LOCKDOWN has been put to good use by Mounthsannon musician and researcher Cliodhna Donnellan, who took advantage of the period to record a debut album and to revisit a CD released in memory of her late father.
“For everybody involved in the arts, this has been a very different year,” said Cliodhna. “The slow down gave me an opportunity to just go for it in terms of the album and I recorded it in six weeks. It was probably at the back of my mind for two years though.”
Finding time for a solo project was all the more important, given Cliodhna’s recent PhD studies at the University of Limerick (UL) and her long stint with the Mountshannon Trad Festival. “I was working part-time and studying at UL, looking at how traditional musicians can enhance their own performance experience,” she explained. “In terms of the festival, I had established that and coordinated it for ten years and it was winding down itself at the time when I took the decision to step away. At this point, I have my kids reared, so it was good to get to focus on my own projects.”
The fiddle player describes herself as being “rooted in the East Clare tradition”. “I have a show called ‘The Morning Dew’ with Scariff Bay Community Radio and I would be appreciative of all styles of traditional music, but my own is very specific to East Clare.” That deep connection helped Cliodhna to choose the 11 tracks for the new album ‘Beneath the Hedgerow,’ some of which are her own compositions. “I have a personal connection with most of the music and have married my own work to some well-known pieces.”
Clearly a woman of huge creative talent, Cliodhna has produced the album herself and even created the art-work. She is also part of the trio, alongside Bríd O’Gorman and Ciara O’Sullivan and been set to perform at the Blossom Harp Festival in Tuamgraney – one of the many nationwide casualties of the pandemic. The restrictions also put paid to a formal launch for ‘Beneath the Hedgerow,’ but Cliodhna is hopeful that that will happen next year. “The priority for this year was to get it down and get it out,” she said. “I was just so happy to get to do it and to feel that sense of achievement in such a challenging year.”
Tributes and reviews for ‘Beneath the Hedgerow’ have been glowing. “Cliodhna is very typical of an East Clare musician, she is very firmly rooted in her home place and the depth of the music that comes from there,” said Siobhán Peoples. “That steady pace, deep sound and atmosphere that can only be replicated by people who know it in their DNA. This is a charming CD in many ways, wonderful versions of tunes and musicianship abound. My highlight, if I had to pick one, is one of Cliodhna’s own compositions, The Legacy. It’s not easy to write a slow air that sounds like it has been around for a long time and such a beautiful one it is too.”
This year has also given Cliodhna the opportunity to revisit an album ‘Songs My Father Sang,’ which she originally compiled in 2004. Its original release marked the anniversary of the death of her father Seán, a well-known traditional singer. “Some of those songs were recorded over 30 years ago and it was a family project at first,” she explained. “There was a lot of demand locally so that last year I reproduced it for the Mountshannon Trad Festival last year. There would be songs on the album handed down to my father from his own father. There’s a song on the album too about the Scariff Martyrs and is said to be one of the best accounts of their story.”
Both albums are available in Custy’s in Ennis; in Bane’s Gift Shop in Scariff; online at clicreativechange.com; or by phoning 087-7801346.