kerry fiddles Natural Skelligs sunset - image by Lee Tiller


Carla PickeringConvinced that I was devoid of a musical bone in my body, I was amazed to uncover a whole melodious skeleton in my cupboard, during a series of lessons at Kerry Fiddles. After just five mornings of lessons I was able to play two Irish jigs, which is a veritable set, to use the correct terminology, for a series of tunes played in succession!

Taught in Gill’s custom-built music room, I felt immediately immersed in the language and traditions of Irish music. A selection of fiddles hung on one wall of the room, which I tried on like a set of clothes in a dress shop! Having added accessories – a shoulder rest and bow - I checked out my new look in the music-room mirrors. I certainly looked the part!

The mirrors, as it turned out, served a functional rather than an observational purpose. Gill showed me how to alter my stance and posture by looking at myself in the mirror. It proved a fantastic teaching technique. I challenge anyone to feel frustrated with their playing while objectively trying to improve the performance of the person in the mirror.   

Our Music RoomGill’s music room overlooks the Kerry mountains, which I discovered, are an integral part of the music. During a mid-morning tea break, she taught me the way the music changes, from Donegal, where the style reflects the county’s rugged coastline and wild scenery, south to Clare and it's more lyrical, wistful sound  and on down to the South West, Kerry and Cork, where slides and polkas are so popular.Gill's talent for linking the ethereal with the tangible was also evident elsewhere in her teaching. She removed the “theory” from music theory, teaching me as much as I need to know and linking it to the tunes I was playing. In this way, I learnt with my ear first and my head second.In addition, my ear was steeped in traditional music each evening as Gill and her husband Chris invited me to the Kenmare pubs and restaurants where we joined other musicians for some tunes.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that my experience at Kerry Fiddles has been a life-changing one. Before my trip to Ireland, lunch times were a five minute affair at my desk. Now, I relish taking half an hour to practise my fiddle.

At the moment I bury myself in the basement, where very few people venture, but I have confidence that in time “I will boldly bow where no man has bowed before.”

Carla Pickering, BBC Journalist, London

Sally and GillThanks to you both I feel absolutely, insanely obsessed with the fiddle again.  It really feels possible that I could one day play the fiddle, and I cannot begin to say what that means to me, thank you for a wonderful week.

Sally Vanderwall, Michigan, USA



Kristin and Gill

I wanted to thank you again for a fantastic experience at Kerry Fiddles. I learned so much about myself and making music from you both. Not only do I have a new found passion for fiddle music, but I feel that my comfort with and attachment to my violin/fiddle has been restored (discovered??). Thank you for sharing your home, music and all that tea with me! I look forward to visiting you again in Kerry.

Kristin Giantris, Maine, USA


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The following is a poem, which was inspired by the first session Lucy ever went to.


As the shell cracks
on an egg warmed to hatching,
as the flame licks
round a coal blown to igniting,

as, after quietly foregathereing,
droplets fuse and run -
so by practiced touch your tune
kindles, catches.

Steady rainbeat pulse quickens to a flow -
stirs to a lilting tempo.
Your bodies sway in the sound's grip:
your feet thump loud, insisting.

Your music is raw wind
carving stone, sculpting moorland.
You are forest fire,
you are salt tang and sting of ocean.

Dividing, binding threads of air,
weaving an echo-lattice
from an age-old trace or pattern,
your dancing bows draw, glide, sweep, ride

in a see-saw motion:
Whip-whop! They swoop and sing
on taut string, then lull, draw back -
scratchy, rasping.

You are gypsies,
you are Ireland's history.
You pick up, hand down,
pass on frayed songs, tattered

airs, reels blown and battered.
Worn smooth by friction, honed by mimicry,
centuries of rhythm surge, drum, drive, ring
through you.

Down dark veins,
secret runnels of time,
your blood beats to the ancient measure
of tide's incessant thrum and swing.

Professor Lucy Newlyn 18/2/2002
Fellow at St Edmund Hall
Oxford University.

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