Album Review - Our Dear Dark Mountain with the Sky Over It

Our Dear Dark Mountain with the Sky Over It has just been released and it shows that there is still a deep seam of traditional music to be explored, uncovered and brought to life.  Like some of the better albums of recent times it is held together with a theme, namely the music of the Sliabh Beagh region of North Monaghan/ East Fernamagh.

 This recording project has come about as part of a PhD dissertation of project co-ordinator and Téada Member Seán McElwain.  He has used a number of sources for the material including the music manuscript of Sliabh Beagh collector James Whiteside (1844-1916), From Knockatallon, Co. Monaghan.  He states that Whiteside was a correspondent of both P.W. Joyce (1827-1914) and Capt. Francis O’Neill (1848-1936), two of the major collectors of Irish traditional music. Included in O’Neill’s ‘Irish Minstrels and Musicians’ 1913) publication, he was in the Chicago collector’s estimation a ‘genius’ in equal parts ‘scholar, poet, musician and composer”.

“Running from Clogher, county Tyrone to Clones, county Monaghan, the Sliabh Beagh hills straddle the border between the Rep. of Ireland and Northern Ireland, linking counties Monaghan, Fermanagh and Tyrone”. This area “consists of a number of communities gathered around the base of these hills, and the region is informed by a rich heritage of folklore, folk traditions and customs”, according to the liner notes.

At a recent launch of the album in Sligo thanks was given to the team of musicians that have brought this music to life.  They include Dónal Mc Cague (fiddle), Darren Breslin (accordion), Conor Mc Cague (banjo), Michael Rooney (concertina), Brian McGrath (piano/banjo), Laura Beagon (fiddle), Michael Mc Cague (guitar/bouzouki), Monica Beagon-Treanor (vocals) and Caitríona Sherlock (vocals).

Musically it is a revelation and could quite easily become album of the year.  Its carefree and breezy presentation defies the intricate and well-crafted nature of the arrangements. That perhaps is the secret to it.  Albums centered on a theme such as this seem to work better.  The concentration is on the region and the music and not on technically wizardry of the musicians.  Without doubt the musicians shine and the input of brothers Mc Cague can't be understated, especially fiddler Dónal who's input was critical to the project.  The arrangements however leave plenty of space for the exploration and unveiling of a relatively new selection of tunes.  More on that later.

For now Our Dear Dark Mountain with the Sky Over It will stand as a good example, once again, of research projects providing the focus and inspiration for great recording projects.  An outstanding recording of traditional music.

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Comment by Dónal Mc Cague on August 22, 2014 at 19:22
Lovely review Tony, thanks. Great to meet you again on Saturday. Hope you enjoyed the launch on Saturday.
Comment by Daithí Kearney on August 20, 2014 at 23:24

Congratulations to Seán whose research project at Dundalk Institute of Technology is one of a number underway at DkIT that is having real impact on how musicians understand and appreciate Irish traditional music. For more information on opportunities at the Ceol Oirghialla Section of music at Dundalk IT, check out or read about how this and other research from DkIT was presented at the Fleadh at:

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