Watch documentary on Johnny Doherty, Donegal fiddle legend


Tinsmith, storyteller and legendary traditional fiddler, Johnny Doherty was in the 1970s still traveling the hills of Donegal at an advanced age, playing music and making a living. The documentary below was made in 1972 by Seán O'Haughey of the Coimisiún Béaloideasa Éireann (Irish Folklore Commission). You can watch it in its entirety, in five parts.

Johnny Doherty (Seán Ó Dochartaigh) was born in Ardara, County Donegal (Ard an Rátha, Co. Thír Chonaill) at an unknown year.

The O'Doherty family were travelers in the culturally rich Gleann Cholm Cille area. Johnny's father Mickey was a fiddler, and his mother Mary McConnell was a singer. Johnny was the youngest of nine children. As a teenager, Johnny was not allowed to play fiddle in the company of his parents until he had mastered the reel "Bonny Kate." Johnny's brother, also called Mickey, was noted for his style after the recording artist Michael Coleman ( Mícheál Ó Clúmháin), and Mickey can be heard play on "The Gravel Walks."

The classic album The Floating Bow preserves Johnny Doherty music and stories for all time, and is a valuable treasure of the tradition. O'Doherty's music is noted for its complicated ornamentation, double-stop bowing technique, and the uilleann pipe sound he successfully recreated on the fiddle. His influence on later masters is incalculably and hugely significant.

Related: interview I conducted with East Galway flute legend, Jack Coen.









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