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Private Label ATCOF1902CD 

Back in the early 1980s these three young lads were apparently skipping school and sampling the local festivals in South West Donegal, soaking up songs and tunes along with the odd pint, and forming a feel for Irish music which has lasted them through the intervening decades. Now they've decided to put some of that music down on Liag - and a damn fine job they've done of it too.

Box and banjo may not be everyone's cup of tea, I suppose, but Byrne and Coyne do it as well as any. Dermot Byrne is well known for his years with Altan, Donegal born and bred, and Eamonn Coyne's rough Roscommon roots have been smoothed by years in Scottish bands such as Salsa Celtica and Treacherous Orchestra, so this really is the cream of banjo-box combinations. Starting with a pair of jigs from South West Donegal and one by Paul O'Shaughnessy, this pair rattle through reels from the great fiddler Francie Dearg Byrne, a John Doherty mazurka, more Donegal reels, a barndance by Dermot for his young fiddle-playing daughter Nia, another John Doherty tune, a reel from South West Donegal, a highland associated with Carrick in South West Donegal, a reel associated with John Doherty, a Donegal song air, a jig from Teelin, and three more reels from the Byrne family of South West Donegal.

You get the picture: there is a strong Donegal character throughout this recording, and the notes tell us exactly why. Some tracks evoke Altan, others recall James Byrne and his Brass Fiddle recordings - there's no doubt about the provenance of this material. A few outliers sneak in too: a Skinner reel, a couple of Ulster Scots tunes, and two fine compositions by John Doyle. Doyle is of course the consummate accompanist, and adds a couple of songs here: a sterling silver rendition of the well-known St Helena, and his own Duffy's Cut which tells of much baser metals and the harsher side of life in Irish America. Liag is named for the famous cliffs between Teelin and Kilcar - a great area for tunes as this collection clearly shows!

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 130 of The Living Tradition magazine