Irish music with CILLIAN and NIALL VALLELY along with ALAN MURRAY , Sept 15, Harrisburg, PA

niall and cillian hiresThree of the greatest names in traditional Irish music today, all acclaimed soloists in their own right, are coming together this fall for a unique U.S. concert tour, and Harrisburg will be one of their early stops. Brothers CILLIAN and NIALL VALLELY along with ALAN MURRAY will appear in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, September 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

Known worldwide for their work with the Irish acts Lúnasa, Nomos, and Karan Casey, the Vallely brothers hail from Armagh City in the north of Ireland. They are being joined by Scottish guitarist and singer Alan Murray.

Cillian Vallely is the uilleann pipes and low-whistle player with Lúnasa, praised by Irish Voice as the “hottest Celtic band on the planet. Niall Vallaly has been recognized throughout the world as one of Ireland’s greatest concertina players. Alan Murray is a highly respected guitarist and singer who has toured extensively across Ireland, Britain, Australia, and the U.S.

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 for SFMS members. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society web site at

The interview below with Cillian Vallely was conducted and edited for Susquehanna Folk Music Society by Lesley Ham, Sept 2, 2013


Lesley: First of all, we’re looking forward to you coming here; we’re excited to hear you.

Cillian: Yes, I was there about seven years ago with Lunasa. We had a nice time, it’s good to be going back there now.

Lesley: Usually, we’re used to seeing you with Lunasa, but this is the first time I’ll be seeing you with your brother.

Cillian: Yes, we grew up playing together. We both started when we were very young. We started playing formal concerts and tours about 2001-2002. We decided to record an album together, Callan Bridge. We put together tunes to record and went on the road.

Lesley: Callan Bridge is the only one you’ve done together, right?

Cillian: Yes, it’s about 10 or 11 years old now; maybe we should get cracking on another one.

Lesley: Yes, you should. It seems surprising that you haven’t.

Cillian: In the last year and a half we started playing a bit more together, we’ve got some new stuff.

Lesley: That’s great. It’s also surprising that it took so long to put an album together since you’ve been playing together since you were kids.

Cillian: Niall left Armagh when he was 18 to go to Cork (Niall got his Bachelors of Music degree from University College Cork) and two years later when I was 18 I went to England and then from England to America, so I wasn’t really around much for 10 years after that. We’d meet up at Christmas or whenever. We’d only play with our parents, we never played formally. We didn’t have set tunes or a program that we could do. That only came about for the album. We had barely played as adults until that point.

Lesley: Your parents started the Armagh Pipers Club over 40 years ago. That must have been fun growing up in such a musical family.

Cillian: Yes, it was always there; I don’t know anything else. That was just the reality of growing up. My parents ran a club of about 100 kids, we just went to the classes with everybody else. There was always music and concerts. We even did a few tours as a family when I was 10 or 11 years old. I remember we went to Switzerland and France. So I had an early feeling for going on tour and going on stage.

Lesley: That’s quite young!

Cillian: I only have one upbringing, so I don’t know how to compare not having that music.

Lesley: So, when it came time for you and Niall to put together your album, how did you choose what to put on it?

Cillian: There are few different elements. We got a few sets of things we’d always played, things we learned from our parents, standard tunes; and then both of us had a lot of tunes we knew that nobody else played, old, traditional tunes, so we did a bit of research and found tunes that suited the instruments; and then Niall also composes tunes, so he had 5 or 6 tunes that he hadn’t recorded with anyone else that suited the pipes. So a mixture of new stuff and very old stuff from manuscripts; a varied program.

Lesley: Do you also compose tunes?

Cillian: Yes, recently I’ve written quite a few tunes that Lunasa did on the last album. Some of them I wrote 10 to 15 years ago, but only recently got the confidence to let them loose.

Lesley: I’m glad you got brave enough to let us listen to them!

Cillian: I don’t do it a lot, but sometimes you find yourself doodling and then develop a melody. It’s always a bit nervy playing for someone else; it can be a humbling experience.

Lesley: Do you still have that session in New York?

Cillian: No, but there are always sessions most days of the week in Manhattan I can sit in.  But when I’m back home I play. Most of my friends play; it’s as much as a sociable evening out as a musical one. When I’m home for a while I like to get out and see everybody and have a few drinks with them.

Lesley: Your parents’ philosophy is that listening is just as important as learning how to play the instrument.

Cillian: At the Piper’s Club, they were very against the competition angle of music for children, in favor of putting together groups and doing concerts and arrangements. They’ve always been keen to stress that element of music, listening to each other; fiddle players play with pipers and flute players. Everybody is taught as a group. The focus is on the music itself and the ensemble and social aspect of it. Pipers tend to be all around musicians instead of solo pipers. I think that’s a healthy way to teach young people. People can play with all instruments and all styles. You get a balanced musical education at the Pipers Club.

Lesley: You have an album with Kevin (Crawford from Lunasa, On Common Ground). How did that come about?

Cillian: We’re always playing a certain style with Lunasa so we decided to do something different, a little less arranged, with lower instruments called flat pipes, that give a mellow sound. It’s a relaxed album. I enjoyed doing that; it’s a different style of music than I play with Lunasa or Niall. For a few years we did a lot of concerts, just myself and Kevin, or myself, Kevin and a guitarist.

Lesley: That sounds nice. We’ll have to bring you back with that ensemble! I notice that Karan Casey is your sister-in-law. Your family holidays must be fun.

Cillian: It’s more social; we all get together and our children play together while we chat. I often play with Niall and Caoimhin (his younger brother, who plays the piano, tin whistle, and fiddle) and Karan. Karan often sings with Lunasa, so I end up doing quite a few gigs a year with Karan, but we don’t do a lot of casual playing. It’s the nature of when it’s your profession. We’re usually playing formally, so it’s nice when we have a casual night.

Lesley: Do your daughters play?

Cillian: Not yet. One is three and one just turned six. I want them to play forever, so I’m not going to force them yet; let them run around the park. When they’re ready for an instrument hopefully they’ll take it serious.

Lesley: Thank you. We look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

Cillian: See you around.



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