It’s in the nature of the Irish in us to celebrate and take comfort around Christmas when we think of those we love or admire and have lost in the year that has passed before us. I suppose both aspects are very much part of the grieving process which has surely been torn apart by the continued and unwanted presence of Covid, so that time as the dreaded disease knows no boundaries.
Of course, it’s all the more understandable when we can relate to our own losses in our own lives, but I was struck by the emotion I felt watching a new show I mentioned last week which aired on Christmas Eve focusing on the life and loss of one of Irish traditional music’s most iconic individuals.
A second viewing of Joe Burke – Ceiliúradh via the marvelous Online TG4 Player Option stirred up emotions that didn’t surface in the early days of Christmas Eve where the celebration of a larger-than-life man was more readily apparent and appreciated.
Last February, as we lived through the first year of the pandemic, Joe Burke, the legendary Irish musician breathed his last after a long illness at his home in Kilnadeema, Co. Galway at the age of 82. He has been hailed around the world and in every corner of Ireland for his long career as Ireland’s most enduring and exuberant representative of the depth of Irish traditional music via social media and in printed memories of so many, including in this space.
At the time, with the restrictions in place, we had no choice, and a true celebration of the man who gave so much credit to Ireland’s native music had to be postponed to a later date. And that’s what this program attempted to do, knowing just how daunting and achievable it would be only after the movements and gatherings gave producers the freedom to put together whatever elements they chose to paint the film. image of a most beloved figure.
The choices could have been endless and required a series of programs to fully express the breadth and influence of the Galwegian genius. His own musical journey took us into the past, present and even the future of traditional Irish music, so great was his understanding of it and the people who made the music.
Those who dutifully appeared provided conscious reflections that captured the essence of her popular demeanor and her approach to music that consumed her life and brought her to the attention of so many through her charismatic presence. , respect and mastery.
One would have expected nothing less since many close friends of the music testified by playing music in person or via extracts from various archives. As usual, the producers of Aniar TV skillfully assembled and recorded these tributes showing the universal and heartfelt consideration in which Burke was held.
But the most compelling aspect for me on the second viewing was experiencing that salvation through the eyes of his widow, Ann Conroy Burke, who had been married to Joe for 30 years. Ann was from just 14 miles from Loughrea and had the same passion for music as Joe, and their partnership was built on that and is still present in their life together.
Director Donal O’Connor and his team must have realized that, by focusing on the personal approach to his point of view with the loving assistance of his sister Mary throughout their vision of photos or music played with them with the various guests in other contexts which allowed us to enter another dimension.
Their sensitivity and sense of loss was always balanced with the great joy and purpose that was apparently part of Joe being a musician, teacher, presenter or archivist. The production’s roots around Loughrea in East Galway and the region’s rural setting that has always been firmly rooted in Burke’s make-up gave added meaning to the homage presented so tastefully.
There are so many wonderful vignettes woven together in Joe Burke –Ceiliúradh that it’s hard to pick just one, but surely one stands out for me in the assemblage of four other button accordion players playing with Conroy Burke accompanied by Brian McGrath on piano.
Jimmy McGreevy, Dermot Byrne, John Regan and Bobby Gardiner represented the entire accordion world as they joined in playing ‘The Galway National Anthem’, aka ‘The Bucks of Oranmore’, a catchy tune more associated with Joe over the years.
Fortunately, the year has not ended without a fitting send-off to a man who will be remembered wherever Irish musicians gather and continue to make Irish music their life.
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