RIP Fiddle-player Ben Lennon
The great Irish fiddle-player Ben Lennon has passed away. Known for his discerning fiddle-playing and his rich repertoire of tunes, he was also highly regarded as a fiddle teacher.
Lennon was born in Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim, in 1928. He was one of four sons of fiddler Jim Lennon and Sally McGriskin. He began learning music with the dancing master Sean O’Donoghue and subsequently learned from Fermanagh fiddlers John Timoney and John Gordon and from piper, flute-player and fiddler John McGovern.
Lennon was also greatly influenced by the recordings of fiddle-players Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran, James Morrison and Hughie Gillespie, as well as the local music of his own Leitrim and of nearby Fermanagh and Donegal.
Like his father, who was a tailor, Lennon entered the clothing trade, studying in London and then working in Limerick, Cork and Donegal.
In 2016, he told the TG4 television series Hup about the music he grew up with:
You could divide Leitrim into three divisions: the very north of Leitrim where I come from, and then the middle part, and then the south. You had fiddle-playing mainly in the north, in the middle you had flute playing, and then you had a mixture of fiddles and flutes in south Leitrim. It’s a lifty rhythm; short, snappy.
Lennon’s playing style was characterised by a thoughtful and rhythmic approach, full of inventive ornamentation and variation. He made a number of recordings including Dog Big, Dog Little with Seamus Quinn, Gabriel McArdle and Ciarán Curran (1989), The Natural Bridge (1999), Within a Mile of Kilty with Charlie and Maurice Lennon, Séamus Quinn, Brian Rooney and John Gordon (2005), and Rossinver Braes with concertina player Tony O’Connell (2008).
In 2011, a book, Ben Lennon: The Tailor’s Twist, was published about his life, featuring photographs from Nutan Jacques Pirapez and a text by Fintan Vallely. In the same year, he was awarded the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Lifetime Achievement Award.