Arts

Trad/Roots: Mass to celebrate the life and music of Éamonn Ó Faogáin

The life and work of a Lurgan man with a unique singing voice are being celebrated in a Mass that will feature music and song in Belfast this weekend

The late Éamonn Ó Faogáin regularly sang at the weekly Irish Mass in St Mary’s Church in central Belfast
Robert McMillen

ÉAMONN Ó FAOGÁIN was a man who sometimes shocked people. Seeing the Lurgan man's burly figure, it always came as a suprise to those who didn't know him to discover that he possessed such a pure, sweet, mellifluous voice.

The biggest shock of all, of course, came in June this year when sadly Éamonn passed away after a short illness.

This Sunday, a Mass in celebration of Éamonn's life and music is being held in St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast at 3pm. The Mass will include the music from Patrick Davey's Aifreann Feirste which is hugely apt as Éamonn was the vocal soloist in the work and he also played a major role in the preparation of the texts used in Aifreann Feirste.

"Éamonn was a lovely man who regularly sang at the weekly Irish Mass in St Mary's Church in Chapel Lane," Patrick recalls, "but he was very much in demand throughout Belfast and beyond, as a singer, a tutor and an adjudicator at traditional music and singing competitions, where he always encouraged and inspired young people to further their skills and their love for the music and songs of Ireland."

Éamonn was also a well-known member of the the Belfast Irish-speaking community, and a teacher at St Colman's primary school in Lambeg, where he had taught for 30 years.

Patrick says that Éamonn was passionate about all aspects of Irish culture.

"He was a tireless promoter of the language, music, song, dance and sports of Ireland," he says. “In 2006 he combined all these when he released a solo recording, Mo Chamán Bán, a unique collection of songs celebrating hurling and hurlers.

"?Éamonn's singing voice was particularly unique, and he was the soloist in Aifreann Feirste for almost every performance of the music since it was composed in 2002."

This latest performance to celebrate Eamonn's life will be performed by The Glens Choir from the Glens of Antrim, accompanied by a 22-piece orchestra featuring classical and Irish traditional instruments, and the vocal soloist will be Denise McKeegan, a member of The Glens Choir.

The chief celebrant of the Mass will be Fr Adrian Eastwood, one of the group of priests who celebrate the weekly Mass in Irish in St Mary's Church in Chapel Lane in Belfast city centre where Éamonn sang on a regular basis.

Aifreann Feirste, or ‘Belfast Mass', is a musical setting of the Mass in the Irish language, scored for a soprano, alto, tenor bass (SATB) choir and a chamber ensemble which includes both classical and traditional Irish instruments.

"I composed Aifreann Feirste way back in 2002 and it was first performed at a special Mass in the historic St Mary's Church, on Sunday May 18th 2003. It has 17 separate movements, including all the regular parts of the Mass which would normally be sung, along with additional instrumental and vocal movements.

"The words of some of the additional vocal movements give praise to God through the beauty of the natural world – these texts were included to reflect the inspiration for Aifreann Fierste, which was to commemorate those who risked their lives to attend Mass during the Penal Days in Ireland, often at remote Mass rocks in the countryside, such as those in the Belfast Hills."

Taking part will be The Glens Choir from across the communities of Cushendall, Glenariffe and Cushendun and directed by Christine McSparran.

Everyone is welcome to attend this Mass in Celebration of the Life and Music of Éamonn Ó Faogáin at St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast at 3pm this Sunday (November 20).

BEAT OF THE BODHRÁN

THE days when the bodhrán was the black sheep of traditional music sessions are long gone due to the arrival of such brilliant musicians as John Joe Kelly, Eamon Murray, Séamus O'Kane and Fergal O'Brien.

What used to be a musical battering ram is now played with great subtlety in all kinds of musical settings.

One man responsible for the strides in bodhrán-playing is Fergal O'Brien who will be launching the first ever Grade 2 Bodhrán Tutor and CD in Tí Chulainn in Mullaghbawn this Sunday.

Manchester-born John Joe Kelly has agreed to launch the book and CD and give masterclasses for beginners and advanced player throughout the afternoon before being he is joined by piper John McSherry and flute player Brian Finnegan for what promises to be an intriguing day of traditional music.

A feature of the book is the innovative notation which software architect, web-developer and bodhrán aficianado Rene de Kat has helped to develop alongside Fergal.

Flook's John Joe said he had read many tutorials over the years but found this one “fun and creative, but which made important points at the same time”.

Beoga bodhrán maestro Eamon Murray has also reviewed the publication.

“Fergal is a lovely player and has brought many great young players through his tuition ranks. What he's put together here is a wonderful breakdown of rhythm along to specific melodies from the tradition which will be really useful for players coming through. More and more people want to learn through some kind of notation system. Fergal and René's notation is simple to pick up and ideal for this kind of learning. Mighty work from mighty men,” he said.

The publication was inspired by 13 bodhrán candidates from the Traditional Arts Partnership (Ring of Gullion) who took part in the first ever London College of Music (LCM) bodhrán exams in St Mary's Primary Mullaghbawn a few months ago. All candidates achieved distinctions across the various grades.

According to Fergal, “the purpose of this book is not to create a beginner's guide to the bodhrán as there are already a number of good guides and accompanying CDs. It is more about sharing tunes and knowledge which enabled these bodhrán 'pioneers' to achieve their success.”

The tutor should be of interest to bodhrán tutors and candidates who embark on similar journeys.

Registration for Sunday's bodhrán workshops can be made through Fergal (Obrien.fergal@yahoo.co.uk) and tickets for the concert will be available through Tí Chulainn.

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