Brendan Begley & Caoimhin O'Raghallaigh
at Blue, Portland, Maine (20 October 2010)

Imagine yourself breathless in the dance halls of Cork: a complementary duo of fiddle and button accordion propel the dancers faster, faster, faster, into a polka frenzy. After a moment to catch your breath, the haunting introduction to the "P&O Polka" leads you to wild misty fields where you dance under a harvest moon.

Feel the pulse of the land as it quickens to your finger, as the waves crash against the rocky Kerry coast, then recede with the tide. This is the fiddling of Caoimhin O'Raghallaigh, his spirit shining through the music.

Imagine a room held spellbound, lost in the ebb and flow of the most delicate musicianship overlaying powerful playing and ancient songs. Brendan Begley's strong tenor caresses each word, as Gaelige, as it's released to the room. There's a song about a buachaill, and one about a cailin, and dozens of tunes whose names escaped me, so lost in the magic I was.

From "Finbar," an accordion tune "from the Cork side of the Kerry border," to an assortment of tunes from Annascaul and beyond, we are treated to polkas, slides, marches and a hornpipe courtesy of the great Paddy Cronin.

Caoimhin and Brendan have come to us with support from Culture Ireland, come to this tiny Portland room, touring in support of their new CD, A Moment of Madness. They've survived the near destruction of the hardanger fiddle just hours earlier and are now joking about Caoimhin's father's new love of refurbishing accordions, one of which Brendan plays tonight. Some of the notes are played so quietly, the clicking of the keys is louder.

Maybe they don't want to talk to us, to tell us the names of their tunes; perhaps they just want to bring us into their world; or maybe its the melancholy of missing home. Never before has music so evoked the spirit of the land to me. It's terroir in notes, rhythms and melodies respectful of history yet agily shaped to guide us to the future, the now, of Irish music.

by Michelle Doyle
8 January 2011

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