James Byrne (musician)

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James Byrne
James Byrne - Glencolumbkille 2 August 2007
Background information
Born (1946-01-01)January 1, 1946
Glencolmcille, County Donegal, Ireland
Died November 7, 2008(2008-11-07)
Glencolmcille, County Donegal, Ireland
Genres Traditional Irish music
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Fiddle
Years active 1965–2008
Labels Claddagh Records
Associated acts Tommy Peoples, Altan

James Byrne (Irish: An Beirneach, January 1, 1946 - November 7, 2008) was an Irish farmer and fiddle playing icon from Donegal.[1] He has been called one of Ireland's leading fiddle players.[2]


Byrne was born in 1946 in Mín na Croise (Meenacross), Glencolmcille in south west County Donegal, Ireland. He learned his first tune from his father John Byrne at the age of 8.

His style is the old Glencolmkille, Co. Donegal style. He was the link between the older generation of musicians in his area - his neighbours, the Dohertys, the Cassidys, the McConnells to name but a few - and the young generation of Donegal fiddlers today whom he taught and inspired.

By 1980, many of the older local musicians had died, and Donegal music was being played only in isolated pubs. Ironically, it was a time when Irish traditional music was becoming increasingly popular throughout Ireland, Britain and America due to groups such as Planxty and the Bothy Band. Claddagh Records, the Dublin label, recorded The Brass Fiddle: Traditional Fiddle Music From Donegal, featuring Byrne. He followed this with a solo album, The Road to Glenlough (a lake near his home in Mín na Croise), in 1990. A young band from Donegal, Altan, started playing many of his tunes and became popular internationally.[3]

He has taught and inspired musicians all over the world and was instrumental in keeping the rich fiddle tradition of Glencolmcille alive. Today, his family - his wife Connie and their three children Merle, Aisling and Seana - and the many young local musicians he taught continue the vibrant tradition.

On many occasions he took part in Ceol sa Ghleann, an arts project hosted in Glencolmcille which includes the annual Féile Ealaíon Traidsiúnta Ghleann Cholm Cille. This is a week-long annual music festival held around Easter time. They also run annual Donegal Fiddle school 'Scoil Samhraidh James Byrne' every July in his memory. http://www.ceolsaghleann.com/

He was interviewed by BBC Northern Ireland on an educational programme about the connection between Donegal and Scottish fiddle music.[4] He was also interviewed by Michael Robinson for Fiddler Magazine on The Donegal Fiddle tradition.[5]

In recent years, He began his own summer fiddle school, and performed regularly with his partner, Connie Drost, and their daughters Merle, Aisling and Séana, all excellent fiddlers.

James Byrne died on his way home from a session in the early hours of 8 November 2008 near his home in Mín na Croise[6] His funeral was attended by a host of renowned Irish musicians[7] including All-Ireland singing champion, Rita Gallagher, Dermot Byrne of Altan, the legendary fiddler, Tommy Peoples and Joe Burke.


  • The Brass Fiddle: Traditional Fiddle Music From Donegal Featured: Various fiddlers, including James Byrne, Vincent Campbell, Con Cassidy and Francie Byrne.[8]
  • The Road to Glenlough

The Road To Glenlough


  1. ^ James Byrne
  2. ^ Ireland's leading fiddle players
  3. ^ Obituary, The Guardian, 11 February 2009
  4. ^ BBC Northern Ireland (PDF file
  5. ^ Fiddler Magazine
  6. ^ Newry Journal
  7. ^ Article on his funeral in the Donegal Democrat 19/02/09
  8. ^ The Brass Fiddle: Traditional Fiddle Music From Donegal

External links[edit]