Bands and Song Collectors in Inishowen

A show in Carndonagh on 18th March 2016 prompted some reflections on music in Inishowen from well-known local historian Seán Beattie.

Last night I attended the musical NUNSENSE  in Carndonagh and enjoyed a fine evening of music and song. The seven-member band under Helen Haughey did a great job with flute, clarinet/sax, trumpet/guitar/ bass, percussion and keyboards.

Today, such bands do not give themselves a name, unlike the bands of the past, when there were over a dozen bands in the peninsula, a spin-off from the Celtic Revival and the Temperance Movement.

The earliest date for a band in Carndonagh is 1877, when the Carndonagh Flute Band played at the open air wedding reception of John Loughrey and Miss Rogan (Dublin) at Binion House. Most of the tenants appear to have been invited. Lots of ‘refreshments’ were available.

It is possible that smaller bands played in the town before this date but records have been lost.

At this time, Buncrana had St. Patrick’s Flute Band. Flutes and fifes were very popular during this period. Their traditions are now preserved in northern flute and bands which make their public appearance on July 12th.

The revival of the Brass Band in Carndonagh is of interest as it clearly has its roots in a 140 year-old history post-Great Famine. Bands were part of the social fabric and could turn up at political demonstrations, concerts, Land War rallies or, as in the 1950s, Corpus Christi processions.

The newly-revived Brass Band from Carndonagh will play on Easter Sunday in Culdaff to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

There has been a revival of interest in traditional music in Inishowen and perhaps more attention could be given to a remarkable woman collector of Irish music who was the daughter of the Moville rector, Rev. Charles Galwey, whose letters seeking aid during the Famine are in Dublin (See WORKHOUSE AND FAMINE by Sean Beattie in DONEGAL ANNUAL 1980).

Her name was Honoria Tompkins Galwey (1830 -1925) and her tunes are in a book she published in 1910 called CROONAUNS. Her mother was Honoria Knox of Prehen. She claimed that the Londonderry Air (Danny Boy) was actually a Donegal melody. She collected lilting melodies and music for Jew’s harps, which were very popular.

Also forgotten is a great Moville piper called Tom Gorden who collaborated with her.

Honoria Galwey was a leading contributor to the Irish Folksong Society (1914), another offshoot of the Celtic Revival which blossomed before the 1916 Rising. (See DONEGAL IN TRANSITION  by Sean Beattie, published by Merrion, 2013 and DONEGAL ANNUAL 2016, forthcoming). She was a close friend of Douglas Hyde and Alfred Graves, composer. She also collected the song Over Here ( “The praties they are small…..”).

As we delve more into our musical heritage, Honoria Galwey’s contribution will some day get the recognition it deserves. She was a collector of national importance. It would be appropriate to erect a plaque in her honour in Moville, where she enjoyed a long life, or perhaps to have a public concert of her music to restore her place in public life.

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