The Wild Atlantic Way: The Music Continues

Kerry Dexter's picture

Across the centuries, the Atlantic seaboard of Ireland has been a place defined in equal parts by mystery, history, welcome, and music, all framed in landscapes of high cliffs, crashing surf, rugged mountains, quiet towns,  winding backroads, and pristine beaches. All this is what is now becoming known as the Wild Atlantic Way.


The Wild Atlantic Way: The Music Continues


As you travel from the western part of County Cork in the south up to the far reaches of north  Donegal, music and story are always your companions. That is as true whether you make the journey along the roads themselves or travel through imagination and memory.

These musicians will help you hear and understand life and landscape along parts of the Wild Atlantic Way.

The musicians who make up the band Dervish met up in the swirling musical scene that informs the town of Sligo, which lies a bit north of the mid point of the Wild Atlantic Way. Lead singer Cathy Jordan points out that they each come from such different life circumstances that if it hadn’t been for the common draw of  music, they might not have met -- but meet up they did, and in the process became a band that’s become known the world over for their understanding of musical tradition, A good place to hear this in on their album The Thrush in the Storm.


Oisin MacDiarmada comes from Sligo as well. The top notch fiddler is a founding member and a moving force in the band Teada (you met him earlier in this series in his duo project with Kerryman Seamus Begley, as well). Taking the tradition deeper is what the men of Teada love to do, most often in fast paced, high flying sets of jigs and reels. Thinking about recent events in the economy and life of Ireland, and the resilience of its people across the years, the band chose to name a recent collection of such tunes In Spite of the Storm.


Could there be a storm theme along the Wild Atlantic Way? Weather in Ireland's west is often unpredictable, that’s true, and rain is a very present feature. Cathie Ryan, whose mother comes from north Kerry, called her recent album Through Wind and Rain, a line she took from a song about lasting friendship. The power of friendship and welcome -- and indeed, resilience -- are aspects you will encounter as you travel the Wild Atlantic Way and talk with people you meet. Ryan’s recording offers songs framed in her understanding of life in both Ireland and America. Indeed that’s a part of the Wild Atlantic Way, as well -- for many emigrants to North America, this western coast of Ireland was the last landscape of Ireland they saw.


Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh knows the landscape well. She is from the far western part of the Dingle peninsula, a bit south of the area where Ryan’s mother grew up. Nic Amhlaoibh, who tours the world as lead singer with the band Danu, has moved back to west Kerry to raise her own family. Her album Ar Uair Bhig an Lae The Small Hours makes connections between Ireland’s west and the world. Like Cathie Ryan, Nic Amhlaoibh knows that the Irish language is a vital part of this. Both women include songs in both English and Irish in their recordings and in their concerts as well.


Roisin Elsafty chooses to sing mainly in Irish. She comes from Connemara, a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) region to the north of Galway city. Traditional sean nos singing, where emotion and story depend on understated yet powerful use of a singer’s voice, informs the work of all the singers here. Elsafty is perhaps the most deeply traditional of them, and yet she also holds family influences from the music of the Middle east, which has song traditions not so different in sound from sean nos. One way to explore Elsafty’s take on Irish tradition is through her recording Má Bhíonn Tú Liom Bí Liom.



This is the third in a series of stories about music along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. There's more to come, as we’ve yet to explore the far northwest of Donegal and Derry. Stay tuned!

You may want to take a look at the other stories in the series

The Wild Atlantic Way: the music begins
Fiddles along the Wild Atlantic Way



Kerry Dexter is the Music Editor at Wandering Educators. You may reach Kerry at music at wanderingeducators dot com

Find more of Kerry's work in Journey to Scotland, National Geographic Traveler, Ireland and the Americas, Perceptive Travel, and other places online and in print, as well as at her site Music Road.