North Inishowen – Malin, Malin Head, Culdaff.
In the book ‘The Last of the Name’, Charles Mc Glinchey (1861–1954) refers to an unnamed descendant of the Malin poet Seán Mac an Meirge Doherty “as a great harper, the best in Ireland”.
John Donovan (1914-1949) from Inistrahull island was a major influence on the music in the Malin area. John was born in 1914 and learnt his music primarily by ear. However he could read tonic solfa, and later his good friend Neil Toland taught him to read staff notation.
John Donovan was a popular singer and entertainer and in 1945 he made commercial recordings of six songs accompanied by Albert Healy.
John was a fine fiddler and also used the fiddle like a ukulele to accompany his singing. He died in 1949.
Neil Toland (1911-2007), studied violin initially with the aid of the ‘Peter Wiper’ violin tutor book and later with Sheila White (nee McGonigle) from Ballyliffin. Neil and John Donovan were lifelong friends and John was Neil’s best man at his wedding to Bridie.
Neil was a member of The Victory Dance Band, which was formed by Fr Mc Namee to celebrate the political achievements of De Valera. Neil played alongside many of his friends in this band, including John Donovan.
Following John Donovan’s untimely death in 1949, the band carried on in various formations, such as the Seaside Serenaders, and Malin Head Folk group. Tommy McGonigle (Laurence), Frances Fullerton, Patsy Kelly, Paddy and Cara Byrne, Joe McLaughlin (Closha), and Philip, Charlie, Eugene and younger members of the Crampsey family carried on the tradition. Grace Farren (Charlie Phil) played the accordion. She was a dancer and lilter and the source of many tunes for musicians around Culdaff and Malin.
Pat McDaid from Dunross, Culdaff, was titled ‘The Bard of Inishowen’ and won awards at local feiseanna. Pat died in 1938 at an advanced age.
Paddy Byrne and his brothers Michael and Cara, all fiddlers, played a major role in the music of Inishowen. Alongside traditional music, they were able to perform the popular music of the day for dancing.
‘Pat the Fiddler’ (Patrick Doherty), a travelling fiddler and tinsmith from Sligo, is reported to have spent a great deal of time around the Culdaff/Malin area in the 1950s-60s.
A new set of musicians has been emerging recently in the Malin area. These include The Henry Girls (Lorna, Karen and Joleen McLaughlin); Paula and Melanie Houton; and Eimear Mc Colgan, Ruardhrí McCarron, Breda Doherty and the O’Connor family to name a few.
The Gleneely Céilí Band performed at local dances around the area, playing traditional tunes and popular songs of the day. Members included Jim and Archie Warnock, James Bradley, Frank Griffin, Mickey Curley and John Mc Gonagle. On occasion Deirdre McGrory (née Doherty) joined them on vocals.
During the 1950s the O’Kane family band with members John, Tom, Patrick and Anne Kane, the Tremone Dance Band.
George Mc Laughlin and his band played in O’Kane’s Hall, Lecamey: Bob Carey’s loft Carrowmena and dance halls further afield in Culdaff and Moville. John Joe Mc Grory and Michael Byrne from Malin often played in Bocan Hall.
A popular tune played at the time was the ‘Bocan Waltz’.
Other musicians around the Culdaff area were William Knox and George Mills (Carthage).
Young musicians emerging around the Culdaff area include Deirdre and Ella McGrory.