Finding a Distinctive Voice

Diarmuid Ó Meachair (Photo: Maurice Gunning)

Finding a Distinctive Voice

Diarmuid Ó Meachair, recipient of the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Young Musician of the Year award last year, has recently released his debut album on Raelach Records. Adrian Scahill reviews.

Diarmuid Ó Meachair, an accordion player and sean-nós singer from Cúil Aodha in West Cork, has established himself as one of the most exciting traditional musicians to have emerged over the past few years, culminating in his being awarded the Gradam Ceoil for Young Musician of the Year in 2022. His debut album, Siúl na Slí (‘Walk the Way’), is described as a reflection on his journey as a traditional musician, and to listen to it is to be brought on an aural (and temporal) expedition through the melodeon and button accordion canon, encountering familiar (and unfamiliar) musicians, tunes and settings along the way.

The approach here is a common enough one, where Ó Meachair engages directly with the music of the musicians that inspire him, displaying his ability to recapture their brilliance and aura. It is an approach which, as the body of recordings both commercial and archival continues to amass, will probably become more common in future, particularly for those aiming to establish themselves as stylists and soloists in the traditional – or maybe classical – sense. (This approach already has a long history in the tradition, going back to albums like A Tribute to Michael Coleman and Ómós do Joe Cooley). Backing is provided throughout by Paddy McEvoy on piano and Rory McGorman on bouzouki. The two instruments work well together – the piano plays an underlying role and leaves the rhythmic infill to the bouzouki – although occasionally some of the electric piano timbres seemed out of place.

Dwyer influence
The most prominent voice resonating through this recording is that of the West Cork musician Finbarr Dwyer. After making a number of important records in the 1970s, Dwyer left music for many years, before electrifying audiences upon his return to performing in 2007. Already well-known for contributing several elaborate tunes to the traditional repertoire, it was his seemingly endless ability to introduce variations into his playing, while never sacrificing the flow or lift of his music, that made his playing so beguiling.

From the outset, Ó Meachair aims to impress with his own ability to recreate workaday tunes like ‘The Star of Munster’ through a constantly imaginative stream of variation. And although this is a set taken from Dwyer’s Star of Ireland album, listening to the two in tandem shows that Ó Meachair brings his own voice to this; while the process is similar to Dwyer’s, the results are quite different. Close listening to the reel sets on the album reveal his marvellous ability to unlock the full potential of a tune, without ever sounding over-complicated or losing its traditional core.

Dwyer fans are well catered for here, with recordings of many of his compositions. These range from the more familiar like ‘The Bearhaven’ reel, which comes in the middle of one of the standout reel sets of the recording, to several that are not too commonly heard, including the ‘The Star of Ireland’ (the first reel on track four). Ó Meachair also includes a set of jigs from Finbarr’s brother, Richard, who is a very fine accordion player and composer in his own right.

Melodeon sets
Ó Meachair is also an accomplished melodeon player, and indeed the structure of the album seems designed to show this contrast, with four sets on two-row followed by three on melodeon. These sets also broaden out the canvas of sources. There is a charming waltz, ‘Hommage A Dorothée’, which comes from the French-Canadian accordion player Philippe Bruneau – the repeated notes here are amazingly crisp throughout. Following this are encounters with the two giants of early Irish melodeon playing, Peter J. Conlon and John K. Kimmel. Both selections are remarkable in how Ó Meachair has absorbed and internalised their playing style, and are a reminder of the astonishing facility of the older players to squeeze as much as they could out of a limited instrument. Kimmel’s virtuoso arrangement of ‘Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó’ might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is carried off here with real panache. Another Kimmel showpiece, ‘The Flogging Reel’, follows; here the emulation of the original even extends to Kimmel’s idiosyncratic three repeats of the first part, perhaps a detail that might have been better omitted.

This question of the emulation of source material was something that began to gnaw at me as I listened through to more of the album. With more sets coming from various Dwyer recordings in particular, it did strike me that it might have been more valuable to have had Ó Meachair work his magic on a wider range of sources. For instance, ‘The Strayaway Child’ stood out for me because it wasn’t indelibly linked to a well-known accordion model from the past. However, over the course of the CD there is enough variety on offer here to avoid it lapsing into a form of monothematic tribute album. Ó Meachair has drawn deeply from his sources, but in a way that emphasises the quality of his playing, leading to a debut album that marks the emergence of a distinctive voice in traditional Irish accordion music.

Siúl na Slí by Diarmuid Ó Meachair is available to purchase on Raelach Records. Visit

Click on the image below to listen.

Published on 15 February 2023

Adrian Scahill is a lecturer in traditional music at Maynooth University.

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