The Connemara Suite

Composed by Bill Whelan


  1. Inishlacken
    The Currach
    The Island Terns
    Evening Céilí
  2. Errisbeg
  3. Carna
    An Chistin

Sleeve Notes

“The Connemara Suite began some years ago when I was first asked to write for the Irish Chamber Orchestra. INISHLACKEN came first, that then led to CARNA and finally ERRISBEG. The virtuosity of these fine musicians and their enthusiasm for music making has been a very rewarding experience for me as a composer. It has also allowed me to write for traditional musicians within the framework of a chamber orchestra and the ICO who have always had a sense of adventure in their approach to their repertoire” Bill Whelan

Performed by the Irish Chamber Orchestra
Conducted by David Jones
Soloists include: Zoë Conway (Solo Fiddle)
Morgan Crowley (Vocal and Lilting )
Colin Dunne (Dance Percussion)
Fionnuala Hunt (Solo Violin)
Michelle Mulcahy (Harp)
Bill Whelan (Lilting)
Recorded at University Concert Hall, University of Limerick
and The Fort, Roundstone by Philip Begley.
Mixed at The Fort, Roundstone by Philip Begley.
Produced by Bill Whelan.
Composed by Bill Whelan and published by Cloonisle Music.
Transcription and orchestration of Inishlacken by David Downes.
Photography: Amelia Stein, Michael Kopa, Maurice Gunning, Bill Whelan, Mella Travers, Steve Ullathorne, John McIntye
Design: Philip Melly - Design Warehouse
Cover image “Inishlacken” by Gerard Dillon, used by kind permission of the Dillon estate

Track Notes

Dear Bill
I listened to your Connemara Suite under ideal circumstances, standing at our window overlooking Roundstone Bay. It was a still Autumn afternoon; a slight haze reduced the background of mountains to a grey-blue silhouette. With the end of the season the last of the summer fleet of white sails had already flitted, leaving just one black-hulled traditional workboat at anchor. And as the music streamed and bubbled, her rust-red sails were hoisted and she began slowly to tack out of the bay. The tall mast moved like a pointer against the graph-like rises and falls of the skyline, as if it were mysteriously directing the music that filled the room. Sailing must sometimes be like this, more a state of mind than a progress; the music too was dwelling in a long moment rather than pursuing an argument, and was full of reminiscences of other Irish music with the same quality, from Carolan to jigs and reels and indeed to Riverdance. By the time the boat had disappeared past Inis Leacan to leave the sheltering hill of Iorras Beag and face into the Atlantic, the music was celebrating Carna, the peninsula whose long spine of hills forms our eastern horizon beyond the Bay. And since Carna is such a talkative place, still having two languages to talk in, it was right that the human voice should suddenly break into the instrumental flow with a lovely slow air and then a rattle of portaireacht béal, mouth-music.
Thank you for a quintessentially Connemaran experience.
Tim Robinson
October 2007

Tim Robinson is the author of Stones of Aran and of Connemara: Listening to the Wind. He lives in Roundstone,
where Folding Landscapes publishes his maps of the Aran Islands, the Burren and Connemara.

1) Inishlacken
Performed by the Irish Chamber Orchestra
Conducted by David Jones
Zoë Conway Solo Fiddle
Fionnuala Hunt Solo Violin
A concerto for two violins one in the classical style and one traditional, Inishlacken (Inis Leacain) was named after an island off the Galway coast and has been inspired by living in Connemara and by many visits to the island. The first movement imagines a trip in a currach out to Inishlacken. The vigorous rowing is given a break in the middle of the movement, as we look back at the Twelve Pins and the beautiful Connemara landscape prior to taking to the oars again. The second movement imagines the flight of the many terns that inhabit the island, as they speed around in pairs, skimming the surface of the sea. In the last movement, I tried to evoke the evening on Inishlacken as the quiet sunset is replaced by the music and dance of a community now sadly all departed.

3) Errisbeg
Performed by the Irish Chamber Orchestra
Conducted by David Jones
Zoë Conway Solo Fiddle
Michelle Mulcahy Harp
In the area where I live in Connemara, the local landscape is dominated by the imposing presence of Errisbeg (Iorras Beag). From the land it offers many routes for walking and presents extraordinary views of the surrounding countryside and of course of the sea - including Inishlacken and Carna. I have walked parts of Errisbeg on many occasions and this composition represents for me the different moods that this mountain can evoke in the walker.

3) Carna
Performed by the Irish Chamber Orchestra
Conducted by David Jones
Zoë Conway Solo Fiddle
Morgan Crowley Song
Morgan Crowley and Bill Whelan Lilting
Colin Dunne Dance Percussion
Irish lyrics by Theo Dorgan
Carna is in three movements, the first "Dawn" imagines the early hours of the day, when that extraordinary Connemara light pushes back the dark and the early stirrings are heard through the stillness. Finally the sun bursts through, and the Connemara landscape is revealed with its rugged beauty set against the powerful ever-present Atlantic.
The second movement, "Macdara's" evokes the sea journey that takes place every year from the Connemara coast, out to MacDara's Island, named after the sixth century saint who lived and built a small one-roomed church on the island. On July 16th every year, all the boats set out from Carna, laden with pilgrims, to attend mass on the island and to spend the day picknicking and having the craic on this otherwise deserted and wild Atlantic outpost.
The final movement, "An Cistin" imagines the end of MacDara's day, when the currachs and sailing boats (hookers) have returned to Carna, and a proper seisiún begins in earnest. In the past, musicians were not always available, and the music for dance was often supplied by a "lilter" who sang the melodies of the jigs and reels, wordlessly but with much decoration and technical expertise. Here, I have taken the rhythms of the dance and used them in a playful interaction between fiddle, feet and orchestra.