Inishowen Trad Orchestra and Choir at NCH

On the 22nd January 2023, the Inishowen Traditional Music Project (ITMP), in partnership with the Donegal County Council brought the specially commissioned work “Inishowen” to The National Concert Hall, Dublin. This new suite of music was performed by the Inishowen Trad Orchestra and Choir (a 150-piece ensemble) and was an expansive journey through a millennium of the musical heritage of Ireland’s most northerly peninsula.

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Seamus Grant CD Launch, 25th February 2011 Mc Grory’s, Culdaff, Inishowen

CD launch officiated by Dr Liz Doherty


Good evening everybody.

Thank you Mick and thank you Roisin and the Inishowen Traditional Music Project for inviting me to speak this evening and to formally launch the CD that Seamus Grant recorded in 2004- ‘Traditional Fiddle Playing from Inishowen’. We are very aware that Seamus is not with us in person tonight, but I hope for Bridget and all the members of the Seamus Grant family, for Seamus’s long term friends, and those of us who knew him for only a short time, that tonight is not a sad occasion but rather one that allows us to celebrate and take joy from the fact that the music he loved so much – and about which he was so quietly passionate – will live on, be passed on and passed out far beyond Inishowen.


When it comes to fiddle music, Donegal in general has not always had the best of recognition. The tunes and styles of the region were often dismissed further south in the country as that ‘Auld Scottish music’ they play up in Donegal; indeed, we were often criticized for getting that wrong too- “bad Scottish music”. And within Donegal itself, Inishowen music was often, if not forgotten, then certainly less foregrounded than that or other regions such as Glencolmcille, Teelin, Glenties. But maybe in the grand scheme of things, that’s not such a bad thing. The music was – and is – alive here. We had – and continue to have – our own distinct voice within the mosaic of styles that make up the Donegal tradition. And we have our own stars, our own masters, of the tradition. Every now and again, when we take our traditional music beyond Inishowen, or when the outside world takes a look in, they continue to be surprised and impressed. And why wouldn’t they be.


Growing up in the metropolis of Buncrana, I have to confess that I never came across Seamus Grant and his music in the years when I was first playing the fiddle; in fact, it wasn’t until I was a student in UCC, that I became aware of him, through the research work of Damhnait Nic Suibhne (Clement Sweeney’s daughter) who was taking the same course as me. I was reading her project which focused on Seamus and Francie Mooney, and reading about Mozart and Beethoven at the same time – so they all came to acquire equal stature in my head.


When I did eventually begin to meet Seamus at the odd gathering in Culdaff or Clonmany I was always highly impressed by how much he knew- about everything. I remember one night coming out of the Isle of Doagh with him and I was heading off to play in New Zealand the next morning. Seamus was asking was I going to the North Island or the South Island, or this or that area; – so I asked him when he had lived there. Of course, he laughed and told me he’d never lived there, never travelled there but had read about it. I remember thinking, wow; I’m so busy caught up in the getting there and back and never fully appreciating /maximising the opportunities I am having handed to me.  It was the same when I would chat to him about music. I have a bit of an obsession about Canadian music and I couldn’t believe it when I met Seamus and he knew all of these players – in fact, often ones I had not come across myself. And again, not from touring about the place, travelling etc, but from a genuine interest hunger to learn, and as Mick has already pointed out, from having two unique gifts 1) of being able to listen and 2) having time for people and their stories. In my academic work I’m constantly intrigued by how one’s personality is often completely reflected (mirrored) in one’s playing style. Think of someone who might be, shall we say, a colourful character – often their music can be described in the same way- flamboyant, full-on. Or someone who has a bit it of a glint in their eye, a bit of a devil, a bit of craic- that too comes out in their music. Seamus’s playing, for me reflects the personality of the man – that calm, unhurried nature, assurance, and quiet confidence of his personality that allows the tunes to breathe exactly as they should. As it stated so eloquently in the sleeve notes: “with every considered note Seamus enriched it with the generosity of his spirit and the charm of his soul”. His style too reflects his quest for learning and explaining his musical knowledge – he moves easily in and out of positions for example on Dark Inishowen’ – always impressive to a traditional player (my own fiddle doesn’t go above high B!).


I spent a lot of time in Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. The music there basically came from Highland Scotland in the 18th century; and there was a great quote I heard from the legendary Scottish fiddler, Hector MacAndrew, when he came across the Cape Breton style in the form of a fiddler by the name of Winston Scotty Fitzgerald. He said – “you’re very close to the truth”. For us in Inishowen, Seamus’s music is indeed the truth. He totally encapsulates what our music is about. He came by his music honestly, he crafted his talent within the local community, he developed and expanded his knowledge and his ability in every way open to him – and he shared it and passed it on with a generosity that was second to none.


Back in 2004 I was doing a short tour around the country with my band at the time which included Ryan MacNeil, from Cape Breton, – a great exponent of that very full, vibrant syncopated piano style that is totally distinctive to that tradition. Through Roisin Mc Grory and Angela Mc Laughlin of Inishowen Traditional Music Project, it was organized to get Ryan and Seamus together to record a few tunes and see how it all went. Well, the two boys totally clicked. I went off to work and when I got home in the evening they were still sitting round the kitchen table (Jim in the middle of them) drinking tea and talking tunes! The second day the ‘rehearsal’ was down in Seamus’s house and he had dug out all these video tapes he had made over the years of various Canadian musicians to play for Ryan. The very first one he put on was of a band called the Barra MacNeils – who turned out to be Ryan’s own brothers and sisters. Ryan was blown away – he had to ring home to relay that story to his folks that night! Then they got down to the music- and the result of that is what we are here to celebrate tonight. By any standards this fantastic CD, recorded here in this very room, has a real live feel to it, and a sense of connection between the two musicians that transcends a 50-year age gap and a 4000 mile ocean.


There is an accolade that I would like to bring to your attention with regard to this CD; again, while Seamus was aware of it, he never made any great song and a dance about it. Back in 2005, when the CD had been recorded (Nov 2004) and the conversations were beginning about getting it completed and out into the public domain, the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealain was reviewing its whole policy and funding regarding the traditional arts […]. It was easier to get support if you were a classical violinist or an opera singer – and I mean not only financial support but also that validation that comes from the Arts Council recognising that an artistic project is worthy and valuable. A scheme called ‘Deis ‘ was set up in order to recognise the traditional arts and traditional artists and Seamus Grant and this CD project was actually the very first recipient of a Deis award.


At this point I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the Inishowen Traditional Music Project and the tremendous vision and dedication they have shown in bringing this project to fruition. In particular to Roisin and Angela McLaughlin who drove it from start to finish. And to Mick Denieffe who was involved in advisory capacity and who co-wrote the sleeve notes with Roisin. The Inishowen Traditional Music Project, which has been on the go since 1999, is a fantastic organisation doing great work in passing on and promoting the music of the area and ensuring that that local voice of which we should be so proud continues to grow from strength to strength. To all the young musicians who are part of it, you are a part of something really special -I hope you enjoy every minute of it!


One of the great things about Irish music can be the great names that are given to tunes and tucked away in the set list of tunes on Seamus’s CD there is a great name of a barndance- ‘If there weren’t any women in the world’! Well, there would be a whole lot less chat- so I’m not going to detain you for a whole lot longer. The world will of course and quite rightly go to Seamus this evening when we hear a few tunes that we will always associate with him; I for one don’t think that I’ll be able to hear ‘Our Highland Queen’ played anywhere in the world again without thinking of Seamus. Before that- when I was asked to speak tonight, I took the liberty of contacting a great friend and huge inspiration to me, Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Chair of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, and asking him if he’d like to pen a few thoughts to contribute to tonight’s proceedings. Mícheál had, of course, performed with Seamus at the McGlinchey summer School in Clonmany and then interviewed him for a series he was recording for Lyric FM. So, I’ll declare Seamus’s CD officially launched and leave you with Mícheál’s words:

From Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Chair, Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick

‘A Memory of Seamus Grant, Fiddler’ (February 2011)  

When I visited Seamus a number of years ago to interview him for an RTÉ Lyric FM radio series, it was our first meeting. Liz Doherty had made the all-important introductions, so I was hitting the ground running in that regard. He invited me to his home and there I got the first sense of the presence behind the music. The fire was lit, all things were present and correct in their proper place. The clock ticked in time- not a few minutes before to hurry you on, or a few minutes behind to say ‘it doesn’t matter’ – but right on the beat. Because it did matter. Music mattered.

I was in the presence of a gentleman fiddler. I had heard the term gentleman piper used especially in 19th Century sources, but never applied to a fiddler. It was the well-mannered manner of his timing, his noble bow hand, his attention to what the Dublin fiddler Tommy Potts might term ‘the finer points’ – all of these served to make the music-making.

We were in the presence not just of a great tradition-bearer, but in the presence of a kindly king, a leader of his music-people, a great turner of the earth-sound of a mounting renaissance of his inherited sound.

If Heaney’s spade was the nib of his ‘squat pen’, Seamus dug his sonic ground with the fiddle bow, and never was turf cut so neatly with a loy, never lifted in the air so adroitly, and never stacked away with such care and efficiency to warm the world of future generations of young musicians gathered around the communal fire – but yet to find the path back to the original sound-cutter.

This celebration serves to open up the path further so that the young musicians of today can all the more easily find their way through the undergrowth of tradition back into the open field in their search, “till times and times are done/ the silver apples of the moon/ the golden apples of the sun.”

They will not be disappointed.



For Liz Doherty

Seamus Grant 1934-2005

On the 22nd of November 2004, at the age of 70 Seamus Grant recorded 17 tunes with Ryan MacNeil. At the time of recording it was intended that along with these solo tunes from Seamus’ repertoire that the Two-Hand dance tunes and the music of the Clonmany Ceili Band would also be recorded. Sadly, Seamus became ill and passed away in November 2005. Fortunately, Seamus’s dance music repertoire is preserved in a number of private and archive collections while the present collection – the only collection of Seamus’ music to be commercially available – allows a real glimpse into the technical mastery and the diverse musical tastes of this most unassuming of musicians

A life in Music

The townland of Gortnahinson overlooks Clonmany village on the Inishowen Peninsula. This place, nestling in the foothills of Bulaba, bounded by Lough Swilly to the West and the Atlantic to the North is where Seamus lived most of his life. This is where he worked the land he loved and shared in the music, song, dance and storytelling of a place of great natural beauty and vibrant culture.

When Seamus was growing up, strong links existed with Scotland and this is evident in the Dance Music of Inishowen. Being only 40 miles north by sea many Inishowen people travelled there for seasonal work. Likewise, visitors returned during summer holidays and for ‘Scotch Fairs’. Scottish music was more easily accessible on radio than Irish music and recordings of some of the great Scottish fiddle masters could be bought in a local shop in Carndonagh, where Seamus was a regular customer. The fiddle style in Inishowen was notably different to the Donegal Fiddle style associated with South West Donegal. Also, while the fiddle dominated in the South West of the county it was the melodeon that was most popular in Inishowen during Seamus’s early days. Seamus recalls “the melodeon and the fiddle would be the only two instruments you’d hear at the time, and it would be mostly the melodeon”.

Seamus had a natural gift for the music passed down to him by his parents, both musicians. He learned also, from the playing of his uncle, Willie Joe Grant and from a neighbour, (White) Dan Doherty who was later to become his father in law. White Dan was a fiddler, singer and dancer and a great source of tunes, many learned during harvest time in Scotland.  As a young boy White Dan often assisted in taking the blind fiddler Paddy Kelly to the many local house dances. A noted fiddler of his day, Paddy was much in demand until his death in the 1920s. Another fiddler influential in the music of Clonmany was Neily McColgan, a blind fiddler from Ballyliffen. When not entertaining on pleasure boat trips on the Foyle or boat trips to Scotland, Neily was called upon to play for big events in the community. Seamus also recalls travelling musicians by the name of McGinley and Gallagher visiting the area as well as Pat McDonald and the famous Doherty brothers.

From the age of about fifteen, Seamus was in big demand to play at house dances. These “Big Nights” were central to the musical culture of Inishowen and marked occasions in the community such as weddings, christenings, and emigration.

These nights were filled with storytelling, music, song and dance. They were lively events that often went on all night. The furniture would be removed to make way for the dancers and a make shift stage set up for the musician. One fiddler recalls an old door being set over the bed to create a stage for him, and to keep him out of harms way for when the dancing became too enthusiastic. It was often daybreak by the time someone would call to “Bag the Fiddle” before the dancers made their way home on foot or bicycle.

The dances popular in the area at the time included the Lancers, Highlands, Four-Hand Reel, Military Two-Step, Barn Dance, Haymakers’ Jig, Lannigan’s Ball, Maggie Pickins, Shoe the Donkey, the Polka Round and the Pin Polka. Other dances included old-fashioned waltzes termed the Versovienna and the Veleta. Solo pieces, songs and recitations would be performed as well as step – dances, generally hornpipes, performed by men. Another favourite was the Cripple Dance, a dance performed in a squatting position by men in competition with each other. It was danced to the reel ‘The Swallow’s Tail’ known locally as ‘The Bonnie Fair of Carn’. Thankfully through the dedication of Seamus and others, many of these dances have survived to the present day.

Seamus had many humorous stories of his adventures as a musician and his eagerness to improve. When he was about 14 years old there lived in Carndonagh, a clergyman, who played classical violin. Seamus thought he would approach him for some lessons. To avoid interfering with the farm work he waited for the next wet day to make the 20 mile round trip by bicycle to Carndonagh. At his mother’s request he purchased a metal boiling pot and a couple of pounds of boiling beef. Armed with pot and beef wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string, he continued in the rain to the parochial house. As the rain persisted to pour, Seamus’ enthusiasm dampened and so too did the parcel of meat. The door was opened by the priest’s housekeeper and as she pondered the drenched visitor and peculiar baggage, Seamus realised that he had no hope of furthering his career as a classical violinist on that day. The priest was not receiving visitors.

Undeterred by the reception he received at the Parochial House Seamus continued to seek guidance with his music. Seamus was later introduced to a publication by William C. Honeyman, ‘The Young Violinist’ (1922). This publication and the many others in the Honeyman series became a great source of learning technique for Seamus. Having accomplished the technical skill Seamus expanded his repertoire, collecting the latest recordings of the great Scottish and Canadian fiddle masters.

In 1961 Seamus married Brigid Doherty. Seamus and Brigid made a happy home, with their seven children – Billy, Danny, Seamus, Martina, Sally, Sheila and Rosaleen. Visitors to their home were made very welcome by Seamus and Brigid. Seamus had a wonderful memory, a great love of reading and a keen interest in world and local affairs. An evening spent in their home, in conversation and listening to the great stories and knowledge that Seamus could impart was always a pleasure.

“Big Nights” began to die out in the early 1950s. Musical tastes were changing as popular music and modern dance became more accessible. Music and Irish culture were becoming associated with a backward way of life.

The Clonmany Céilí Band was formed in 1956 by local curate Fr. Desmond Mullan to promote céilí dancing and to represent the Parish at Feiseanna.. The early members, along with Seamus were Ned and Jimmy Doherty (drums and double bass), his lifelong friend Maeliosa Doherty (button accordion), John McCarron (button accordion), Neil Mc Gonigle (fiddle) and Desmond Kavanagh (piano) and in later years Pat Hughes (piano). Dinny McLaughlin (fiddle) also joined them regularly for céilí dances and Feiseanna in the early days. The band was hugely popular and played regularly at céilí dances throughout Donegal, Derry and Tyrone up to the early 1970s. Later Seamus continued as a duo with his good friend, the late Connie Doherty (piano accordion) supporting céilí classes, dances and concerts. During this time, many of the céilí dances and concerts were organised by Clement Mac Suibhne of Ballyliffen. Clement was a great supporter of the tradition. He was later elected President of CCE.  Many dancers will remember fondly the GAA Monthly céilí dances organised by John Friel and Colm Toland in the Strand Hotel in Ballyliffin during the early 1980s.

At those events  Seamus was joined by Jimmy Cuddihy (accordion) and Garda Sergeant Mick McIlkenny (Fiddle) and regularly by two young Ballyliffin musicians, sisters Blaithin (concertina) and Damhnait Nic Suibhne (flute). Damhnait went on to study music and Seamus is featured in her undergraduate thesis  ‘Links between Donegal and Scottish Fiddling’ UCC 1989.

From around 1990 the band, led by Seamus with various local musicians would reform a few times a year to play the original reportoire for céilí dancers. The 50th anniversary of the band was celebrated in 2004 as part of the McGlinchey Summer School programme of events. On the night Seamus was joined by Patsy Toland (banjo), Mick Denieffe (accordion) Roisin McGrory (fiddle) and Angela McLaughlin (piano). It was a great night and for many, brought back fond memories of earlier days.

Seamus especially enjoyed small gatherings, with other musicians, remembering old tunes, their origin and history and the association the tunes had with people who mattered to him. His playing in this type of gathering brought out his true talent and was very special indeed. Seamus liked to visit Pat Mulhern at his home in Drumfries. Pat was a wonderful fiddle player and inspiration to many. The great Dinny McLaughlin, musician, dancer and poet was a neighbour and former pupil of Pat and would cross the field to Pat’s house for these great nights of fiddle music and conversation. Seamus did not frequent public houses very much but in his final years he attended on occasion the Tuesday and Friday night sessions in the Front Bar in McGrory’s Hotel in Culdaff whose owners at the time were by Anne, John & Neil Mc Grory. He greatly enjoyed these gatherings and was always a very welcome guest.

The Inishowen Traditional Music Project was formed in1999. Seamus, always a supporter of local initiatives was delighted with the resurgence of interest in the traditional music among the younger generations in the area. He enjoyed hearing visiting musicians, often attending the events with his grand- daughter Christina Grant, also a fine fiddler. Of the many visiting musicians his favourites were Trevor Hunter, Pierre Schyrer and Frankie Gavin.

Seamus admired the music of the great fiddle masters. Their music and technique influenced his style of playing. On his album Seamus Grant, Traditional Music from Inishowen, he performs compositions of Scott Skinner, James Hill and Neil Gow and from further afield, the music of the great Canadian Fiddlers such as Rudy Meeks. Seamus had a great affinity with the music of both Scotland and Canada. Already, an admirer of the music of the MacNeil family of Cape Breton, he was very pleased at the prospect of Ryan MacNeil providing piano accompaniment on his album. Ryan and Seamus met through their mutual friend and fellow musician, Liz Doherty. Neil Mc Grory recorded the album in the Backroom bar, a room Seamus frequently attended for concerts and sessions. Seamus enjoyed the whole recording experience, the hours of practice with Ryan and conversation encompassing musicians, tunes and life. Although coming from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, we catch a glimpse on Seamus’s album of their shared understanding and love of the music.

Thankfully, Seamus had the opportunity to devote some time to solo playing and through invitations from the McGlinchey School, Seamus met and performed with Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, followed by recordings for Lyric FM. He also took part in the programme, ‘Geantraí’ on TG4 with Roisin McGrory (fiddle), Tom Byrne (accordion) and John McGrory (guitar).

Seamus remained true to the repertoire of his area, gave generously of his knowledge and music and while always striving to reach his potential. With every considered note Seamus enriched it with the generosity of his spirit and the charm of his soul. Since his death in 2005 Seamus is dearly missed by many. His music will forever be found in the mountains of dark Inishowen.

Roisin Mc Grory & Mick Denieffe 2010/2021

Sleeve notes Seamus Grant CD, Traditional Music from Inishowen

Catalogue No; ITMP001CD

Post Script:

Although Seamus’s only made one commercial recording Seamus Grant, Traditional Fiddle playing from Inishowen, other material exists as follows:

  • Field recording (1988) of Seamus Grant by Damhnait Nic Suibhne, Traditional Music Archives, University College Cork.
  • Cairdeas na bhFidléirí Summer School Recital 2004 (UCD Archives)
  • RTE Lyric FM
  • ‘Big Nights and Bygone Days’ published by McGlinchey Summer School Issue 7. 2004
  • Other private collections

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.

Anthony McHenry

Anthony McHenry

Anthony McHenry

Born in 1932 Anthony McHenry from Glenagiveny has been the main source of music for the communities around Greencastle, Moville.  Anthony’s parents Mary Doherty, from Carndonagh and Barney McHenry, from Glenagivney both came from singing families, Barney also played concertina, button accordion, flute and whistle and was self-taught.

Anthony was self-taught originally and formed a 3 piece band with his cousin Lawrence McHenry (10yrs his senior) and his brother-in-law James McCann (20yrs his senior). The 3 played C/C# button accordions, however Anthony also plays piano accordion and violin and the viola.

Anthony decided at 26 years of age to take lessons on music theory from local music teacher, Mrs Wilson. Obtaining music notation from Philip’s and Davidson’s music shops in Derry, Anthony, Lawerence and Barney set about learning many of the popular tunes of the day which at that time was the music of Jimmy Shand. In Inishowen many homes could only receive BBC radio. For many Inishowen musicans such as Anthony they tuned in every Saturday evening at 7pm to pick up music broadcasts.  Eddie Gillen from Mossy Glen was an accomplished 2 row button accordion player. Eddie was taught by the Gilmartins from Moville who were music teachers. Jimmy Doherty from Gleneely was another champion button accordion player. Brian McGeady, a nephew is also a noted musician.