Welcome to The Top 40 Tunes of Sliabh Luachra, an admittedly flawed and limited endeavor based on entirely subjective criteria. I have chosen 40 tunes of each tune type listed below that I believe has a strong Sliabh Luachra connection and an interesting story or history that I think is worth writing about. There are many, many more tunes that are part of the repertoire, but for the beginner or newcomer to the music of Sliabh Luachra, these tunes may be a good way to get started. For those already well-versed in this music, you may find some tidbits here and there that are new to you. You will probably find a lot to be argued with! Please leave a comment if you have any questions, thoughts, protests, threats, etc.
To the outsider, the first notable feature of the Sliabh Luachra repertoire is the relative wealth of polkas and slides. Oftentimes that is where the understanding ends, and the uninformed will think of this as the single defining characteristic of this music. On the contrary, the Sliabh Luachra repertoire includes most of the tune forms found in the larger Irish tradition, and each form usually has particularities that are distinctive to Sliabh Luachra.
Something that became very apparent in the course of assembling these lists is that within each tune categories are often two main sub-categories, broadly categorized as “uncomplicated and suited to dancing” and “elaborate and suited to slower playing, for listening,” with some tunes falling somewhere in between. For example, Seamus Ennis, in describing O’Keeffe’s playing, said that he had two styles for reels: “a lilting virtuoso and a galloping dance.” I’ve found this dichotomy to be generally true for each tune form.
A lot can be said about the relative importance of repertoire compared with style when discussing a regional tradition. One can play a Sligo tune, for example, in a Sliabh Luachra style, or a Sliabh Luachra tune in a different regional style. If pressed, I’d have to say that style trumps repertoire in importance. However, for the beginner, learning the repertoire can be a valuable entry point, and it is often the case that the tunes themselves can teach something of the style, even unconsciously. This is especially true if one is learning from an idiomatic setting or, better yet, directly from the playing of a musician from the tradition.
There are a number of factors which limit the scope of this project. For instance, this list is mostly a reflection of the repertoire that is currently played in Sliabh Luachra. The repertoire has changed over time. Some might be surprised to learn that polkas and slides only took hold in the region in the latter half of the 19th century—manuscripts from earlier times show jigs, reels, hornpipes, and airs, but nothing explicitly labeled as a polka or slide. I am also mostly restricted to tunes that have been recorded or notated. There are likely to be tunes known in various parts of the region that have not yet been published. The last restriction is self-imposed: I have limited the collection to 40 tunes (or sets) for each form. To embark on a project like this without such a limit would be to invite madness. Another thing to keep in mind is that repertoire, like the other elements of the tradition, can vary from person to person or community to community, and they tend to blend into those of the neighboring regions. I have tried to keep my focus on what I consider the main stream of Sliabh Luachra: the music of the area roughly adjacent to the boggy hills around the Blackwater where it flows between (or connects) Kerry and Cork.
In creating this list I am deeply indebted to the work of many, but especially Tony Buffery, Alan Ng’s irishtune.info, Paul DeGrae, P.J. Teahan and the World Fiddle Day Scartaglin / Handed Down projects, the Newmarket crew behind Scullys Fest, the Traditional Tune Archive, pipers.ie, mudcat.org, archive.comhaltas.ie, itma.ie, and at times and with the greatest caution the venerable and mustardy thesession.org!
If you’re interested in delving deeper into the Sliabh Luachra repertoire, I recommend going to the Recordings page and following the links to irishtune.info where you’ll find lots of tunes cross-referenced across recordings and collections. Another great resource is archive.comhaltas.ie where you can search by tune name or performer.
The Sliabh Luachra Top 40
Click each heading below to see the top 40 tunes of each type listed:
Reels (to come May 2021)
Waltzes and Airs (to come June 2021)
Below are some tune entries that I made before starting the Top 40 project. As each tune category is finished, these old posts will be subsumed into the new pages.