West Inishowen: Clonmany, Carndonagh.

The Clonmany area has a strong musical tradition.

A noted musician in the Clonmany area up until his passing in the 1920s was the blind fiddler Paddy Kelly, who played at many local house dances.

Another fiddler influential in the music of Clonmany was Neilly McColgan, a blind fiddler from Ballyliffen. When not entertaining on pleasure boat trips on the Foyle or boat trips to Scotland, Neilly was called upon to play for big events in the community.

Travelling musicians by the name of McGinley and Gallagher were frequent visitors to the area, as well as Pat McDonald and the famous Doherty brothers.

Seamus Grant (1934-2003), Clonmany

Seamus Grant (1934 – 2005) recalls that when he was a boy there was an instrument in nearly every house in his townland, usually a melodeon or fiddle.  Seamus himself learnt much of his music from his parents; his uncle, Willie Joe Grant; and his 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. Read More

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Clonmany Ceile Band
Back row L-R Seamus Grant, Desmond Kavanagh (piano), Ned Doherty (double bass), Neil Mc Gonigle (fiddle), Fr Desmond Mullan. Front row, L-R Maeliosa Doherty (button accordion), Jimmy Doherty (drums), John McCarron (button accordion)

In 1956 the Clonmany Céilí Band was formed by local curate Fr. Desmond Mullan to promote céilí dancing. The early members, along with Seamus, were Jimmy and Ned Doherty (drums and double bass), his lifelong friend Maeliosa Doherty (button accordion), John McCarron (button accordion), Neil McGonigle (fiddle) and Desmond Kavanagh (piano). Pat Hughes (piano) and Dinny McLaughlin (fiddle) also joined them regularly for céilí dances and feiseanna in the early days.  Connie Doherty (piano accordion) carried on the great work of the céilí band with Seamus up until the late 70s.

L-R, Seamus Grant, Mick McElkenny (fiddles) and Connie Doherty (accordion)

In west Inishowen a thriving traditional music scene still continues, notably through families such as the McGonigle, Mc Daid, Devlin and Toland families. They have strongly supported the local music scene and ensured that a vibrant tradition continues.

Musicians currently playing in the area include Patsy Toland (banjo and guitar), Denis Mc Gonigle (fiddle), Eamon Mc Gonigle (fiddle), Des McGonigle (fiddle, guitar, mandolin), Sean and Fiona Mc Daid, and Shane Devlin (banjo).

In recent years Reel Trad members Sarah Shovlin (fiddle), Christine Gilmore (concertina), Evelyn Mc Gonigle (whistle and vocals), Bernadette Callaghan (piano accordion) and Michael Mc Daid (banjo) have played their part in celebrating the life of Seamus Grant through the Seamus Grant Weekend festival in October.


The Sweeney family made an enormous contribution to music in the Clonmany area. Clement Mac Suibhne from Ardara in south-west Donegal married Josie (Lavin) and began teaching music in Ballyliffin and also in the Malin school, where he was principal. His daughters Damhnait and Blaithin continued this work through the 1980s and 1990s, bringing through another generation of musicians. Damhnait Sweeney carries on the tradition today, teaching at Cork School of Music. Craobh Clement MacSuibhne is a Comhaltas branch in Clonmany formed to celebrate the work of Clement Sweeney.

Damhnait Sweeney, Ballyliffen, Clonmany

Inishowen Traditional Singers Circle

The Inishowen Traditional Singers Circle works to foster and promote the singing tradition of Inishowen. Through monthly sessions and ongoing collecting ITS holds one of the largest archives in Europe for folksongs in English. The Inishowen Singin Festival, held in March each year, is an international gathering of singers and lovers of traditional folk songs and ballads.


Carn connections

Carndonagh has always had a lively social scene through music and drama. As music changed traditional musicians were also active in various types of Bands, Fife/Flute Bands, Brass Bands and Dance Bands, and the odd one would be among the members of the O’Donnell Orchestra. Gatherings of music, song and dance took place in ‘céilí houses’ around the town and still continue in Magheramore, Carndonagh.

For more on bands and song collectors click here

Musicians of note included Jimmy Clingan (fiddler), James Kearney (button accordion) and his wife Nelly Kearney (née O’Connor, piano), who was originally from the Illies.


Jimmy Clingan, Carndonagh

With the opening of the Colgan Hall in 1914 musicians such as Denis Doherty and Pat McCloskey (accordions) and Victor Gillespie (mandolin) would appear on concert programmes.

Victor Gillespie, Carndonagh

The music sat alongside the songs and many of the musicians were also renowned singers.

Keeping the tradition alive over the years at social occasions and local events are John McGeoghan, Davie McLaughlin and John McGonagle (accordions). Among the younger generation of musicians in Carn today are Breda O’Donnell on fiddle and sisters Mairead and Siobhan O’Connor on button accordion and flute.