They played to the peak of the reek for Climb with Charlie earlier this year and this week the Clew Bay pipers have been scaling Alpine heights for Criou, a Celtic music festival. On this occasion, the well-travelled band are supporting a Nepalese charity to build an education centre in a monastery in the tiny hamlet of Taksindu, hit by an earthquake in 2015.
Peter Carney, piper and primary school principal of Carowholly National School, near Westport, is one of the festival’s organisers. He is part of a contingent of 75 people — musicians, dancers, singers and their families — who spent this week melding trad and rock at a busy schedule of concerts, workshops and classes in the mountain village of Samoëns in southeastern France.
“Clew Bay Pipe Band’s big connection with Samoëns started with a few of us going on a ski trip over a decade ago. A friend of ours, Shane Cunningham from Westport, lives there and is very involved in the community and festivals. He plays a few tunes himself and when he heard our Pipe Versity show, he asked us would we come out here,” Carney says.
Cunningham has lived in Samoëns since 2003 and until 2016 ran a pub there called Coveys, which is slang for Westport natives.
“In 2018, after a few tunes and pints, we started throwing the idea around that we might put a Celtic festival in place. I’m involved in a committee here in the town that organises musical events and I proposed it to them and we ran it in 2019 and it was a huge success,” Cunningham says.
A defining feature of the Clew Bay Pipe Band’s huge appeal is its fusion of piping, drumming, trad, rock, dance and choral music. They have played with Imelda May, Mundy, Damien Dempsey and Matt Molloy — an unusual outing was performing the German national anthem in the Aviva Stadium for the European qualifier in 2013.
The charity concert in Samoëns took place on Thursday at the mountainside Grand Cret restaurant. Achill piper Des Cafferkey’s composition Irish Heroes, in memory of the crew of Rescue 116, had added resonance in a mountain community heavily reliant on rescue services.
“Just to have the festival here in the town, it makes me very proud to be able to bring Irish music to the village,” Cunningham says. “It has brought the whole village to life and forged huge connections with my hometown.”