FolkWorld #81 11/2023
© Birnam CD Ltd.


Artist Video Réalta @ FROG

Familiar and Fresh


Artist Audio Réalta "Thing of the Earth", 2022

Belfast-based Irish traditional band Réalta release their third studio album, Thing of the Earth.

The recording is their first collaborative release, and the first since Breton piper Loïc Bléjean joined the group. The result is a varied collection, ranging from classic piping melodies to newly composed dance tunes, and from traditional ballads to modern folk songs.

Myles McCormack, talented singer-songwriter and composer of the title track, features as a guest artist on vocals, guitar and mandolin across the album. Legendary singer Cathy Jordan also joins the group for a haunting rendition of the 19th century ballad, The Wind That Shakes The Barley. The band have released a music video for the track, which was recently long-listed for a Northern Ireland Music Prize.

Thing of the Earth will feel both familiar and fresh to Réalta fans. They have taken their core sound of reeds, wind, strings and drum and developed it, creating a complex and innovative album which showcases the broader experiences and influences of the band members. This is an energetic and exciting recording which reflects Réalta’s collaborative style, sensitively blending the creative approaches of all the artists to make powerful, empathetic and cohesive music.

Thing of the Earth is available on digital download, CD and 12” Vinyl. A series of launch gigs are scheduled this autumn, including 18.11 William Kennedy Piping Festival, Armagh.

William Kennedy Piping Festival

William Kennedy Piping Festival

Armagh, Northern Ireland

16 - 19 November 2023


The 29th William Kennedy Piping Festival takes place in Armagh on 16-19 November 2023.

The WKPF is an international festival of mainly bagpipe-based traditional music. Organised as a one-off event by Armagh Pipers Club in 1994, as part of a cross-community “Armagh Together” series of events, the Festival was such a success that it was reprised in 1995, and then became a regular annual fixture. A total of 26 festivals took place up to 2019, drawing into Armagh a vast array of internationally renowned musicians, and aficionados from all over the world. It is one of the longest-running festivals of its kind in the world of piping.

The William Kennedy Lectures

The Festival had to take a break in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but returned in 2021 – on a smaller scale than in previous years, to ensure public safety. The 2022 edition was considerably larger, with some 41 musicians taking part, and the 2023 Festival has the same number. There will be five public concerts, the Mark Donnelly Piping Academy, various workshops, a lecture, a film screening and a concert for schools.

For a list of the 2023 Festival artists, see here.

William Kennedy, after whom the Festival is named, was a blind craftsman from Tandragee, near Armagh, who lived from 1768 to 1834. He made several important innovations in the design of uilleann pipes. His biography forms a chapter of The William Kennedy Lectures, a collection of 19 essays based on lectures presented during the first 25 Festivals. The book can be ordered from our online shop.

Meet the artists performing in the 29th William Kennedy Piping Festival.


This Belfast-based band consists of Conor Lamb and the Breton Loïc Bléjean on uilleann pipes and whistles; Deirdre Galway, guitar and vocals; Dermot Mulholland, banjo and bouzouki, and Dermot Moynagh, double bass and bodhrán. Following the debut album Open the Door for Three (the lineup then consisting of Deirdre, Conor and Aaron O’Hagan), their latest is titled Clear Skies.


A duo from the French Basque country (Gascony). Arnaud Bibonne sings and plays bagpipes (the boha and other cornemuses), and Maider Martineau plays the Basque horn (alboka) and other wind instruments, a type of tambourine (pandero) and a diatonic button accordion (trikitixa). They teach and promote Basque and Gascon music, song and dance, appear at many festivals and concerts, and released their first album, Bohada, in 2021.

Cillian Vallely

“We’re a Case The Bunch of Us”: the Allan MacDonald Quintet

Known for reviving the 17th-century style of pibroch, Allan MacDonald (Ailean Domhnallach) is one of three renowned piper brothers from the Gaidhlig-speaking village of Glenuig on the west coast of Scotland. A lecturer and composer, he has participated in many previous editions of the William Kennedy Piping Festival. Finlay MacDonald is head of piping studies at the National Piping Centre and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, has played with many famous artists and groups, and is an organiser of the annual Piping Live! Festival. Multi-instrumentalist Ali Hutton, from Perthshire, played in the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band before developing a professional career with groups such as Brolum, Back of the Moon, Old Blind Dogs and Symbiosis. Iain MacFarlane, best known as a fiddler, also plays the pipes, and has worked with famous bands such as Boys of the Lough and the Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band. Leonard Barry is an uilleann piper from Tralee who has played and taught the pipes in the USA, Europe, Asia and Australia, and has released two albums, Mind the Pipes and New Road.

Andy May

One of the best-known contemporary exponents of the Northumbrian smallpipes, and a pianist, composer, teacher and pipe-maker. The Andy May Trio has released two albums, About Time and Just a Second. He also plays in the Nordic/Celtic band Baltic Crossing.

Barry & Laura Kerr with Donogh Hennessy

Matthias Branschke

Olle Gällmo

Barry Kerr, from Lurgan, is an uilleann piper and flute player as well as a visual artist, and is currently the University College Cork Traditional Artist in Residence. His sister Laura Kerr is a renowned fiddler, and together they recently released the album Castor Bay. Both have appeared on other recordings. Guitarist Donogh Hennessy played with Sharon Shannon’s band before joining Lúnasa, with whom he toured for several years.

Brendan Murphy

The current Pipe Sergeant of the St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band, Brendan has played in other renowned Highland pipe bands including the Field Marshal Montgomery and Strathclyde Police.

Cillian Vallely

Best known as the uilleann piper with the supergroup Lúnasa, Cillian also plays the low whistle. He has toured worldwide and performed on over 50 albums.

Éamonn Curran

The senior uilleann pipes tutor with Armagh Pipers Club, Éamonn was formerly a professional musician touring extensively with Dolores Keane and others. He then had a career as a primary teacher and is now a pipe-maker based in Monaghan.

Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn

Gay McKeon, Paddy Glackin & Mary Corcoran

Dublin piper Gay McKeon’s recordings include two solo albums, the latest being The Turning of the Geese, and a trio album with his two sons. He is the CEO of the national association of pipers, Na Píobairí Uilleann. Pianist and fiddler Mary Corcoran, also a Dubliner, came to prominence on winning the piano title at the 1976 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. She has since made several recordings with artists including Patsy Moloney, John Regan and Tommy Guihen. Gay and Mary were to have performed at the 2023 WKPF alongside The Chieftains’ fiddler Seán Keane, who died on 7 May; fortunately the great Dublin fiddler Paddy Glackin, a founding member of the Bothy Band, stepped into the breach.

Méabh, Annie & Aoife Smyth with Darren Culliney

The Smyth sisters from Co. Armagh are former students of Armagh Pipers Club, where Méabh is now a tutor. In 2018 Méabh won the Ed Reavy International Fiddler if the Year Competition; in 2021 she won the Fiddler of London title and in 2023 was named Young Musician of the Year in the TG4 Gradam Ceoil awards. Annie was also a finalist in the 2021 Fiddler of London competition. Aoife is primarily an uilleann piper, and plays keyboards. Darren Culliney is an accordionist from Co. Longford.

Mná na Píob

A trio of women uilleann pipers: Máire Ní Ghráda lectures at the University of Limerick and teaches at many Irish and overseas piping events; Mary Mitchell-Ingoldsby is a musicologist in University College Cork, and Rosaleen O’Leary is well known as a feis adjudicator as well as for her many performances and recordings.

Duo Gällmo Branschke

Mick O'Brien

The Swedish Olle Gällmo, awarded the prestigious title of risksspelman for his virtuosity on the säckpipa, and pipe-maker Matthias Branschke from Germany have played and taught together for many years. In 2019 they released an album, Double Yolks, featuring both Swedish and German folk tunes; Olle also has a solo album, med pipan i säcken.


This Scottish ensemble consists mainly of Highland pipers following the traditions of the Western Isles and Cape Breton. While the lineup has changed a few times in the three decades since the group was started by pipe-maker Hamish Moore, the group coming to Armagh is Calum MacCrimmon, Seonaidh MacIntyre, Fin Moore and Angus Nicolson, with Allan MacDonald providing pibroch song and small pipes.

Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn

A uilleann piper from Monaghan, Tiarnán has achieved many awards for his playing, including the Seán Ó Riada Bonn Óir (gold medal) and five All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil titles. He has featured on dozens of albums and many broadcasts, and has appeared in festivals and concerts in many countries. He is a piping tutor with Armagh Pipers Club.

José Manuel Tejedor

Maeve O’Donnell

A young but very accomplished piper from Co. Tyrone, and a former student at Armagh Pipers Club, this is Maeve’s first solo Kennedy Festival appearance. She holds an All-Ireland title for solo uilleann pipes. She features on the compilation CD Bláth na Finne.

Mick O’Brien

One of Ireland’s best-known pipers, Mick has featured on many recordings and has performed and taught all over Europe and the USA. Named Musician of the Year in the TG4 Gradam Ceoil awards in 2023, Mick had in 2014 received a Gradam Ceoil award jointly with his daughter Aoife Ní Bhriain and Emer Mayock for their exploration of the music in the 19th-century Goodman collection.

José Manuel Tejedor

This Asturian gaita player came to fame at the age of 17 when he won the Macallan trophy at the inter-Celtic festival at Lorient, a feat he repeated in 1993 and 1997. He has released albums as a solo artist and in the group Tejedor (with his brother Javier and sister Eva). He first performed in the WKPF in 2003.

Ceri Rhys Matthews and Rick Lines

Ceri Rhys Matthews is delivering this year’s William Kennedy Lecture, with the title “To-ing and Fro-ing: The Swansea Cork Connection”. This explores the labour migration that created musical links between parts of Ireland and parts of Wales. He plays the flute and the Welsh bagpipers, the pibau cyrn, and performs in the final concert with uilleann piper Rick Lines, a Canadian now based in Wales where he is a public health expert.

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Réalta, (3) William Kennedy Piping Festival, (4) The William Kennedy Lectures, (5) Cillian Vallely, (6) Olle Gällmo, (7) Matthias Branschke, (8) Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn, (9) Mick O'Brien, (10) José Manuel Tejedor (unknown/website).

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