Videos of the early Galway session scene

Videos of the early Galway session scene

There are some great videos of the craic around the Galway session scene in the eighties on Johnny Finn’s new youtube channel (a number of videos feature his late brother Mickey). It should come with a health warning, not for the faint of heart.

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Found this great description of Mickey on someone’s personal blog:

One of the first places that I visited after leaving the family in Mayo was Galway. County Galway sat just to the north of Mayo, and Galway Town was the center of it. I checked into the hostel outside of town and asked warden where a good place to go hear some real Irish music was. She said, "Well, you’ll want to go the the cellar, and if you can get a seat and if Mickey Finn shows up and if he doesn’t get too drunk you’ll hear some of the best fiddle music in the world. Get there early though — it’s hardly a secret". Intrigued by her answer I took the bus into town with a couple of folks I’d met at the hostel.

The Cellar was a noted bar in town and (strangely) it was located on the second floor of a block of shops. We arrived just after dinner, but the place was already quite full. We found a spot against the wall, got pints and waited. As the sun was going down outside the windows and around the time we were giving up on anything beyond another night at the pub there was an increase in the amount of murmuring in the room and someone near us pointed out that Mickey Finn had arrived. I looked over toward the entrance to see a very thin, very unhealthy looking old man shuffling into the room. He was dressed in filthy clothes that hung on his wiry frame, his hair was dirty, though neatly combed, and his face was obscured by a wildly long, dark beard that hung halfway down his chest. On closer inspection I realized that he was probably no more than 50, but was worn from years of hard living. He was accompanied by another man who looked like a younger version of himself and who carried a worn guitar case and a pitifully worn fiddle case.

Mickey was obviously known by a lot of people at the bar, and I could also tell they had great respect for him. He stood and talked with his admirers while sipping glasses of straight whiskey. As he started his sixth whiskey I figured this would be one of those nights he got too drunk to play, and I went back to talking with the group I arrived with. About half an hour later a hush suddenly fell over the room and I turned to see that Mickey now had placed his fiddle under his chin, nearly losing the lower half of it in his immense unkempt beard, and was apparently about to play. With no announcement the room had gone suddenly silent as a concert hall.

I don’t know how long he played for, but it seemed like just a moment (though it must have been over an hour). He did not play the quick reels that I had been hearing up until that point, but rather, he played with a slow, melancholy tone such that each note seemed to shimmer and dance off of his fiddle as he played. I don’t think I was ever so transported in listening to music as I was that night. It was not the Guinness, it was the old man and his fiddle. Someone in the crowd later commented that this must be the music they listened to in heaven.

—Brian Cechony

Re: Videos of the early Galway session scene

I heard Mickey playing in a pub in Galway at Easter 1978.

His music was mesmeric. He was playing the normal fastish stuff then, but his melody was alive with continuous variations and subtle inflections - as if it never, ever, quite repeated itself: obviously I’m over 30 years on and don’t remember *that* much, but I don’t think I’m far wrong in saying this. I think his was, actually, the most astounding fiddle playing I have ever heard - not in the sense of pyrotechnics, but in his fathoming of the music latent in every tune.

He played with a lilting rhythm, and held his bow not by the handle but somewhere in the middle.

When I saw him he was definitely the worse for wear - it didn’t affect his playing though - and it was clearly a grave and long-term problem, not just a case of a few jars now and then.


(I tried to get the You-Tube, but my ‘puter’s playing up as ever so I can’t.)

Re: Videos of the early Galway session scene

Listen to the documentary

First broadcast 26th September 2007.

Repeated 9th March 2008.

Mickey Finn was born in Callan, Co Kilkenny in 1951 and died in Galway in 1985. He was a fiddle player. His life was short and had many of the elements of tragedy for Mickey Finn drank himself to death.

In ‘No Cure for Mickey Finn’ Finn’s life is remembered by his family and his wife, Lena Ulmann. In a sense Mickey Finn has not been forgotten, his image decorates many of the pubs in Galway to this day. He was a fine musician. His music was improvised and flamboyant. He was photogenic and became a legendary character in the Galway of that era. He was sharp-tongued and quick-witted. He busked on the streets, became part of an emergent music scene centred around the Cellar Bar; one that spawned Mary Coughlan, Sean Tyrell and De Danann.

The short life and death of Mickey Finn are emblematic to that time, a time when Galway began to expand; when people drank with no notion of the price that would one day be paid. ‘No Cure for Mickey Finn’, tells his story, the relentless search for alcohol, through the memories of his family and his wife. But this is also a programme about a time and place and about the symbiotic relationship between traditional music and alcohol and the consequent waste of this single life.

Producer: Peter Woods
Presenter: Joe Kearney

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This program is some pretty heavy stuff, didn’t mean to play the downer. A fine listen though.

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I just listened to it. Reminded me of the film ‘Leaving Los Vegas’, and
also it reminds me of the stories of Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix and
maybe Mozart.

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i`ve seen mickey finn described in the contribution by brian cechony here as being about 50 but looking older at a gig in galway….he died a few years later in 1987 aged 35!