West Cork produced television show on RTÉ 

Dónal at the Tower of Hercules, A Coruña, Galicia. Pic: David Bickley, Alchemy Electronic Arts

Is there such a thing as “Celtic music” and if there is, what exactly is it? These are some of the questions that musician Dónal Lunny sought the answers to for a new four-part musical travelogue series broadcast on RTÉ One this October.

The series and accompanying book were written by west Cork based writer David Forsythe and devised and produced by Clonakilty-based David Bickley at Alchemy Electronic Arts.

The Celtic Songlines book published by Currach Press to accompany with a foreword by Dónal Lunny follows this epic journey of musical discovery along Europe’s western coasts from the Hebrides in the north to Galicia in the south.

Beautifully illustrated with many behind the scenes photographs taken during filming the book features extensive interviews with some of Europe’s leading traditional musicians including Paddy Glackin, Máirtín O’Connor, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Alan Stivell, Donald Shaw, Carlos Núñez and many more.

The book follows Dónal’s journey in making the programme from Ireland to Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and northwestern Spain. Along the way he met with musicians, historians and folklorists who help build a fascinating picture of what Celtic musical identity means in modern Europe.

For Dónal, meeting and playing with a huge variety of musicians from across Europe proved to be a very rewarding experience.

“Wherever we went we would meet up with local musicians and basically just play – and it was a very enjoyable experience. The whole idea of the show is to explore the connections between the music of the different Celtic areas and what really struck me as we went along was that the people themselves were the real connection.

“Wherever we went I felt a genuine connection with these musicians, the passion was genuine and the love for it was plain to see and that is what united them all.”

Now seventy-years-old Dónal had visited many of the locations before during his career but for this project visiting the various areas one after the other gave him a different perspective.

“When you are travelling from one area to the next so soon you do start to pick up on the similarities and what they have in common. Of course I’d been well aware of the close ties between Scotland and Ireland for example but what I noticed most was this real enthusiasm for keeping traditions alive and building on them.”

The journey takes Dónal from north to south along the Atlantic coasts of Europe visiting some of the continent’s most spectacular scenery along the way, reaching journey’s end at the Tower of Hercules in A Coruña on Spain’s north west coast. It was from here that the Celtic king Breogán was said to have spotted a verdant green isle to the north and set sail to settle a new Celtic kingdom.

The Celtic Songlines is on RTE One every Friday in October at 7:30pm with the last episode due for broadcast on Friday November 3rd.

The book is available from all good bookshops or direct from Currach Press at www.currach.ie.