01 March 2022

Over the Water to Ireland with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra

In August 1991, the SFO undertook its first ever trip to Ireland, playing concerts in Belfast and Dublin.

The concert in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on 31 August 1991, represented a kind of cultural handover from Glasgow to Dublin as European City of Culture 1991.

In his programme introduction for that evening, John Mason, explained that though it might be the SFO’s first time in the Emerald Isle, he was himself a regular visitor to Ireland over many years.

In his words, he had “become enthralled with Ireland’s culture and its people”.

He had great respect for the enormous wealth of Irish traditional music and a healthy respect for its many fine performers.

It says it all that, when the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra was formed in1980, it chose for its President an Irish fiddler – Dr. Gerry Crean.

The SFO’s concerts in Belfast and Dublin featured a guest spot by The Garrykennedy Heritage Players, led by Dan Larkin.

Garrykennedy is a village on the Shannon River in North Tipperary.

The Heritage Players were formed from the many times Irish champion “Ormond Ceilidh Band”, led by the late, great accordionist, Paddy O’Brien.

One of the sets performed by the Heritage Players was a selection of Irish Reels, including “Dinny O’Brien”, a composition dedicated to his father by Paddy.





The link between John Mason and Ireland came up in a 2022 RTE Radio programme, celebrating the life of Paddy O’Brien.

The episode of The Rolling Wave (available as a podcast) marked the centenary of the birth of Paddy O’Brien in the company of his daughter, Eileen (on fiddle), with Geraldine Cotter on piano.

Eileen explains how John Mason used to visit Dan Larkin’s pub – The Barge Inn – in Garrykennedy. John would often take SFO members along with him.

Irish Polkas went down very well with the Scots contingent.

John encouraged Paddy O’Brien to compose tunes in that vein.

One set seems to be particularly associated with John’s prompting, though the titles of the 3 tunes (The Humours of Bahrain, The Sheikh’s Delight, and the Emir’s Fancy) would not immediately indicate any such “Scottish” link.

The SFO went on to record these three tunes and they appear as part of a set entitled “Dancing in the Streets” – on the “Highland Cathedral” album (on the REL label), preceded by two John Mason compositions.

The SFO has gone on to make numerous subsequent visits to Ireland.

Most recently, the SFO played at the Belfast Waterfront in October 2017. The SFO’s 2016 performance at the same venue is available to purchase as a recording via this website: The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra at the Belfast Waterfront.

NOTE: This is a slightly edited version of an article which first appeared in the SFO Newsletter of March 2022. The SFO Newsletter is published quarterly and downloadable as a PDF from the SFO website – why not join up as a Friend of the Orchestra (it’s free) and keep up to date with our activities? – More information about the Friends here.