'Free Spirits: Irish Travellers and Irish Traditional Music'

'Free Spirits: Irish Travellers and Irish Traditional Music'

Promoter Oliver O’Connell and academic Tommy Fegan have published a collection of material that examines the relationship between traveller culture and traditional Irish music.


With the assistance of family members whom they visited for the book, musician and promoter Oliver O’Connell and piper and academic Tommy Fegan have published an extensive collection of material that details the relationship between traveller culture and traditional Irish music.

Fegan explains: ‘We wanted to assemble into one publication as comprehensive a picture as possible of the major traveller families and individuals who have influenced traditional music, especially the piping tradition. So we have accounts of the lives of the likes of the Keenan and Furey families, the Doherty and Rainey families in Donegal and Galway, as well as inviduals like Maggie Barry and “Pecker” Dunne. And, of course, the Dorans, Johnny and Felix.’

The publication includes 150 photographs (‘their story is very visual,’ says Fegan), transcriptions of tunes, many with regulator accompaniment and never before published, associated with the traveller repertoire, and even handwritten manuscripts from Ted Furey, donated by Finbar to the Irish Folklore Commission, and published here for the first time.

One image that stands out is of Johnny Doran trapped in the rubble of a wall near Christchurch in Dublin that fell on him in a storm in 1948 and left him partly paralysed. According to Fegan, ‘He never played the same again, although famously before he passed away Sean Reid and Willie Clancy visited him and held the pipes for him while he played the chanter.’

The next annual celebration of the Doran brothers’ legacy, Tionól Doran, in Spanish Point, Co Clare will take place from 30 March to 1 April 2012. In the meantime, a new website, dedicated to Johnny and Felix Doran, and other Irish traveller traditional musicians, has been set up to coincide with the launch of the book.


Published on 21 November 2011

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