Séamus Fay features on TG4 show

TG4’s landmark series continues to shine a spotlight on some of Ireland's finest exponents of traditional music and song this Sunday, October 3, with a visit to Drumconnick, Cavan’s drumlin country, the homeplace of legendary lilter Séamus Fay.

“Lilting in Séamus Fay’s family goes back at least three generations,” Michael Harding, author, comments in the opening moments of this week’s ‘Sé Mo Laoch, “That’s three generations making jigs and reels, with no instruments.”

Séamus recalls during the programme the four mile walk to his grandmother’s home as a child and the many weekends he spent there with his sister: “We’d sit around the fire and she’d lilt the whole night.”

It was his grandmother who walked to Cavan town to buy records to be played on the family’s gramophone, fuelling an enduring love in Séamus for the music he encountered. His thirst to hear more would lead to him standing outside Cavan Town Hall straining to hear the céili music being played inside, because “at that time it was hard to get the half crown to pay in”. His passion and talent for lilting won him four All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, led to encounters with traditional music heroes like Seán Ó Riada, Séamus Ennis, Seán Maguire, and Dr Brian Galligan, and to a triumphant guest appearance on a Carlos Nunez album.

Séamus performs with Richie Lyons

What becomes clear when watching this engaging portrait of ‘The Diddler Fay,’ as musician Martin Donohue calls him, is that through it all Séamus Fay has remained his modest, unaffected self.

“He could be on a stage with maybe 200 people,” Cathal Lynch comments, “and it’s just the same as if he was sitting in his own house by the range, with the teapot and the bag of salt and bottle of HP sauce on the table.”

Seamus recorded his album Cavan’s Lilter when he was 70, assisted by the late banjo player Darren Moloney and musician Martin Donohue, who recalls his and Darren’s astonishment at the sheer wealth of tunes Séamus produced: “Darren organised a bit of equipment, and he brought Séamus in and he started lilting, and when I say he started lilting, he never stopped, track after track, 33 tracks in total, recorded at all times of the day and night.”

Séamus even managed to incorporate his love of lilting into his work as a Bus Éireann driver, with many journeys driving the Donegal Express to Dublin spent lilting with musician and fellow lilter Cathal McConnell. He also recalls lilting when milking the cows on the farm he worked with his brother Donie: “The cows enjoyed it. I think they gave more milk when I was lilting.”

Michael Harding draws a connection between lilting and the repetitive mantras sung in Tibet, while musician Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha traces a link between the lilting traditions of Scotland and Ireland. But what everyone agrees on is Séamus Fay’s unrivalled skill in using his voice as an instrument, and the importance of his role in continuing and fostering the tradition of mouth music in Cavan and further afield.

“It’s so important that the elders of our communities are seen and heard by the younger generations of musicians – that they understand there’s more to music than just the notes, that there’s a history connected to it, and stories, and traditions,” says Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha in this episode of ‘Sé mo Laoch.

The programme features archive footage of recently deceased Donncha O Dúlaing sampling some Cavan poitín and early clips of Séamus in action, with further contributions from Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin, Aoife Murray, Antóin MacGabhann, Richie Lyons, Fintan McManus, Marion Crowe, Cathal Lynch, Zoran Donohoe, Claire McDermott and Áine McDermott.

Singer Áine Uí Cheallaigh will feature in the final programme of the series. Previous episodes can be viewed on the TG4 player at www.tg4.ie

Directed by Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and produced by Dónal O’Connor, Executive Producer is Niamh Ní Bhaoill. ‘Sé Mo Laoch is produced by Aniar TV and will be shown on TG4 this Sunday, October 3, at 9.30pm.