The Kilfenora Céilí Band

National Opera House, High Street, Ferrybank South, Wexford, Ireland

Kilfenora is a small village on the edge of the Burren in North Clare. It’s a quiet place with a reputation for music and football and, in many ways, an unlikely setting for one of the few living legends in Irish music.

 

To generations of music lovers, the village is known as the birthplace and home of The Kilfenora Céilí Band.

 

Winners of a host of awards since their formation in 1909 along with numerous recordings, concerts and television appearances both at home and abroad, this eclectic group of musicians have managed, many times against the odds, to keep a tradition not just alive – but alive and kicking. 

 

Background

What has set The Kilfenora Céilí Band apart is their longevity. While others adapted or “adjusted” to fashionable change much to their own detriment and ultimate demise, the Kilfenoras have continued to perform and tour consistently since their formation almost one hundred years ago.

 

The Kilfenora motto was and still is “you don’t play to be listened to. You play to be danced to”. That is why the Kilfenora style is so distinctive. It’s all about lift and rhythm.

 

The earliest newspaper reference to a band in the area was made in The Clare Journal, 1888 which reported on the  “Kilfenora Band” who played outside the courthouse in Ennis as an expression of solidarity for a group of local land activists who were being tried for a raid during which a constable had been killed. This fife and drum band gradually evolved into a more serious brass and reed band and eventually, in 1909, the first Céilí band. They were very much a dance band. Céilí bands were often engaged for organised dances in the “big houses”, many of which had their own private ballroom.

 

Following the civil war, a more inward looking puritanical mood began to grip the clergy and in 1935 the Government introduced a public dance hall act that adversely affected the practice of holding dances in houses. The Kilfenoras embraced this change while remaining true to their origins and continued to enjoy great popularity both at home and abroad during the late ’40s when locals would gather around the one radio in the village to hear a live broadcast.

 

By the 50s, they were in such demand that pianist, Kitty Linnane assumed the task of secretary and grew into the role of leader of the band for the next forty years. But the heyday reached it’s peak in the 50’s and  ’60’s when céilí bands competed against one another at fleadh ceoils around the country where the electric atmosphere was akin to that of an all-Ireland hurling final, with supporters cheering on the home side. Friendly rivalry between bands such as the Tulla and the Kilfenora Céilí bands is now near legend.

 

In 1973 and 1974, The Kilfenora recorded two albums but by the late 70’s people began to desert the poorly lit and badly heated barns of dancehalls for the comfort of the pubs.

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