Triple Tradition at the Fleadh Cheoil

The Boruma Trio

Triple Tradition at the Fleadh Cheoil

At the Fleadh Cheoil in Ennis in August, Alan Reid – one of the participants in our Journal of Music/Clare County Music Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme – attended three concerts of traditional music in one, featuring The Boruma Trio with special guests Eamonn Cotter, Karen Ryan and Pete Quinn.

The All-Ireland Fleadh, more formally known as Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the apex of the traditional music year for many and now in its 66th year, was in Ennis for the second time in August. Dozens of competitions in music, song and dance were the focus for children, teenagers and adults, but, along with the great amount of informal music happening on the streets and pubs, there were also many organised concerts throughout the week. On 15 August, music lovers drifted from the main thoroughfares of Ennis towards Coláiste Muire and its auditorium Dánlann an Chláir.

Advertised as The Boruma Trio, with special guests Eamonn Cotter, Karen Ryan and Pete Quinn, it was actually three concerts in one. First was Andrew MacNamara, Ryan and Quinn, whose set was drawn from their recent release From Camden to Tulla. The performance melded fiddler Ryan’s take on the distinctive ‘London style’ with the East Clare accordion style of MacNamara and the punchy piano backing of Quinn.

London was a melting pot for Irish traditional music in the 60s and 70s with the mix of highly skilled musicians from all corners of Ireland influencing subsequent generations. Mostly connected with fiddle-playing, the city has become associated with notable musicians such as John Carty and Brian Rooney. The tune-playing of East Clare musicians has always had rhythmic bounce and unrushed pace regarded as its most apparent virtues. The trio’s take on old set-dance melody ‘Rodney’s Glory’ displayed the meeting of styles well with its melodic plaintiveness and propellent hornpipe rhythm snap.

Home ground
The second act was a sibling duet played on home ground. Eamonn Cotter is a leading maker of timber flutes and has released two solo albums, including The Knotted Chord from 2012. Geraldine Cotter is a traditional pianist, tin whistler and music educator, and was the 2017 recipient of the MÓRglór award. Her contribution to music was marked by a concert and ceremony in Glór on 14 October.

Individualistic flare abounded from the flute with well-placed ornaments and melodic variations easily heard in this duet configuration. A strong influence from West Clare musicians was evident in the jaunty slip jigs learned from John Kelly as well as Inagh fiddler Joe Ryan’s ‘The Few Bob’ hornpipe. The nineteenth-century Goodman collection has been a perennial source for traditional musicians and the duo drew on it for the air ‘Cois Taobh an Chuain’, performing in stunning unison on flute and piano along with Geraldine’s left-hand hinting at the harmonic possibilities.

Reel for Andrew
The third part of the concert comprised Eileen O’Brien, Geraldine Cotter and Andrew Mac Namara – collectively known as The Boruma Trio – who released a debut album, Gléas, in 2014. The Trio was formed with the intention of exploring regional repertoire as well as the effect different musical keys can have in interpretations of the music. Commencing with a march at an infectious pace, the focus of their project became quickly apparent. All manner of tune types featured, with solos from the three members as well as peculiar settings of common tunes from the village of Feakle courtesy of Mac Namara. O’Brien included compositions from her father, the Tipperary accordionist-composer Paddy O’Brien, as well as her own tune, the sinuous E-minor ‘Reel for Andrew’ – designed to suit the tuning system of Mac Namara’s instrument. She also interspersed two songs, her gentle vibrato and use of fiddle in the arrangement helping them stand out among the driving tune-sets. Arrangement devices were sparse for The Boruma Trio, apart from occasional drones from Mac Namara and O’Brien, but Cotter kept the harmonic backdrop complimentary with subtle substitutions and intriguing movement in the bass.

Runs and sparks
The finale brought all five musicians on stage, the sole piano being shared humorously by Quinn occupying the low end and Geraldine Cotter on the right-hand-side trading bass runs and sparks of arpeggios.

For me, the prevailing sense throughout the evening was that of place and respect for the sources combined with an unrushed tempo. The audience left with an impression of the distinct features of Clare, Tipperary and London music whilst also experiencing an interesting blending of the three. It is a fusion that works well for both informed listeners, who are not adverse to a dose of esoterica, and the new traditional music listener. After over 100 minutes of music, CDs were purchased, the audience drifted out to the throngs in the town centre, and, with an appetite for more, I followed suit.

For more on The Boruma Trio, visit

This review is published as part of a new scheme for music writers in County Clare. The Journal of Music/Clare County Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme is supported by Clare Arts Office and was launched in March 2017. Over 12 months, the editorial team of The Journal of Music will work with four new writers – Deirdre Clare, Ian Bascombe, Ruth Smith and Alan Reid  – to expand the magazine’s coverage of musical life in the county. The first three reviews focused on the Riches of Clare concert series (Ian Bascombe), Paul Brady at Glór (Deirdre Clare) and Lisa Hannigan at the Doolin Folk Festival (Ruth Smith).

This is one of two schemes currently underway. A second – supported by Galway City Council  – supports five new writers to cover musical life in Galway City. The first four reviews featured Overhead, the Albatross (Vincent Hughes), RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Jake Morgan), Brian Wilson (Dylan Murphy) and Lankum (Shannon McNamee).

For further details on the background to the schemes, please visit 

Published on 17 October 2017

Alan Reid is a banjo player from County Leitrim. He featured on the compilation 'Leitrim Equation 3', recording duets with Dónal Lunny and John Carty, and can also be heard with the band Arum whose debut was released in 2016. In 2017, he joined the band Goitse and embarked on tours of the US and Europe. Alan has also recently released an album with Rachel Conlan titled 'A Quare Yield'. He is a graduate of the Irish World Academy BA and MA traditional music programmes and is based in the Burren in County Clare.

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