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Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies at Celtic Connections in Glasgow.


By Bill Heaney

Pictures by Gaelle Beri

There were huge Connemara and Galway city links – and not a few people from all across Connacht – in the packed-to-the-gunwales Glasgow Concert Hall for the 35th anniversary celebration concert of Cherish the Ladies.

January 2020 marked a full 35 years since musician and folklorist Mick Moloney brought together and staged a showcase of female Irish-American talent.

It’s also 25 years since the band’s debut on the Glasgow Concert Hall stage, in year two of the first-ever Celtic Connections festival.

Cherish the Ladies is a band like no other. There were about 20 musicians, singers and dancers in Glasgow, where they went down a storm.

Just as there was in September when we last saw them perform at the Clifden Arts Festival in the Connemara West complex on the road to Roundstone.

Hotelier John Sweeney, his wife Treena, and Dr Brendan Flynn, the festival director, were delighted when they were told their Station House Hotel Theatre was too small to accommodate the number of people who wanted tickets for the gig.

The Glasgow audience was captivated by the marvellous vocals, including some authentic sean nos; enthralled by the music, and thrilled by the dancers.

There was one young fellow from Carna, Seamus O’Flatharta, not long out of school, who brought his parents with him from Galway to Glasgow to see him perform during their first trip to Scotland.

Despite the band’s name, it’s not all women in the Ladies, although it was that way back in the beginning when illustrious performers, Eileen Ivers, Liz Carroll, Winifred Horan and Liz Knowles graced the stage with them.

This year’s Celtic Connections’ line-up featured Joanie Madden, Mary Coogan and Nollaig Casey, with Mirella Murray, from Cleggan and Claddaghduff, on the accordion, and Glasgow woman Kathleen Boyle, on the piano.

Joanie Madden, whose parents have links with from Brooklyn USA and Portumna, East Galway, is a consummate entertainer and she compared the show.

It would take a better man than me to describe the vibrancy and joy of her performance, which encapsulates what Cherish the Ladies are all about.

I can think of no better person than Joanie to pull together a spectacular show such as this. Sensational.

The fact that the Glasgow Irish love her, and Joanie loves them, was evident from the beginning of the evening, especially when she played those fabulous tunes on the flute and tin whistle.

Arriving fresh from a five-date Irish tour for this exclusive Scottish appearance, the Ladies were optimally warmed up for an even bigger Glasgow love-in than usual.

Their bumper birthday entourage included guest vocalists, Kate Purcell, Heidi Talbot, John Morrison and Cathy Ryan.

A wonderful rendering of May the Road Rise to Meet You brought the audience to its feet and brought tears of nostalgia streaming to not a few Irish eyes.

The rhythm section of Trevor Hutchison, Peter McKinney and Donnchadh Gough, were formidable as were several locals, including Hughie Boyle and Des Foley, a magnificent singer, who just turned up on the night and sang beautifully.

The customary squad of champion step dancers put their best feet forward for the occasion and they included that lad from Carna, who brought his parents with him.

They’ll never forget that night in Glasgow, and neither will the Irish-Scottish audience, who absolutely packed the Concert Hall. Superb.

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