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JAMES BYRNE - The Beirneach 

JAMES BYRNE - The Beirneach 
Private Label 

James was one of the most respected fiddle players of 20th century Donegal, and this compilation has been put together by his family to mark the tenth anniversary of his death. Subtitled Field Recordings Of Donegal Fiddler James Byrne, the listener will be able to enjoy a wide range of recordings, many from informal gatherings and pub sessions – with all that implies in terms of variable recording qualities and background ‘atmosphere’ – made throughout a lifetime of playing, albeit a lifetime cut off when he was at the height of his powers.

Like many great players, James picked up material from his elders like blotting paper, and became a veritable storehouse of South West Donegal’s musical tradition, making his untimely passing even more keenly felt, and this was compounded by the paucity of his recorded output during his lifetime.

So, this recording is very welcome. In addition to its informality and natural atmosphere, it gives an insight into James’s modest, unassuming nature and to his development as a player at home anywhere from the house party to the concert stage. If you’ve heard of James but never experienced his music, this is a good place to start, and if you’ve got his other recordings, then this will round out the picture for you. It’s available from the website below, or better still, go to Donegal to get it – you may get to hear his partner Connie and daughters Merle, Aisling and Séana in a session while you’re there; James’s legacy is very much alive.

John Waltham


This review appeared in Issue 130 of The Living Tradition magazine