Celtic Junction Arts Review

A Kindred Experience

Eamonn O'Sullivan

Musicians from the Traditional Arts Partnership (TAP) recently took part in an exciting online project with the Celtic Junction Arts Center (CJAC) of Minnesota, Aonach Mhacha of Armagh, and members of the Ojibwe and Choctaw tribes. The online event brought together musicians, singers, and speakers to commemorate and celebrate the linguistic and cultural friendship between the people of Ireland and the people of the First Nations of Canada/ America. 

In a time of isolation, meeting new people is unlikely. However, from the first mention, the Anamchairde (meaning kindred spirits) collaboration between Celtic Junction, the indigenous Ojibwe Nation, Aonach Mhacha, and the Traditional Arts Partnership from South Armagh, was going to be a success. Everyone had their part to play, from Zoom meetings, Zoom rehearsals, individual practices, onsite meetings, risk assessments, to the final presentation. All were focused and aware of the changes and protocols that were necessary for keeping everyone safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

TAP students record on rooftop at Aonach Mhacha

The most significant day for South Armagh’s Traditional Arts Partnership was over in the stunning Aonach Mhacha Centre in Armagh, where recordings were taken on the rooftop terrace for the final project. All of the musicians from TAP were delighted to be reunited. This could be seen in everyone’s eyes as they lit up when they saw each other, and the huge smiles and rekindling of friendships that had been abruptly put on hold. Everyone played music together with life and energy like they hadn’t had a break from playing together for almost a year. The musicians got a great lift as this was one of the first in-person TAP events since the start of the pandemic. The Aonach Mhacha Cultural Centre facilitated by Réamonn Ó Ciaráin was also happy to be utilized for recording, having only opened just before the pandemic began. 

Aodh Mac Murchaidh playing fiddle, composer of Kindred Spirits

The main concept behind the project was the performance of three tunes, two of which were composed by 16-year-old Aodh Mac Murchaidh from Silverbridge. Aodh is a member of Tap’s 15-18 Grupa Cheoil, is a multi-instrumentalist, and is also a tutor with TAP. Aodh wrote a march and a reel which were performed transatlantically by CJAC and TAP respectively. Commenting on the project Aodh said “Anam Chairde/ Kindred Spirits has meant a lot to me during the lockdown. It has been something new in a time which has been long and challenging. It was brilliant to get to learn about Native American cultures and I have enjoyed being part of an exciting and international collaboration. It has given us a chance to play music together again and get to know new people from the other side of the Atlantic! Overall it has been brilliant craic and I couldn’t wait to hear what the finished piece sounds like.” 

The 15-18 Grupa Ceoil from TAP were delighted to be involved in the project and enjoyed learning and rehearsing the new tunes. Having only been meeting weekly on Zoom the day of recording was a welcome announcement which meant friends would get to see each other and play in person after almost a year without seeing each other. Uilleann piper and bodhrán player in the group FIonn Downey commented,

It was great to see people I used to see all the time. Everyone got a lot taller, which you don’t really notice when you see people every week. I was lucky to be playing the pipes and the bodhran so I got to see and play with more of the groups. When we started to play music it was brilliant ,just getting lost in the moment. It was interesting being recorded for something involving a group from a different country. Going through different ‘takes’ and looking at scenery that we sometimes take for granted.” 

As well as the youth, TAP’s older musicians were delighted to be reunited with the music and people. Fergal O’Brien and his fleet of bodhrán players enjoyed filming on the roof of Aonach Mhacha. The photography and video footage were stunning; they also recorded at Bluebell Lane Glamping in Mullaghbawn in the heart of the Ring of Slieve Gullion surrounded by nature, beauty and mountains. Mature musician Marcella loved the kindred experience commenting on Fergal’s amazing enthusiasm, vision and ” can do ” approach. She says,

In these days of relative isolation, it’s been something else to be linked with kindred drumming spirits across the Atlantic and with people who are cherishing their cultural traditions and ready to link in with us, a leap of faith or more so a link in the chain of spiritual musical fusion. For a pensioner child at heart like me, it was great to be part of the whole event, watching the YouTube video, practicing for the recording, and playing on the roof of Culturlann Ard Mhacha. The icing on the cake was the well-organized and directed event at Bluebell Lane taking in such wonderful surroundings and having the craic together. Go raibh maith agaibh.

Bodhran playing at Bluebell Lane Glamping in Mullaghbawn in the heart of the Ring of Slieve Gullion surrounded by nature, beauty and mountains.
TAP recording in Mullaghbawn

In conclusion, this was a fantastic programme to be involved with. Musically, socially, and culturally it was a great learning experience and thoroughly enjoyable for everybody involved. Since the first kindred spirits event, relations have further developed between TAP and the Center for Irish Music (CIM) based in Minnesota. They had an online session where they shared tunes from their locality with one another. Musicians on both sides of the Atlantic can’t wait to meet each other and play a few tunes. Thank you to all involved with the organisation of the programme and we look forward to further collaborations with our new friends in America.

You can watch the Anamchairde/Kindred Spirits Seminar on Facebook. Go to mark 1:04 to watch the collaborative performance that the author refers to in this article.