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© Russell Memorial Weekend Committee, Doolin, Co. Clare, Ireland, ; Photos of Micho Russell © Ilsa Thielan,
The Kilfenora in Doolin
The Micho Russell Memorial Weekend, the festival that marks the death of the late Micho Russell in February 19, 1994 and seems to kick off the traditional music festival calendar in Ireland, continues to defy the threat of the wind and rain to bring visitors out of season to Doolin. But, as they say, it is never too early for Doolin. To visit the world-famous Clare village during the Micho Russell weekend in late February can sometimes be like stepping back in to the Doolin of the sixties and seventies or being in Star Trek’s equivalent in the ‘Hollow Deck’; the great thing is nobody says ‘freeze’ except when they are complaining of the weather.
For the ninth Micho Russell Memorial Weekend beginning on Friday 21 and continuing to Sunday 23 February, Doolin will celebrate the Clare Music Tradition with an enviable line-up of talent.
There has always been a strong emphasis on set dancing in North Clare. So expect to hear people talk about the ‘Plain’ and the ‘Caledonian’ or go in to detail on the geography of the sets as if they were talking about the weather, and if you are still trying to figure it all out, there are workshops this year to get you started.
Chiefly responsible for returning the music to its ‘roots’ in dancing, if you like, is the renowned Kilfenora Céilí band, who are headlining this years mid-afternoon concert on Saturday.
The music of the Kilfenora Céilí band is like the sound of one sustained tune played to never-tiring set dancers – Céilí music that goes back to 1907 – almost a hundred unbroken years of the lift and swing that is unmistakably ‘Kilfenora music’.
When the Russells and the Killourhys were much sought after musicians for the house dances around Doolin and Moher back in the 1930s and 40s, Kilfenora were gearing up in the newly-built dance halls sweeping the country. By the late 1950s the band had become a household name. While traditional music entertainment diverged in the 1960s into the pub and the rise in popularity of places like Doolin, the band played on. On this occasion seeing the Kilfenora in Doolin is like witnessing the meeting of the waters.
The Kilfenora band to date boasts seven All-Ireland Band titles including two, three-in-a-rows. Today it is a ten-piece band. The faces may have changed, so what? (They’ve got younger).But the instrumentation and the arrangements? You could be forgiven for thinking you were back in the heady Dance Hall days of the 50s.
The tempo this year is definitely staying up with dancing. There are two Set Dancing opportunities with Peter Griffin’s, Four Court Céilí Band, one on Saturday at 9-30pm and another on Sunday afternoon at 3pm.
Other acts to catch this weekend include Moher, James and Carol Cullinan and PJ Crotty, Christy Barry, Chris & Francis Droney, Colm Healy, Ollie Conway, Joe Rynne & Michael Kelleher, Michael Hynes & Denis Liddy and many more. Dancing on stage will be the All-Ireland Set Dancing champions, The Mullagh Set. The concert takes place in the Russell Cultural Centre. Music sessions will be found as usual in O’Connors, McGann’s and Mc Dermott’s, where it is back to the good old-fashioned sessions all weekend.