- 29 Nov 23
In the run-up to the sold-out Powers Golden Hours event in West Kerry this weekend, we spoke to Cormac Begley about his remarkable 2023, the legendary Páidi Ó Sé's pub, and traditional Irish music's connections to both the past and present...
Between his deep family roots in West Kerry and his groundbreaking approach to traditional Irish music, you couldn't find a more fitting headliner for Powers Golden Hours at Other Voices than renowned concertina player Cormac Begley.
The lauded performance series – which celebrates the captivating combination of history and innovation in traditional Irish music today – is coming to the legendary Páidí Ó'Sé's pub in West Kerry on Sunday, December 3. The sold-out evening of song and story-telling, which is part of the Other Voices line-up, will feature some of the leading names in Irish folk and traditional music, and is shaping up to be an immersive musical experience like no other.
Fittingly, Cormac's ties to Páidí Ó Sé's go way back.
"I started playing music in a few pubs in West Kerry, and Páidí’s was one of the places I would've played with my brother and my cousins," he recalls. "I would've known Páidí well – he used to hand us the cash at the end of the night!
"I’ve had many great musical nights in Páidí Ó Sé's, with a lot of traditional musicians, singers, and dancers," he continues. "It's been an important pub in supporting artists over the years. My uncle Séamus would've played there a lot, as did my father, Brendan. And Dolly Parton was there one night with Steve Cooney and Séamus!"
Other Voices, he finds, has always brought "a great buzz" to the area, marking the beginning of the festive season for many locals. And while an element of traditional Irish music is always embraced over the course of the weekend, Cormac's glad to see it being championed so passionately through events like Powers Golden Hours. It's a reflection of a growing appetite for Irish songs and tunes across a remarkably wide-ranging audience.
"I think, ever since Covid, people have been looking more into Irish culture," he reflects. "There's an interest in what the tradition has to offer – and not just musically, but in terms of history, and our sense of self. People are yearning for that connection. People are sick of their phones, and sick of screens.
"For me, it’s something that’s connected to the present, but it’s also connected to our past, going back hundreds of years," he adds. "It’s the music that many of our ancestors in Ireland would have been dancing to, and connecting to. That was their disco music!"
That tradition is being carried on in dazzling diverse ways today by all of the names on this Sunday's Powers Golden Hours line-up – with Cormac excited to see Junior Brother, Altan legend Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, the West Kerry Set Dancers, and the event's host Doireann Ní Ghlacáin, in action.
"I met Junior Brother as part of an Other Voices event a couple of years ago," Cormac tells me. "I’d be a big fan of his. He’s doing his own thing, and putting his own stamp on things."
Cormac's also looking forward to being joined on the night by his cousins, Eoin and Níall Begley, as well as a special guest, the acclaimed Dublin poet Stephen James Smith.
The performance is set to cap off a phenomenal year for the concertina player, as his last gig of 2023. After closing out Other Voices '22 at St James' Church last December, the past 12 months have included a sold-out show in Vicar Street; a headline slot at the National Concert Hall's Tradition Now; a tour of the spectacular production MÁM; viral success with his jig 'To War'; and a performance for US President Joe Biden. Between all that, he also found time to buy himself a house in West Kerry.
"It’s been a busy year," he concludes. "And that makes this gig on Sunday even more special. I purposefully don’t have anything else in the books until next February, so I’m looking forward to playing on Sunday – and then knowing I’ll have a bit of time to digest the year that’s gone by."
Powers Golden Hours forms part of Powers’ Old But Gold campaign, which celebrates the well-earned gifts of wisdom, style and confidence that come with age. It’s also about honouring the things in life that stand the test of time – like the iconic Irish whiskey, and the raw brilliance of a traditional Irish music session.
The series has already proved a major hit among trad fans and session players – as well as those embracing the tradition for the very first time – with two hugely successful events in Dublin and Belfast.