By Gerry Mulvihill
Source: ADC Publication – The Athenry Journal Vol. 2, No. 2, 1996.
The small townland of Taiquin or Tigh Da Conna, set about six miles from the historic town of Athenry in County Galway, was once a famous Barony stretching as far north as Roscommon. The ruins of Taiquin Castle still remain today.
The friendly outgoing people of this area have a great love of family, friends, music, song and dance. One such family is that of well known musician and singer Kevin Rohan.
I visited the Rohan household recently to ask Kevin about his career as a musician. The night was a mixture of chat, laughter, music, sandwiches, whiskey, songs and more music. It included music from his daughters Emer and Mary Paula and, of course, Kevin himself. We talked and played into the early hours.
“My grand parents all played and danced. My father, Brian, played the fiddle and my mother Winnie played the accordion. My father played at the house dances with local musicians like Patrick Stack from Cloonkeen and Johnny Rabbitte from Tysaxon in the 1920s and 1930s. There was a very good fiddling tradition in our area”.
‘There would be music sessions in our house a few nights a week. I learned a lot of music from my father, local musicians at the house sessions and from the old 78 records”.
Kevin’s brother Jimmy (USA) and his sister Peggy (Dublin) both played the fiddle and his brothers Bernie and Tom were singers. Kevin has vivid memories of these house sessions.
“What delights when youthful and gay,
Each with eye like sunbeam and foot like feather,
Thus danced, like the hours to the music of May,
Mingling music, song and sunshine together”.
Curran Ceili Band (1947)
In 1947 when Kevin was ten years old he began to learn the fiddle. His father, a highly regarded musician in the area, taught him. Musicians such as Joe Burke (accordion), Paddy Curley (flute) and many others came to the Rohan house sessions.
When he was fifteen years old he joined the Curran Ceili Band. It consisted of Jack Curran (fiddle), Seamus Murphy (drums), Jimmy Burke (accordion), Kevin (fiddle) and John Lohan (accordion). They played at local dances at Monivea and Athenry and at “Hops” every Wednesday night in Carabane. Kevin’s talent as a fiddle player at this early age was indeed exceptional.
Tysaxon Ceili Band (1957)
In 1957 Kevin joined the Tysaxon Ceili Band with Paddy Joe Rabbitte (accordion), Dominic Parr (accordion), Mattie Feeney (flute), Bernie Kilkelly (flute) and Neville McGann (flute). “I played an awful lot of good music at this time with box player Dominic Parr whom I highly regard as a musician. We played at stations and dances as far north as Co. Down and throughout the West”.
Kieran Kelly Ceili Band (1961)
In 1961 at an “after hours” session at The Hanger in Salthill, with famous accordion player Kieran Kelly, Kevin was asked to join the Kieran Kelly Ceili Band. The line up was impressive Kieran Kelly (accordion), Kevin (fiddle), Vincent McGrath (accordion), Larry Benson (saxophone), E. Furey (drums), and the brilliant pianist Aidan Kearney. Kevin joined and they played throughout Ireland, England and Scotland. The band recorded one album. They broadcast live on the Radio Eireann programme “Ceili House” and Kevin did many solo broadcasts. “I was paid £6 for a solo broadcast then”. He also played at the official opening of R.T.E. in 1962.
In the late 1960s the showband era was in full swing. The famous Athenry band “The Swingtime Aces” was very popular then, a band which included musicians like Jimmy Ruane and others.
The Brendan Shine Country Band (1968)
In 1968 Kevin joined one of Ireland’s most popular bands “The Brendan Shine Country Band”. Between 1968 and 1972 this band toured extensively and Kevin recorded three albums with them.
Rodneys Glory (1972) and Shaskeen
Kevin formed his own band “Rodneys Glory” in 1972 and this is the band he plays with today. Kevin – fiddle/songs; Liam Merrigan – rhythm guitar/vocals; Martin Tierney – keyboard/vocals; Kenneth Doyle – drummer/vocals. An excellent four piece band they provide a wide range of music from traditional, country and rock to pop. They have recorded one album and tour extensively.
Along with being in Rodney’s Glory, Kevin has also toured extensively in the U.S.A, Russia, Europe and Ireland with the band “Shaskeen”.
He has indeed had a very musical career to date and tells me that he has no intention of retiring. His enthusiasm for life and music is also possessed by his mother, Winifred, who is presently over 95 years of age and regularly attends these informal sessions.
Today Kevin enjoys mostly these informal sessions. He recalled the many enjoyable nights he had with the Taiquin mummers, enjoying the warm company of such humorous characters as Christy Howley, Martin T. Kelly and others.
Unique style of fiddle playing
Kevin has his own unique style of fiddle playing. “There was a local style of fiddling in my area. I met many good local fiddlers who had special tunes. They put in extra notes, longer or shorter notes or special touches that made all the difference to the music. Much of these styles and notes have gone. It is sad to see all local styles slowly disappearing.
To really appreciate the music of Kevin Rohan, he must be heard live. Your spirits will be lifted and your foot will just have to tab. His fiddling style has all the characteristics of a great player; feeling, excellent phrasing and above all great drive and lift. He puts such life into the simplest of tunes and his bowing style makes the most difficult of tunes look easily played.
Today Kevin is as enthusiastic as ever learning new tunes and developing his music. The acquisition recently of an excellent hand made fiddle (by K. Sykes) will enable him to continue to produce that high quality of sound and tone upon which he insists.
Among his favourite musicians of today are ‘Sean Ryan, fiddler from Tipperary; Paddy Fahy and Frankie Gavin, fiddlers from Galway and Joe Derrane who plays the accordion.
A musician who lives for the moment
From my experience of playing with Kevin, music for him means all good music whether it be Traditional, Country, Cajun, Breton, Classical or Jazz. As he says himself “”Anything goes”. He is a musician who lives for the moment. He has an equal regard for the good listener as for his fellow musicians in a session.
The old saying that “the soul of a person can be seen in their eyes” is indeed true of Kevin. When the music and craic is good, the delight in his soul can be seen in his eyes.
Large repertoire of songs
Kevin is a well known singer and picked up his large repertoire of songs from many sources. When young he listener to local singer Tom Kelly. “Tom would sing until the cows came home -day or night it did not matter”. When listening to Kevin singing it is clear that he is one who loves to tell a story.
Alas, the many other happenings, events and stories, often humorous of such a musical career as Kevins must remain to be told on another day.
Kevin says “The one thing I am most grateful for is that I never had to miss a tune in my life due to ill health. For that I am grateful.”
“Then sing, sing – music was given
To brighten the day, and kindle theloving,
Souls here like planets in heaven,
By harmonies laws, alone are kept moving.