Content Right

Right optical Column


Loging Form

Log in

Log in

Create new account
. Forgotten Password?


June 2019
< > < >
01 02
03 04 05 06 07 08 09
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30



Content Middle

Main Content

2004-03-30 Coleman's `Sligo style' was taken up by players worldwide

A regular visitor to our shop in Castle Street, and to my Grannie's house, when I was growing up was an eloquent and dapper South Sligo gentleman by the name of Tommy Flynn. Tommy was a well-respected and gifted fiddle player, and my only regret now is that I never actually heard him play.


Tommy Flynn was from Lough Arrow on the edge of what we now refer to in the musical world as Coleman Country South Sligo is an area rich in ancient and recent history, as well as relatively undiscovered natural beauty (certainly by me at any rate).


South Sligo also has a musical heritage and style of playing which served as a model for the rest of the country and throughout the world. Recently I paid a visit to the well sign-posted Coleman Centre in the village of Gurteen (or Gorteen if you prefer) a few miles south of Ballymote, where a very helpful lady called Mary showed me just why the centre had been chosen as a 1999 Award Winner of an AIB Better Ireland Award.

This community-run heritage centre (complete with shop) was founded in 1993 by John McGettrick and functions largely as a music school offering academic and technical tuition to all levels (Junior, Transition, Leaving etc), with a very nice in-house acoustically-pleasing performance space to showcase up-and-coming talent, as well as hosting Wednesday evening concerts throughout the summer months. The Coleman Centre also promotes general interest in Irish culture and heritage, and the many local areas of interest, as well as discussing all the traditional instruments and basic rudiments of music. The cottage, forge and musical archive are part of my incentive to pay a return visit very soon.


Ireland is one of the few countries which has villages where one can hear, first-hand, tunes which have been passed down from generation to generation (eg. The Hernon family in South Sligo). Traditional music, unlike some of the more strict musical genres, is an oral tradition and knows few boundaries with regard to self-expression from the heart, mind and soul. Jazz may fall into this category also.


One of the most-imitated traditional players of the 20th century, and Tommy Flynn''s musical hero, was Michael Coleman, born in 1891 in Knockgrania, Killavil, near Gurteen. Described by Christy Moore as "the main man in fiddle music", Coleman was the only survivor of twins, and the last of seven children. He was placed 3rd at Sligo Feis on two occasions (there's hope for us all yet), and his certificates from 1909 and 1910 are on display for all to see. Young Michael used to attend all the local house-dances and was a keen step-dancer and fiddle-player from a young age. He was greatly influenced by such local players as Philip O Beirne and PJ McDermott. Michael's father James was a fine flautist, and his brother Jim also a fiddler.

In 1914, aged 23, Michael emigrated to the US and toured extensively as part of a Vaudeville group, later notching up in excess of 80 recordings in the 1920s and 1930s. These recordings of Coleman's inspired, deeply expressive and virtuosic playing are what kept Irish traditional music alive in the early 20th century.

Coleman met Fritz Kreisler on several occasions, and when I listened to Coleman's recordings (eg. The Boys of the Lough) I couldn't help but feel that this was indeed an Irish Paganini - his playing almost sounding possessed, in a good way.

Coleman's smooth, rich, yet bright tone, his infectious rhythmic Sligo lilt, his intricate dazzling ornamentation (much inspired by pipe-playing), together with a depth of feeling are what make Coleman's style of playing the Sligo-style, and later the model for many traditional players worldwide.


The fiddle is - an instrument which tickles human ears by friction of a horse's tail on the entrails of a cat, and Michael Coleman's fiddle unsurprisingly takes pride of place at the centre. Coleman made his final recording in 1936, died in 1945, and was buried not far from his musical companion James Morrison at St.Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.


Because of radio, TV and the world becoming an altogether smaller place, local regional styles are sadly becoming a thing of the past, but Michael Coleman's musical legacy has thankfully been passed on, and this "living tradition" is very evident when one pays a visit to the Coleman Centre in Gurteen.