When offered a place in a Masters in Community Music at the Irish World Academy, Limerick, last August, I was presented with the opportunity of discovering new musical genres, people and cultures. I set a goal at the start of my year’s study to open my mind as much as possible to the many music and musical practices I was exposed to. As a mature student with over ten years’ experience performing and recording my own music with my act Fia Rua, and performing in a variety of genres from trad to metal, going back to school was quite a change, and quite a challenge.
Having always possessed a fascination with the culture, history and music of the travelling people, I decided to write my semester one research paper on the music of the travelling people from a ‘community music’ perspective. As fate would have it, I discovered there had been a lot of research work and projects already carried out at the Irish world Academy in the area of the travelling people. A tutor (róisín ní Galloglaigh), who was teaching me some songs associated with the travelling people, mentioned the nOMAD project, which had been a project associated with the college and the music of the travelling people. I was blessed to ﬁnd a whole room in the college library dedicated to the area. Needless to say, I spent many hours, and learned much about the travelling people in that little room: from pipers to ﬁddlers, Dorans to Fureys, and of course the great singers like Maggie Barry and Pecker Dunne. For my work placement in semester two I was delighted to be asked to work alongside Tracy Friel with a group of young travelling people at the Involve Salthill youth project at the Cúl trá site in Lower Salthill, Galway. The idea was to conduct a 15 week music based programme with 25 young Travellers between the ages of 7 to 25. Tracy had been working on the project before I came along, and had a lot of the foundation work in place. Although there were nerves on my ﬁrst day, I was also aware of the opportunity I had been presented with- as someone from the settled population to help improve the understanding between settled and travelling people in Ireland. We decided to split the participants into two groups, splitting the younger kids and the older participants. Each child in the ﬁrst group brought me a song, which we sang together. I was delighted with the remarkable improvements each week. The kids choose their own songs, which gave them ownership of the process. Some choose American country songs and others choose Irish ballads (in some cases associated with the travelling community). The older group as well as learning songs, also took classes in guitar and accordion. Each week brought more connection with the participants and myself, and we had lots of fun through music- a great way to break down boundaries. Towards the ﬁnal weeks of the project, Tracy and I invited guests including family members of the participants to attend a concert on the site. I was ﬁlled with pride as I watched each child and young adult sing and play with conﬁdence in front of the audience. Performance seemed to come natural to many of the kids. The following week we went to the local parish church in Salthill and recorded an album! With the help of sound engineer Will O’Conner, each of the participants recorded a song or a tune and brought home their very own CD. the project reminded me of the power and importance of music and song, especially amongst the travelling community. It is also a great example of settled and travelling people coming together and mutually learning from each other, through music. I hope to continue the friendships I have built with the children and adults at Cúl trá going into the future and am conﬁdent the music will continue to live on. Participant Joanna Delaney (13) said, “It was very, very good. I really enjoyed the singing and it was great to have a CD. I’d like to do it again”. Linda Delaney (8): “I loved it, I enjoyed the singing and when Eoghan came in because he helped us to sing and he was good fun. I’d love to do it again.”
Article By Eoghan Burke