2009 was the centenary celebration of the formation of the Kilfenora band, one of the top ten longest-established musical ensembles in the world. Not only was this an historic milestone for the band itself but a reminder that Irish culture and traditions are thriving and have survived the test of time. A full history of the band and of music in North Clare is on view at the Kilfenora Céilí Band Parlour, located in the Burren Centre, Kilfenora. (This is the only museum in the world that we know of dedicated to living musical artists, with a wealth of exhibits and audio-visual elements, which was formally opened by the President of Ireland in March 2015.)
The 11-piece band features four fiddles (Eimear Howley, Sinéad Heagney, Anne Rynne, and Annemarie McCormack), two flutes (Anthony Quigney and Garry Shannon), concertina (Tim Collins), accordion (Claire Griffin), banjo (John Lynch), drums (Sean Griffin) and piano (Fintan McMahon). Other musicians from Kilfenora and around augment the band at times for example when performing special concerts, when Sharon Howley on cello and Brian O’Grady (see picture below) join the band, together with fine singers such as Edel Vaughan and Don Stiffe – also featured on the band’s recent CDs.
Most of the current line-up has been together since 1993 under the leadership of John Lynch. With the previous generation advancing in age, the band was going through something of a hiatus in the early 90s. Then John succeeded Kitty Linnane as bandleader and re-entered the band into the All-Ireland competitions – and they repeated the feat of the ’50s band by winning three years in a row (1994-6). Soon they were being invited to Britain, France, America and cruise tours of the Mediterranean, and resumed their position as Ireland’s premier céilí band – and the only one always to perform gigs at full competition strength. Their forte is instrumental music with some harmony and a driving rhythm.
They often play at céilís, but in recent years have increasingly been providing concerts, featuring additional instrumentalists, singers and dancers. Some shows have included audio-visual material too. The band has repeatedly sold out the Irish National Concert Hall in Dublin and are regulars at major festivals around the world, such as Glastonbury and Irishfest in Milwaukee. In 2014, the band led a successful creation of the largest céilí band ever – some 280 people gathered together at the Kilfenora Trad Music Festival – as recognised by the Guinness Book of Records (the certificate is on view in the Kilfenora Céilí Band Parlour).
Younger blood is gradually being introduced into the line-up in order to perpetuate the band’s success. Whatever the future holds, the objective of the present band is to continue in the style of their predecessors. By staying true to traditional instrumentation and repertoire and applying some judicious innovation, they are determined to cement their tradition and secure the future and while so doing reach yet another generation of audiences.
You can also go to the band’s website for more information on the band, its gigs and recordings. They have featured in many television programmes, and in their centenary year (2009) an hour-long documentary about the band called “In the Blood” was broadcast in Ireland. Below is a clip from The Late Late Show (Pat Kenny) on the 13 March 2009: