Compiled by Martin McGinley. Uploaded 5.10.20
Bríd Harper, who’s originally from Castlefin, has been described by the Irish Echo as “one of the finest fiddlers in traditional music”. Her solo CD Brid Harper, released in 2015, was described by Trad-Connect.com as “solo fiddle of the most exquisite kind”, and “one of this year’s best traditional albums”.
Bríd won the All-Ireland senior fiddle title in 1988, and has been much in demand for performances at home and abroad. She is also an exceptional teacher, guiding lots of talented players in her adopted Tyrone and also in masterclasses far and wide.
Her sisters are also talented musicians. Her grandfather, Stephen Harper, is remembered in East Donegal as an exceptional player.
The CD ‘Bríd Harper’ is available from Copperplate Distribution online, http://www.copperplatemailorder.com/shop/accordion/bridharper/
Bríd talked at the Frankie Kennedy Winter School in Gaoth Dobhair in December 2012 about starting the fiddle, influences on her playing and some of the fiddlers she met.
[transcription from Irish Traditional Music Archive website itma.ie]
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – Bríd, would you explain to people how you started to play and who influenced you?
Bríd Harper – There were six girls in our house at home. The three eldest girls started off first on tin whistles, and it was through my uncle Frank Kelly, who also plays the fiddle. And he had organised Comhaltas classes through the Comhaltas branch up at the Crossroads. Pat McCabe was the tutor there. He used to travel from Clones. So we were sent off to learn the tinwhistle. That, I suppose, happened for a year or so.
Then that Christmas Santa brought me a fiddle. We weren’t asked what we would like to play. The sister younger than me got a button accordion and Amelia, the girl older than me, got a piano accordion. So those were the instruments for us.
Luckily enough I did get the fiddle, and I did learn to like the fiddle. So I got lessons from Pat on the fiddle for maybe a year and a half or so.
And then just going to the various Scoil Éigse’s.before [the All-Ireland Fleadh weekend]. I would have been at the Scoil Éigse in Buncrana, 1976, and whenever the [All Ireland] Fleadh was back in Buncrana, I think it was ‘79 and ’80.
One of my first tutors there was Tom Glackin and I just met the grandson there [laughs], Paddy’s son. He was my first teacher at the Scoil Eigse. Then I had various other teachers. I had Charlie Lennon, Maurice’s uncle, and I had Paddy Ryan and different other people.
I suppose, just getting lessons from all those people, and listening to CDs and records – well, not CDs at that time, it would have been all records – and tapes that my mum and dad would have bought for us at home. Then sitting in at various sessions, because they [parents] would have been very good, taking us around all of Donegal.
We used to have a local session at Crossroads, and we used to have one in Glenfin, and we used to have one in Letterkenny. Then we would have come down to Gortahork, Gweedore. But I think those schools of music, before the All Ireland Fleadh, [were important] for me as a child, when we got to go to the recitals and hear different singers and different players, and then the Club Eigse at night-time. We were out and we heard the likes of Mairead [Ní Mhaonaigh] herself here, and Frankie, and Maurice Lennon, Paul O’Shaughnessy, people like that. I could hear all the different styles. So it’s a combination of all those things.
I never really had any one favourite fiddle player or musician that I would have really stuck to and listened to for any length of time. There have been a lot of influences on my playing, and not just fiddle music. I would have listened to accordion playing, Joe Burke, and Roger Sherlock [flute] and Matt Molloy [flute], and various people.
Mairéad – Would you have met John Doherty when he was living in Ballybofey?
Bríd – I met him. I remember Daddy took me up. I was very fortunate to meet him. I had an evening with him in Ballybofey. I just thought, even the man’s voice, not alone his fiddle playing, when I heard the man speaking, and a small bit of singing. You just would have known that the man was so musical. I loved his playing. I remember the first time I heard him, I thought, ‘It’s so clean’. And the tonal quality that he had was just unbelieveable.
Mairéad – Would you have met Danny O’Donnell when he was living in Ballybofey?
Bríd – When Danny was living in Ballybofey, Daddy used to take Danny down to our house. We would have had nice tunes in the house with Danny O’Donnell and Charlie Patton, another local man beside Uncle Frank. They used to come as well with an accordion player from Dromore, Sean McCusker. We would have had sessions with them.
Then, meeting other local musicians as well at the Crossroads, like Jimmy Houston. I don’t know if you remember Jimmy? And then Hughie Gillespie, who’s [ . .] related to my mother in some way. Daddy used to bring me up to Hughie’s as well for tunes.
ITMA field recordings of The Frankie Kennedy Winter School, 2012-2013. Taisce Cheoil seminar 1 [sound recording] / Bríd Harper ; Maurice Lennon ; Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh
Date: 29 December 2012
Location: Ionad Cois Locha, Dún Lúiche, Co. Donegal