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The Big Session on the High Seas

Since 2012, Joanie Madden has organised a Caribbean cruise with a difference. Dozens of Irish musicians, dancers & storytellers travel from all over the world for this cruise. The idea first started in 1991 by the music legends, the Clancy Brothers.(2015)

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Documentary Maker: Tommy Sands

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Documentary maker: Liam O'Brien

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The Big Session on the High Seas

Since 2012, Joanie Madden (Cherish the Ladies) has organised a Caribbean cruise with a difference – over seven days she brings together dozens of Irish musicians, dancers and storytellers from all over the world - and hundreds of passengers return year after year to hear the best of Irish traditional music and song. The idea of this cruise first began with 1991 with the Clancy brothers – Tommy Sands was on that first voyage. 24 years later, in February 2014 Tommy is back on board with a recorder in hand.

Click here for more information on the Joanie Madden Cruise

A note from Tommy Sands: "I wish I was in Carrickfergus", whispered Liam Clancy, beautifully as the brothers and nephew Robbie O'Connell joined in lazily in "the sea is wide" part. "These Virgin Islands are not too bad either," quipped Mick Moloney, late of "The Johnstons" and currently a professor in NYU in NYC. "Are you sure you wouldn't prefer the rain of Limerick", grinned Frank McCourt, (he would soon write a book on the subject). “You couldn’t bate it with a big stick”, shouted Paddy Reilly.  Paddy Clancy smiled with it all and nodded his head but only just. We were all up to our lower lips in warm water and the Jacuzzi was about to bubble.

Standing by at the nearby bar having exchanged black pints for pina coladas Jean Butler, Eileen Ivers and Joanie Madden were enjoying it all.

They were now becoming the new avant garde of a music tradition that had been previously energized to a boiling point by the boys in the bubbles. Rhymings of Riverdances to come were being played and danced as Caribbean dolphins jumped as high as they could to see what the hell was going on.

Was that the 1991 Irish Festival Cruise organized by The Clancys or a later one? They were all fading into a fond dreamy unity and all I knew it was 2014. It was now called the Folk’n Irish Cruise, (not to be pronounced too quickly or too slowly,) with more of an edge than ever before. None other than the wonderful Joanie Madden was the new captain at the helm and I was about to head for the high seas again.

How does Irish music operate in such a sudden change of temperature  and light? Fiddlers in Irish pubs, in the midst of half sets and humid half’uns, rarely lift their heads except to look out the window to see if it is still raining.  How would temperamental pipes and pipers deal with the heat. And what about the audience? Often in big theatres performers see nothing but darkness out there, now the light would be getting in and the audience would be lit up like a high altar, sharing wine and revealing themselves. And what would they reveal?

What was it about Irish Music that attracted people from all over the world to places all over the world? Even people with neither green blood in their veins, nor normal notions of cruising would be on their way to the new sun.

Was Ireland much more than an Island somewhere in a North Atlantic rain?

Narrated by Tommy Sands

Produced by Liam O’Brien

First broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1, 4pm on May 4th 2015

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries

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