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American Routes Shortcuts: Hot Licks: Ireland to Appalachia

Seamus Egan
Seamus Egan

This is American Routes for St. Patrick's, with singers, fiddlers and pickers from Ireland to Appalachia live in this hour.  Sharing Irish, bluegrass and country tunes with one another at the 80th National Folk Festival.  Beginning with brothers Rob and Ronnie McCoury playing banjo and mandolin on stage in Salisbury, Maryland, 2021 with Ronnie's tune, " Quicksburg Rondevouz."


Nick Spitzer: You know, they have, it is an unfair advantage, I think, to have brothers. You guys have been around each other for a long time.

Rob McCoury: Yeah, we have.

NS: You gentlemen set the bar high, and we appreciate it. Let's turn here to Seamus Egan and John Doyle, and John is originally from Ireland. Remind me of your county?

John Doyle: I'm from Dublin City originally.

NS: Okay.

JD: And I moved here in '91.

NS: Okay.

JD: Took a few years now.

NS: And where do you live now?

JD: I live in Asheville, North Carolina.

NS: Oh, that's not a bad place.

JD: Yeah. Not so bad.

NS: That's very, very nice. And Seamus, you grew up in Philly, but you went back to Ireland a lot and ultimately started winning contests.

Seamus Egan: Yeah, I was born in Philadelphia, and then the family moved back to Ireland, and I grew up there for–until about twelve and then came back here to Philadelphia.

NS: So I mean, when we think of Irish music, a lot of times we do think of migration in the songs and migration in style, but of course, I mean, in America, there were so many Irish, you'd listen to 78s and collections by folklorists of the music, whether you were in the old country or not.

SE: Oh, god yeah.

NS: Yeah. And I assume you were surrounded by some country music in American life?

SE: Oh yeah, definitely. Well, I remember, well, the first time I heard a banjo was on the radio in Ireland when I was, I don't know, maybe five or six years old, and pestered my parents to get me a banjo. And, but what–I thought I was listening to Irish music, but what I actually was listening to was bluegrass banjo playing. And so, when I got this, I didn't understand that there was four string and five string and flat picks and finger picking and everything. So, I spent a great deal of my youth trying to sound like that with this.

NS: So, what would you like to play that fits into the moment right here? You got something in mind?

SE: Well, I'd come across a book about the great Irish explorer, Ernest Shackleton. And I'm sure you've all heard of Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated journey in the Endurance, well, I'm not giving anything away obviously when I say it didn't end well for them, but when things were going from bad to worse and, you know, they had to abandon ship. And so he ordered his crew to only take, I think there were a maximum of two pounds of provisions that, you know, personal items. And they were gonna check off into the, you know, Antarctic, except there was one fellow in the crew who had a banjo, and he ordered him to bring the banjo with them, even though it was over the two-pound weight limit, and you couldn't eat it. So, because he called it “vital mental medicine.” So, it was important to have.

NS: Okay

SE: So, I figured that that deserved a tune to be called "Vital Mental Medicine.” So, here we go.


To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.