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Old Galway

The Shaskeen Traditional Irish Music Group

June 19th, 2008

There is an Irish word "Seisc´┐Żn" which means 'marshy or rushy ground.' It can also mean 'a barren cow.' I am not sure if this word inspired the title "The Shaskeen Reel" which was recorded by Patsy Tuohy and Michael Coleman, but it was that title that inspired the name of this group who were first formed in London in the Spring of 1970. They sang ballads and played ceili and old time and their earliest engagements were in Kentish Town at the Oxford Tavern.

The original members were Tom Cussen on banjo, Johnny Minogue on the accordion, Maureen Minogue on fiddle, Sean McDonagh playing flute and Benny O'Connor on drums. They all moved back to Ireland about a year after forming the band and they put together their first line-up in this country with Johnny Dooley on guitar and vocals and P.J.Hernon on accordion. Most of their early gigs were in the Galway area but soon their sphere of influence began to widen.

About this time they began a long and fruitful association with Eddie Maloney, the great flute player and fiddle player from Ballinakill in East Galway, who lived in Lower Salthill. Eddie - whose father had been a founder member of the famous Ballinakill Ceili Band - brought a wealth of knowledge about traditional music to the band, as well as a fine store of music from his own area, a wonderfully rich source of music and musicians. Another musician who was a great inspiration to the group in those days was Paddy McMahon, a fiddle player from Woodford, some of whose own compositions were featured on Shaskeen's early recordings.

When P.J.Hernon moved on to a solo career, he was succeeded in the band by Connie Murphy on accordion. In the mid-seventies, Johnny Walsh, an accordionist from Clarmorris, and Sean Conway from Ennis on vocals, guitar and concert flute, joined the band. Later, Mark Geraghty who contributed fiddle, guitar and songs and Gary Hastings, that great Northern flute player, featured with them for a time. The next line-up saw the addition of Mike Fahy on guitar and Charles Harris on accordion, whose passion for the history of traditional music, especially early recordings made by traditional musicians, was a great boon to the group. Others like the singer and flute player Sean Keane from Caherlistrane and Kevin Rohan, a fiddle player from Colmanstown played with them, as did Eamonn Cotter a flute player from Kilmaley and Pat Costelloe from Tipperary who played guitar.

The present line-up is Patsy McDonagh on the box, Pat Broderick on pipes, Pat Costelloe on guitar, Eamonn Cotter on flute, Geraldine Cotter on piano, Johnny Donnellan on bodhran and Tom Cussen on banjo. They are still going strong and are bringing out their 15th album in September. They are part of that very healthy traditional music scene that exists in Galway as is evidenced by the current Galway Sessions Festival which will run until the weekend. It was organised originally by some of the music pubs in Galway but has now spread out and includes a large number of venues around the city. The emphasis this year is on the culture and music of Scotland.

Our photograph today shows the Shaskeen line-up in 1972. It was taken in The Ocean Wave in Salthill. They are, from the left John Dooley on guitar, Benny O'Connor on drums, Tom Cussen on banjo and P.J.Hernon on accordion. Our thanks to Jackie Small for the above information.

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