Sliabh Luachra describes
a geographical region,
a style of music,
and (it has been said) a state of mind.
Pronounced something like “SHLEE-uv LOO-chra” and roughly translated as “rush-covered mountain or heathland,” or in Pádraig O’Keeffe’s pithy summary: “Where the bog is.” Geographically, it covers regions of East Kerry, West Cork, and West Limerick. It’s fairly impossible to define the borders on a map, but whatever its shape, a good case could be made that its center lies at the lonely intersection of Glountane Cross where Pádraig O’Keeffe’s house still stands. Radiating out from there, Sliabh Luachra encompasses the nearby towns and villages of Cordal, Lisheen, Gneeveguilla, Scartaglin, Knocknagree, Castleisland, Ballydesmond, and then outward in an ever-widening (if diminishing) circle of influence to include Farranfore, Rathmore, Millstreet, Cullen, Boherbue, Newmarket, Rockchapel, Tournafulla, Templeglantine, Abbeyfeale, Brosna, Knocknagashel, and the thousand or so square kilometers encompassed therein.
As a description of a musical tradition and style, there is a similar amorphousness, and rigid definitions are impossible. The predominant characteristic is a repertoire of countless polkas, played with a distinctive pulsing rhythm, and a subcategory of single jigs known regionally as slides. Both of these evolved with a local practice of quadrille set dancing which took hold a little over a century ago and grew to define the Sliabh Luachra tradition. In addition to the polkas and slides, there is a distinct repertoire of double jigs, hornpipes, and reels, as well as a trademark way of playing these, that are equally a part of the musical heritage. All that being said, style and repertoire vary from town to town, over the passage of time, and with each individual.
This is a pretty comprehensive little booklet published by Topic Records as a companion to their Music from Sliabh Luachra series in the 70s, written by Alan Ward. Gives a decent overview of the “topic” ha ha and some lovely pictures. A minimum of misinformation, too, which is nice.
Other resources: For more information on the music of Sliabh Luachra, including an interactive map of festivals and events, visit sliabhluachra.ie
The Bruach na Carraige community center in Rockchapel operates sliabhluachra.com which has a great deal of information and an extensive photo gallery.
This site could not exist without the following people, whose work, influence, or guidance have helped me in one way or another to accomplish this task. THANK YOU!
Crystal Bailey, Paul De Grae, Matt Cranitch, Jackie Daly, Tes Slominski, Dan Accardi, Sasha Hsuczyk, PJ Teahan, John Reidy of the Maine Valley Post, Tony Buffery, Alan Ng, Alan Ward, Dan Herlihy, David Kearney, Peter Browne, and many more besides.