Home Lifestyle Entertainment River McGann is Fiddler of London 2024

River McGann is Fiddler of London 2024

River McGann from Clare with his Fiddler of London 2024 trophy. Pictures: Grayce Leonard.

By David Hennessy

River McGann from Ennis, Co. Clare was crowned Fiddler of London 2024 at the live grand final at the London Irish Centre on Saturday night.

A 17- year- old Leaving Cert student from Rice College in Ennis, River McGann was selected from the 12 finalists by adjudicators Dónal O’Connor and Michael Rooney.

And it was double success for Clare as Jack Dilleen had already been selected as Up and Coming Fiddler for 2024.

In a new category, the band Sult! Were winners of the London Trad Group 2024.

For the first time the festival took place over two nights.

Friday saw the launch with performances from Sult! And Jack who had already been announced as winners. The night also saw performances from adjudicators Dónal O’Connor and Michael Rooney before finishing off with a grand finale with all the musicians- which was too many to all fit on the stage- playing together along with the MC for the two nights Martin Donohoe who is also a revered musician himself.

Jack Dilleen accepts his Up and Coming Fiddler of London award from Dónal O’Connor.

Saturday evening it was time for the 12 finalists to take to the stage.

Going three at a time, the finalists included Kira Doppel and Madelyn Morrell who had both travelled all the way from the United States as well as Irene Vioque Gonzalez from Madrid, Spain.

Also competing for the crown were Emma Kelly from Cork, Orla Corrigan from Monaghan, Danú McKinney from Armagh, Laoise NÍ Chinnéide from Tipperary (a former Up and Coming Fiddler of London), Aodh Mac Murchaidh from Armagh, Katie Gorham from Galway, Anna McCarthy from Dublin and Cara Conway from Glasgow.

After River was announced as the winner of the competition, the festival was closed out by the Blackwater Ceili Band.

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Friday night’s musical finale.

River McGann gave The Irish World his reaction when he said: “I don’t know what to say.

“It’s the biggest achievement I have in my life.

“This is just million times a step up from anything I’ve ever done before.

“I’m just incredibly happy that I can even be here today.

“The standard was just crazy high.

“I never expected it to turn out the way it did and I’m absolutely just over the moon. I can’t believe it.”

River looked genuinely stunned when the result was announced.

“I just remember the names I expected to hear and mine certainly wasn’t one of them.

“I actually had to hide my face behind my fiddle because I was just so in shock. I still can’t believe it.

“It’s not gonna sink in for a long time but it’s incredible. Incredible.”

Finalist Kira Doppel travelled all the way from USA.

“What I want to do when I grow up is play music all around the world and maybe teach a few people along the way.

“That’s my goal, leave a bit of a legacy behind and I’ll start here.

It’s a good place to start.”

On joining Meabh Smyth, Una McGlinchey and Ademar O’Connor as winners of the competition River said: “They’re some of the biggest names in traditional music at the moment. I don’t believe it.

“I’m a massive fan of Meabh Smith and Una McGlinchey as well.

“I just can’t believe it. I’m so happy.

“I’m so happy to be the winner.”

Ambassador Martin Fraser presents River with his award.

River told MC Martin Donohoe that it was his grandfather who inspired him to play even if he couldn’t be there to see his win on Saturday night.

“He’s going to be over the moon,” River said of his grandad.

“I’m gonna have to call him straightaway before we do anything, before we have any food, before we go and play any music. He’s going to be the first person I call because he’s the only reason I play music and he’s the only reason I’m holding a fiddle in my hand tonight with that trophy as well.

“Gerry, Granddad- I don’t know where I’d be without you.

“I’m sure you’re very proud and I love you.”

On his native Clare River said: “The tradition is there definitely in Ennis and in Clare, and hopefully, myself and people like Jack can keep the tradition going.”

River with his father Evan.

Up and Coming Fiddler of London Jack Dilleen, also from Clare, told The Irish World: “It was such a surprise.

“I didn’t believe it when I got the email saying congratulations.

“I entered it just for a bit of fun.

“I think it was a shock to everyone (in the family).

“It was so unexpected.

“I know a lot of the people who entered and that the standard is so high, I think that’s why it was such a shock.

“It’s just so unbelievable.”

Asked if he would like to come back and try for the main prize Jack says, “Yeah, maybe next year.”

Jack Dilleen with MC Martin Donohoe.

Sult! Were the winners of the London Trad Group, a new category and performed on Friday night.

Laoise NÍ Chinnéide told us: “It’s amazing especially because it’s Fiddler of London. It’s such a prestigious competition.

“It’s great to be back.”

“And Michael Rooney was judging as well and he is just amazing.

“We all definitely look up to him.

“It was just amazing to be chosen by him.”

Cathal Slattery said: “It’s unbelievable.

”We weren’t expecting it at all.

“It was just so exhilarating being able to play in front of the likes of Michael Rooney, and Donal O’Connor there.

“They’re amazing musicians.

“I’m just ecstatic at the moment to be honest.”

Caithlin McGrath added: “The atmosphere tonight was just unbelievable.”

Adjudicator Dónal O’Connor told The Irish World: “It wasn’t easy.

“I think it’s remarkable that fiddle players at this young age are displaying such a high standard.

“The competition was intense and there were a number of players that could have taken away the prize tonight but I suppose what River brought to the competition was a level of individualism and musicality and a creativity.

“But probably most importantly, he was stylistic and displayed his own sense of music through the fiddle playing.

“He brought us on a journey which is very important that the players have an opportunity through their tune choice and through how they play and how they perform to take us out of the mundanity of life to take us away to another place and that happened during his performance for me certainly and for Michael too.

“We’re very happy that River was the player that stood out tonight but, as I say, there were a number of players who could have taken it.

“It (the standard)’s incredibly high. It’s frighteningly high in fact, and it was great to see a demonstration of fiddle playing from all the different regions from Connacht, from Leinster, from Ulster, from Munster, from Glasgow in Scotland, from Madrid in Spain and from North America.

“I think what Fiddler of London is doing for traditional music and for the world of fiddling is it’s internationalising the community, bringing people together from all parts of the world.

“That is most important.

“For all the work that Eilish is doing in raising the profile of music in London and raising traditional music’s profile but what she’s really doing is building community and bringing people together through traditional music, through fiddle playing and I commend her greatly for that.”

Adjudicators Dónal O’Connor and Michael Rooney performing.

On Up and Coming Fiddler Jack Dilleen, a competition he also judged, Dónal said: “The standard in the under 16 competition was equally if not higher than the senior competition in terms of the competition.

“Very difficult again to choose a winner, but young Jack Dilleen again displayed a level of individualism, musicality, and he had something to say. He had a story to tell through his music.

“When you get to the level that many of these players are at what helps you just take that extra little step up is very subjective, of course but it’s generally in my experience, the ability to tell a story to bring us on a narrative and to express themselves fully through the music.”

Emma Kelly from Cork performs.

Adjudicator Michael Rooney told The Irish World: “There was any number of musicians who were there or there abouts to be honest with you, but what we’re really looking for was something completely unique and something that makes somebody else stand out.

“I suppose individuality was the key thing for us in making that decision.

“I was very taken with his (River) intonation and just his approach and his comfort in himself and his musicality and his very, very distinctive performance and a very memorable one.”

On Sult! who he judged to be London Trad Group of 2024 Michael said: “I have been incredibly impressed with Sult’s musicality, their sheer standard of excellence but also their teamwork. They’re fantastic musicians. Their mentor Naomi has done an amazing job with them and they’re just a phenomenal group. They’re very, very talented.

“That was a great, great, great competition but they were worthy winners.

“The Fiddler of London at this stage is a highly acclaimed Festival. It’s up there with the best and I was absolutely delighted and honoured to be here.”

Fiddler of London founder and director Eilish Byrne- Whelehan said afterward: “It’s a fantastic feeling. I’m delighted that it’s all gone off really well, really smoothly.

“It all ran exactly how I wanted it to and we’ve got a lovely new winner River McGann which is fantastic.

“I was talking to the two adjudicators afterwards and they both said to me that it was such a tough decision.

“The standard is just so amazing yet again this year.

“That’s something that makes the Fiddler of London such a great competition and gives it such kudos when the level of musicianship is so high.

“It could have been any one of those 12.

“I’m delighted it’s River.

“It was our first year of putting on a welcoming concert, a gathering concert on the first night on Friday and that went well as well.

“It was nice to do that.

“The Friday night was a chance for everyone to get to know each other and to socialise a little bit with the other finalists and families.

“Some of them came from America and it’s a long journey so it’s nice to have a bit of time.”

On Up and Coming Fiddler of London Jack Dilleen Eilish said: “Brilliant musician, it was so good to hear him play live.

On London Trad Group of the Year Sult! Eilish said: “They were fantastic.

“Gosh, they’re so young.

“If you close your eyes and listen to them, you would think that they were a lot older in their years with their maturity.

“I think they’ve got a very bright future ahead of them.”

Eilish established the Fiddler of London as a tribute to her late husband Justin Whelehan.

“He would have loved tonight.

“The Fiddler keeps us feeling close. The kids and I feel close when the Fiddler’s around because it’s his legacy.

“And while the Fiddler of London is going, it feels that his legacy lives on.

“That feels really special to us.”

River will now hold the title of Fiddler of London for a year.

“He’s gonna be busy.

“I’m just delighted with how things have gone.

“I’m looking forward to 2025 when we’ll be back again.”

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