THE flag floor has been covered in carpet, a stove sits where the open hearthed fires burned, there’s a modern suspended ceiling instead of exposed beams and a slate roof overhead.
Concessions to modernity, but essentially things stay the same as they’ve always been. Bricks and mortar that have had the sound of music booming off them for well over a century.
Welcome to Peadar O’Loughlin’s home in Culleen, Kilmaley. The cassettes are stacked 20 or 30 high in a cubby inside the front door and Peadar is busy rummaging away. “I have it here somewhere,” he said, “I had it in my hands only the other day.”
Peadar is looking for a tape of Ciarán MacMathúna’s earliest recordings that have a special place in his heart.
Not that he needs to turn on the tape to hear the sounds of history — they still ring in his ears 50 years on. The bricks and mortar can even hear the sounds.
“This was the first place that Ciarán came to in January 1955 — to Clare, to this house, to this room,” said Peadar with pride. “I had no electricity here at the time. There wasn’t even a ceiling here, the slate was looking down at you.
“There were terrible showers of rain the same night. When the showers came, the recording had to stop because the noise was getting into the mic. The Volkswagen was outside with the recording equipment — the leads were coming in the door or window.
“The power was coming from the battery of the Volkswagen and, as the night wore on, they had to move it down the road and leave a stone down on the accelerator with the engine on because the battery had gone down.
My father’s favourite fiddler was Mrs Galvin from Moyasta. She was originally Nell McCarthy from near Kilmihil. There would be up to 70 people squeezed in here and Nell and another fiddler sat up high in a kind of loft and played.
“It went on till four or five in the morning, with a half a casket of porter and bottles to drink. There was a flag floor and people danced a set and it was the first set that was heard on radio, I think.”
Radio ruled in those days. For Peadar, if it wasn’t the music, it was the matches on the wireless, even if it meant travelling to get within earshot of one.
“At that time, Ciarán had a programme on at 2pm every Sunday called Ceolta Tíre. There was also a Monday night programme called the Job of Journeywork.
“You’d go to Tobin’s shop to hear the radio and you’d be hoping they had a battery to hear the programmes. It was the life of the country. Ciarán’s work gave the impression to people that music was more important than we thought it was. More people accepted music after that.”
Not that the music was accepted everywhere — Ennis was always one noted blackspot. Peadar bought records for his gramophone in Bakers’ bicycle shop on the corner of Abbey Street and O’Connell Square. The sound of trad music would float out Bakers’ door because Peadar and other trad boffins would want to hear their records before parting with their pennies.
You might hear a few more sounds down Abbey Street in Kennys’, which once sold flutes for half a crown and concertinas for seven and six. There wasn’t much music after that.
“I remember hearing a story about a fella who was inside in the pub one night,” said Peadar.
“One programme had just finished and next on was Ballad Makers on Saturday Night. The man behind the bar said ‘who wants to hear that shite’. That’s what the town was like.”
However, Ennis wasn’t unique in having this aversion to things traditional. The now-storied Miltown Malbay was once the same. Far from the traditional music melting pot that it is today. Home to Willie Clancy, but not always a welcome one.
“Music wasn’t respected in Miltown and I had several chats with Willie Clancy about that. There was no respect in Miltown for Willie — that was from his own lips.
“He once said ‘we have to get on a bike, put our pipes on our back and go down to Quilty or Mullagh to hear a tune’. Miltown was the place of the modern dance hall.
“It has grown into a different story now, because of Willie Clancy. Willie came back to the All-Ireland Fleadh in Ennis in ’56. He made Miltown after coming back; the people followed him in there. Between ’56 and ’73, when he died, you had great tunes in Miltown, but not with the support of Miltown people. It was just the musicians.”
It was the same in the Ennis Road to Kilmaley parish — the musicians made the place, because there was music in most houses. A real melting pot that Peadar O’Loughlin was born into in 1929.
The O’Loughlin house was a musical one and Peadar, who was the second youngest of 13, took to his father’s timber flute straight away. It lay idle because, by this time, his father had things other than music on his mind.
“My mother died when I was four and he didn’t play much after that. Now and again, he might take up the flute. He walloped a bodhrán and made a good job of it. He was also good on the thongs. He would sit back as the music was going on and batter with his two feet.”
The music went on whenever the O’Loughlin house, or any other, could find an excuse for a house dance. They always found one — someone home from America, England or Dublin even. American wakes and much more. House dances on flag floors around Kilmaley.
“The stage was a musician sitting on a bag of turf near the door and playing away,” remembers Peadar. “Later things got better and you’d bring a door in from the cow house, put it on a few stools and the musicians would be raised a few feet off the ground.
“My father’s favourite fiddler was Mrs. Galvin from Moyasta. She was originally Nell McCarthy from near Kilmihil. There would be up to 70 people squeezed in here and Nell and another fiddler sat up high in a kind of loft and played.
“The ear was everything, because it was the only thing then. You listened to music, no one taught you. Hughdie Doohan was the only one around the parish who could read music. My father never knew what a music book was, I never did either.”
PEADAR knows his music, because he listened well. Since then his knowledge has brought him on many musical journeys. Travelling with the famous Fiach Rua Céilí Band, with Willie Clancy and many more.
“Fiach Rua were great, but we never realised how great they were until the present standard of céilí bands came up. They didn’t do it with any intention of travelling the world with it — they did it because the musicians were there. I remember I was 16 or 17 and the Fiach Rua were going to a Feis in Miltown and they roped me into going. That was the first time I saw Miltown. It was a great day to be out.”
There were many more days out in Miltown when Willie Clancy came home. Like many others, Peadar was drawn to his gentle charm and his music.
“We played in pubs. Wherever Willie moved, that’s where the people moved. Queally’s was the first one. Tom Malone’s was another, there were also tunes in the hotel and Willie finished up in Friel’s — that was his playing pub. I went to the Oireachtas in ’55 on the back of a motorbike with the flute stuck in my pocket. I won a gold medal and a fiver. A few years after, I won the fiddle and a fiver. It was great. They were great times.”
And, better times. Simpler times. There was the music and that’s where things started and ended. Music of the soul but now, according to Peadar, the soul seems to be lost.
“The music has gone too polished and too technical, losing the lovely things of soul and sincerity that were in the music. There was a great feeling about it. Technique is much higher than in our time but we were happy with what we were doing.
“Willie said in an interview with Breandan Ó Ciomháin ‘we were happy with our efforts, but they’re now all gone cock of the walk and they want to be up at the top, before they have reached the bottom’.”
Peadar even said it against himself, despite the numerous honours, awards and universal acclaim he has received down the years from within the tradition. He was an All-Ireland Fleadh champion in flute in 1956 in Ennis and again the following year in Dungarvan.
“Winning awards, we’re all the no better than before we got these things, but people seem to think we are,” he said when receiving his Gradam Cheoil Hall of Fame award from TG4 back in 2005, while he will be receiving another award this week.
There were no awards to be won on O’Loughlin’s flag floor all those years ago, whether Mrs Galvin was on high with her fiddle, or Ciaran MacMathúna was recording Mrs Crotty, Tom Eustace, Hughdie Doohan, Michael McMahon, the Murphys, the Markhams, Sean Reid, Mickey Hanrahan and many more.
The salad days.