For two years now I have intended to visit flute player Michael Tubridy, however, for different reasons – college/work/Covid-19, it wasn’t until the beginning of my Residency that I made my first visit to Michael’s home.
Born in 1935 in Kilrush, Co. Clare, Michael’s first forays into music were as a member of his local pipe band playing the tin whistle. However, he would go on to add the flute, concertina and old-style step dancing to his résumé. Having finished in school Michael travelled to England to work briefly. It was here that Michael bought his flute and concertina. The flute, which cost less than a week’s wages, is the instrument that Michael still plays to this day. Michael returned home to Co. Clare with the instruments where his mother took the concertina from him and played two tunes, one of which was “The Rocky Road to Dublin”. Up to this point Michael had never known that she had any music at all.
Michael then moved to Dublin in the 50’s to study as an engineer in UCD. It was here that he would begin to attend the Thomas Street Piper’s Club as well as the Church Street Club where he remembers sessions with John Kelly among others. It was at these clubs that Michael would meet musicians such as John Brennan, John Egan and Des O’Connor, as well as Seán Potts and Paddy Maloney who along with Michael would later become some of the founding members of The Chieftains.
Above is a video of Michael and myself in Michael’s home in Churchtown Co. Dublin, where he has lived for most of his life. Here we play two reels that Michael associates with musicians he met during his youth in Kilrush and the neighbouring areas. Michael is related to the renowned concertina player Mrs. Crotty through his mother’s side of the family. This first reel is commonly referred to as “Dan Breen’s”. However, as Michael pointed out to me, it is often attributed to the wrong Dan Breen. Rather than the Irish Volunteer who was involved in the raid at Soloheadbeg Co. Tipperary, the tune in fact refers to a fiddle player Dan Breen from whom Michael learned the tune in the home of Mrs. Crotty.
Dan Breen, who was originally from Cooraclare, but who lived in Kilrush when Michael knew him, was a man who Michael recalls had no work at all but who had a large collection of local knowledge and folklore. Michael recalled that he didn’t own a fiddle of his own, but instead pulled a fiddle down from the rafters of Mrs. Crotty’s home and played this tune for Michael. Interestingly Michael also noted that Mrs. Crotty would regularly mention a musician named “The Schooner” Breen. “The Schooner” was a blind fiddle player from Kilmacduane who reputedly taught Mrs. Crotty’s mother, and who may have been a relative of the aforementioned Dan Breen.
Michael later recorded this reel on a radio programme, which he said filled Breen with huge pride, hearing his name read out on national radio. The second tune in this set, which is titled “Pigtown”, came to Michael from another musical neighbour, Georgie Brew, from nearby Breaffa.
The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Musicians-in-Residence Scheme is jointly funded by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the Arts Council and managed by Music Network. The scheme provides opportunities for performers and composers to develop and showcase new work and cultivate new artistic collaborations. The Residencies also serve to enrich the cultural environment of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and beyond.
The dlr Musicians-in-Residence Scheme was established in 2015. Previous Musicians-in-Residence have included composer and guitarist Dave Flynn, the Tommy Halferty Trio, chamber group Ikigai, percussionist and composer Éamonn Cagney, improvising pianist and composer Izumi Kimura, composer, sound designer and multi-instrumentalist Lara Gallagher, vocalist and songwriter Susan McKeown, pianist and composer Conor Linehan, sound artist and composer Craig Cox, musician and composer Sebastian Adams, The Eidola Trio, soprano Elizabeth Hilliard with composer Gráinne Mulvey, jazz drummer Matthew Jacobson and Metier, a jazz quintet led by Ronan Guilfoyle.