Common Ground: Shared repertoire of the Cape Breton and Irish traditions

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Just back from my first trip to Ireland. What a fantastic time and of course lots of great tunes!  I’m always fascinated at how much the Cape Breton repertoire shares with the Irish and how the tunes that we share have evolved in both traditions. Some tunes we share are played in different keys in Ireland, and are sometimes played as a different tune type- a hornpipe in the Irish tradition may be heard as a reel in Cape Breton. In this post I’d like to draw attention to two of my favourite tunes that are staples of the Cape Breton repertoire and common in Ireland as well:

Miss Lyall’s Strathspey

Miss Lyall’s Reel

In Cape Breton, the strathspey is often followed by the reel or amongst tunes from the King George medley. They are often heard played for step dancing.

Miss Lyall’s Reel in Ireland is known as ‘Paddy Ryan’s Dream’. Miss Lyall’s Strathspey is commonly known as ‘The Cat that Kittled in Jamie’s Wig’. Although strathspeys are a Scottish and Cape Breton tune type, they are also a part of the Donegal tradition. There, they are known as Highlands. County Donegal is in the north west of Ireland, very close to Scotland. Migrant workers brought their music to Scotland and also brought back Scottish tunes and thus, the Donegal and repertoire and style is very much Scottish influenced.

Here is a recording of the Cape Breton versions:

Miss Lyall’s Strathspey and Reel

To compare, I’ve found some great clips on youtube from the Irish tradition.

This is ‘The Cat that Kittled in Jamie’s Wig played by the fantastic George Keith from the Boston area (it’s the second tune in the medley):

Here is Paddy Ryan’s Dream played by Tina Lech, another fantastic player from the Boston area. Compared to the Cape Breton version, it is more minor with ‘c’ naturals and ‘f’ naturals where the Cape Breton version is more modal with C#s in the B part.

I also found this great version of Paddy Ryan’s or ‘Mooney’s Reel from John Doherty who was a well respected player of the Donegal tradition. Interestingly, the version is more closely related to the Cape Breton version with the B part being more modal with ‘C#’s. (Also the second tune in the medley).

Hope you enjoy! There is so much beauty in all the stylistic differences in this common repertoire.



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