The West Mabou Reel: Another Irish Connection

by adminKFS on · 2 comments

I must be still basking in the glow of having been to Ireland for the first time! Here is another common tune shared both in the Irish and Cape Breton repertoire that I personally just discovered and I get very excited at those discoveries!

The West Mabou Reel:

I had always known the West Mabou Reel to be a Cape Breton tune. Like Miss Lyall’s Strathspey and Reel, it is a staple of the repertoire and often played for dancing. I didn’t realize that it had its origins in the Irish repertoire until just after returning home from Ireland when I had a listen to the fabulous recording, Jig Away the Donkey; Music and Song of South Ulster by Gerry O’Connor (fiddle) Martin Quinn (button accordion) and Gabriel McArdile, (vocal and concertina). I heard a tune that sounded exactly like the West Mabou Reel. The parts are in reverse and the melody has a few slight differences but it is the same tune.

After hearing this version of the tune, I referred to Kate Dunlay and David Greenburg’s The Dungreen Collection: Traditional Celtic Violin Music of Cape Breton which is a fabulous collection of not only Cape Breton repertoire but source information about the tunes. For the West Mabou Reel, the Dungreen lists ‘The Mayo Lasses’, Johnny When You Die’, and ‘The Old Maids of Galway’ as Irish sources for the Cape Breton version of the tune. On the album I cited above, the tune is listed as ‘Traynor’s Rambles’.

Here is a youtube video of the West Mabou Reel played by the Cape Breton fiddler Donald Angus Beaton (1912-1981) of the Mabou Coal Mines:

To compare, here is a youtube clip of ‘Johnny Will You Die’ from Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh:

Again the parts are reversed compared to ‘West Mabou’, but you can certainly tell it’s the same tune.

I think it’s amazing how tunes cross into another repertoire and evolve into a new version which then becomes a new standard. According to the Dungreen, in Cape Breton, the composition of this tune is sometimes attributed to a Dan (Domhnull Iain an Taillear- Donald the Taylor) Beaton (1856-1919) of the Mabou Coal Mines. However, as I wrote in anotherĀ blog post, Cape Breton fiddle music was significantly influenced by Irish music. As the Dungreen speculates, perhaps Dan Beaton heard it from an Irish-style fiddler in Cape Breton or he learned it from one of the tune books in his collection that may have contained Irish tunes. Whatever the case, the West Mabou reel is a great example of tune evolution.

Some of my favorite youtube clips of Cape Breton music

by adminKFS on · 3 comments

You can easily spend hours on youtube watching clips of great Cape Breton music. While there are many current videos, what I think is great is that there are so many old clips- clips of performances from various concerts that I attended as a child, and also from television shows from an era when Atlantic Canadian music was on television every week. Here are some of my favorite clips of mostly older performances that I watch over and over again. Some of them I remember watching on television. And-if anyone has any clips of the show, Up Home Tonight, please get in touch!!

Hope you enjoy! What are your favorite traditional music clips on youtube?


A clip of the Rankin Family playing on the Ann Murray Special in the early 90s.


A clip of Natalie MacMaster with Tracey Dares on piano also filmed for a television show in Scotland


Buddy MacMaster with Maybelle Chisholm on the piano at the Broad Cove concert 1984


Harvey Beaton dancing at the Broad Cove Concert 1985


Featuring John Morris Rankin and Howie MacDonald from the 1986 Mabou Ceilidh


An old clip from the Glendale concert featuring a dance called the Scotch Four. The dancers are Kelly (Warner) MacLennan, Rodney MacDonald, Ashley MacIsaac and Melody (Warner) Cameron. Wendy MacIsaac is on fiddle and Stephanie Wills on piano.


Kyle MacNeil of the Barra MacNeils. This is one of the few videos on youtube of just Kyle playing with his brother Shemas on piano. Kyle was my first fiddle teacher and still remains very much an idol.


Ashley MacIsaac playing on the Rita MacNeil show in the mid 90s.


A great clip of Jerry Holland, Carl MacKenzie, Dave MacIsaac, Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIssac from a concert at the Rebecca Cohn in Halifax, Nova Scotia


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