An Evening With Seamus McGuire

By Grainne McCool

The opening concert of Letterkenny Traditional Irish Music Festival 2016 proved to be a very special occasion last Saturday night at An Grianán Theatre.

‘An Evening with Seamus McGuire’ was not only steeped in the finest trad music but also in comradeship, history and storytelling.

Originally from Co. Sligo, Seamus McGuire was born into a family that valued both traditional and classical music. He played the classical violin as a child and was proficient in both classical and traditional Irish fiddle as a young teenager.

In 1983, Seamus and his brother Manus founded the band Buttons and Bows alongside Jakie Daly and Garry O’Brien. They proved one of the most influential traditional bands in Ireland at that time.

In 1995 McGuire released a solo album, ‘The Wishing Tree’ in which he bridged the gap between classical violin and traditional world music.

Neil Martin, Belfast cellist and composer was a contributor on ‘The Wishing Tree’. Together McGuire and Martin with Niamh Crowley and Kenneth Rice founded The West Ocean String Quartet.

The West Ocean String Quartet
The West Ocean String Quartet

In December 2013 The West Ocean String Quartet won Trad CD of the year with ‘An Indigo Sky’. In December 2015 Buttons and Bows won that same award with ‘The Return of Spring’. The same award twice in three years for Seamus!

On Saturday night last, Donegal was privileged to witness this master musician on stage with both of his bands.

Here in Donegal we have indeed adopted him as one of our very own. Seamus McGuire gave us a night we won’t forget.

Corim, a local youth traditional group opened the show and played a particularly beautiful piece composed by McGuire.

Martin McGinley hosted the evening and also joined McGuire and company for a number of tunes throughout the evening.

McGinley said at the beginning of the evening, ‘let the music do the talking’ and from then on, it did just that.

The first half of the show saw The West Ocean String Quartet on stage. They gave a wonderful hour of classical and traditional tunes.

Both McGuire and Neil Martin described each tune and gave a little history. Storytelling was very much part of the event.

Buttons and Bows then continued with a series of jigs, reels and more. During this part of the night, Manus McGuire spoke of Seamus’s fondness for Donegal and Inishowen in particular.

He then proceeded to play a piece he wrote specially for Seamus titled, ‘Fort Dunree’. This was a particularly special part of the night.

Throughout the night both bands paid tribute and special tunes for some very special people. Both Heaney and Friel whom we have all loved were attributed.

This was not just a night of music. It was a night of story-telling and a night of history. As I sat back enjoying the music I learned so much about the history of the music that was played and the stories that went alongside. A night of sheer enjoyment was had. Seamus is very much at home in both band settings.

I first met Seamus last year when Buttons and Bows’ ‘The Return of Spring’ was about to be released. He was a gentleman then and he was equally a gentleman on stage last Saturday night.

Watching Seamus play throughout the evening was enthralling. He comes alive with every tune. I watched as he moved with every note, his passion shining through. ‘An Evening with Seamus McGuire’ deserved the standing ovation it received. A wonderful night of music and so very much more was had.

Letterkenny Traditional Music Festival continues over the coming week.

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