I recently downloaded an album of music played by the late Willie Clancy, a well known uillean piper from Islandbawn near Milltown Malbay, county Clare. Willie is a very well known figure indeed in the history of Irish traditional music, in fact, there is a music school in Milltown Malbay that bears his name–the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy–a week-long summer school teaching music and set dancing, which has been running since Willie’s death in 1972.
The album in question is called The Gold Ring (An Fáinne Óir in Irish, in case you wanted to know!) It’s a double length affair curated by RTÉ presenter Peter Browne which brings together recordings from many different times and sources. It’s a wonderful resource, and a great bunch of samples of an older style of traditional playing that is seldom heard these days.
Willie was influenced by a man named Garret Barry, a blind piper from Inagh, Clare. A number of Mr. Barry’s tunes were passed to Willie through his father Gilbert Clancy. Some of you may know a tune called “Garret Barry’s jig.”–this jig is included on The Gold Ring, and also happens to be the first tune I learned on both the whistle and the concertina. There’s something about that particular tune that grabs me–I’m not really sure what it is. Maybe it’s the phrasing, or the ups and downs of it. It’s bold and confident without being haughty or arrogant, and has a satisfying resolution. It’s very satisfying for me to play it anyway.
So to wrap this up neatly–here’s Willie Clancy playing this very jig in 1967, two years before I was ever thought of. Yet I think that, somehow, I was floating around in the ether of pre-consciousness learning this tune before I could ever hope to hold a whistle. Well, whether that’s true or not I do know this–I will probably never take up the pipes. But if I do, I know that this will be the first tune I learn to play on them.
By the way, Willie’s a lefty on the pipes, like I would be. ;)