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"Dearga and Dancing Thru the ages"

Irish Music Magazine review, August 2007

‘ ……..This could have been Broadway or Covent Garden, as it was a five-star performance from start to finish that left the audience cheering wildly…….’

This was a balmy evening at the end of summer , watching shore fishermen trying their luck , as we shuffled into the restored 180-seater Old Mall House Theatre , its full length glass foyer reflected in the calm waters of the Blackwater river in Youghal , Co Cork. We were on the same street as other performers’ years ago when they acted out on a different set that included a young Gregory Peck and Noel Purcell, playing starring roles in the blockbuster film Moby Dick. I had come to this theatre to see Dancing Thru the Ages, a dance spectacle now in its fourth year, with this evening’s show sold out long before the queue took shape, and so if you did not have a ticket, you may as well have chanced your luck with the lads fishing. Plenty of hopefuls were turned away as the audience was seated a full twenty minutes before the start.

The introduction was lights down with a slow-burn flute playing Inisheer supported by deep keyboard chords for an atmospheric build up, illuminating Lisa Zagone’s stunning set : Celtic-modified stylised picture frames surrounding a projector screen, suggesting imagery of storytelling. Enter a group of smiling dancers in soft rural costumes joined by a strolling mandolin player. The music changed into a barn dance on the box, flute and keyboard, while the audience warmed to this and clapped along.

The first song of the night was ‘Did you ever eat Colcannon?’ which was a stable song of the Black family. This version was sung with great confidence by Caroline Fraher, a singer of undoubted quality, with a backdrop sepia photo of crossroads dancing, the clever magic of show beginning to take effect. Here, all seven musicians, who were islanded in minstrels galleries either side of the stage overlooking the audience, powered ahead and produced a set of high octave reels from the deep well of tradition with all the drive of trad group Danú from across the bay in Waterford. The dancers who were led by choreographer, Paula Goulding were mesmerising to watch as they danced out to the edge of the stage. Each of them made mischievous eye contact with the audience, while at the same time pounding out super quick toe-taps, the exciting rhythm rising with the music.

The show continued with many seamless changeovers that did not give the audience time to draw breath. A nine minute musical set called The Silver Spear started out with a reel before graduating into a bluegrass number called ‘ Cherokee Shuffle ‘, played on two guitars and bouzouki, all in three different rhythms. They continued with a wonderful arrangement of Sí Sheag Sí Mhór, originally written as a song by Turlough O Carolan and lovingly restored by Sean O Riada in the 1950’s.

At the interval I made my way backstage to meet with producer, Richard Foley and his cousin, Paula Goulding who, after a successful seven-year career with Riverdance, returned to start this show with him and his mother, Phyllis. The music and dance show is based on emigration (and the music they brought with them) and has run successfully for four years. Last June they invited the mercurial production and session guitarist Steve Cooney to facilitate at a three-day workshop for all the cast. Cooney changed direction of the show by instilling energy and sparkle in the music and interaction with the audience. The result was a pulsating high-paced show performed by a troupe with enough talent and confidence to send a rocket to Mars.

The second half was even better, slides by the two late Kennedy brothers, seren added by Sliabh Luachra polkas that went into Mike McGoldrick flute tunes. A musical joust between sean nós dancer and a bódhran-player built up into a frantic crescendo like the duelling banjos in the film Deliverence. Another experienced dancer, Gemma Donovan from Ring, swapped her shoe for a microphone and in a voice as fragile as bone china sang a lively version of Sí do Mhamaoi ( a favourite in our house ). A west African rhythm arrangement of ‘I know my love by her way of walking’ had the audience swaying (Jimmy Crowley, who made this song famous, would have loved this) and was led by Southampton-based fiddler, Colm Murphy who propelled the group with some wonderful virtuoso playing.

This could have been Broadway or Convent Garden, as it was a five-star performance from start to finish that left the audience cheering wildly. The group have a CD and DVD in the pipeline so watch out, as it will be a great stocking filler this Christmas.

Plunkett O’Brien


- Irish music magazine


Dearga - The music behind Dancing Thru The Ages



Led by Richie Foley on mandolin and bouzouki, Dearga have reached new heights in Irish Traditional Music since their formation as the main instrumentalists with Dancing Thru The Ages - the groundbreaking Irish music , song and dance show.

Dearga have created a unique style of music which successfully fuses the musical traditions of Ireland with many styles from around the world, including bluegrass and jazz, but the group are equally committed to providing a solid platform for every performance of Dancing Thru The Ages, ensuring their Irish heritage is given the respect it deserves. The band also provide atmospheric and stylish accompaniment for vocalist Caroline Fraher, who a launched a solo album in 2008 , ' Live at the Sirius '

Dearga worked very closely with Steve Cooney over the past year on new musical arrangements and have began an extensive search for new and original material . Having spent the early months of 2008 in rehersals , Dearga recorded their latest CD at Liam Clancy's studios in May which was also launched in 2008 , also produced by Steve Cooney.