Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Morning Thrush (reel): Brendan (eile)

The Morning Thrush (reel)

I've been taking banjo lessons at Gannon's Music Shop, Spiddal, this past while with Fermanagh's Brian McGrath. A gentleman and all-round virtuoso, Brian takes his time with every tune, giving the background story, recommending recordings and suggesting various ornamentations. Last week we looked at the Morning Thrush, a three-part reel composed by the Dublin piper James 'Jimmy' Ennis (1885-1965), father of piper and music collector Séamas Ennis.  

Here is a detailed account of the multi-talented James Ennis, which appeared in the Irish-language paper An Claidheamh Soluis (‘The Sword of Light’) on the 18 January 1913: 


‘Native of the Nail in North County Dublin. Comes of a musical family. “The Ennises all play music”. Was a boy prodigy on the flute. Plays all sorts of whistles, piccolos and flutes with equal facility. Prizewinner in flute-playing, fiddling, war-piping and union-piping. The only two instruments he could never manage are the melodeon and the piano! Himself, his brother, and Eamonn Ceannt were the first war-pipers of the new dispensation to visit London. Did so in full war-paint many years ago. All members of Cumann na bPíobairí. Played at one of the big League concerts—Queen’s Hall, I think. Result, consternation and a horrible caricature by way of a drawing in the Sketch. . . Champion dancer. Can run a whole concert by himself. At Bristol, I think, Séamas provided 11 items and delighted all. Champion footballer, plays for Keatings. Played hurling for same team till they disbanded. Now plays for his native Naul, one of the best junior teams in Dublin. Cyclist, felt in bad health some years ago, so proceeded to ride between Naul and his office daily—Naul is only 19 miles from the GPO—till he recovered. Fine Irish speaker, spent at least two holidays of later years at Ros Muc. Still in the early twenties with his future all before him. Could teach half of the best of the pipers. If there’s another such all-round artist knocking about I haven’t met him’.


In 1913, James Ennis won first prize for the Morning Thrush at Feis Cheoil na hÉireann. Here, his son, Séamas, gives the background to the composition before playing the tune on the pipes:



I became interested in the tune after seeing footage of a young Brian McGrath playing the tune on the music series Come West Along the Road: 



Probably not a good idea posting my first attempt in such close proximity to Brian's masterful version but nonetheless here it is:



I'll keep at it over the next few weeks and hope to show some improvement this side of Christmas.  

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