Pick, pluck, strum or strike

Posted on: 9th February, 2015

Category: Music

Contributor: Mark Holland

I love the way we (humans) keep stumbling from one stone cold fact to another. Everything we know about Dinosaurs is suddenly thrown in the air by the fact that they now tell us that our scaly monstrous lizard-like friends had feathers. I mean please be serious, I reckon that they probably wore underpants too except time has dissolved the evidence of this into the bedrock!

Growing up in the 70s we used to have these fabulous ‘Books of Knowledge’, barely 100 pages long with some fluffy drawings that contained everything we needed to know about everything; fact. Now with the Internet at our fingertips we can access volumes more information, which we can also cross-reference into the grey area in which most truth lies.

Take the origins of the Banjo, an instrument of the guitar family. The word itself of Spanish, Portuguese or African origin, or maybe based on a Japanese lute. First turned up with a fingerboard and frets in the 17th century Caribbean. In the less structured days of yore, could have had three to eight strings, could have been as big as a Double Bass, and played upright, or as small (petite or piccolo) as a ukulele. With infinite variations on tuning like ‘Sawmill’, ‘Mountain Modal’, ‘Old Time D’ or ‘Chicago’, first appeared on the big stage in the 1830s and popularised by the likes of Joel Walker Sweeney and subsequently brought over to the British music halls where it became very popular because of its volume. The playing techniques of the time became characteristic of Bluegrass. The Irish found a different way to play it with different tuning and accentuations.

The playing ability of greats like (the three-fingered) Django Rheinhardt made it a staple instrument in Jazz orchestras pre World War II before it was replaced by the Electric Guitar. Of similar vintage were the Flannagan Brothers from New York and Boston’s Shamrock Band and later its use in Irish music increased greatly with the folk revival of the 1960s. The late Barney McKenna of the Dubliners is acknowledged around the world as one of the instruments greatest ever advocates.

Modern pieces have been written, played and recorded by Steve Martin (Comedian), Sufjan Stevens and Beck, or the Classical recording by John Bullard ‘Bach on the Banjo’. It has also been a music hall favourite appearing in so many shows as diverse as ‘Hello Dolly’ and Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’.

Every incarnation of the Banjo gets labelled with another name; the six-string banjo — my favourite — is essentially a guitar neck attached to a banjo body, that makes everything sound like a Neil Young tune, can be called a Guitanjo, Guitjo, Banjitar, Bantar, or quite honestly whatever you’re having yourself.

But I like to think in my own unstructured view of world history that what probably really happened is one day down south in the southern States, driven by ingenuity and boredom someone grabbed a bucket, stretched a drum skin over it, hammered on a neck, tied some strings across and just got stuck in, and if anyone tries to tell me otherwise I’ll tell them that once upon a time we thought Dinosaurs had scales.

Mumford and Sons got some great mileage out of the banjo reasonably recently,

We Banjo 3 seem to be going places, Steve Martin has won praise with his band Steep Canyon Rangers, and of course The Dubliners, among many many others.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.

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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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