McDonnell's Traditional Irish Music Slow Session

February – June 2018

 McDonnell’s Slow Session Class Performing at the 2018 Lake School, Koroit Victoria

After some 15 years of running our slow sessions in Melbourne, the closing of the Corkman in late 2016 was a sign and we decided to call it quits. It has been a wonderful experience sharing our music with so many people.  We are very thankful to everyone who joined us at our sessions over the years.   We feel honoured to be part of such a vibrant Irish traditional music community which extended well beyond our Melbourne sessions. Although we are no longer running our sessions, we plan to maintain the music resources on this website and add more resources in the future. For players who just discovered this site looking to play Irish music, we highly recommend you get in touch with the Melbourne Comhaltas group and also explore opportunities to immerse yourself in everything Irish at The Lake School Lake School of Celtic Music, Song and Dance, which is always held the first week of the new year in Koroit, Victoria.Scrolling down the page you will find that we have included:  1) Photographs of our Melbourne sessions over the last 15 years, 2) A free, no strings attached,  Download of our Lake School Slow Session Booklet that Lisa and I put together that contains the music and chords to 49 common session tunes and 3) Online Slow sessions that allow you to play along with us at some of our previous sessions which we recorded. They include beginner and intermediate sessions.  We hope that Irish/Celtic Traditional players in Australia and around the world who don’t have access to nearby slow sessions will find playing along with us an enjoyable learning experience.


Download Free Copy of the Lake School
Slow Session Tune Booklet
Cover of Lake School Slow Session Booklet Green2
For our Slow Session classes and House Parties at the Lake School we have compiled 49 common session tunes for beginners that include chords. Many of these tunes can be heard by downloading mp3 files available elsewhere on this site. Click on the title to download the Lake School Sheet Music with Chords Booklet 2018 FINAL. We made this booklet available free in order to keep the tradition of playing Irish/Celtic music in sessions alive for you need to know some tunes before you can join a session.  Please feel free to share it with your family, students and musical friends. We hope you find it a useful resource.  Enjoy the music!
  Lake School 2018 McDonnell’s House Party
 at Commercial Hotel, Koroit
To learn more about The Lake School of Celtic, Music, Song and Dance click here or go to their website:
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McDonnell’s Slow Sessions Online


Many beginner Irish traditional players would like to participate in slow sessions but there are none available close to where they live. In an effort to fill this gap using modern technology we will be making available recordings of some of our previous slow sessions so musicians can play along.  There are several resources on this website including sheet music and recordings of the tunes played slowly to help you learn to play the tunes before joining a session. We hope playing along with these recordings allows you to experience the fun of playing in a Traditional Irish session. Click on the bars below to join the session online or click a Download file below (e.g.McDonnell’s Online Slow Session No 1) to download the file to your computer or phone. Depending on your system, once you click on the download you may have to right click on the media player that opens and then save the file to your computer.

All sessions were recorded with an H4 Zoom recorder placed on a table usually near the middle of the room. There was relatively little or no post-recording manipulation of the files. What was played is what you hear.  It is impossible to list all the musicians that played and helped with the sessions and we are grateful to all of them. But three musicians really stand out, we gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Kathleen Harte, Lisa McDonnell and Colin MacLeod. The quality of our sessions was greatly improved by their participation, talent, musical knowledge and weekly support.

Beginner Sessions

These sessions were created for musicians who only recently started to learn their instruments but can play a few tunes.  They were also design to assist musicians who played an instrument when they were young to learn the tunes so they can join in other Traditional Irish session. In our beginner slow session we play single tunes relatively slowly. Some tunes start slowly but we gradually speed them up to help players improve their skills so they can join faster more Traditional Irish sessions.

1. McDonnell’s Online Slow Session No. 1Tunes: Fanny Power, Come by the Hills (Buachaill on Eirne), South Wind, Roddy McCauley, Marie’s Wedding and Maggie in the Wood. Download: McDonnell’s Online Slow Session No 1


2. McDonnell’s Online Slow Session No.2Tunes: Kesh Jig, Murphy’s Polka, Inisheer, Spootishkerry, Butterfly and West Clare Jig. Download: McDonnell’s Online Slow Session No 2


3. McDonnell’s Online Slow Session No.3Tunes: Off to California, Boys of Bluehill, Silver Spear, Lucy Farr Barn Dance, Out on the Ocean (Portroe Jig) and 100 Pipers. Download: McDonnell’s Online Slow Session No 3


Intermediate Sessions

These sessions catered to musicians who have been playing for a few years and were keen to join an Irish session.  The speed of the sessions typically fell somewhere between beginners and the fast pace of most Traditional Irish sessions.  Some say the speed of playing at our intermediate sessions was similar to a session you might join in Clare or Galway. As in most traditional Irish session today, we play sets that link two or three tunes together.

1. McDonnell’s Online Intermediate Session No. 1Sets: 

1. Merrily Kiss the Quaker

2. Primrose Lass

3. Sweeney’s Polka, Murphy’s Polka and Hannah’s Polka

4. The Blackthorn Stick and Rakes of Kildare

5. Fr Kelly’s Reel (Rossmore Jetty)

Download:McDonnell Online Intermediate Session No 1


2. McDonnell’s Online Intermediate Session No. 2  Sets

1, Off to California and Boys of Bluehill

2. Maggie in the Wood, Britches Full of Stitches and Forty Pound Float

3. The Silver Spear and Shannon Breeze

4. Ward’s Jig and Blarney Pilgrim

5. King of the Fairies and The Rights of Man

6. Miss McLeod’s Reel and Merry Blacksmith

7. West Clare Jig and Dingle Regatta

8. Cooley’s Reel and Drowsy Maggie

Download: McDonnell’s Online Intermediate Session 2




We plan to add more sessions in the future as time permits. 

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Tablet accordion app

Practice and play a musical instrument on your tablet and smart phone.

Just when you thought that the new smart phones and tablets had reached their pinnacle of usefulness along comes some pretty impressive applications that allow you to play many Celtic musical instruments including bagpipes, accordions, guitars, drums, flutes, whistles and even concertinas on our portable electronic devices.  I suggest that you look at Michael Eskin’s website on Traditional Music Instrument Apps which demonstrates the current state of the art in smart phone and tablet musical instruments.  They are only going to get better in the future. The current apps are very limited and are typically a far cry from the real instruments we love playing, but in a strange way they feel familiar in the hand and to the ear.  Because they are really inexpensive (the app not the tablet or phone) compared to the real thing, they allow players to try different instruments or carry a practice one to the park, school or work in order to play tunes any time you feel the urge, especially when you wear headphones.  I suspect we will see more smart phone and tablet bands as well as more events using these instruments at folk festivals in the future.  Maybe it will stimulate our kids to play musical instruments and not just games. If you want to impress your family, friends or fellow commuters, I highly recommend mastering a few tunes on your smart phone or tablet instrument and share the fun.

My Ireland Vol 1 book cover

Tony O’Rourke has published a book entitled ‘My Ireland Vol.1’ that includes a collection of 101 Irish tunes with sheet music and guitar chords.  Tony sent me this note which I would like to share with you: ‘The title of the book is “My Ireland Vol.1”. It contains 101 Irish tunes and comes with a CD in MP3 format of each tune played through twice at a moderate tempo. I recorded each tune on my new Clareen Banjo and there is overdubbed guitar accompaniment. The playing of the tunes adheres strictly to the sheet music as I wanted this to be a reference book rather than a concert, and the sheet music contains guitar chords.  The books are for sale for $20 + $5 postage. To get more information or purchase the book send an email by clicking on Tony O’Rourke   Click here to download example of sheet music Christmas Eve & Coalminer’s Reel MP3 of Coalminer’s Reel

TONY O’Rourke created his own YOUTUBE CHANNEL – Check it out (

He has put up around 18 really good videos of him playing some lovely irish tunes on the banjo and guitar. Great for musicians interested in learning new tunes.


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