Photo credit Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh - Dennis Cahill - Litir ó do Chara / via TG4

Dennis Cahill – Litir ó do chara

This intimate portrait tells the story of Dennis Cahill (1954 – 2022) the master guitarist from Chicago, from his work with legendary fiddler Martin Hayes, to his role in the ground-breaking supergroup The Gloaming. Described by Hayes as “the first minimalist in traditional Irish music”, the film examines his innovative guitar playing which helped shape the course of accompaniment in Irish music. Interviews with musical friends reveal a shy and considered man away from the stage – a man with a sharp wit, a deep understanding of music, and a special love for photography. With contributions from, among others, Liz Carroll, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Steve Cooney and Martin Hayes.

This film tells the story of the master guitarist from Chicago, documenting his work with legendary fiddler Martin Hayes, to his role in the ground-breaking supergroup The Gloaming. Opening with a poignant and tender letter from Martin to his dear friend Dennis, the film examines how his talent developed from his Jazz & Rock roots and considers how his accompaniment style helped shape the course of Irish music. Interviews with his wife Mary Joyce and his musical friends, reveal this shy and considered man away from the stage – a man who had a sharp wit, a deep understanding of music, and a special love of photography. Martin Hayes brings us on a musical voyage to east County Clare, where Dennis based himself during European tours. This was a place that he considered a temple of solace amongst the Hayes family and the musical community of Feakle. Iarla Ó Lionáird brings us to Corca Dhuibhne in the west Kerry Gaeltacht where he discusses themes of emigration, loss of language and the connection Dennis had with this spectacular landscape through his parents. We’re treated to a stunning rendition of Ar Éirinn Ní Neosfainn Cé Hías Iarla braves the wild & wintry west Kerry weather.

The sound scape of the documentary also features specially curated and recorded musical performances by guitar legends Steve Cooney, Seamie O’Dowd & John Doyle, musical icon Liz Carroll gives us a flavour of Chicago with a high tempo performance of her compositions alongside Seán Óg Graham of the group BeogaThe film also features exceptionally moving  contributions from fellow Gloaming member Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Kerry concertina wizard Cormac Ó Beaglaoich, and a particularly emotive and poignant tribute from Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne, with their rendition of the Andy Irvine song West Coast of Clare, alongside contributions from family and friends which explore the evolutions of this intrepid musical pioneer.

Dennis Cahill was Chicago born and bred and was unequivocal in declaring his identity as an American and not an Irish American. But with two Irish speaking parents from the Gaeltacht in west Kerry, it might have seemed inevitable that this cosmopolitan musician who had a passion for jazz and popular music would be lured to Irish traditional music eventually. Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll met Cahill while they were both in college. “What a kind and gentle soul Dennis Cahill was, and a friend for what seems like my entire musical life. I loved walking into pubs like The Abbey and Chief’s as a session or a traditional concert was about to begin, and having the catchup with Dennis,” Carroll continues “He had wonderful insight into the beauty of tunes and how to bring the most out of them and how to connect with listeners.”

The most formative musical relationship of his life was with east Clare fiddle player Martin Hayes, with whom he forged a remarkable partnership. A jobbing musician when he first met Hayes in the 1980s in Chicago, Cahill invited him to join Midnight Well, a jazz/folk outfit. In 1992, Hayes moved to Seattle but the pair reunited in 1996 and released their seminal debut, The Lonesome Touch, the following year. Cahill and Hayes played together for decades in the U.S. Ireland and England as well as Mexico, Australia, China, France, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Italy, and Poland. They performed with stars including country-bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs, Paul Simon, and Sting.

Directed and produced by multi award winning filmmaker Dónal O’Connor for Aniar TV, Dennis Cahill – Litir ó do Chara explores the life and legacy of pioneering guitarist Dennis Cahill (1954 – 2022).

Dennis Cahill – Litir ó do Chara will be screened on TG4 at 9.30pm on Sunday 5th March 2023 and will be available on the TG4 player for catch up.


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