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The Sligo Masters film documentary

The Sligo Masters, a film which looks at the lives of some of the county’s most famous traditional musicians, will be screened at the Gaiety Cinema in Sligo on 8th-17th August at 5pm and 8pm as part of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Ahead of the Fleadh, a special launch event takes place on Friday, July 25th.

For the film’s promotional video click on this YouTube link or visit DVD copies are now available for purchase worldwide on the Fleadh Cheoil website, at a special online price of €10, plus P&P.

The film, which focusses in particular on the three great fiddle players – Michael Coleman, James Morrison and Paddy Killoran – was filmed on location in Sligo, New York and Dublin, and casts an eye on a time when these musicians were to the forefront of traditional Irish music on the world stage. Born at the turn of the 20th century at a time when the music industry was entering a period of huge change with the invention of the gramophone, Michael Coleman and James Morrison became two of the most recognizable and admired musicians in New York in the early 1920s. Both men had been born in Sligo – Coleman in Killavil, Morrison in Drumfin, and both men had emigrated to the United States, Coleman in 1914, Morrison a year later. Upon their arrival, they quickly became well known for their fiddle playing, and when the recording industry took a seismic shift in the 1920s when gramophone records made music widely available, both musicians quickly became two of the most popular Irish recording artists of the time. “I think what makes Coleman so unique was a combination of great technical virtuosity and great expressiveness and great emotional power,” is how Gregory Daly, historian and musician, describes the public’s reaction at the time to Coleman’s recordings. The film describes how the Sligo musicians had such an influence on the traditional music scene that for many, there was only one style of playing Irish music, that which Coleman and Morrison had inherited from their own teachers and peers when growing up in Sligo, people like Phillip O’Beirne, John Joe Gardiner and Johnny Gorman. Brian Conway is another who pays tribute to the Sligo Style of music in the film. New York born and bred, Conway learned the fiddle from Martin Wynne, a Sligo emigrant who had followed Coleman to New York, and to this day Conway and other New York musicians remain inextricably linked with a musical style which Coleman and Morrison brought with them to the United States.

“For a long time, New York, and to a lesser extent Boston and Philadelphia, that’s where you heard pure traditional Sligo fiddle playing. A lot of it left Sligo, so it stands to sense that those who followed in their footsteps – Americans – would be very much influenced by that Sligo style,” is how Conway describes Coleman’s influence on generations of fiddle players in the city. The film was produced by Sligo-based production company Omedia, and the film is narrated by well known Sligo fiddle player Oisín Mac Diarmada. The Sligo Masters crew spent a week on location in New York, visiting iconic locations typical of the emigrant experience of the time such as Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum, as well as locations with personal links to Coleman, Killoran and Morrison. The crew also met with some of the people who form the last direct links with the great musicians. Veronica McNamara was a student of James Morrison’s and she speaks of Morrison’s teaching expertise and how he was renowned for his dedication to his craft. We also meet Chris Boles, a friend of Paddy Killoran’s, and who describes how Killoran, arriving some time after Coleman and Morrison, became a central figure on the traditional music landscape, playing at gala nights in New York where up to 3,000 patrons were present. Killoran also formed The Pride of Erin Orchestra, which toured Ireland, and he was the only one of the three Sligo Masters to have made return trips back to Sligo. This made quite an impression of his young nephew John Killoran, who, many years later, clearly remembers his first encounter with Paddy in 1949. “This tall giant of a man, around six feet three and a half, arrived. Paddy set about playing us a few tunes. And I’ll never forget him playing and dancing simultaneously, it was just brilliant,” is how he described the showman Killoran when he visited his homeplace outside of Ballymote, one of several trips he made home over the years. The Sligo Masters is the first hourlong documentary programme to feature Sligo’s most influential musicians and promises to be a fascinating depiction of life a century ago, but one which continues to have an impact on the present day crop of musicians in Sligo. We meet the heirs to the Sligo music tradition, those who carry the torch of Sligo music, and we also hear from historians and music experts, all of whom paint a story of three incredible musicians who had a lasting legacy on Irish music and whose legacy still resonates in Irish music today. The Sligo Masters will be screened twice daily at the Gaiety Cinema in Sligo as part of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann programme between August 8th-17th at 5pm and 8pm. The film was produced in conjunction with the Sligo County Board of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, with additional funding provided by the Sligo Leader Partnership.

The film was produced and directed by Micheál Ó Domhnaill, presented & narrated by Sligo fiddle player Oisín Mac Diarmada, director of photography Fionn Mac Giolla Chuda, sound supervision by Éamon McKenna, programme co-ordinator Máirtín Enright and research provided by Daithí Gormley.

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