In my capacity as freelance contributor to Irish Music Magazine I’ve had the great fortune to meet many Irish traditional musicians. Although many of my interviews take place via phone/email, there are times when one gets to do a face-to-face interview when such a musician is nearer to home. In January this year, I experienced one of what I consider the most memorable interviews I’ve done to date. It was with three young brothers who are based right here in Donegal.
Luca, Finn and Dempsey are their names. And together with their Mum Julie and Dad, Tommy, we met that Saturday afternoon in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal. It was memorable as all three boys were aged 12 and under. Now aged just 13, 11 and 8, these young men are destined for much bigger things.
In fact, they are US bound before Christmas. Florida is very blessed in that it is about to welcome our three young men for a residency at Raglan Road Orlando. The three young men and their Dad are music and dance enthusiasts and champions. America has spotted their talent and has wisely invited our boys to come live for a time. And that’s exactly what the Byrne family are currently preparing for.
So I was delighted when they all agreed to have coffee with myself last week, once more in Letterkenny.
Hanging out with this family made me feel special. They have a humbling way of just welcoming you aboard and making one feel at home in their company. We chatted about their time in Florida, New York and beyond, earlier this year and how they are eager to make their return trip, this time for a longer period – indefinitely.
The three boys are very excited about the adventure that awaits. Mum and Dad equally so.
Last night I travelled to Donegal Town to see/hear the boys perform at the Central Hotel there. They’ve played a weekly gig here for many years now. This was to be the first time I actually saw The Byrne Brothers perform. Yes they played some tunes for me back in January when we met in Letterkenny first. Yes I’ve seen the YouTube clips. Yes I follow the recordings on their facebook page. And yes I’ve listened (and reviewed) their current album Family Tree. But none of that came close to what I witnessed last night.
These music playing, dancing champions excel above anything I’ve seen before. I had my 76 year old Dad with me last night and I don’t doubt that he will be promoting the Byrne Brothers for some time to come.
These guys alongside their Dad Tommy are true, genuine performers. They take traditional music and dance to a whole different level. It’s young, it’s lively and yet it never loses the sense of tradition. Tommy tells stories about the songs, and the music. We get to learn about the music as well as enjoy it.
What I love most about this family, is the pride in Tommy and Julie when they speak of their sons. Julie was telling me last week about an experience whilst playing in America, and Tommy, sitting beside me, was wiping tears from his eyes. Such is the humility and rootedness that stems from them as a family.
Last night they showcased just why America is welcoming them in a very short time. It showcased why Irish music is still very much alive and well. And it showcased Irish family at its very best. This is a group of musicians which are ‘family’ first and foremost. It’s that very family which ensures they stay focused on what they enjoy. And enjoy they do at every turn. It’s clear to see. It’s in the music. It’s in the dance. And it’s in the face of each member of the Byrne family.
As I sat and watched them last night, it wasn’t just the music I loved. It was the little looks from brother to brother; from son to father; from father to son; from son to mother; mother to son, and husband to wife. This is what makes this family special. The family feeling comes across at every turn, at every note, every beat.
Although it is Dad and the three sons on stage, Mum is very much at the fore behind the scenes. She not only does the daily mothering work, but she takes care of the sound, the instruments, the clothes, the bookings, the just about everything that we don’t stop to think about. She also helps keep all feet firmly on the ground.
It’s just 9 months since I met this family in a work capacity. I left them last night as friends. And I’ve already booked my room in Florida!!
America I really do hope you are good to these folk. We will never let you own them, but consider them a loan….yes just a loan.
The Byrne Brothers, here’s wishing you all much success in the US. Much success in all that you do. But I will ask one favour – don’t forget old Donegal. Cos we got no plans to forget you.