First published in the Rathdowney Review 2017. This is an annual book created by a number of people in the local community of Rathdowney Co. Laois that celebrates the achievements and news from the previous year. The following is an article on two of Rathdowney’s favorite sons, The Finns.
By John Madden
Back in 1992, the Rathdowney Review published an article called “The Last of the Finns”, it was a poignant piece celebrating the history of one of our town’s most musical families. The last of the Finns, at the centre of the article, was Martin Finn who passed away in 1990. Many will remember back to that time, for some it won’t feel like it was too long ago, whereas for others it will seem like an eternity ago. At the time, I remember thinking that there was a serious air of melancholy to the title of the article, as though it was the end of an era. Years later, however, it could be seen, not as a definitive end, instead, it could be seen as a ‘commencement’, in short, the end of one thing and the beginning of another.
At the time of the article, the current generation of Conoboro Finn’s were very young men, children with a certain love/hate relationship with music having to ‘suffer the hardships’ of having to go music lessons each week and practicing their instruments several times a week, but nonetheless, they stuck with it. Starting off learning the classics like “Roddy McCorley”, a staple for any Irish musician starting out, in the old prefab that was adjacent to the Community Centre on a Saturday morning, as well as learning their craft in Ballacolla under Joe Grant (Raheen) and in Templemore with Kathleen Nesbitt (Loughmore). All of which was part of their induction into the world of Irish Traditional Music.
As the years ebbed by, this new generation of Finns sharpened their abilities. From initial awkward misplaced fingers and off-key notes to mastery of several instruments and the ability to compose a euphony of their own unique sounds, two of the brothers, Ciaran and Hugh, after several years of hard graft in construction and horticulture respectively decided to give playing music at a professional level a go. This, of course, was not an easy thing to do, breaking into the music world is not a simple task. A major reason behind this has been what some might see as a cultural renaissance of Irish Music, it’s almost as though the music had become trendy, or dare I say ‘hip’ again. There has been a huge increase in tourists visiting Ireland seeking out the different facets of Irish Culture and in trying to address this, venues across Dublin put a huge emphasis on Irish music. While the need was and is still there, musicians were sought after en masse and thousands answered the call. It suddenly became extremely competitive, musicians were a dime a dozen so the pair had to rethink their approach so that they could then set themselves apart from the plethora of up and coming musicians from across the country. Suddenly it was a case that having a mastery of an instrument was no longer enough, there was a need for panache, style, and originality.
In the run-up to this musical revival, Hugh, the youngest of the brothers had fallen victim to the detrimental effects of the recession. He ended up on the far side of the world and like so many others ended up working jobs in remote areas of the outback, rural towns and in sprawling Metropoles across Australia. As with most who left our wonderful home, he, of course, pined for home but all the while, during the lonelier days when he missed home he took solace in his music. Looking out the window at a different world was hard at times but the music always gave him a ‘feel for home’.
On arrival home, that all-important decision was made, they were going to give it a go. Ciarán had been playing a few gigs in Templebar and other small venues in Dublin. He recognised the potential for more and more musical talent to come to the fore. For the first while, the guys found themselves shacking up in hostels in between gigs as they tried to create a name for themselves. Initially, they played separately, Ciarán played support to a wide range of acts and Hugh found his feet in a group called Pucá.
Pucá had a residency at the Arlington Hotel in Dublin, a hotel that is normally thronged with tourists from across the globe, but while he didn’t have his brother Ciaran beside him, he did, however, have two more of Rathdowney’s sons, Eddie and Barry Kavanagh playing alongside him. This was the beginning and it was through hundreds of live shows that they became fully fledged entertainers.
From there, both Hugh and Ciaran were given the opportunity to enter a band called Na Fianna. It was from here that the pair began to get a much wider global recognition. Of course, nowadays it is so much easier to be heard from all corners of the world, music can be shared across the world with the touch of a button and their music has been well-received in far off countries. The fan base grew exponentially over the years and while they might not be a household name in Ireland (yet!) their global reach is impressive, to say the least. Under the banner of Na Fianna, the guys have released several albums, a charity single and have played across Europe and even the U.S.
In between the global touring the pair often teamed up for small gigs in Dublin and beyond. Being a musician in Dublin is a full-time job and more often than not, it could, in fact, mean two to three gigs a day, yes… a day! These gigs are the bread and butter for any musician, and while they worked hard together with these smaller gigs they realised that maybe, just maybe, they should really be doing it as an established group. These kind of gigs are commonplace across Dublin and beyond, musicians from various bands might have free time, and as a result, they would team up for smaller gigs, but in this case, there was a distinct synergy with the combination of Hugh and Ciarán playing in tandem. Their abilities and styles complimented each other, almost as though it was some innate, yet dormant endowment that they had not yet taken advantage of.
From here they decided to officially form the duo aptly named ‘The Finns’. Since their inception, they have been going from strength to strength, from playing the usual haunts in Dublin to touring across the U.S. with the YouBloom festival and of course, the Flare in Square in Summer 2017. Playing at The Flare in the Square Photo Credit: Trish Maher
I’m sure you could ask them which gig meant most to them, and genuinely they will tell you that it was their ‘homecoming’ gig that was most special to them. No doubt we will be hearing a lot from the pair over the coming years and with an album on the horizon, I am sure we are all hoping, in unison, for their unbridled success. If you’re on social media why not check them out and follow them on their journey through the trials and tribulations of the world of music.
And a little bit extra:
Since this article went to print, the duo has released a new single called Lambay, click here to view on Youtube. The track can also be bought online through Amazon for the great price of .99c, click here to purchase.
It can also be heard on Spotify by clicking here or if you use iTunes, you can add it to your collection by clicking here .