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Seán Keane RIP

All at Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy are shocked and saddened by the recent death of master fiddle player Seán Keane. Seán was a supporter of the school from its inception and attended regularly as a performer, tutor and visiting musician at Máire O’Keeffe’s fiddle workshops over the decades. He and his brother James first visited Miltown Malbay as young boys in 1957 when the first County Clare Fleadh was held there and he was a frequent visitor to the area since then, absorbing the music and lore of Willie Clancy, Junior Crehan, Bobby Casey, Joe Ryan, Patrick Kelly and many other West Clare musicians. SSWC was privileged to screen ITMA’s documentary ‘A Portrait of an Artist: Seán Keane’ at last year’s summer school.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam ceolmhar.

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Photo: Tony Kearns

Larry Lynch (1941-2021): a tribute

The organising committee of Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy regrets to announce the death of Larry Lynch. Larry was a dedicated performer and dance teacher at the school for many years. Born and raised in San Francisco of Irish parents, he learned his dancing from his grandfather John D. O’ Sullivan who came from Cahersiveen, Co Kerry. John was a native Irish speaker who also played the fiddle. 


Larry was an outstanding performer of the old solo step dances, and was unique in that he could dance all the old set pieces such as The Priest in his Boots, Job of Journeywork, Humours of Bandon, etc. His interest in the old set dances from the different areas of Munster opened a major page in his career. He researched extensively the rhythms and footwork of all those old dances and held a huge respect for the local traditions and informants. He was determined to stick steadfastly by these traditions regardless of what might result from the imminent arrival of the set dancing revival which could be seen coming along the way.

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Larry Lynch, July 1994.

Photo: Tony Kearns

Following on from Larry’s tireless in-depth research and hard work we in the traditional music and dance world are privileged to have for posterity his  insightful  publication Set Dances of Ireland: Tradition and Evolution ( Séadhna  Books, 1989). Therein are 36 sets described and illustrated with clear graphics accompanying the text.  The book Includes interviews, maps and commentaries about the origins of each dance.


Accompanying the book are five volumes of recordings featuring music from counties Clare, Kerry, Cork, Tipperary and elsewhere. The sleeve notes include detailed information on the sets played and the sleeve design was by John Browning with cover design by Kevin O’Shea and sound recording by Harry Bradshaw.  The musicians in these recordings were Johnny Leary, Denis McMahon, Timmy O’Connor, Paudie Scully, Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich, Michael Tubridy, Éamon McGivney, Tommy McCarthy and Junior Crehan.

Larry Lynch taught a variety of dances during a long career as a dance tutor at various summer schools, festivals, and institutions, in the USA, the UK, Cape Breton, mainland Europe and Ireland.  He attracted dedicated followers to his workshops. His students were people who appreciated that his teaching was informed by a thorough knowledge of the Irish dancing traditions and practices, and were impressed by his determination to disseminate that knowledge to younger generations.

His teaching repertoire included  the following set dances: the Ardgroom, Ballycommon, Ballyvourney Jig,  Ballyvourney Reel , Black Valley Jig, Black Dingle Polka, Fling, Ginny Lind, Kilkenny Lancers, Killorglin Polka, Newmarket Meserts, Newmarket Mazurka, Newmarket Paris, Newmarket Polka, Plain, Plain Polka Set, Set of Erin, Staicín Eornan (Stack of Barley), The Lancers, The PolkaSet, The Set of Mezerts, Tipperary Lancers, Valentia Right and Left, the Victoria, the Orange and Green, the Plain Set from Clare, the Caledonian from Clare, the Clare Paris Set and other Clare dances which he learned from  the renowned Clare dance masters, Dan Furey and James Keane.

Larry Lynch was a pivotal figure at the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy set dancing workshops from the early 1980s to the mid -2000s.  In addition to his regular morning workshops he always ran two evenings of set-dance céilithe, one devoted to Clare Set Dances and the other to Cork-Kerry Polka Sets. These céilithe were the social demonstrations of the lessons he taught at his workshops, and the musicians selected to play for the céilithe were those who played on the recordings. He considered them the best people to provide music at the correct tempo for those dances.

His strongly-held views on set dancing practices did not always sit comfortably with other dance tutors of the revival period. But, regardless of differences of opinions on historical sources and interpretations, he was highly respected by all for his integrity, dedication to Irish traditional dancing, and expert knowledge of set dancing and step dancing. On first encounters he could present a formidable exterior but, on closer acquaintance, he could be good company, telling entertaining stories about his dance researches, the informants he met, the Irish music and dance scene in San Francisco, and his extensive family connections in Kerry. Perhaps the Kerry background was an important factor in his becoming a dance tutor and commentator on Irish traditional dance.

Larry Lynch made a significant contribution to the dance workshops at Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy and his published researches have added hugely to Irish traditional dance studies.

The Committee would like to pass on deepest condolences to his wife Shaina and to all his family and friends worldwide.

Go ndéana Dia grásta air.

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Larry Lynch teaching a set dancing class during Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy 1992. In the centre are Timmy O'Connor (accordion) and the late Muiris Ó Rócháin.

Photo: Tony Kearns

Joe Burke (1939-2021): a tribute

Joe Burke is and will be regarded as one of the most influential accordion players of his day and a Master of the Tradition. He taught accordion at Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy for many years and left a

lasting impression on the aspiring accordion players who came to his classes. His knowledge of the music, and expertise in imparting it, interwoven with stories of past music legends and a ready wit, created a flexible teaching environment. Students enjoyed the infectious learning experience he created and came away with growing repertoires, technical dexterity and a fund of anecdotes. He was keen to have students appreciate the people, places and history associated with the music and was a recognised link between the master musicians of an earlier period and later generations.


His early music influences began at home where music was played by his mother Annie and his uncle Pat and visiting musicians. He eagerly learned from all the great musicians of the time. While the accordion was his signature instrument he was very interested in the playing of fiddle, flute, and pipes, and had a great love for Sean Nós singing. 

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Joe Burke, July 2003.

Photo: Tony Kearns

He took a keen interest in the B/C accordion system and was influenced by the recordings of Paddy O'Brien, the Co. Tipperary accordion player and composer. He had a life-long admiration and appreciation for the recordings of the great fiddle master Michael Coleman, from Co. Sligo. But he went on to develop his own unique style for which he became internationally renowned.

He was much influenced by the recordings of Irish traditional musicians in America in the early decades of the 20th century, like Coleman and Touhey, and had a thorough knowledge of that period, its personalities and recordings. He first spent time in the US in the early 1960s where he played with musicians like Lad O’Beirne, Ed Reevey, Andy McGann, Paddy Killoran, Catherine Brennan Grant, Larry Redican and Martin Wynne, and many more. Some of his vast personal collection of recordings and music memorabilia he donated to NUI Galway, and, shortly before his death, he bequeathed  previously unheard and treasured recordings of Michael Coleman to the Irish Traditional Music Archive. These recordings were gifted to him by Lad O'Beirne. On some of these recordings are Lad O'Beirne himself, Andy McGann and Tim Fitzpatrick.


Competitive successes came easily, winning All-Ireland Fleadhanna titles in the Senior Accordion Competitions at Thurles (1959), Boyle (1960), and the Duet Competition with fiddler Aggie Whyte at Gorey in 1962, and with the Galway-based Leitrim céilí band - of which he was co-founder and secretary - which won All-Ireland titles in 1959 and 1962.


His recording career spanned several decades and formats, from 78s to current day mediums. His first recordings in the 1950s for Gael Linn were made on 78rpm discs and were the last to be released in Europe. He released an impressive output of albums in collaboration with such artists as Andy McGann, Felix Dolan, Seán McGuire, Josephine Keegan, Máire Ní Chathasaigh, Michael Cooney, Terry Corcoran and Brian Conway. He also recorded a flute album ”The Tailor's Choice”.  In addition to touring much of the world, recording, and performances for radio and TV, he also presented his own radio show on KDHX, in  St Louis.


Recognition of his achievements came in the form of several prestigious awards.  He was named RTE’s Traditional Musician of the Year in 1970, received the AIB Traditional Music Award - forerunner of the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Awards - in 1997, and the same year won the Irish World newspaper Lifetime Achievement Award. He received a Musical Mastery Award from Boston College in 2000, and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Gradam an Chomhaltais in 2003.


With his wife Anne Conroy Burke he established the Joe Burke School of Music back home in Kilnadeema, Co. Galway, where they both held accordion classes. They also continued to play and tour and give workshops. He produced a music book in 2011 entitled “The Joe Burke Music Collection" with notation and 3 CDs  containing   104 tunes compiled and played by him, with variations and ornamentations. So his music continues to be accessible and continues to inspire.


Joe Searson, who now coordinates the accordion classes at the Summer School, paid the following tribute to Joe Burke:

We were delighted when he came to the last real Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, in 2019, and took part in the accordion recital. It was an emotional experience for his numerous friends, music colleagues and devoted followers who were always fascinated by the powerful rhythms of his music and his commanding public performances.


Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy was privileged to have Joe Burke head up the accordion section for many years. He set its standards, ethos and reputation. The summer school will be a poorer place without him.

Muintir Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy extend sympathies to Anne Conroy Burke and the extended families. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Joe’s unique technical virtuosity of accordion playing was pivotal in the popularity of the button accordion in Irish traditional music over the past 60 years. Wherever Joe performed, be it in Ireland, Britain or America and beyond, his musical performance was exceptional and the melodic shape to his music caused your musical spirits to rise. His capacity audiences always had a significant following of both musicians and devoted listeners, who would hear echoes of a rich music heritage from times past. Joe’s legacy is his musical influence which can be seen in accordion playing today and no doubt will be an influence on the playing of future generations and in the development of Irish traditional music.


His musical brilliance, and knowledge and love of Irish music and culture, was passed on to pupils and teachers at the Willie Clancy Summer School over the years. He was always the star attraction at the accordion recitals every year where he played to capacity audiences who were charmed by his style, technique and humour.

Go leanfaí tionchar ceoil Joe ar cheol na gcairdín agus ar cheol Gaelach I bhfad is go buan.

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Tony MacMahon playing In Queally's, July 1996. Photo: Tony Kearns

Tony often spoke of the accordion’s limitations as an instrument but there were no such instrumental limitations when it came to his performing. Every note was delivered by a true master of the tradition. Many of the great older musicians such as Séamus Ennis, John Kelly, Willie Clancy, Bobby Casey and Tommy Potts had passed on the old music and lore which MacMahon proudly nurtured and shared with all of us.


During his broadcasting career he fought tirelessly to keep the standards to the highest degree. Every single programme that he produced resulted in a work of art. It’s regrettable to say that some of his ‘‘Ag Déanamh Ceól’’ programmes from the early seventies were shamefully discarded and obviously ended up in some archivist’s waste bin. 


Tony had always been proud of his Clare roots and was forever a great friend and supporter of Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy. He delivered three lectures at the school on different occasions. His first in 1980 on the broadcasting of Irish traditional music, the second in 1981 on the button accordion in Irish traditional music. In 1993 he gave a lecture on the musical influences of John Kelly. He had very high regard for John Kelly and often referred to him as his mentor.

He also officially opened the school in 1988 and that same year produced and presented a television documentary based on fiddle player Johnny McGreevy. Tony continued to attend and contribute to the school for many years after that until his health sadly began to decline.


Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy paid a special tribute to Tony at the 2019 Summer School, where he and his many friends and fellow musicians gathered to celebrate his great musical life. His good friend Des Geraghty drove Tony to Milltown Malbay for what was a great occasion.


Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy would like to pass on deepest condolences to Tony’s wife Kantha, sons Anan and Oisín, brother Dermot and Tony’s extended family.

Go ndéana Dia grásta air.                   

Tony MacMahon (1939-2021): a tribute

By Éamon McGivney

Tony MacMahon has left a wonderful legacy to Irish traditional music through his many recordings and outstanding work in radio and television since the late 1960’s. He has produced and presented programmes of the highest standard such as ‘‘Ag Déanamh Ceól’’, ‘‘The Long Note’’, ‘‘The Pure Drop’’, ‘‘Bring down the Lamp’’ to name but a few. He gave countless opportunities to musicians from all over to perform on both television and radio especially genuine carriers of the tradition. People like Jim Donoghue, Micilín Conlon or Seán Chóilín Ó’Conaire might never have had the opportunity to be heard or seen on radio or television if it were not for Tony MacMahon.

He championed the melodeon method of playing the box and was a proud performer of that old traditional way of playing. He expertly played both treble and bass simultaneously. His LP, ‘‘Traditional Button Accordion’’, 1972, is a prime example of his skill and of the genius that he was. It was re-released in 2005 on CD. His knowledge of and use of the bass chords was exemplary, especially with his playing of airs. On a technical note, the base chords on the Paolo Soprani accordions were tuned to suit the melodeon method of playing anyway.   

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