Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy 2019

The 47th Willie Clancy Summer School, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, Ireland. Saturday 6th July to Sunday 14th July, 2019.

Sráid na Cathrach, Co. an Chláir  6ú Iúil - 14ú Iúil.

Peter O'Loughlin (1929-2017)


Peter O’Loughlin was an authoritative figure in Irish traditional music.  Described by Mick O’Connor as “one of the most accomplished flute players of his generation... [and]... a multi-instrumentalist at a time when it was unusual,” he was born in Culleen, Kilmaley, County Clare and introduced to music at an early age.  His father played flute, fiddle and concertina, his mother the concertina, and home was a place for local and visiting musicians.  The travelling dance master Pat Barron was a regular performer there before he eventually settled further west in Mullagh village.   All of his siblings played music, to varying degrees, and he first took up whistle and flute and later the fiddle.  His interest in the pipes began when he heard Willie Clancy playing at a sports day in the nearby parish of Kilnamona. Seán Reid, a tirelesss promoter of traditional music, encouraged taking up the uilleann pipes and got him a practice set.  Later, as a wedding present, Reid presented him with a full Egan set that once belonged to the influential piper, Brother Gildas O’Shea.


He played with a local céilí band, the Fiach Roe, in the 1950s and that band also featured his great friend and concertina player Paddy Murphy. He and Murphy were to play together over many years and their duets won All- Ireland titles at the Fleadhanna and Oireachtas Na Gaeilge in the 1950s. He won All-Ireland titles on the flute at the Oireachtas in 1955 and at the Fleadhanna of 1956 and 1957. At the 1957 Oireachtas he took first prize on the fiddle, and the same year saw a double triumph on fiddle and flute at the county Clare fleadh in Miltown Malbay.


Competitions were also part of his life in the Tulla Céilí band as it battled for top prizes at the fleadhanna, usually with their North Clare rivals, the Kilfenora, with whom he also played.  In later years he reflected on the place of competitions in the music and concluded, that, while competitions had a role, they could also be overdone, particularly where younger musicians were concerned because they “could get too geared up from one competition to the next, and if they lose once or twice there is the danger they could pack in the music altogether.”


Peter O'Loughlin at home with the Egan set of pipes presented to him by Seán Reid.

The Fiach Roe band was very much local, its performances confined to County Clare, but the Tulla had a national and international circuit and he toured Ireland and England with the band in the 1950s and 60s.  In the 1970s and 80s he played in Germany with Paddy Murphy and in France with Murphy and Paddy Canny, and later toured extensively in the US.

His commercial recordings began with the five 78 recordings of the Tulla in 1956.  The first ever LP of Irish traditional music, All -Ireland Champions - Violin, was released by Shamrock Records in 1959 and features Peter, P.Joe Hayes, Paddy Canny and Bridie Lafferty. This classic recording was issued as a CD in 2001 by Shanachie Records with the title An Historic Recording of Irish Traditional Music from County Clare and East Galway.  In 1963 he made an EP, Seancheoil ar an Sean-Nós, with fiddler Aggie Whyte.  It was released on SPÓL, a record label established by the music collector Breandán Breathnach in the early 1960s, with the express purpose of recording genuine Irish traditional music.  This was the only traditional music recording issued by SPÓL and quickly became a collector’s item. It was released as a CD by Na Píobairí Uilleann in 2010.


Other commercial collaborations included The Southwest Wind (1988),  Touch Me If You Dare (2002), and The Legacy (2015) with piper and  friend Ronan Browne, The Thing Itself (2004) with another close friend, fiddler Maeve Donnelly, all on Claddagh Records; a collection of duets with Paddy Murphy, In Good Hands, released on Celtic Crossings, (2007); and Peter O’Loughlin: a musical life, a compilation of  his private recordings over many decades, compiled, edited and mastered by  Ronan Browne (2016).

Peter performs onstage at Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy 2011 with Ronan Browne and Maeve Donnelly.

At Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy he was a tutor in the advanced fiddle classes, with special emphasis on the West Clare fiddle style.  An intelligent, thoughtful mentor, he demonstrated and explained advanced techniques to students. But technical skill alone was never enough for him and he encouraged students to think about the music, how the masters interpreted it, and the changing social contexts in which it was played. He saw the changes in Irish rural society and the effects on the music, from recording in his kitchen for Radio Éireann, and playing music with close friends on Sunday nights in country pubs, to the emergence of high profile groups and traditional musicians enjoying international status: a growing professionalisation, commercialisation, academic recognition and media focus.  While he understood these developments, and welcomed the diverse opportunities they afforded musicians, he always emphasised the necessity of preserving the authenticity of the music amid the challenges of competing tastes and interpretations.


He would share his knowledge, skills and time unstintingly with those who wanted to learn, regardless of their ultimate prospects as musicians. A genuine interest and effort was what he required.   But, as is well known, he gave short shrift to pretentions and could be trenchant in his judgements.  If he believed criticism was justified – be it of individuals, organisations or events-- then he voiced it; sometimes caustically, more often humourously, but always effectively. The music was what mattered: how it was played and presented and handed down to coming generations.  And he favoured the direct approach when playing, without superfluous frills.  As he memorably expressed it:   “The flavour of the music is gone once the antics come on too heavy...It’s great when the music is coming solid and straight and at the right speed...Then the flavour is right.” That position he passionately defended, at all times.


His acknowledged mastery in instrumental music was complemented by a deep love and understanding of sean-nós singing, in Irish and English, and he had strong associations with singers of the Conamara and Cúl Aodha traditions and often attended the singing competitions at Oireachtas na Gaeilge. With a formidable knowledge of the Irish traditional music heritage, and a storyteller’s gift for illustrating it, he was an influential and accessible tradition bearer.


His status in the traditional music world was recognised by his peers.  He was presented with a TG4 Gradam Saoil (Lifetime Achievement) Award in 2005 and in 2011 was a recipient of the annual Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy Tribute given to a person who has made a significant contribution to traditional music.  In 2016 friend and ethnomusicologist Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin dedicated his comprehensive study of Clare traditional music, Flowing Tides, to him.


Peadar O’Loughlin was a dominant figure in Irish traditional music for over half a century and has left an enduring legacy to that tradition. Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy would like to extend sympathies to the family:  Beta, his wife, and children Nóirín, Gráinne, Úna, Ciarán and Cathal, and the extended O’Loughlin family.


Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Peter with the late JC Talty during Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy 2002.

Peter playing a tune with the late Paddy Canny during Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy 1997.

© Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy 2019   Website: Tony Kearns