Buttons & Bows

‘…this band brings a dusting of magic to traditional Irish music’

When Buttons and Bows first landed on the scene in 1983, a new splash of colour was thrown into the traditional music mix in Ireland. Decades later, the band’s repertoire still raises a smile at Irish music sessions and gigs in every corner of the globe. And it still sounds fresh, flamboyant and…different.

This influential foursome, made up of Jackie Daly, Séamus and Manus McGuire and Garry O’Briain began its days with sessions around Kinvara, County Galway and a shared taste for musical adventure. Their travels had already brought them individually to Scandanavia, Shetland, Canada and the US, places which yielded rich pickings of musical ideas.

With their roots firmly planted in their beloved Irish traditional music of Sligo and Sliabh Luachra, the band was ready to experiment with graceful Quebecois waltzes, lively Danish quadrilles and achingly beautiful Shetland airs. Barriers were broken, energy and humour abounded, jigs and reels were given a new dusting of magic.

Because of the band’s Canadian connection, they were invited to perform at the 1983 world premiere of The Brendan Voyage by Shaun Davey performed by Liam O’Flynn and the National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall, Dublin. Three albums followed (Buttons & Bows, The First Month of Summer, and Gracenotes); tours of the US and Canada were received rapturously by critics and audiences.

Their music was featured in the Hollywood movie “The Good Mother”(1988) (a Disney/Touchstone production)starring Liam Neeson and Diane Keaton. The Wall Street Journal described their music as “polished and exuberant”. Music archivist Jackie Small spoke of the band’s “happy juxtaposition of many different moods, from relaxed and mellifluous to biting and humorous”

The Return of Spring’, the band’s fourth studio album, won Traditional Album of the Year (2015) in The Irish Times / Ticket awards.

Journalist Cathal Mac Coille wrote in his review of the Gracenotes album “When the McGuire brothers pick up their fiddles the rest is pure bliss; close your eyes and this dreadful world seems bearable. Fiddle and box-playing of the highest order of tunes from Ireland, Canada, the US, Shetland and Denmark”



Serendipitous connections, odd coincidences and instruments in sublime tunings put many a pep in the
steps of Buttons & Bows, who finally returned to the studio this year after 24 year away.
Geographically and musically eclectic, The Return of Spring has one ear cast to distant shores and the other
trained firmly on the quiet corners of Sliabh Luachra, Sligo and Donegal. The result is a treasure trove of trad and
contemporary tunes.

Jackie Daly’s accordion (intriguingly, in viola tuning for Pádraig O’Keeffe’s mischievous The Purring Village
Ladies ) skips sprightly through a distilled gathering of Sliabh Luachra tunes, as well as a fiery composition of
Daly’s own, Joe Burke’s Polka . Brothers Seamus and Manus Maguire infuse the collection
with a certain Sligo swing that embraces the latter’s own beautiful tune, Fort Dunree , with every bit as much vim
as it does Paddy Killoran’s The Gatehouse Maid . The heart of The Return of Spring is a joyous celebration
of music from far and near, and a salute to the great emigre Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman. The Maguires
embark on a mano- a-mano fiddle duet on The Prohibition Reel and The Contradiction Reel , bringing back to life a
pair of tunes they first heard on a 1924 recording by Michael Coleman and Tom Gannon, with Seamus here
playing Tom Gannon’s old Maggini copy fiddle. Nine decades on, this is a prime example of the tunes’ sheer
timelessness and the riches to be mined when musicians take the time to dig deep beneath the surface. Garry Ó
Briain brings intense depth and breadth to the arrangements, and his own composition, Sweet Aibhilín , is a meditative delight.

There’s even a Hollywood connection: The group took their name from a Dinah Shore tune sung in the 1948 film
The Paleface . Here it is reimagined as a jig, thanks to Garry and Jackie’s intervention – which could have been
born and bred in the belly of our own tradition. A collection that keeps on giving with each return visit.


14 powerful and expressive tracks



By Daniel Neely

Formed in 1983, Buttons and Bows is one of the great groups playing traditional Irish music today. Made up of Séamus McGuire (fiddle, viola), Manus McGuire (fiddle), Garry O’Briain (guitar, mandocello, piano), and Jackie Daly (accordion), the band has an impressive background, having recorded extensively and toured throughout the world, charming audiences and critics everywhere along the way.

Buttons and Bows’ recently released fourth album, “The Return Of Spring,” sees the group once again at the top of its game, giving music lovers 14 tracks of powerful and expressive Irish music.

Put the album into your player and they first thing you’ll notice is the group’s lush, beautiful sound. The McGuire brothers articulate brilliantly with each other, and have the kind of wonderful rapport with O’Briain and Daly that only years of playing together provides. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find an impressive and well-heeled collection of tunes that will delight listeners.

The album opens with “Oyster Island,” a lovely Séamus original “written in the style of a French musette.” It’s an auspicious beginning and one that foreshadows a bit of what’s to come, as each musician contributes an original composition to the album. Manus is represented by the sweet, slow “Fort Dunree,” O’Briain provides “Sweet Aibhilín,” a nice waltz, and Daly gives us, “Joe Burke’s Polka,” an appropriate contribution for the Sliabh Luachra man, named after the legendary Galway accordion player.

Speaking of polkas, one of the album’s best and (for me) most interesting tracks is “The Return of Spring / Mountain Pathway.” These are a pair of Sligo (!) polkas that James Morrison first recorded in 1926, that fellow Sligo fiddlers Paddy Killoran and Paddy Sweeney recorded in 1937 (as “The Decca Polka”), and that Sligo’s own Innisfree Céilí Band (www.innisfreeceiliband.ie) recorded for their 2009 album “Music Of North Connacht.” I love these tunes, they possess great melodic depth and brilliant character, and are given a wonderful outing here.

Another great track is “An Ceo Draíochta (The Magic Mist) / The Stafford Dance,” a pair of tunes with a fascinating historical pedigree. The former was taken from “Old Irish Folk Music and Songs,” an important collection of tunes assembled by the eminent historian P.W. Joyce in 1909. The latter, however, comes from an unpublished collection of tunes collected by Stephen Grier between 1845-1883. Tunes from the Grier collection aren’t all that common (for example, you hear them on the McNamara Family’s album “Leitrim’s Hidden Treasure” and on Marie Reilly’s recent recording “Road to Glannagh”), so it’s always nice to hear one of these little gems, especially when it’s played as nicely as this is here.

I am also enjoying the “The Prohibition and the Contradiction” reels, which features a bit of Django Reinhardt-esque style in the guitar backing, and “The Templeglantine Slide / The Gallant Tipperary Boys” which are a pair of tight, lithe little slides that are a fun ride.

“The Return Of Spring” is a tremendous, tasteful, and sophisticated album. The music is well curated and delivered with great artistic nuance and expressive depth from beginning to end. It is another wonderful album from a band with an impeccable track record of excellence – definitely one for the collection.

For more information, visit





Daniel Neely writes about traditional music each week in the Echo.