Traditional Irish Music
Their first album, The Missing Reel (Gael-Linn, 1990) is still considered among musicians as an essential part of any record collection of traditional Irish music. In his review, US music critic Earle Hitcher commented : “This is Irish traditional music at its loveliest, performed with supple beauty and unimpeachable taste”… (The Irish Voice, 1991).
Following the release of The Missing Reel, John was delighted to be given a rare copy of the unpublished manuscripts of the collector Stephen Grier (1824-1894). Grier lived at Newpark, Gortletteragh, Co Leitrim, close to John’s homeplace at Aughavas. In his childhood, John had heard many of these Grier tunes being played by his father Peter, his uncle Bernie Cunnion, and his neighbour, the master flute-player John Blessing.
Séamus & John selected some of their favourites from over 1000 tunes in the Grier collection and recently recorded them for their album, 'The Legacy of Stephen Grier' (release date May 2018). As the first album of tunes exclusively from this collection, this recording has already been described a 'landmark album of Irish traditional music from a remarkable fiddle and flute duo’ (Martin McGinley) and ‘a delightful bouquet of music from two of the most distinguished Irish traditional musicians of today…’ (Jackie Small)
Have a listen to the following samples.
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Conor Ward provides the following background to the music.
"‘The Legacy of Stephen Grier’ album celebrates the music of The Stephen Grier manuscripts, one of the most comprehensive collections of nineteenth-century Irish music. Containing approximately 1000 tunes in 12 manuscripts, the collection was in the main transcribed by Stephen Grier (c.1824-1894). Born and reared in north Longford, Grier moved to Newpark, Bohey, Gortletteragh, in south Leitrim on his marriage in 1852.
The great variety of tune types and rhythms on this album, beautifully reimagined by Séamus McGuire and John Lee, accurately reflects the prevailing Irish music played in the north Longford/south Leitrim region during Grier’s lifetime.
The major part of the collection was compiled by Grier in the early 1880s. In the period leading up to this, Irish music witnessed great change. The music of imported dances from continental Europe, such as waltzes (see track No.11), quadrilles, polkas (see track No.10), schottisches and mazurkas, were slowly being assimilated in local Irish music traditions. Marches (see track No.9) and song airs played in military brass bands were also being absorbed into the existing traditional repertoire. These bands were particularly active in north Longford/south Leitrim during Grier’s lifetime.
Somewhat earlier, from the end of 1700s onwards, an influx of Scottish reels had entered the repertoire of Irish musicians. Later these gave rise to the most popular tune type in Irish music, the reel. These Scottish reels, newly composed by some of the great Scottish composers, most notably, Daniel Dow (1732-1783) and Nathaniel Gow (1763-1831) are well represented throughout the Grier collection (see tracks No.5, 12 & 15). There is also a substantial presence of the older Irish music that was played in the north Longford/south Leitrim region, including Jackson’s jigs (see tracks No.6 & 8), native song airs (see track No.7), slip jigs, double jigs (see tracks No.6 & 8) and Carolan planxties (see track No.1).
During the second half of the twentieth century, Grier’s music came to national attention through the renowned collector Breandán Breathnach (1912-1985). Breathnach discovered previously unpublished repertoire in Grier’s collection and subsequently sixty-four tunes from it were published in Ceol Rince na hÉireann 4 (Dublin, 1996). Jackie Small, the editor of that volume, stated in his introduction that “His name [Grier] must surely merit a place among the most important collectors of Irish music”.
Despite Small’s recognition of Grier’s accomplishment, there is scant documentation available concerning either his background or the collection itself. While it is known that Grier moved to County Leitrim when he married Rose McGivney in 1852, he was born and reared elsewhere. Given that his wife came from Ballybrien, Granard, Co. Longford, it is likely that he also originated from somewhere near Granard. An examination of the Griffiths Valuation land records from the 1850s suggests that Grier may have come from one of the following parishes: Granard, Abbeylara or Clonbroney, as Griffiths shows a high concentration of the Grier surname in those areas. One of the tunes transcribed by Grier and recorded on this album “The Races of Granard” (track No.13) may in fact allude to his birthplace.
Many of the tunes transcribed by Grier closely match versions of those same tunes in other local collections, suggesting that much of the repertoire of Grier’s manuscripts was collected from local musicians. It is not known for certain which musical instrument he played. Many have speculated that he played the fiddle or the pipes, but there is no clear evidence in the collection to help us answer this question.
Following Grier’s death in 1894, his collection was bequeathed to his neighbour, the piper, William Mulvey from Drumgilra, Gortletteragh. Mulvey in turn passed the collection on to his grandson, a fiddle player, John Flynn of Drumlish, Co. Longford. The current custodian is Hugh Maguire of Navan, Co. Meath. Hugh received the collection from his father, Liam Maguire, Bellewstown, Co. Meath, another fiddle player and also a grandson of Mulvey; he had obtained it from his cousin, Willie Flynn, following the death of his brother, the aforementioned John Flynn."
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