You are currently viewing A Conversation With San Diego Comhaltas Namesake Barry Cogan

A Conversation With San Diego Comhaltas Namesake Barry Cogan


Questionnaire for namesake of Comhaltas Barry Cogan


  1. Where did you get your love for the music?

From Willie Cogan my first cousin he was the founder member of the Carrigaline Pipe Band and Pipe Major for many years.  Several of my uncles were bag pipers.  I joined the Carrigaline Pipe Band and learned to play the chanter.  Then I went to Agricultural College when I was 15. In my early 20s as a drummer I started my own Céilí Band the Owenabue Céilí Band with my brother Edmond and two others, Brendan Harte and Monnie Ahern. When Céilí popularity waned we played a mixture of music but we always played the Siege of Ennis and the Military Two Step and Old time Waltzes.  The dances in those days were from 9.00pm until 2.00am.  I continued to play with the Band for about 16 years where I always acted as MC/ announcer/compere.


  1. Who started you dancing? 

Father Hannifin in the Salesian Agricultural College in 1951 when I was 15 years old. He taught eighty young men, at the one time, the threes and the sevens, then the Walls of Limerick and the Siege of Ennis. In my teens I attended Céilís where I learned many more dances and also got to hear some of the most famous Céilí Bands in Ireland including the Gallowglass Céili Band and Dermot O’Brien.  The most popular band today is the Kilfenora Céilí Band from Clare and the Shandrum Céilí Band from Freemount, County Cork.


  1. What’s your favourite colour? 

Green, it is associated with Ireland.  Out Trad groups uniform is Kelly green.


  1. Do you have a favourite musician/band?

John Gildea, an accordion player who is a native of County Leitrim.  John learned his music by listening to and playing with the older generation in his rural homeland.  He travelled widely for work always bringing his box and playing traditional Irish music.  Now in his 80s he continues to play every day at every opportunity that presents itself, including the odd Zoom session with a friend or two.  John is an honorary member of our Comhaltas Branch and calls in regularly to share his huge repertoire of music with everybody.  He has the names, the composers and history of hundreds of tunes.

Kilfinora Céilí Band


  1. How long have you been a Comhaltas member?

Over 40 years. We started Comhaltas in Carrigaline in the Mid 70s and I have been a member of Comhaltas since.  Over the years I have been asked to introduce Comhaltas to community groups and have been instrumental in helping to form10 branches of CCE in the county.

I am the current chairman of our Douglas branch and Honorary President of Cork County Board.  I have been delegate to the annual National Congress at the Cultúrlann in Dublin for years.

I was appointed a County Board Delegate


  1. Did you ever take part in any of their competitions?

I took part in a variety of competitions over the years including two hand dancing, figure and set dancing, storytelling and with our Céilí Band as a drummer.  I won the County Storytelling several times and won the first ever Munster title of that competition.



  1. What is the highlight of your memories in Comhaltas? 

When our branch organized and ran Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan (The Munster Fleadh Cheoil) in Cork city in 2017, I was Cathaoirleach (Chairman) of the Fleadh committee.  The event which took place in Cork City Centre, where there was never a Fleadh held before. It was very well organised and acknowledged by the Comhaltas fraternity as the most successful Munster event ever. Máirtín de Cógáin travelled to Cork from San Diego especially to perform and help with that Fleadh.  We made a number of bids to run the All-Ireland Fleadh in Cork City and hope to do so one day.

Great memories of going to all the fleadhs, camping for a few years until the family experienced the comfort of staying in a house.  The excitement of our own children competing and sometimes reaching the All Ireland and even winning a few times. Now our grandchildren are following the same route.  The fun and the happiness at all the Fleadh Cheoil and meeting musicians from all over the world.

I have happy memories pre Covid-19 of our weekly Comhaltas classes with 450 students attending 25 teachers in our 500 membership branch.


  1. What do you feel is the value of Comhaltas branches outside of Ireland? 

For Irish people and people of Irish extraction who are living all over the world, our music, dancing and singing connects them with their homeland. Through Comhaltas our traditional Irish music has spread and is kept alive throughout many parts of the world.  A large number of competitors from USA take part in the All Ireland Fleadh every year.  Many nationalities are learning our traditional music including the Japanese, I was delighted to see the 2 Tokyo Céilí Bands competing in Ennis??.

Overseas delegates attend the annual Congress  etc??


It links those with an interest in Ireland and its culture i.e. the music singing dancing and storytelling.


  1. How important is it to keep Comhaltas branches expanding?

Comhaltas is a movement set up in 1951 to help preserve and nurture our traditional music, singing and dancing, storytelling and Gaeilge / the Gaelic language.  The branch is the lifeblood of the organisation to add to the 420 branches worldwide.  With modern technology i.e Zoom we in our branch, Comhaltas na Dúglaise, have 20 teachers on 20 zoom accounts instructing 215 students weekly.


It is so important to preserve and develop our culture at home and worldwide.


  1. Anything else you would like people to know? 

Our music is unique and our dances are known worldwide. The Chieftains, the Dubliners, Kilfenora Céilí band and of course Riverdance. Céilí bands can be found in such cities as New York, Liverpool, Glasgow and even as far away as Tokyo.

I took 29 of our branch members to London for 8 days in 2015 and visited a number of branches there during their stay and made friends for life.  In 2018 our branch hosted the Abegondo Pipe and Dance Band from Galicia in Spain at the Cork Folk Festival, they in turn invited us back in 2019 and 49 branch members musicians, dancers and family members visited Galicia and had a most memorable trip still talked about.  This year 2020 we had planned to visit a Comhaltas branch in Budapest, Hungary but alas the pandemic virus scuttled our plan.  We also had ambitions to travel to USA.

In 1989 I travelled with Kinsale Set Dancers to Portland in Oregan for 21 days. In 1999 I led a group to Seattle for the St Patrick’s Day Festival, (19 days) and while there we travelled to six different locations in Washington State, visited Victoria on Vancouver Island for two nights and put on Irish shows in each place and we also did a day trip to Idahoe.  Many of the group are still in touch with the families with whom they stayed on that trip in Seattle and other locations.

I formed a Trad Group with members of several Comhaltas branches called Owenabue Valley Traditional Group in 1990 as a performance group.  We ran the Cork International Folk Dance Festival for over 20 years, travelled abroad and took part in Folk festivals in many countries throughout Europe.  We organised a monthly Ceilí Mór in Carrigaline for 20 years with all the best Céilí bands a record of 44 sets one night.

We have run the Wrenboys Street Festival on St Stephens’ Day for over 35 years

In 2005 when Cork City was the European Capital of Culture Cork City Manager, Joe Gavin, invited my son Fionán and myself with Willie Hammond and Jim Walsh to join Damien O’Mahony City Council to organise the biggest Siege of Ennis to beat the World Guinness Book of Records held by Dublin Ohio.  We met weekly for months, organised every Comhaltas branch possible to send dance teams.  I booked all seven Céilí Bands for the 7 stages and entered the Guiness Book of records.  I was Master of Ceremonies and called the dance at one of the stages.  Fionán was on the main stage with the Kilfenora Céilí Band and Michael Flatley.

By Mairtin De Cogain

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