I always listened to all kinds of music, and learned passable guitar in college, but always wanted to play fiddle after hearing Horslips King of the Fairies as a kid - it was the theme to ‘The Matcheless Mice’ on RTE in the late 1970’s. I heard plenty of sessions in Galway but thought trad was too impenetrable to attempt. Then about 10 years ago I had a weekend in Dingle, with the first Planxty album the only music listened to the whole trip. A while later I was looking at a CD of the Bothy Band in a friends house, saw mention of the Kesh Jig and Famous Ballymote; was living in Castlebaldwin, Carrowkeel, close to the Caves of Kesh and Ballymote, so I took it home for a listen. I was completely gobsmacked and decided, in my mid 30’s to have a go at the fiddle, went down to Grehan’s in Boyle the next day and brought a Chinese fiddle w / bow and case for €95.
I enrolled in the Drumshanbo VEC trad course in the Mayflower, and spent three years with Paddy Ryan, who, rather than teach how to play fiddle, taught tunes and the histories of the tunes and players. Three hours a day, four days a week, am still catching up on some of the tunes he gave us during that time. I was really lucky to be sitting between Annie Perry, a fine fiddler and her partner Chris Andretti, RIP, who took a great shine to me because of my name - Martin Byrne; Chris had been in Kevin Burke’s first band, Lazy Reel, and had been great friends with Mairtin Byrnes in London, and often regaled me with stories about ‘Burkie’. Between the two of them, when they weren’t arguing over their sandwiches, they really helped me along and tuned up my ears.
During my Drumshanbo times I used to go down to Gurteen once a week to listen to and play with Peter Horan, and am just delighted to have known him. Some of my best memories are not of the music, but the stories he used to tell, he had a really mischievous sense of humor; and one night with his older sister Winnie who was telling me what a rascal he was as a child.
In my third year in Drumshanbo I met the lady who was to become my wife a few years later. We jointly host a rambling house/slow session/learn a tune group which began in the Silver Swan in Sligo, moved to the Trades Club, then out to Cliffoney for the last eight years, and is now moving to a new home in the Forthill community center in Sligo. We hold a community session every Tuesday afternoon between 2 and 5, the first hour given over to beginners and teaching, then to a slightly faster session. All are welcome, and there are frequent songs.
I am still merrily sawing away on the fiddle, plonking on the banjo, learning a few tunes on the whistle, planning to tackle the pipes, and play out at local events, such as last weekends Cos Cos festival in Ratchormac.
Radio documentary about the Trad Counsel:
Youtube, several trad clips: