14th July 2018. A sort of Homecoming.

Leo’s Tavern, situated in the Gaeltacht area of Donegal is now synomous with Irish traditional music and is known countrywide as the birthplace of Irish legends Clannad.

Opened in 1968 by Leo and Maire Brennan, it has become a shrine for the great and the good of Irish music and society. The walls of the surprisingly compact pub are festooned with pictures of Shane McGowan, Bob Geldof, President Michael D Higgins, and Christy Moore to name a few.

So when a festival to celebrate the venue’s 50th birthday was announced, it was always going to be a quality event and tonight the hometown stars are Clannad themselves.

To facilitate the crowd, a marquee had been erected at the side of the pub. Clannad gigs are something of a rarity at present and tickets sold out well in advance. Seated amongst the great unwashed, waiting expectantly in the tent are Phil Coulter, Daniel O’Donnell, and Mickey Joe Hart.

First up on the night is Moyà Brennan’s daughter and rising star in her own right, Aisling Jarvis. Seen as part of the new generation of the Brennan/Clannad group, Aisling provides a sprightly set of songs mostly from her album ‘A Handful Of Bad Ideas’ with a neat addition of a cover of Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo And Juliet’.

Next up, on what was proving quite an eclectic bill was 80s punk star Hazel O’Connor. Hazel, has reinvented herself and reinvigorated her material since those halcyon days of ‘Breaking Glass’, by presenting her songs acoustically with the aid of harpist Cormac de Barra. If the idea of punk songs backed with a harp sounds bizarre, it is. But it works!

Hazel proves to be a consummate performer, part mime artist, part torch singer, always beguiling and always interesting. Blending stories of glory days and tight trousers, with classy renditions of songs that remain relevant today. Songs of addiction, ‘Who Will Care’, songs of loss and death, ‘Rebecca’, happily intermingled with crowd pleasers, ‘Eighth Day’, and ‘If Only’.

Big hit ‘Will You’ is taken to the next level by guest Roger Taylor on tenor sax, who produces a breath-taking solo with Hazel selflessly leaving the stage to give him the spotlight. A double encore of Bob Marley’s classic ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘I’m Still Breathing’ even had Daniel O’Donnell on his feet. Quite a sight.

At a little past 11.00pm when most self-respecting gigs have gone to bed, Clannad take the stage to a resounding welcome from the enraptured crowd. Beginning the set with some of their earlier more
acoustic songs ‘Crann Úll’ and ‘Eirigh’s Cur Org’ only seem to heighten the knowledgeable crowd’s expectations.

Operating as a six-piece with founder members Moyà, Ciaran, Pol, and Noel, are joined by the aforementioned Aisling Jarvis on guitar, mandolin, and vocals, and her brother Paul on percussion and

The group’s first language has always been Irish, and in their hands it is a thing of ethereal beauty. Moya’s voice remains as beautiful and enigmatic as ever. The banter between the band/family members remains easy going, as well it might seeing as their home is next door. The band has aged well and the musicianship remains exemplary.

The renowned harmonies that are synonymous with Clannad, remain exquisite, regardless of the change in personnel.

As is common with writers of traditional music they didn’t worry too much about giving offence as is evident in next tune the darkly humoured ‘Two Sisters’ followed by ‘Eleanor Plunkett’, which Ciaran with tongue in cheek tells the audience is the band’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’.

‘Newgrange’ takes the band into more recognisable territory for the casual listener, and the keyboards are noticeably more to the fore, reflecting the band’s move to more populist and perhaps also cinematic music.

Given the nature of the event, this was always going to be an emotional night and the late Leo Brennan is given more than one special mention. Moyà also dedicates a beautiful rendition of ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’ to her mother Baba, receiving a standing ovation, and many a misty eye.

The song is the absolute highlight of the night. W.B. Yeats has never sounded so sweet, with Moyà Brennan’s dedication, seeming to heighten the emotions in each word. Gorgeous.

A classic set of songs followed. ‘Robin Hood Medley’, ‘I Will Find You’ (from ‘Last Of The Mohicans’), and the theme from ‘Harry’s Game’, had the capacity crowd begging for more. ‘Nil Sen La’ had the crowd on their feet and dancing in the isles, and then with a mixture of customary Donegal wit, humour and, directness, the band finished with the admonishing ‘Teir Abhaile’ – Go home with you!

Clannad began life as a group two years after Leo’s opened. Anyone who attended this gig will already be hoping for tickets for Clannad’s 50th-anniversary shows. I’ll be at the front of the queue.

Clannad Setlist Leo's Tavern, Dunglow, Ireland 2018