The steampacket played by Brid Donohue

A brief analysis by Peter Laban, 14 January 2003

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From a recording I made in 1987. Firmly rooted in the West Clare whistle and flute tradition, Brid Donohue is regarded as one of Ireland's finest players. Playing and teaching music locally, Brid doesn't seek the limelight. An attitude reflected in her music, which is essentially played for fun and for the love of it, uncluttered by the ego of the player and with great respect for the continuity of the tradition.

The steampacket has many piping associations. Recorded by Patsy Touhey as part of a set (The steampacket/The morning star/Miss McLeod's), the tune is a classic but was brought to the Clare repertoire by the piping of the Dorans and continued on through them in the repertoire of Willie Clancy and Martin Rochford (who also had a stunning version on the fiddle).

Brid gives the tune a fine, crystal clear and beauifully phrased treatment here, reminiscent of Willie Clancy's playing of it. Brid carries in a sense the piping line of Willie and JC Talty. JC gave up the pipes when he became the Tulla band's fluteplayer. His instrument, a Willie Rowsome set, is now in the care of Brid's daughter Eiblish who is a very promising young piper, continuing on the music.


As the first few bars of the recording are missing, the second playing of the tune is transcribed here.

One of the features here is Brid's use of rolls to create a sense of rhythmic flow in the tune. It is worth noting the G rolls in the second half of the tune in bars 9, 10, 11 &13. The second half of bar 9 would normally be ag g2; Brid however takes a breathing space after the a, playing two g's separated by a tap using two fingers, so effectively tapping e. In the other bars mentioned above she plays the G rolls in a such a way that the rhythm is not exactly what you may expect of a roll. She plays three g's of roughly the same length separated by a cut and tap. This rhythmic approach echoes some of the rolls Johnny Doran used in his piping and they must have come down to Brid through the playing of Willie Clancy.

Her use of the fed triplet going down in bars 12, 15 and 16 is another feature that adds greatly to the flow of the tune. Also note the subtle flattening of some of the Fs which is a great feature of tunes like the Steampacket. Brid's subtle approach is a far cry from that of some players, chiefly of the accordion, who plod through the tune bluntly playing F naturals throughout, completely ruining its character.

Peter Laban, Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, 14 January 2003