Sometimes it's not a bad idea to sit back and take stock, and that's exactly what we've decided to do in this review of all that's been happening for ITSC during 2023. We've been busy on many fronts, with lots of projects and under-the-bonnet activities - and we have sung some heap of songs!
The main stay of ITSC is our monthly singing sessions. McFeeley's Bar, Clonmany, and the North Pole Bar, Drumfries, have been our haunts for ten official gatherings + a few ad hoc add ons. Each night was special, with a great mix of the regular stalwarts from around the Peninsula, alongside friends from across Donegal, Derry, Armagh, Berlin, Dublin, Kilkenny, and England. Hundreds of songs, sandwiches, and beverages enjoyed in the best of company and with the best of hosts: Orla & James in McFeeley's and Hilda in the North Pole.
The November session took a unique turn in that it was recorded and filmed, thanks to a project funded by The Arts Council of Ireland. 'From Field to Archive' saw the first of three sessions to be filmed by Bob Gallagher and team, and archived by Grace Toland and Steve Roud (Roud Folk Song Index). This will be a timely snapshot of the monthly sessions recorded for posterity and shared online with words and information about the songs and singers.
Read more about From Field to Archive here
Archiving was a strong focus during the year with not only 'From Field to Archive' but a second project funded by The Heritage Council of Ireland. ITSC has for many years worked in partnership with the Irish Traditional Music Archive to care for recordings of Inishowen singers & songs made by ITSC/Jimmy McBride. As technology and digital platforms change, 'under-the-bonnet' updates are needed to ensure these precious recordings remain available to the public. With Heritage Council funding, ITMA staff and Grace Toland (ITSC) undertook a detailed review and update of the Jimmy McBride Collection. This work will be underpin our ambition to restore the ITSC flagship digital exhibition 'The Inishowen Song Project' in 2024.
Read more about the ITSC Heritage Council Project here
Singing is one part of Inishowen's rich traditional arts landscape, a cousin to an equally unique musical heritage. In 2023 we happily joined with Inishowen Traditional Music Project (ITMP) and the Seamus Grant Weekend to showcase music among singers and singers among musicians - and everything in between!
One of the year's most outstanding and memorable musical journeys, culminated in a sold out performance of 'Inishowen' at the National Concert Hall, Dublin in January 2023. Through ITMP's vision, commitment, and energy, 100 musicians + 50 singers (including the Singers' Circle) performed a five-part suite of Inishowen music and songs arranged by Martin Tourish. Memories to last a lifetime!
This project was the inspiration to form the Inishowen Trad Choir which is now under the wing of the Singers' Circle. More about the choir below!
In April we were all aboard the ITMP Féile na hInse's train journey around the Peninsula (minus the train!), with a final stop at the North Pole Bar for the final session of songs and tunes. From 'The Buncrana Train' to the 'Lakes of Pontchartrain' - it was some fun!
Invited by the Seamus Grant Weekend, our October Singing Session in McFeeley's Bar, Clonmany slotted nicely into the programme for the weekend activities, and ITSC singers Jim MacFarland and Róise Ní Mhurchú did us proud at the opening concert in the Market House, Clonmany.
ITSC embarked on a new song journey in 2023 by establishing the Inishowen Trad Choir as a new voice for traditional songs in the Peninsula. Led by Lorna McLaughlin (The Henry Girls), the group emerged from the spectacular Inishowen Traditional Music Project's 'Inishowen' suite, which was performed by a traditional orchestra and choir to a sold-out National Concert Hall audience in January 2023.
The singers, eager to discover more about the wealth of Inishowen's song tradition, now meet weekly in the Colgan Hall, Carndonagh, to sing and learn specially arranged versions of locally sung songs. With support from a Donegal County Council Creative Ireland award, we commissioned arranger/composer Neil Burns to listen to archival recordings of singers: Denis McDaid, Jimmy Houten, Margaret McEleney, Charlie McGonigle, and Jim MacFarland and arrange a selection of their songs for group singing.
This is a new road for us all. For some it's new to sing in a choir, for others it's a new experience to sing a traditional song. But one thing we all share is our love of singing, and our pride in sharing Inishowen's song heritage.
The choir will kick off again on Tuesday 9th January 2024 so if you're interested why not come along - no pressure, and nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The crowds flocked to Inishowen 24-27 March for four glorious days of singing.
Sessions, talks and concerts took place in: the Ballyliffin Hotel, McFeeley's Bar Clonmany; The Market House, Clonmany; Glendowen Craft Studio, Meentagh Glen; The North Pole Bar, Drumfries; Mac Tam's and Toland's Bar, Clonmany. 2023 guests were: Brian Miller (USA); Anne Lamb (England); Len Graham (Antrim/Down); Naoise MacCathmhaoil (Donegal); Michael and Alice Gallanagh (Inishowen); Maurice Leyden (Belfast); Kathy Hobkirk (Scotland); The Inishowen Trad Choir; Danny Diamond (USA/Ireland); Bredgeen & Brónach Harkin (Inishowen) and John Moulden (Inishowen). As always we were delighted to welcome younger singers under our ITSC Bursary Scheme: Adrienne O'Shea (University of Limerick); Iona Ritchie (UCC), Larissa Mulder (Univ. of Ohio) and Conor Ó Gallchoir (UCG).
It was a pleasure to meet and hear so many singers, night, morning and day - literally. We especially think of our dear friend Dan Milner who sang his last 'Leaving of Liverpool' with us on Sunday 26 March in the North Pole, and of Vincent Strunks and Joe Mulheron who shared many songs over the years with us.
Plans are well underway now for our 34th Singing Weekend, running 22-25 March 2024. We will be sharing our programme early in the new year. Looking forward to it already!
July 2023 brought us to the Galway Film Fleadh for the premiere of It's a Fine Thing to Sing: Songs and Singers of the Inishowen Peninsula. Made by award winning film maker, and singer, Bob Gallagher and commissioned by ITSC, the film is a beautiful and important tribute to the singers and songs of Inishowen, the incredible vision of Jimmy McBride in founding the Inishowen Traditional Singers’ Circle and to the enduring power of the Inishowen song tradition.
Since Galway in July, it has been seen by audiences in Clonmany during Heritage Week, Kerry International Film Fleadh, and in Belfast at Now Press Play, Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. We are delighted to now share that It's a Fine Thing to Sing: Songs and Singers of the Inishowen Peninsula will be on tour across Ireland, and abroad in 2024 - all dates to be announced in January 2024.
ITSC was delighted to be invited in 2023 to take part in a new documentary celebrating the life and times of song collector Tom Munnelly (1944-2007). Tom's first recording trip to Inishowen in 1984, was to open a door to a lifetime of friendship and support songs & singers.
The hour long programme, directed & produced by Sorcha Glackin, aired on Christmas Eve, and is now available to watch on the TG4 player.
We hope you have been enjoying our new re-designed website. The new look website now shares event listings, news and blogs about our activities, and we hope along with our social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Linktree, Linked-In, and YouTube will keep you connected to what's going on at ITSC.
Inishowen Traditional Singers' Circle (ITSC) was formed as voluntary community organisation by Jimmy McBride in 1988, and has endured to become a respected and much loved voice for Inishowen's rich song heritage. Since 2006, it has been under the guiding hands of Kevin McGonigle, Grace Toland & Brian Doyle, supported by lots of other enthusiastic volunteers helping to deliver the festival and other projects.
In 2023, Grace Toland took a year off from her work in the Irish Traditional Music Archive to focus voluntarily on the future of ITSC, and to develop new projects and ideas. It has been a busy and successful 12 months as seen in the range of activities and funding received during the year. In December 2023, the organisation established itself as a not-for-profit Company (CLG) to help build on Grace's work and to address the need for sustainable financial support for ITSC to continue to:
If you are interested in supporting the work of ITSC by volunteering or if you are in a position to support projects through a voluntary donation, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
THANK YOU to everyone who has crossed paths with us in 2023: to singers, and listeners, volunteers, project partners, choir members, social media family, session and festival hosts, funders, donors, and Gerald Bradley who gets us home safely!
ITSC would like to sincerely thank our funders for their support and encouragement in 2023
The Arts Council of Ireland, Donegal County Council, The Heritage Council, Creative Ireland
To keep up to date with all that's going on at ITSC
Follow us on