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Experience the Events

Rediscover Northern Ireland Programme

Participant Biographies (in order of appearance on the programme)

Image: John Moulden
John Moulden

John Moulden is one of Ireland's leading authorities on traditional song and also a well-regarded singer. A teacher by trade, he retired, in 1992, as Principal of one of Northern Ireland's Integrated Primary Schools which are designed to educate Roman Catholic and Protestant children together. Since then he has been working on songs full time - researching, writing, lecturing and publishing. He has recently received his Ph.D. from the NUI Galway and the dissertation topic is the cheap printing of songs in Ireland on ballad sheets and in eight page songbooks. His articles and essays have appeared, among others, in Canadian Folk Music Journal, Sing Out!, Irish Folk Music Studies, Folk Song Research and Folk Music Journal. His publications include Thousands are Sailing: A Brief Song History of Irish Emigration (Portrush, 1994) and Songs of Hugh McWilliams, Schoolmaster, 1831 (Portrush, 1992). His major work has been on the Sam Henry Collection, the largest collection of Irish songs ever to be published. Aspects of this collection will be the subject of his talk at the Library. He has lectured widely throughout Ireland, Britain and the United States of America. As both singer and scholar, his talks are characterized by his own performances and by his informed enthusiasm.

Image: Rosie Stewart
Rosie Stewart

Rosie Stewart, from Belcoo, County Fermanagh, is among the most distinguished of Irish traditional singers. Chosen as "Traditional Singer of the Year" for 2004 by the Irish Language Television Station, TG4, her absolutely distinctive voice and style, the dramatic intensity of her 'big' song performances and the wicked pleasure she takes in comic ones, make her one of the most sought after singers in Ireland. She has performed throughout Ireland, on radio and television, and in Britain and North America. She has been singing for as long as she can remember and attributes her love of songs to her late father, the singer Packie McKeaney, a major influence and a great encouragement in her career. Rosie Stewart is noted for her artistry, her forceful, direct manner, and purity of voice and style. She sings local Fermanagh songs including "Adieu to Lovely Garrison," the title song of her highly acclaimed CD on Spring Records (1998).

Image: Frances McPeake IV
Frances McPeake IV

Francis McPeake (1885-1971) was born in Belfast, worked in a factory as a boy, and at the age of nine years played in the O'Connell Flute Band. He took the initiative of writing to Ireland's Own for information on Irish pipes and harp and studied uilleann pipes under the blind Galway piper John Reilly. His son, Francis McPeake II (1917-1986) began to play the pipes when he was eighteen years old. He formed the first McPeake Trio, which included his father, and they were to win the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod three times. He afterwards included his children, which meant that the group had six members and was known as The McPeake Family. Among other places, they played in the Royal Festival Hall in London. On the suggestion of Pete Seeger, who filmed the McPeake Family in Belfast in 1964, the family made a two-month tour of the United States in 1965, including a performance for President Lyndon Johnson at the White House. Their song, "Will You Go, Lassie, Go" written by Francis Sr. became an anthem of the folk song revival. They were noted for close harmonies of uilleann pipes, harps, and voices. Francis McPeake founded the Clonard Traditional Music School in 1977, now internationally famous and known as the Francis McPeake School of Music, and many young people have learned how to play traditional music at this wonderful Belfast institution. The third and fourth generation of the McPeake family will be performing at this concert.

Image: Kay Muhr
Kay Muhr, 2007

Kay Muhr is Senior Research Fellow of the Northern Ireland Place-Name Project in Irish and Celtic Studies, Queen's University. She is the author of North West County Down/Iveagh, vol. 6 in the "Place-Names of Northern Ireland" series, and of the text of the touring exhibition and booklet called Celebrating Ulster's Townlands. Kay Muhr grew up in rural Cambridgeshire, read Celtic studies at Edinburgh from 1966 to 1970, and received her Ph.D., on narrative style in traditional Gaelic literature, from the University of Edinburgh. She has written and lectured on early Irish literature, on the use of place-names in the Ulster Cycle tales, and on the early maps of Ireland. Professor Muhr is Chairman of the Ulster Place-Name Society, and is a past president of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland. Her research interests span Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, including language, culture, oral tradition, and place and family names. Please visit the following website to view an exhibition of her current research on Ulster place-names entitled, Celebrating Ulster's Townlands.

Henry Glassie
Henry Glassie, 2007

Henry Glassie is the College Professor of Folklore at Indiana University. In 1972, he settled into a community in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, to learn how country people endure in hard times. He worked with them, gathering their stories, and five books were the result: All Silver and No Brass, Irish Folk History, Passing the Time in Ballymenone, Irish Folktales, and The Stars of Ballymenone. Professor Glassie has served as the president of the American Folklore Society, and he has received many awards for his work, including the Chicago Folklore Prize and the Cummings Award of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. Among his other books are Folk Housing in Middle Virginia, The Spirit of Folk Art, Turkish Traditional Art Today, Art and Life in Bangladesh, The Potter's Art, and Vernacular Architecture.

Image: Daithi Sproule
Dáithí Sproule

Dáithí Sproule is a guitarist and singer of traditional songs in English and Irish. He was born and raised in Derry City in the north of Ireland and moved to Dublin in 1968 to attend university. In the late sixties and early seventies, through his work with the group Skara Brae, he was one of first guitarists to develop DADGAD tuning for Irish music. From 1974 to 1978 Dáithí played most nights of the week in sessions and clubs in Dublin, frequenting the Four Seasons in Capel Street and performing with many great musicians, such as John and James Kelly, Sean Casey, Pádraig Mac Mathúna, Dáithí Connaughton, Paddy O'Brien and Catherine McEvoy. In 1978 Dáithí left his editing job in Dublin to play and record in the U.S. with Paddy O'Brien and James Kelly. A second album followed a year or two later, by which time Dáithí had settled in Minneapolis/Saint Paul. Here there was a thriving music and dance scene, and Dáithí played with the Northern Star Céilí Band, Miltown na nGael and Peat Moss and the Turf Briquettes. The 1980s also brought recordings with Tommy Peoples, Séamus and Mánus McGuire, Peter Ostroushko and Sean O'Driscoll. It was at this time that two longer-term partnerships also originated. One was the group Trian, with Liz Carroll and Billy McComiskey. The other was a friendship with Frankie Kennedy and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, which led to a long involvement with the band Altan. Dáithí has toured all over the world with Altan, including appearances at the Albert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and the Sydney Opera House. In addition to his performing life Dáithí is a composer of tunes, many of which have been recorded, and a writer of academic articles on early Irish poetry, legend and history and of short stories in the Irish language. He has taught courses on Old Irish, Celtic culture and Irish traditional music at University College, Dublin, the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul and the University of Minnesota. In recent years Dáithí has toured and recorded with Randal Bays and with the trio, Fingal, which includes Randal and James Keane.

Image: Robert Watt
Robert Watt

Born in 1978, Robert Watt was brought up in the small town of Maghera, Co. Derry at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains. With a keen ear for pipes from a very young age, he was first introduced to the instrument in the winter of 1985 in his local pipe band, Tamlaght O'Crilly. It was here that he took his first instruction from Pipe Major David Taylor and former Pipe Major of the band, John Crockett. Both of them were strict and disciplined instructors. It is no doubt this discipline that accounts for the precision and finger dexterity in Robert's playing. In 1998 he took an interest in solo piping and had the good fortune of meeting current mentor, Pipe Major Norman Dodds, another highly respected teacher and prolific prize winner from the 1960s through the 1980s. This was Robert's first introduction to Piobaireachd (the classical music of the bagpipe), and in a short time his name was appearing regularly in prize lists at home and in Scotland. In 2000 he competed for the Silver Medal prize at the Argyllshire Gathering in Oban and at the Northern Meeting in Inverness. He surprised many by winning this prestigious medal on his first attempt at Inverness and subsequently took the runner-up spot at Oban, again making history as the first person in Ireland to win the Silver Medal. On the strength of these triumphs he gained access to compete for the much coveted Highland Society of London's Gold Medal. The contest, limited to thirty competitors, is both recognized by the piping world as being the top prize and also every piper's dream. Robert achieved a very creditable third place in the Gold Medal competition at Oban in 2003.

Over the last few years, Robert has given up much of his own time to help others and serve his local community in another very important role: In 1997 he joined the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade and completed the training to take up the position as a retained firefighter in his local fire station.

His music, however, remains his main priority. Robert is a much sought-after musician and performs regularly at home and abroad. He also has an increasing number of pupils attending his classes and private lessons. A popular solo recitalist, he is often asked to perform at public recitals and instruct at workshops across the world, as well as having adjudicated at piping competitions in Scotland and Denmark.

Image: Gary Hastings
Gary Hastings

Reverend Canon Gary Hastings is one of several well-known Irish men of the cloth who take their traditional music seriously. An excellent flute player himself, he was featured on the CD Slan le Loch Eirne (Stories to Tell), (Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 2002) with Father Seamus Quinn who plays fiddle and piano. Gary holds a B.A. in Irish Studies, an M.A. in Adult and Continuing Education, and a Theology degree. Although not a fifer nor a drummer, he recently wrote With Fife and Drum -- Music, Memories and Customs of an Irish Tradition (Blackstaff Press Ltd., 2003), which explores the musical tradition of the Lambeg drum, primarily associated with the Orange Order in Northern Ireland. Although the manuscript doesn't shy away from the political associations, Hastings concentrates on the more purely musical aspects of the tradition, the instruments and performance practice. The publication also includes a tunebook of 70 fife tunes which is complemented with a 17-track CD containing recordings of performances and conversations with practitioners. Born in Belfast, he is now the Church of Ireland Rector of Westport, Co. Mayo, where he lives with his wife, Catríona, and their two children.

Image: Brian Mullen
Brain Mullen

The highly respected Brian Mullen is a native of Derry city and has been singing traditional songs for more than thirty years. Like many others in the 1960s he fell under the spell of Bob Dylan and the American folk revival and made his way from there back to his Irish roots. He met, became friends with and learned from some of the great singers of Ulster like Eddie Butcher, Joe Holmes, Geordie Hanna and Nellie Ní Dhomhnaill. Brian has been involved in broadcasting since 1984 and has worked for many years with the BBC where he was Northern Ireland's first full-time Irish language radio producer. He helped to set up Radio Ulster's Irish Language Unit in 1987 and currently presents the weekly radio program, Caschlár, which features an eclectic selection of music from around the world.

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