BÉAL TUINNE are Seamus Begley, button accordion and vocals; Rita Connolly, vocals and guitar; Lawrence Courtney, vocals and banjo; Eilis Kennedy, vocals and whistle; Jim Murray, guitar; Eoin Begley, concertina and button accordion; Shaun Davey, pedal harmonium and vocals with honorary member; Daithi O'Se, vocals.
THE BAND; Beal Tuinne (pronounced 'Beel-thinneh) is the name of a group of West Kerry-based musicians featuring Seamus Begley and Eilis Kennedy, who joined together with singer Rita Connolly and composer Shaun Davey in 2006 to perform a collection of new songs.
THE MUSIC; Beal Tuinne formed in order to perform a collection
of new songs in Irish, music by Shaun Davey, with lyrics based on
the poems of the late Caoimhin O Cinneide. In the sleevenotes Shaun
explains; - 'The songs on this album are from a small village, west
of Dingle in Co. Kerry, which lies between the wild grandeur of
Mount Brandon and the booming Atlantic over the brow of the hill.
It is a place where music and community go together, music serving
as a collective bond, and where the distinction is blurred between
the amateur musician and the professional.......I was keen to work
amidst a music of this kind, to share the experience with our neighbour,
the legendary box-player and sweet singer of soaring traditional
melodies, Seamus Begley, to hear the equally wonderful singing of
my wife, Rita, and to realise an ambition to play a pedal harmonium
in their company.'
Melodic and traditional in style, the songs feature the sweet singing of Seamus, Rita and Eilis (daughter of Caoimhin O Cinneide) aided by the gritty voice of man-of-sea, Lawrence Courtney, with choral harmonies by the full band. The band feature acoustic instruments, played in West Kerry traditional style, unusually combined with the pedal harmonium (a portable, bellows-powered organ). The music includes trademark instrumental forays on button accordion by Seamus and his son Eoin who also features on concertina.
THE LYRICS; the songs tell of life in Baile an Mhuraigh ['Parish of Moor'), a small gaeltacht village in the Ballydavid area, west of Dingle, where Caoimhin O Cinneide spent most of his life. Typically the poems convey a man on the outside of the parish, looking in. At times conferring heroic status on neighbours, while fishing or rescuing a survivor from shipwreck; at others there is leg-pulling typical of a close-knit community. Occasionally the poet ventures further afield, nowhere more poignantly than when at sea, rounding Carraig Aonair, (the Fastnet Rock), or lamenting the fate of the exile, far from home in the building sites of Chicago. Sometimes he is solitary, as during a nighttime vigil out in the bay, reflecting on those who drowned. Always Caoimhin seems to have placed his poetry at the service of his neighbours, ready to console and reassure in times of bereavement, or to chronicle the birthdays of his own beloved family.
THE CD; the opportunity to take the music to a wider audience was provided by film-maker, Phillip King, who decided to base a film documentary around the occasion of Beal Tuinne's debut concert in St James' Church, Dingle, in October 2006. This was shown on RTE during the summer, 2007, as part of South Wind Blows 'An Droichead Beo' series in partnership with RTE and the CBI. The production of this CD has been encouraged by the widely favorable response to the film.
"The poetry of Caoimhín Ó Cinnéide,
the late west Kerry poet and teacher, has been reignited by these
musical diverse settings, composed and arranged by Shaun Davey,
and performed last summer in St. James' Church in Dingle. Davey's
deeply sympathetic compositions scatter stardust across Ó
Cinnéide's extraordinary tales of ordinary lives. The harmonies
of Éilis Ní Chinnéide and Rita Connolly on
'Lá Eigin Fadó Fadó' are a revelation: celebrating
the simplicity of a day spent in good company. Séamus Begley's
reading of 'Ar Muir San Óiche' teetering on the brink of
an uncertainty born of unfamiliarity with the song, is a delicate
filament of a thing, with Eoin Ó Beaglaoi's tiptoeing concertina
and Jim Muarry's restrained guitar shoring up the rear magnificently.
A magnificent meithil, a snapshot of a glorious summer's evening
Rated 4 stars: Siobhan Long - The Irish Times Feb 2008
were going to review several albums this month in one of those,
"clean up the attic and catch up" moments. That plan is
out the window. There is only one album to discuss this month. Beal
Tuinne, out on Tara Records. It is the most beautiful Irish album
we have heard in our 25 years of writing about Irish music. The
most beautiful. It is to the deepest core of what it is to be Irish.
Perhaps we should explain?
About a month or slightly more ago, we were sitting in front of the computer in our normal half-conscious, somnambulant state. The phone rang. Alan O'Leary from London and the fab Copperplate Consultants calling. "Have you heard Beal Tuinne yet?" Whaaa?? "Beal Tuinne. It is the most amazing album I've heard in my years in the business. Have you heard it?" We had not. But----suddenly---excitement was in the air. Says Alan, "I'll mp3 you one of the songs immediately." True to his word, he sent me the cut of Ciúmhais Charraig Aonair. To say we were bolted to our office chair through all 20 immediately repeated playings would be an understatement. Stunned. Immobile. Shattered.
Shaun Davey is Ireland's greatest composer. How many years ago did we first hear the iconic Brendan Voyage? The PilgrimGranuaileThe Relief of Derry Symphony? A symphonic composer employing Irish instruments, themes and melodies of such exquisite taste and genius, we have been among his biggest fans for years. Decades, really. And, his wife! Rita Connolly first transfixed us with her voice in Granuaile . A voice from heaven. Shaun Davey has been emulated, copied and idolized for years. Bill Whelan of Riverdance fame and fortune, as well as others knows well what they owe to the likes of Sean O'Riada and Shaun Davey. Yes. We include Shaun Davey in the same sentence as Sean O'Riada. The number of films, television shows, documentaries and other projects for which he has written the music can only begin to be grasped by a visit to his website. Perhaps best of all, he also wrote the anthem for the worldwide Special Olympics hosted by Ireland a few years ago.
On with the story. He and wife Rita bought a summer home on The Dingle Peninsula a few years ago. Shaun and Rita, like everyone of us who has ever been there, had fallen in love with the The Dingle. They bought a summer home. Upon moving in for the summer, the inspiration took hold, and Shaun started writing music. But, to really, truly and deeply reveal the spirit of the place, ordinary lyrics would not do the trick---and so the search began.
The regular reader knows well the name of Eilis Kennedy. She is one of the great singers of Ireland and her two solo albums have both won her Awards here, as well as through other venues in Ireland. One of the immortals!! Eilis, of course, lives on The Dingle, as the regular reader also knows. She and her husband, John, own and operate one of the great pubs in the west, John Benny Moriarity's. It also turns out that Eilis' father was Caoimhín Ó Cinneide (Kennedy). Her family was of the Blasket Islands. He was, in a way of thinking about it, perhaps, the poet laureate of The Dingle. Is that too grand? Eilis blushes at it, but it is not far off the mark.
After he passed away, his poems were collected in a small volume that had been out of print for some time by the date that Shaun and Rita arrived on the Peninsula. Fortunately for Irish music, someone brought the volume to Shaun, and it began. Caoimhín's wife and Eilis' mother, Eithne, encouraged and helped in the entire production. We can only imagine Shaun's thrill at the involvement of Eilis herself, as the voice of her father surely speaks through her (he was also a noted singer, as well as poet). Add to that another iconic Irish musician and singer from the Dingle, Seamus Begley and the forge was cast for something amazing.
Rehearsals. Meetings. Notes. More rehearsalreworkings, changesand then, more rehearsal. And, then, it all came together on a magic evening in September of 2007 at the small St. James Church in the town of Dingle itself. The RTE was, by this time, involved, and the concert and lead up time are all part of a documentary. There are surely more concerts scheduled for the future for this wonderful octet of musicians and singers.. This must become a major part of the biggies like Irish Fest in Milwaukee and others.
If we could own only one Irish album, this would be it. Don't screw this up. Get it. It will touch your ears with a gentleness equaled only by its caress of your heart and memory. It is a masterpieceand all the poems (lyrics) can be found in the English translations online at the Beal Tuinne website
It has never, and will never, be done better than this.
Rating : Perfection"
Bill Margeson - The Chicago Irish American News July 08
Béal Tuinne (TARACD 4022)
MAGNIFICENT collection of Irish songs brings together the prodigious
talents of traditional west Kerry musicians Béal Tuinne (Mouth
of the Wave) and those of composer Shaun Davey and singer Rita Connolly.
Based on the poems of Kerryman Caoimhín Ó Cinnéide (Kevin Kennedy), the songs tell of life in Baile an Mhuraigh (Parish of Moor), a small gaeltacht village in the Ballydavid area, west of Dingle, Co. Kerry.
Shipwrecks and rescues, fishing tales, heroic deeds in times of famine, the lament of the exile and the anguish caused by separation and political conflict are all here alongside the gentle humour and the enjoyment of everyday life of a small community dominated by the sea.
An accompanying booklet includes the lyrics in Irish and a summary of each song in English. English translations of the songs, along with further information about the album, can be found at www.bealtuinne.com
As Davey explains in the album's sleeve notes, the village "lies between the wild grandeur of Mount Brandon and the booming Atlantic over the brow of the hill. It is a place where music and community go together, music serving as a collective bond, and where the distinction is blurred between amateur and professional musician,"
Recorded live in St James's Church, Dingle, in the presence of the poet's family and the community of Baile an Mhuraigh, for whom and about" the poems were originally written, the album reflects both the intimacy of the subject and the setting.
On these performances, local musicians Séamus Begley (vocals/button accordion),Éilís Kennedy (vocals/whistle/flute), Dáithí Ó Sé (vocals), Lawrence Courtney (vocals/banjo), Eoin Ó Beaglaoí, (concertina/button accordion) and Jim Murray (guitar) are joined by Shaun Davey (pedal harmonium/string synthesises/harmony vocals) and Rita Connolly (vocals/guitar).
Beautiful melodies and delightful harmonies are to be found in abundance, while the contrasting vocal styles of the three singers and Davey's original compositions successfully deliver shades of light and dark.
A brilliant and inspired project uniting poetry with original composition, strong vocals, heavenly harmonies and inspired musicianship. The result is both enchanting and evocative, to the point that the listener can almost feel the pleasure and the pain of the villagers and taste the salt in the sea air. Pure simplicity, pure genius. "
David Granville - Irish Democrat
IMRAM'S Focus on west Kerry this year is striking. It will
host a performance of Béal Tuinne , a song suite composed
by Shaun Davey, based on Fothar Na Manach , a book of poems by the
late Ballydavid teacher and poet, Caoimhín Ó Cinnéide.
A swathe of west Kerry musicians and singers will accompany Shaun
Davey and Rita Connolly to the Unitarian Church on St Stephen's
Green on Sunday night after the All-Ireland football final, where
it's likely that tears will be shed - whether of triumph or defeat
remains to be determined.
Seamus and Eoin Begley, Lawrence Courtney and Caoimhín Ó Cinnéide's daughter, Éilís, will air this song cycle, which Davey has composed with characteristic sensitivity to its origins. For Éilís Ní Chinnéide, Béal Tuinne is a magical excuse to revisit her father's poetry.
"The first reaction I had was absolute joy that someone like Shaun could actually 'get' the poems," she says, "as someone who didn't have the language first-hand. It's a testament to how good the poetry is and how good a musician Shaun is. My father didn't consider himself a poet first and foremost at all, but he was a keen observer and he had a wonderful way with words. The music gave the poems a shape that I hadn't seen before either. It was like looking at something in relief. The music gave them a different dimension altogether."
Shaun Davey was transfixed by Ó Cinnéide's poetry when it was read to him by Mary and the accordion player and singer, Seamus Begley. Having lived (at least for part of each year) in west Kerry for a number of years now, Davey felt compelled to give something back to the community which had welcomed him so openly.
"Once we had demonstrated to our neighbours that we would be there for a lot of the year," Davey recalls with his customary modesty, "they accepted us as neighbours, and with being neighbours come responsibilities, and a desire to enter into the community. I actually felt that we had to make a musical contribution because they value music so highly in that area."
Davey didn't speak Irish and so wasn't privy to the nuances of the language. It was a barrier he surmounted with spectacular success, despite his own misgivings.
"The language was - and remains - a barrier," he says. "It's very difficult to cross because I find it a very difficult language to learn, but I was propped up on both sides by Mary and Seamus, who sat with me in my house one evening, quietly reading and rereading the poems, talking about them and translating them. I recorded them, and from that I understood the cadences and where the accents fall. The key is to understand where the accents are, because they should end up as musical stresses."
The possibility that Davey has now augmented the traditional song repertoire is one he's unwilling to take too seriously, given the relative youth of his compositions, not to mention the nature of the oral tradition to which he is a relative newcomer.
"I wouldn't presume or set out to write a piece of music with that in mind," he insists. "That would be far too self-conscious, and ultimately it's up to other people as to whether that happens or not. Frankly, that's not my concern. I think, though, that my melodies haven't achieved what the great traditional airs have, which is an air that, within its arc, contains the harmony that would support the tune. My tunes need an accompaniment, whereas traditional airs are often performable without accompaniment."
This exercise in working with local musicians and source material couldn't have been more different from the formal orchestral projects which define Davey's musical identity: The Brendan Voyage, Granuaile, The Pilgrim and The Relief of Derry Suite. The sense of community bolstered him immeasurably, as a musician and composer, he admits. "There's that dreadful feeling of walking the plank as a composer when you have an orchestra of highly skilled musicians sitting down playing it. It isn't necessarily a pleasant experience, whereas, by contrast, the music written for Béal Tuinne is designed to be performed in a truly companionable setting where nobody's under undue pressure. It's easy music to play and it's not too intense."
THE Ó CINNÉIDE connection at Imram continues with the involvement of Irish-language poet, Dairena Ní Chinnéide (sister of Éilís and daughter of Caoimhín), who will be collaborating with The Gaelic Jazz Project for the second time at Imram this year. Does the act of writing poetry differ when she knows that her words will be accompanied by music?
"I would, by instinct, write a poem that would stand alone anyway," Ní Chinnéide says. "It tends to be quiet lyrical, but my background is in traditional music so my inclination in relation to the 'music' of the poem would have more of a traditional buzz. This jazz collaboration is quiet different for me, but I really enjoy that chance to space out the words, to deal with different rhythms and create a space around the words that the jazz fuses with really well."
Ní Chinnéide finds that the work of her father, Caoimhín, ignites her own writing.
"His influence was huge, immense," she states unequivocally. "He was an extraordinary man, and you couldn't help but be infected by his love for song. He expressed himself so well in song, and had one for every single occasion. He really enjoyed the fun of putting a situation and a song together and doing it so beautifully. With Shaun Davey's work, he's married the two aspects of dad's life that he loved: poetry and song. Caoimhín's poetry had an incredibly melodic nature to it in Irish, and it lent itself well to composition, and Shaun's talent was to pick up on the nuances of daddy's writing. It's a gift, really."
SIOBHÁN LONG - Irish Times 2009