Riches of Clare: Sheila Garry, Elaine Hogan, Conor McCarthy and James Duddy

Elaine Hogan and Sheila Garry

Riches of Clare: Sheila Garry, Elaine Hogan, Conor McCarthy and James Duddy

In the first music review from our new Journal of Music/Clare County Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme, Ian Bascombe reviews a recent Riches of Clare concert featuring an ensemble led by fiddle-player Sheila Garry.

Since 2005, the Riches of Clare concert series has pledged to showcase the best traditional music in the county via its free recitals: among this year’s artists are MÓRglór 2017 winner Geraldine Cotter, Tara Breen, Siobhán Peoples and many more. The eighth concert in this year’s programme, at The Queen’s Hotel, Ennis (14 June), garnered a near full house of local aficionados and tourists for fiddler Sheila Garry’s ensemble: button accordionist Conor McCarthy, harper Elaine Hogan, and bodhrán player James Duddy.

Garry hails from Ballynacally in south Clare, but stylistically she seems to evince elements of both east and west of the county; the plaintiveness derived from her intonation resembling that of Vincent Griffin, whilst the rhythmic lift, coming from incisive bowing and a swift tempo, referencing time spent with the Kilfenora Céilí Band. For this lunchtime concert she immediately imparted a vivacious energy to the performance – from the opening bars of the familiar reel ‘The Chattering Magpie’, it resembled a late-night session in full-flow.

Imaginative re-creators
Garry’s repertoire blended old favourites with newer tunes from Tommy Peoples, Sean Ryan, Paddy Fahy and Paddy O’Brien, and also included lesser-known tunes from the Clare canon. A jig attributed to Junior Creehan, ‘
The Luachrachán’, was rendered with swing and flourish, and she particularly featured music of Killaloe’s Séamus Connolly, whose intricate composition ‘The Thirteen Arches’ (with its unusual phrasing and melodic twists) allowed for inventive musicality.

A musical rapport between Garry and accordionist Conor McCarthy was quickly noticeable. Synchronised phrasing, articulation and dynamic accents spoke of musicians well-versed in each other’s craft, perhaps evoking time spent together in the Kilfenora. This familiarity resulted in a near chimera: a thoroughly relaxed feel to traditional music played apace, granting freedom for playful, even mischievous, variations. Both are highly imaginative re-creators of traditional melody, and McCarthy especially is virtuosically audacious; his use of chromatic runs – musical jokes rendered with a wry smile – elicited ubiquitous grins. 

Drawing breath
Harper Elaine Hogan frequently partners Garry: they have a recording together of east Clare composer Paddy O’Donoghue’s tunes: The Shores of Lough Breda. In this performance, Hogan chiefly supplied a sophisticated accompaniment, blending unexpected chords from a modern idiom with a more familiar base, always comfortably attuned to the nuanced melody. Rhythmically, she selected widely, including on-beat, off-beat and syncopated playing. Her rendition of two O’Carolan pieces provided a welcome midpoint: it opened with a meditative left-hand ostinato, placing the listeners in suspense, allowing us to draw breath.  

James Duddy’s bodhrán playing was always complimentary: au fait with the wiles of this language, anticipating rhythmic stresses, phrasing artifices and dynamics. He used a brush-beater; unobtrusive; a light accompaniment blending seamlessly with music that imparted tremendous bounce – oftentimes seemingly gravity defying –encouraging gleeful whoops from connoisseurs.

A new ensemble then, but one whose members are comprehensively suffused with the subtleties of Clare style. Come the final set – reels starting with Paddy O’Donoghue’s ‘The Shores of Lough Breda’ and finishing with ‘Craig’s Pipes’, players and listeners alike experienced the enchantment of music that is simultaneously familiar and new: the soundscape of a county reimagined; living aural history renewed and refreshed. ‘I could listen to that music all night’ announced the MC – and it was still only lunchtime. 

The Riches of Clare concert series is supported by Clare Arts Office. For more, 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 County Council and was launched in March 2017. Over 12 months, the editorial team of The Journal of Music will work with four new writers – Ian Bascombe, Ruth Smith, Alan Reid and Deirdre Clare – to expand the magazine’s coverage of musical life in the county. 

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.

For further details on the background to the schemes, please visit If you would like to develop a similar scheme in your area, please contact the Editor.

Published on 17 July 2017

Ian Bascombe is a tin whistle and bouzouki player, teacher and writer based in County Clare. His recently completed PhD, funded by the Irish Research Council, investigated the nineteenth-century origins of the mass-produced tin whistle, and he is the author of ‘The Official Handbook for the Clarke Tin Whistle’.

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