Peter Wood's Sleeve Notes of An Tobar Glé ...
Neil Mulligan’s father Tom first came to Dublin in 1935. He’d left a job shoveling coal from the Arigna train – the last of Ireland’s narrow gauge railways – onto that bound for Dublin. He arrived into a city caught between the Great Depression and what became known as The Emergency. The first job Tom got barely covered his digs. Coming from a family of musicians Tom had a head full of music even if his pockets were empty and it was wondering the streets of Phibsborough one night that he first heard the music of the piper and pipe-maker, James Mulcrone, coming from an upstairs window. Through Mulcrone Tom Mulligan met other musicians, enduring friendships were formed with people like Tommy Reck and Séamus Ennis and Tom – a fiddle player – bought a set of Mulcrone pipes. He married Kitty McMahon from Beale in Kerry and they began a family.
The story of how Tom Mulligan met James Mulcrone and what followed is important. Important because Néillidh Mulligan’s music is very much steeped in what resulted from those associations. That and his father’s own musicianship. Every tune has a story, goes back to somebody who played it or composed it or remembered a snatch of it from somewhere else. Néillidh Mulligan’s music is unimaginable without his fierce knowledge of the tradition it springs form, whether that came from the playing of musicians like his first formal teacher, Leo Rowsome, or regular visitors to the Mulligan’s house like Tommy Reck and Paddy Bán Ó Broin, or guests who stayed longer like Séamus Ennis – already a legend, even then.
It was Ennis who insisted that a musician spend seven years learning, seven years practicing and seven years playing before he described himself as a piper. Who looked upon the playing of music as a journey and an obligation. Ennis too influenced Neil’s attitude to the playing of airs – his insistence that the true authority lay in the original Gaelic, in an understanding of the sean-nós songs they came from. The singing of Seosamh Ó hEanaí and Tom Pháidín Tom, amongst others, influences this piper’s music and those influences are fundamental.
This is Néillidh Mulligan’s third album. It builds on Barr na Cúille and The Leitrim Thrush. In a sense biographical details aren’t all that material; All-Ireland titles won, critical acclaim, plaudits gained, because the story of what’s truly behind the music on this CD is that of a world of music. What’s important is that this is an unusual work these days – work that is seldom heard – that of a solo musician playing with wit, great style and vivacity. A piper who is sure of his touch and for whom playing music is a lifelong preoccupation and who plays with warmth and emotion. Néillidh Mulligan’s music is imbedded in a great tradition – it honours that tradition and carries it forth. That world of music.