The Sweet Cup of Tae

Nestled in the hollow of a ring of sweeping mountain ranges, the town of Ardara acts as a cultural crossroads. To the east is Glenties and the Croaghs; southward lie Killybegs and Dunkineely, Kilcar, Glencolmcille, Carrick and Teelin to the west, and Dungloe to the north. Its position at this junction made it an ideal market town attracting buyers and sellers of goods, crafts and livestock. Among these came musicians, and on fair days players from all of these famous fiddling epicentres would congregate in the local houses. "The Sweet Cup of Tae" is the name of a favourite reel played by traditional Irish musicians. It is also a code name for tea enhanced by the addition of poitin or whiskey. In his book "Between the Jigs and the Reels", traditional music collector and enthusiast, Ciaran MacAoidh writes: "Whatever about tea or alcohol, Paddy the Tae Gallagher's house in Ardara was the focus of some of the sweetest music, past or present, in Donegal." Paddy the Tae was born in Ardara in the early C20, and started playing the fiddle at a young age. He lost his sight while still a young man, and to ease the economic burden, his wife served teas in their house on fair days. Paddy's reputation as a fiddler ensured that every fiddler and music enthusiast took their meals there, and Paddy's nickname was established.

His son, John, inherited not only the nickname, but more importantly, the musical ability, style and repertoire of his father. In 1956 John won the Oireachtas fiddle competition and in 1959 the All-Ireland fiddle competition at the Fleadh in Thurles. His technical ability is highly accomplished and his musical sense uncanny. The "Cup of Tae" festival of traditional music was initiated in 2002, when it was decided by local people that people should be honoured during their lifetime, and not, as is so often the case, posthumously. Prominent people in the music scene suggested that the May bank holiday, which was not utilised in the music calendar, would be an appropriate date, and suggested that it be held in honour of John "the Tae" Gallagher, the only man to alive to win the Oireachtas fiddling championship. Since then, the festival has become an annual event, attracting the cream of traditional musicians to this beautiful area, and ensuring the perpetuation of the famous style of Donegal fiddle playing.

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