The old forms and customs too are becoming obliterated, the festivals are unobserved and the rustic festivities neglected or forgotten; the of bowlings, the cakes and prinkums (the peasantsí balls and routs), do not often take place when starvation and pestilence stalk over a country, many parts of which appear as if a destroying army had but recently passed through it.
Sir William Wilde, 1853
West Clare was among the areas hardest hit. The devastion was so great that it is difficult to imagine that any vestige of its culture could survive the famine. But, survive it did, although its traditional music and dance was transformed in the process.
A dramatic fall in population, combined with the economic decline of the old landowners and mass evictions, led to farms consolidating into larger units, which, when combined with various Land Acts, helped create a class of small farmers who could derive an income through raising cattle. Although their incomes were modest, particularly in areas of poor land such as west Clare, they were largely self-sufficient and had some time to pursue leisure pastimes. This promoted the rise in popularity of home music-making, as farming families were able to buy cheap mass-produced instruments such as concertinas, fiddles and melodeons. where previously, dancing had been largely an outdoor activity during the summer months, the new farmhouses were ideal for dancing and enabled year-round family social activities. The popular long and circle dances that could involve a dozen or more couples were replaced by set dances which, with only two or four couples, were ideal for the country kitchen.
‘Music in a Breeze of Wind’ explores the explosion of music and dance in the country houses of west Clare from the last decades of the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century when another shift in Ireland’s economic circumstances changed the pattern yet again. It portrays the lives of some of the prominent musical families of the region, many of who became household names during the renaissance of Irish music in the 1950s.
Barry Taylor was born in Manchester, England in 1944 and first became interested in Irish music through involvement in folk clubs in Manchester in the 196os. A move to London in 1969 brought him into Contact with many musicians from west Clare. He first visited west Clare in 1975 to attend fiddle classes conducted by John Kelly at the Willie Clancy Summer School. In 1993, he presented the Breandén Breathnach Memorial Lecture on the fiddle player Junior Crehan before the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson. He has written many articles on Irish music and his study of Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, A Touchstone for the Tradition, with photographer Tony Kearns, was published in 2003. Since 2001, Barry and Jacqueline Taylor have made their home in Cooraclare, Co. Clare. Barry plays fiddle, banjo and Concertina.
© Barry Roy Taylor, 2013/First published by Barry Taylor, 2013
Designed by Jeroen Bos, Artvaark Design, Doonbeg, Co. Clare www.artvaark-design.com
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