‘A beast of a musician’: Video showing concertina master Cormac Begley goes viral

Other Voices posts musician playing concertina garnering more than half a million views

Cormac Begley is sitting in a big window in the Blasket centre, Ionad an Bhlascaoid, Dún Chaoin in west Kerry. Behind him, the sea and Tearaght Island, one of the Blaskets. A deep, vibrating, almost visceral sound that comes from the gut of the concertina is being squeezed from the box in his hands, and he slides into the zone and into the tune. Eyes closed, legs aquiver with a life of their own, shoulders rhythmically alive.

The TikTok clip is 36 seconds long. It is sublime and compulsive. Other Voices this week put up the snippet of Begley playing the concertina on TikTok and it had hit more than a quarter of a million views in 24 hours. By 2pm on Thursday there were over 566,000 views, and still climbing.

The caption reads “Master of the concertina Cormac Begley – live in Dunquin, West Kerry”. It was filmed in Ionad an Bhlascaoid as part of the Other Voices Anam series, produced in partnership with the Office of Public Works (it will be will be broadcast on RTÉ this summer). This is near Begley’s homeplace in West Kerry, as well as Other Voices’ spiritual home of St James’ Church.

The clip already has around 50,000 likes, hundreds of comments, thousands of bookmarks and shares. The multitude of comments from all over the place on the TikTok post variously call him “a beast of a musician”, that it “sounds like a didgeridoo at the beginning” (it does), and “never seen anyone play the squeeze box like him”. Others say “I thought he was throat singing”, “wizard”, “magical sound”, “I have never seen the concertina played like that before”, “Man that instrument looks so stressed”, “Speaks right to my soul”, “That man sounds like he looks like he feels”. One commenter wanted to write some lyrics and make it a corrido in Mexico, someone else wanted to make an electro mix of it. And also: “This is what we need to send to Eurovision, seriously.”


In the clip, Begley, who plays 13 concertinas ranging from bass to piccolo register, is playing To War, from his album B (which is not available on streaming services). He wrote the tune for his godson’s second birthday because his name means “god of war”. Begley explains the meaning is “not a celebration of war, but as a command to go to war when you’re left with no alternative”.

Philip King of Other Voices, talking about Cormac Begley says “it’s the first time I’ve seen someone take this instrument and change completely what is possible with it. It’s remarkable. He has painted a portrait of the possibilities for the concertina. He’s stayed true to the well of tradition and yet has changed it profoundly”.

Other Voices regularly post music video clips, but this is the biggest viewership it has had for a TikTok in such a short space of time. They had a similar reaction last year when they posted of Manchester Air by Irish duo Saint Sister, their third most viewed video, ahead of artists such as Sigrid, Amy Winehouse and Celest.

King reckons the rich tradition and the unique settings are what resonate with people. “Both performances feature distinctly Irish sounds and instruments which people online may never have seen or heard before.”

Other Voices’ top 10 videos online include The Mary Wallopers and Lisa Hannigan with Loah, as well as an earlier Cormac Begley.

“It’s thrilling for us to see wonderful Irish music reach such huge audiences,” says King. “There’s undoubtedly a global appetite for Irish music, particularly folk and traditional, at the moment, as reported in The New York Times earlier this year. Capturing performances by artists like Lankum, Cormac Begley, Lisa O’Neill, Ye Vagabonds from that world has always been a priority for Other Voices and we’re just privileged to be able to celebrate their talents with the world through our channels.”

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times