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Talent runs deep for River

An Ennis teenage musician is to be honoured with an international award in one of the world’s most prestigious fiddle competitions, the Fiddler of London. Seventeen year old River McGann struck the right chord with the judges and has been named ‘Up and Coming Fiddler of London 2024’.
He is set to travel to the awards ceremony in London this April where he will perform at the gala final during the Fiddler of London festival.
Speaking to The Clare Champion, River tells us he was in shock when he received the email telling him he had scooped the major award.
“I had sent in my entry and I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait to get an email back, he said.
“It was midterm and my Mam had dropped the kids to school and I was at home minding the baby. I just checked my phone, I’d got into the habit of checking my email just in case, and when I opened my emails even before I clicked on it I saw a massive congratulations and an exclamation mark, all in bold writing.
“I just burst into tears. It actually is just the most incredible thing. It hasn’t even sunk in yet.
“My Mam was the first person I told because my Dad was at work and when she came in she was wondering why I had a big smiley head on me, and why I hadn’t done the dishwasher yet. Then I told her I’ve to pack my bags.”
Speaking about the award he says the standard was very high.
“Anyone around the world can enter this competition. The Fiddler of London festival is really big, England doesn’t have too many Irish traditional festivals so for this there are tens of thousands of people coming every year and of course the competition is a huge part of the event,” he said.
“A lot of my friends entered the competition and there is a really high level so I wasn’t sure I was going to get through at all. There is a lot of young talent in the country. I just didn’t expect this at all. It was a massive surprise. Everybody in the family is just so so happy and so proud. It’s one of the biggest competitions of the year and I’m so happy and I’m so privileged that I was able to actually win. It’s massive.”
According to organisers the standard of entries was “outstanding” as they congratulated River on achieving this award in a very tough competition.
For his entry the fifth year Rice College student had to send in two tunes for the judges to hear.
“It is kind-of one of those traditional music legends to win the Fiddler of London, it’s on everybody’s bucket list,” he said.
“I entered last year, right at the last second, so I kind-of didn’t really have any hope last year anyway. Entering the competition is really fun, it’s a great opportunity to learn new tunes and it’s a different experience to Fleadhs and other competitions here.
“This year I had a lot more prep and I recorded a lot over the Christmas and just picked the ones I liked most and sent them in.”
River has been playing fiddle since 2015, and he credits his grandfather Gerry with nurturing his talent.
“In my house, if you don’t play traditional music you are a bit of an outlier. My Granddad plays the flute, he’s an incredible flute player,” he said.
“I don’t know what he saw in me at that young of age, but he bought me my first fiddle for my parents wedding and I loved it, and I’ve loved it ever since.”
He is now looking forward to heading to London for the festival.
“I’m so excited, it will be my first time in London, my first time in England actually and I just can’t wait to see what everyone thinks of my performance.”
It is expected that organisers of the festival will livestream the event online so anyone who wants to cheer River on will be able to do so. As well as receiving his trophy, the title of ‘Up and Coming Fiddler of London 2024’ comes with a lot of opportunities.
“There are loads of events throughout the year that I have been invited to like the Belfast Trad Fest and the All Ireland Fleadh, I’ve loads of performances at the Fleadh in Wexford in August. It’s really great I’ve been invited to so many things as a winner,” he said.
It has certainly been an eventful year for River. He is also part of the band Binneas which came first in the Gael Linn Siansa competition last April. He has paid tribute to everyone who has supported his musical dreams including his grandfather saying, “He’s where it all came from, where it started” and his Dad and Mam, Evan and Annemarie McGann saying, “I literally wouldn’t be here without them. They have been right there by my side so a massive thank you to them”.

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