Cork Folk Festival: Check out what's on offer  

Ronan Leonard previews the Cork Folk Festival, which will feature live performances across four days and will include a tribute to Margaret Barry, one of the most influential women in the genre.
Cork Folk Festival: Check out what's on offer  

Musicians Fiona Kennedy, Anna Mitchell and Mary Greene who will perform 'Gals at Play' at Triskel Christchurch as part of the 42nd Cork Folk Festival. Picture: Darragh Kane

While there is an online element to this year’s Cork Folk Festival — which started yesterday (Wednesday, September 29) — the live in-person concert programme is full of concerts, classes, and walking tours.

Freddie White’s gig tonight in Triskel Christchurch sold out very quickly, but there are several concerts to come in the same venue over the weekend, such as guitarist Steve Cooney — who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 RTÉ Radio One Folk Awards — playing with Dermot Byrne (accordion) tomorrow.

Tara Breen, who plays fiddle in The Chieftains; Padraig Rynne, concertina player, composer and producer; and Jim Murray, one of Ireland’s leading traditional guitar accompanists, are playing as a trio on Saturday.

Rounding off proceedings at Triskel Christchurch will be Sunday’s ‘Gals At Play’ concert which will feature three Cork artists, Mary Greene — best known for her work in Greenshine, who have featured regularly on RTÉ Radio 1’s Recommended lists; Anna Mitchell, a successful performer with her own solo albums but also a member of the SomeRiseSomeFall collective; and Fiona Kennedy, a singer-songwriter, recording artist & IRMA Award nominee.

Mary, who has played many times at Cork Folk Festival solo, with her husband Noel Shine as a duo, and also as a trio with their daughter as GreenShine, is a huge fan of the festival itself.

“I can’t stress how important folk festivals are to the continuation of the folk tradition. They breathe life into the idiom. The Cork Folk Festival, in particular, is so very close to my heart in that respect. It’s like a family. Forty-two years of music, year in and year out, a programme put together by volunteers who do it because they love music.”

Cathal Ó Curráin and Marty Barry will take part in a tribute concert to Margaret Barry, Marty’s great-grandmother, in St Peter’s Church on North Main Street on Sunday.
Cathal Ó Curráin and Marty Barry will take part in a tribute concert to Margaret Barry, Marty’s great-grandmother, in St Peter’s Church on North Main Street on Sunday.

She continued specifically about the concert she will be playing.

“I really wanted there to be a homegrown Cork element to ‘Gals At Play’ and who better to get than two stalwarts of the music scene here. I thought we would bring a variety of songwriting styles and that it would be very interesting to find common ground within that. I know from listening to Fiona and Anna that we could have some really nice harmonies going on to support one another too.”

Mary is no stranger to either of the other two’s music, but they’ve never all played together.

“I’ve been aware of Fiona and Anna’s work for a long time. Fiona is a true troubadour. Noel reminded me that we used to meet Fiona in the US where we played a lot in the 90s, one time we met her on Patrick’s Day and she could hardly speak having just completed three gigs that day. Anna and I have been like ships passing in the night, hearing bits and pieces of one anothers’ gigs on the way to our own and catching one another on the radio. I remember hearing ‘Dog Track’ on Late Date on RTÉ and being blown away. We also share the same pedal steel player on our recordings, the wonderful David Murphy.”

As opposed to playing a set each, the ‘Gals At Play’ will feature all three throughout.

“We’re going to play ‘In The Round’ in that we’ll do a song one after another, swapping stories and contributing harmonies to one another. I have a little setlist picked out but I’ll have two subs on the bench depending on the mood of the audience and my own humour at the time!”

A composite of performers at the Cork Folk Festival.
A composite of performers at the Cork Folk Festival.

Earlier on Sunday at 1pm in St Peter’s Church on North Main Street, there is a tribute concert to arguably the most influential women in Ireland’s folk revival, the Cork-born Margaret ‘Maggie’ Barry, and her grandfather Robert Thompson, a renowned uilleann piper and a tutor at the Cork Pipers Club formed in 1898.

Thompson gained a national reputation by winning first prize at the 1st Feis Ceoil held in Dublin in 1897.

The concert is to raise awareness of a plaque to commemorate Margaret Barry’s birthplace, 99 North Main Street, where she was born in 1917. A traditional singer and banjo player, she had a major influence on Irish ballad singers, including Luke Kelly and Christy Moore.

Self-taught, she began to play on the streets from a young age. In the early 1950s she moved to London, her singing and banjo playing style became widely known and she was invited to play at many folk festivals in UK and the USA, including performances in the Carnegie Hall and Rockefeller Centre in New York. She also had a recording career that produced some of the most genre-defining albums from an Irish artist.

This concert will feature musicians who have a connection to Margaret Barry and Robert (Bob) Thompson. Alongside Eoin O Riabhaigh, Johnny McCarthy, and Tim O’Riordan.

Marty Barry, Maggie’s great-grandson, will be playing in a duo with Cathal Ó Curráin.

He is under no illusions about how influential she has been. “Some of my earliest memories are her, Luke Kelly and The Dubliners, and people like that,” he recalls.

“She was my way into music and the folk tradition. Each of us playing have a different angle on how we were influenced and ended up on the journey from Maggie’s music to this tribute concert. We’ll all be taking turns, sharing stories and songs. I’ll be playing her songs and tunes. We’re really looking forward to playing.”

While she was in her later years when Marty got to know her, he feels he’s gotten to know her better as his own music career has progressed.

“I’ve been fortunate that the more that I’ve played music, the more I’ve met people who saw her concerts and some of the musicians who played with her back in the day, that’s been very nice.

“I get to hear all the stories. She definitely had a big persona, the way she carried herself, and to meet people who saw her in action is great.”

The Cork Folk Festivals runs until Sunday, October 3. Up-to-date ticket information can be found at www.corkfolkfestival.com and its facebook page.

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