innovation that collaboration generate, he has contributed to many national and international projects. Among the most interesting of his recent is Accordion Samuri, which sees him join forces with fellow exponents of the squeezebox in Europe, Riccardo Tesi (Tuscany/Italy), Markku Lepistö (Finland), Kepa Junkera (Basque Country/Spain) and Simone Bottasso (Northern Italy).
A poet’s take
Another online gem can also be found on The Linenhall’s website, and it’s well worth checking out. ‘Áthas Tógálach’/‘Infectious Delight’ is a beautiful new spoken-word short film from bilingual poet, writer and television presenter Ciara Ní É. Separate to Munnelly’s project, it was specially commissioned by the Linenhall Arts Centre and filmed before Christmas.
The poem, recited by Ní É, is a celebration of all the ways in which 2020 has enriched us despite all it has taken away, and about finding hope in the face of the continued uncertainty we face in 2021. Inspired by the birth of her niece Laoise the previous December, the poet reminds us about the cyclical nature of life, whereby renewal follows hardship.
“I took this opportunity to write about Laoise, my little niece who gave us all hope during this bleak year,” Ní É explains. “She is the first of that generation and is a gorgeous influence on our family dynamic. The video shows her first birthday, and we used old home videos of my family too. So much changes, and so much doesn’t.”
For more information, see www.thelinenhall.com. Recent content can also be viewed on the arts centre’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/c/LinenhallArtsCentreCastlebar/videos.