The Department of Music, University College Cork, is delighted to host this exciting initiative by one of the great masters of Irish traditional music, the fiddle player Connie O’Connell. Connie’s teaching has been at the heart of traditional music studies at University College Cork for nearly forty years and his profile as one of Ireland’s leading fiddle players has brought great honour to the University throughout that time.
In the late 1970s Connie was amongst the first traditional musicians invited by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin to work as a part-time tutor on his newly-devised, and ground-breaking, curriculum for the study of Irish traditional music. Music performance was an intrinsic component of the new curriculum and, at that time, Connie joined Mícheál Ó Riabhaigh and Bobby Gardiner to provide the practical tuition that complemented Mícheál’s lectures on aspects of traditional music style, repertoire and history. Mícheál remembers standing outside the door of Connie’s fiddle class “mesmerised” by the sound of what he heard:
“No talk. Just music. An initial phrase fragment played by Connie followed by six or so fiddle students attempting to repeat what they heard by ear – an entirely new phenomenon for these (mostly) young classical musicians. Then that same fragment repeated and the class response. Then yet again. And again. And again. Every time the sound of the class strengthened and rose in confidence and precision. Ornaments were included without comment. Sometimes a small variation crept in. Again no verbal explanation, no comment, no heady analysis. Connie after all was teaching as he himself had been taught. No fuss. No baggage. No heady conceptual frameworks. Just music as an intelligence of its own, as a knowledge that undercut language and went beyond it somehow.”
Since that time, Connie has been been a core member of the team of traditional music tutors at UCC, which is led by piper Mary Mitchell-Ingoldsby. Over the years he has worked alongside a host of traditional musicians, including Bobby Gardiner, Hammy Hamilton, Niall Keegan, Nóirín Ní Riain, Eilís Ní Shúilleabháin, Conal Ó Gráda, Colm Murphy, Niall Vallely and Michelle Mulcahy. Connie has taught more than 1,000 students at UCC, many of whom have gone on to become leading traditional musicians, amongst them Liz Doherty, Méabh O’Hare, Sharon Shannon, Liz Kane, Geraldine O’Callaghan, Jack Talty, Tara Breen, Caitlín Nic Gabhann, Margaret McCarthy and Michelle Foy.
Throughout his life, in addition to performing and teaching, Connie has been a composer of new tunes. A number of his original compositions can be heard on his solo album Ceol Chill na Martra (Shanakee Records 2000), and several of these have since been recorded by other artists, including Mike Rafferty (‘The Torn Jacket’), Dervish (‘The Forgotten Fling’) and Dylan Foley (‘Fire in Clainn Rátha’). His new compositions have otherwise been slowly absorbed into the Irish music repertoire by being passed on directly to others through his teaching and playing.
Here, Connie shares a collection of over sixty recently composed jigs, reels, hornpipes, slides and polkas, and a few of his older compositions which have become popular. We hope the collection will become a valuable source of new traditional music for musicians and scholars, and that the tunes will give pleasure to many players and listeners for years to come.
The project is generously supported by the Arts Council of Ireland (Traditional Arts).
Dr. Mel Mercier
School of Music and Theatre, UCC