Outstanding Contribution Award
A pivotal member of the Irish diaspora in London, Clare man Brendan Mulkere, has worn many hats – as the unofficial ‘Irish music ambassador’ to London; Irish rights activist, record producer, promoter and musician.
A pivotal member of the Irish diaspora in London, Clare man Brendan Mulkere, has worn many hats – as the unofficial ‘Irish music ambassador’ to London; Irish rights activist, record producer, promoter and musician. Despite all of this, he is perhaps best known as an Irish traditional music teacher. It’s safe to say that every London-born, Irish traditional musician has been pulled into his orbit at some stage or another.
He has taught a plethora of musicians during a teaching career spanning five decades, including John Carty, Niall Keegan, John Whelan, John Blake, Claire Egan and Lamond Gillespie to name but a few. And, he has helped to put the London style of Irish traditional music firmly on the map.
Brendan Mulkere is, therefore, a very worthy recipient of this years Gradam Comaoine award.
Brendan Mulkere is from Crusheen, northeast Clare. His father was music teacher and farmer Jack Mulkere of Kiltartan, south Galway, a colleague of Paddy Fahy and Paddy Kelly who formed the Aughrim Slopes céilí band. Jack’s own father, Pat, one of the last hedge-school masters, had spent time with Lady Gregory, WB Yeats at Coole House where he translated myths and legends for Lady Gregory and Yeats.
From St Flannan’s College, Ennis, Brendan moved on to UCD where he graduated with a BA (Hons) and H Dip Ed. In London, he continued studying at University College London, Institute of Education. He went on to teach in Secondary and Primary, Church of England and Catholic Schools from 1972-’79, gaining experience of the condition of the Irish there and how the settled community viewed them (not a very comforting view!!)
Before any further details of his work as a music teacher and organiser in London, Brendan wishes to make the following statement:
“Whatever I have achieved in London in the areas of music and cultural events, it is important to state that I could not have achieved any of this work were it not for the backdrop of the wealth of Irish music and musicians in London and their undieing love for the music. Musicians, who, in my memory, are listed in the “hall of fame”:- Raymond Roland, RIP, Liam Farrell, John Bowe, Roger Sherlock, RIP, Sean Maguire, RIP; Bobby Casey, RIP; Martin and Theresa McMahon; Jimmy Power, RIP; Tony Ledwith; Paddy Malin RIP; Gabe Sullivan, RIP; Tommy McCarthy, RIP; Tommy Maguire, RIP; Willie Clancy, RIP; Paddy and Kevin Taylor, RIP; PJ Crotty, RIP; Con Curtin RIP; Tom O’Connell; Seamus Ennis, RIP – it’s a long, long list. Locations like:- Fulham, Highbury, Kilburn, Islington, New Cross, Southall, Cricklewood, Holloway – just to name a few places.
Furthermore, without the wholehearted and enthusiastic commitments of parents and teacher colleages, I could not have achieved anything. It was these loyal sons and daughters of Ireland who wanted to share their history and heritage with their children, who flocked to our classes. It was these same proud parents who brought their children to so many counties in Ireland in succeding years to show what their children had achieved in London. I’m told that the impact was inspiring for the Irish communities they visited in holiday times. These same parents would flock to the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square London as a cohort of young and older musicians performed on stage to audiences of up to 40,000!
May those departed hear my prayerful acknowledgement of them, and, those with us still, musicians and patrents and extended families alike know that I will never forget their massive contribution to the celebration of our national music, now on a par with other music cultures on a world wide scale. If nothing else is said, I want this said.” Brendan Mulkere
As well as being an accomplishment musician and teacher, on a variety of instruments – fiddle, box, banjo and whistle, Brendan has also been an organizer and facilitator of Irish cultural activities in London. The following Aims will help to set the context of his music tuition programme:-
- To fill a gap in the teaching and development of Irish music in London.
- To involve adults and whole families in the learning process as an important social dimension.
- To create a positive and purposeful environment to support the personal development of each individual engaged in the tuition programme.
- To introduce Irish Music to the wider communities, in London and elsewhere.
- To cherish and celebrate this treasure of our heritage
The introduction of music classes and concerts across London by Brendan became one way to mediate positive images of the Irish, especially among young people, and to counter the distorted negative media images. Classes began in 1972 in Luton, (at the invitation fo Fr Joe Hourigan), and in Cricklewood NW London. Later classes were established in St Albans, Bedford, Welwyn Garden City, as well as across London, where tuition centres were a mix of Church of England venues and schools in places like:- Kilburn, Whitechapel, Ilford, Seven Kings, Stoke Newington, Harrow, Wandsworth, Wimbledon, Greenwich, Dulwich and Ealing. Each of these centres became a hub of Irish activities. With the help of parents, Brendan established links between all the classes that merged into an organizational structure to promote the extension of the classes, namely, local and major concert programmes in their local Town Halls. These Concert programmes in the 70’s featured high profile visiting artists from Ireland – Tommy Peoples, Matt Molloy, Sean Maguire, Seamus Connolly, Joe Burke, The Bothy Band -, musicians, who shared the stage with the young local aspiring musicians. In the 80’s, during the annual arts festival, Siol Phadraig, this concert programme included artistes like, De Dannan, Sharon Shannon, Stocktons Wing, Dolores Keane, Dervish and Boys of the Lough, Liam O’Flynn, Maddy Prior, Reel Time, Oige, – a long list.
His teaching activities were of key value in the revival and spread of Irish music in London, since the 70’s and also, through radio broadcasts and concerts, for a wider community. This mix served as part of the young players’ training, as well as being a celebration of the music heritage of Ireland, not behind closed doors in smoky pubs, but in major public venues, with promotion and publicity to attract a wide cross-section of the Londoners, who at one point felt uncomfortable to enter Irish pubs. This was a conscious effort to break out of the ghetto stereotype exploited by an anti-Irish media. The events promoted and celebrated Irish heritage and identity at a time when the stock of the Irish was low. The students intermingling with musicians from Ireland on and off stage established lasting, valuable contacts, and produced second-generation musicians who now play and teach music in London and elsewhere. To help motivate the students to progress to higher standards and to locate this music programme in the wider educational curriculum, Brendan introduced the, London College of Music, West London University Grades system. He would select the exam syllabus appropriate to each student. These exams were validated by West London University, and were internationally recognised on a par with the Grades system for Classical music. Students of all ages were encouraged to prepare for the Exams. Grade 8 Honours is equivalent to AS Level. Some students could continue to prepare for diplomas and higher degrees on Irish music through West London University.
In 1979 Brendan gave up his school teaching post in Hampstead to expand the classes and to work, as one of the festival directors on the Traditional Irish music programme in the London “European City of Culture” Festival, ‘A Sense of Ireland’. The festival produced the most comprehensive cross-section of Irish Arts – Theatre, Music, Visual and Performing Arts ever seen outside Ireland, in 1980. Theatres and arts venues all over the West End were lit and populated by diverse throngs of people for the Irish arts events.
Following this historic major profile of Irish culture in an international setting, and continuing on from pre festival concert programmes, Brendan established an annual Irish Arts Festival, “Siol Phadraig”, in London. In 1983, he founded an umbrella organisation, “The London Irish Commission for Culture and Education”, to develop this arts programme in major London venues – South Bank – Royal Festival Hall, Purcell Rooms, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Shaw Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Greenwich Theatre, Tricycle Theatre, Almeida Theatre, Brentford Arts Centre, Commonwealth Institute, as well as Town Halls across London. The concert programme was expanded to include:- exhibitions, theatre, films, literature/poetry, and, lectures by major Irish, English, Scottish and African writers in a programme, which was toured outside London after the main 5 week festival period in London. Irish artistes and poets visited schools as part of the festival and the Anglo-Irish Education Exchange Project.
For the festival he orchestrated and produced arrangements of Traditional music prepared for the concerts and which were also performed at the annual, “Music For Youth Festival”, at the South Bank – his students were runners up for the main prize on two successive years.
The Anglo Irish Education Project, a Curriculum Development project, which he also founded, ran contemporaneously with the festival, but also throughout the school year. This project set out, in collaboration with the Department of Education and Science, UK, the EEC Education Task Force and the, Department of Education in Ireland to devise a curriculum development programme, to establish collaborations and exchanges between schools in Britain and Ireland at all levels. A series of education conferences and lectures followed. These acclivities were funded by: – the Cultural Relations Committee, Foreign Affairs Ireland, the Inner London Education Authorities, EEC Education Task Force, Gulbenkian Foundation and many London Boroughs. These projects ran from 1982 to 1994. The music programme was embedded in these wider activities and were interactive.
Brendan’s students include some of Ireland’s most prominent musicians, Dr Niall Keegan -The Irish World Music Academy, University of Limerick, John Carty (– honoured recently as Ireland’s, Musician of The Year), Paul Gallagher, Adrian and Sharon Bourke, Siobhan O’Donnell, Kane O’Rourke, Peter Campbell, John and Caroline Blake, Lamont Gillespie, Emmet Gill, and his mum Marion, Sierson brother, Joe and Michael, John Whelan, Patricia Noble, Pauline Mahon, Ester and Barbara Hackett, Theresa Stenson, Caroline Judge (RIP), Andy Martyn, Eoin Toher, Mick Conneely and sisters Cathleen and Bernadette, Annette Roland – it’s a very long list. At least 20 of his past peoples teach in various parts of the UK and Ireland.
For the past 12 years he has been a visiting tutor in fiddle for the MA programme at UL. He has compiled and regenerated a great number of tunes, some of which he presents at UL to the combined Masters class under the title of the, “Creative Process”. He hopes to publish a book on these tunes next Spring in collaboration with UL.
He established, Inchecronin Records in 1974 to record London-Irish musicians.
Recordings: Eigse na Laoi; Thatch Ceili Band; CCE award; Irish Post Community award 1978