Kilfenora Ceili Band
The Kilfenora Céilí Band is one of the longest-established musical ensembles in the world, and celebrated its centenary in 2009.
Not only was this an historic milestone for the band itself but a reminder that Irish culture and traditions are thriving and have survived the test of time. A full history of the band and of music in North Clare is on view at the Kilfenora Céilí Band Parlour, located in the Burren Centre, Kilfenora. (This is the only museum in the world that we know of dedicated to living musical artists, with a wealth of exhibits and audio-visual elements, which was formally opened by the President of Ireland in March 2015.)
The 11-piece band features four fiddles (Eimear Howley, Sinéad Heagney, Anne Rynne, and Annemarie McCormack), two flutes (Anthony Quigney and Garry Shannon), concertina (Tim Collins), accordion (Claire Griffin), banjo (John Lynch), drums (Sean Griffin) and piano (Fintan McMahon), plus for concert performances Sharon Howley (TG4 Young Musician of the Year 2020-21) on cello and Brian O’Grady on double bass (see pictures below). Fine singers such as Edel Vaughan and Don Stiffe also appear at concerts with them, and other musicians from Kilfenora and around augment the band when needed.
Most of the current line-up has been together since 1993 under the leadership of John Lynch. With the previous generation advancing in age, the band was going through something of a hiatus in the early 90s. Pianist Kitty Linnane retired after nearly 50 years as bandleader, and John re-entered the band into the All-Ireland competitions. They repeated the feat of the ’50s band by winning three years in a row (1994-6). Soon they were being invited to Britain, France, America and cruise tours of the Mediterranean, and resumed their position as Ireland’s premier céilí band – and the only one always to perform gigs at full competition strength. Their forte is instrumental music with some harmony and a driving rhythm.
They often play at céilís, but in recent years have increasingly been providing concerts, featuring additional singers and dancers. Some shows have included audio-visual material too. The band has repeatedly sold out the Irish National Concert Hall in Dublin and have appeared at major international festivals, such as Glastonbury and Irishfest in Milwaukee. In 2014, the band led a successful creation of the largest céilí band ever – some 280 people gathered together at the Kilfenora Trad Music Festival – as recognised by the Guinness Book of Records (the certificate is on view in the Kilfenora Céilí Band Parlour).
Younger blood has been introduced into the line-up in order to perpetuate the band’s success. Whatever the future holds, the objective of the present band is to continue in the style of their predecessors – by staying true to traditional instrumentation and repertoire – but also to introduce some judicious innovation. That includes new compositions, such as the song “Clare, my Heart, My Home” that has become an anthem for their home county. In this way they are determined to cement their tradition and secure the future, and while so doing reach yet another generation of audiences.
You can go to the band’s website for more information on the band, its gigs and recordings. They have featured in many television programmes, including broadcasts from the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, and in their centenary year (2009) an hour-long documentary about the band called “In the Blood” was broadcast in Ireland. A DVD of a fine on-line concert they did during the Covid pandemic, broadcast on Irish TV at Christmas 2020, will be available shortly. Below is a clip from The Late Late Show (Pat Kenny) from March 2009: