- 23 May 12
From humble and unlikely beginnings – Nigel Kennedy was very nearly the first headliner – Baltimore Fiddle Fair has grown into one of the country’s most engaging trad events.
Like most of us I enjoy a good yarn and I love to come across anyone who is passionate about what they do. Declan McCarthy who founded the Baltimore Fiddle Fair scores on both counts. Way back in 1992 he heard Nigel Kennedy was visiting West Cork and got the rather unlikely notion that he might be into doing a gig in McCarthy’s pub in Baltimore. As he couldn’t afford to book Kennedy and wasn’t really a regular on the West Cork pub scene, he decided that something would have to be done to make the prospect more attractive, and so the Fiddle Fair was born.
The gig never materialised. In the meantime the Fiddle Fair has grown and prospered. Today it is recognised as one of the very best traditional and folk music festivals in the world. The stuff ripping yarns are made of.
The very first Fiddle Fair line-up included Nomos, Any Old Time, Seamus Creagh, Dordan, Ritchie Tisdall and Steve Wickham. For the initial few years it consisted of two weekends of music in McCarthy’s, including mainly local players with the odd one thrown in from ‘up the country’.
Over the next while it gained a reputation amongst musicians as being a great festival at which to perform. The intimacy of the venue, the appreciative audiences, and the stunning location helped. Audiences loved it because it gave them the chance to see truly world-class performers in a beautiful little village in West Cork.
The festival took a leap forward in 1998 when Guinness came on board as a sponsor and artists from further afield became part of the story. Many musicians also spread the word. Pretty soon the Fiddle Fair became one of the hottest festivals on the calendar.
Over the years the Fiddle Fair has featured many world-famous names from the trad scene. However introducing some “unknowns” has provided some of its proudest moments, and some of these gigs will live long in the memory. We are talking people like Lauren MaColl, Liam O’Connor, Harem Scarem and The Chris Stout Quintet. There have been many great gigs over the years – the whole house jumping for the Dirk Powell Band; a stunning sunset which gave the Nollaig Casey and Arty McGlynn show a special magic; the sheer spectacle that was the late Sean Maguire’s concert; the array of headline acts that were in Tim O’Brien’s Crossing show; an electric turn by the Hendrix of Irish fiddlers, Cathal Hayden, with Gerry O’Connor and Kevin Docherty; the way Harem Scarem charmed everybody; Liz Carroll and Paul Meehan who met for the first time about an hour before their headliner and played a blinder; Dermot McLaughlin’s and Kevin Burke’s solo jaunts. The sheer intimacy of the gigs makes for some unrepeatable experiences such as Altan’s turn at Fiddle Fair ‘03, a memorable night made even more special by the evening’s “support act”, Christy Moore! The hundred or so people at that gig will never forget hearing Christy and Paul Brady duet on ‘The Lakes Of Ponchartrain’.
The amazing late-night sessions have been an integral part of the Fiddle Fair, and most of the good gigs went on until early morning. It was no surprise for the bar staff to come in the next day to open the pub only to find a few fiddlers sprawled across a stool coma-like.
The McCarthys sold the bar in 2004. However, the Fiddle Fair continues to evolve, and now takes place throughout the whole village. This year’s line-up includes Any Old Time who kick off the Fiddle Fair in Dun na Sead Castle on Wednesday May 9, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Cleek Schrey and Nic Gareiss, in the Marquee (10), the Foghorn String Band with Dirk Powell, Cathal Hayden and Arty McGlynn (11), Altan, Michelle O’Brien & Laoise Kelly, Dermie Diamond & Frankie Laine (12) and Kevin Burke & Tim O’Brien and Dezi Donnelly, Mike McGoldrick, Jim Murray & John Joe Kelly (13).
If the excursion to West Cork seems a bit too much of a stretch – and petrol hitting €1.70 a litre isn’t going to help with the decision to take that trip either – don’t despair. There are other forms of diversion on offer. Starting off with another bijou festival, Vantastival, which this year decamps to Bellurgan Park on the outskirts of Dundalk and which boasts folk goodies like Third Smoke, The Spook Of The Twelfth Lock and Miss Paula Flynn.
Still riding high on the back of the universally warm response to last year’s Pencaitland album, The Southern Tenant Folk Union return for another string of Irish dates, refreshing parts that no other folk bluegrass outfit reach. Combining strands from the folk traditions of Ireland, England and Scotland with an unerring ear for bluegrass they create a rich and diverse acoustic melange that always somehow manages to tuck another layer underneath. Like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie before them, they wear their dedication to the rights of the working-man lightly, and even on the most earnest of songs there’ll be a tune you can leave the gig humming. You can catch them at Newtonabbey’s Courtyard Theatre on Thursday May 10, Rathfriland’s Bronte Music Club (11), Newbridge’s Riverbank Arts Centre (12), the Balor Arts Centre in Ballybofey (13), Sligo’s Hawk’s Well Theatre (14), the Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart (15), Castlebar’s Linenhall Arts Centre (16), Friar’s Gate Theatre, Kilmallock (17), Mullingar Arts Centre (18) and the Seamus Ennis Cultural Centre in the Naul (19).