A Deeper Understanding of the East Galway Irish Music Tradition

Yesterday I got a little carried away talking about ornamentation as a key feature in the East Galway Irish Music Tradition (EGIMT). I was remembering what Eddie taught me and I could remember his living room, him trying in vein to light the turf fire because he was so distracted with the music. And daddy sitting, watching it all, deep in thought about the tune we were learning or whistling it softly to himself; he was an amazing whistler and I used to think everyone could whistle like that and then I realized there were competitions at the fleadh cheoil for that skill!

Anyway, back to ornamentation. I said that triplets, rolls, cuts, grace-notes and double-stops are the modes of ornamenting a tune that are distinctly EGIMT. The other defining aspect of EGIMT is the idea of playing different parts of the tune a little different every time, incorporating variations into the tune. And this too is a fine art.

Now it is very important to note that a variation according to Eddie or any EGIMT musician for that matter is VERY different to how it is employed these days. And this is not say one way is better or more right than another way. They are both different, both having a different purpose. I am simply saying that in EGIMT, an old Irish music style that is in danger of dying out, this style introduces variations into a tune in a very quiet, light and subtle way. And Eddie was a genius at this skill. And my purpose is to preserve this style by teaching it to anyone who would like to learn in order to keep this tradition alive.

Over the next few blogs I will include a track from my album and I will critique the tune and highlight the variations that exemplify EGIMT. We might start tomorrow with Eddies famous jig called "The Meelick Team”.


A variation in EGIMT can be a motif that is entirely different from the original yet stylistically the same, it can be a play around a few notes or it can be the placement of ornamentation or how the ornamentation is executed.

Lets examine a triplet for example. How can the playing of a triplet be varied each time?. This is done using the bow. You can slur the triplet or you can make it a “bowing triplet” where you change the direction of the bow for each of the three notes. Precision is key here. And I am smiling as I think about what Eddie would say.

You see, bowing triplets are pretty tricky and oftentimes when a student or an advanced musician is approaching one of these types of embellishments, they rush the notes before and / or after, they accent the triplet and in short they draw attention to the fact that a bowing triplet has just been occurred!. This was a huge non-no for Eddie. He would say, you need to make it sound simple, effortless and almost.."oh, did that just happen, I didn’t notice I just did that’ and if you could not play this particular triplet with ease, then you should not play the bowing triplet at all. It had to fluid, competent and uncomplicated.

In a recent article on The Irish Gift, Inc I talk about how what I learned in my lessons with Eddie feel like a collage of metaphors for my life. And this is one of the pieces of that collage. The idea that when something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. It takes discipline, time, perseverance and patience to execute a bowing triplet in a polished way. And when done right the rewards are abundant. We can connect the listener to the beauty and enchantment of life. Something that Eddie felt very keenly. And he wanted to bring it to everyone he met.

More about variations and ornamentation tomorrow.

Listen to The Lonesome Fiddler Here

Listen to Searbh Siúcra Here

The Lonesome Fiddler and Searbh Siúcra album showcases the music of Eddie Kelly and the East Galway Irish Music Tradition

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