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Cormac Breatnach – The Whistle Blower Project

This riveting performance (at Riverbank Arts Centre on March 22nd)  weaves the distinct strands of film, live music and images to allow the audience to experience a four-year artistic response by Cormac Breatnach, arising out of a single traumatic event which affected him from the age of 13 into his adulthood.

Breatnach’s brother, Osgur, was one of three men wrongfully arrested, tortured and forced to incriminate himself for a crime he did not commit – the Sallins Mail Train Robbery in 1976, which was to become the longest running trial in Irish criminal history.

“I strongly believe that we all have a story to tell,” Cormac Breatnach says in an interview in The Irish Times, “and if it encourages people to think, ‘maybe I should talk about something,’ then that would be great.”

“When I first learned the news of a train robbery at Hazelhatch, near Sallins, Co. Kildare, I was capitulated into the adult world and the public domain as I participated in my family’s campaign to gain public support for Osgur’s release and the release of his co-accused, Brian McNally and Nicky Kelly.” Cormac explains the background of the project on the Whistle Blower website. “The Case became a cause célèbre known as The Sallins Mail Train Robbery [Frame-Up] and later, as the Nicky Kelly Case. Widely acknowledged as a serious miscarriage of justice, it engulfed the Breatnach family for over 17 years and cast a long shadow into my own adulthood.” 

“It’s been a difficult process for me, and one with which I’m in continued conflict,” Breatnach states in the Irish Times interview. “There are times when I wake up and I ask myself, ‘did this really happen?’ Can’t I just leave it aside and get on with my life? But on the other hand, it’s been very rewarding and very self-affirming to see the support and interest out there, both on a personal and political basis, for this project.”

Having reached the half-way mark of his tour Breatnach believes that  “the show’s story as expressed musically with its own inherent healing powers continues to touch and move the audience. Bearing witness is crucial if we are to learn from the mistakes of the past.”

Whistle player Cormac Breatnach was immersed in the Irish musical tradition from early childhood. Throughout his long career he has played with artists as diverse as Elvis Costello, Vanessa Williams, Donal Lunny, Bernard Purdie and Susan McKeown and has recorded many albums to date. Cormac’s music is highly influenced by jazz and blues.

Cormac Breatnach (Whistles and voice) will be joined by Daire Bracken (Fiddle and loops) and Martin Tourish (Accordion).

The Whistle Blower Out of Time Tour is on Friday 22nd March, 8pm. Tickets €16/€14

The is the final performance as part of an Arts Council Funded tour.

Reviews of The Whistle Blower
“They use their instruments to tell the story from the clickety clack of the train wheels, the haunting sound of the steam whistle, the fear, the anger, the hope, the passage of time, and the resignation. Cormac said the carriages in Track 1 are ‘metaphors for the episodes of the 17 year period’. You will hear this as you listen… you will truly be pulled into the music and live the story with Cormac.” Maryann McTeague Keifer, The Irish American News

“The project seems to be a simultaneous act of healing and a reminder that work still needs to be done – but also an acknowledgement that, sometimes, there are simply no right outcomes. The strands are synthesised into a musical offering of the highest calibre, perhaps his [Cormac’s] finest work”.  Ian Bascombe, Journal of Music

“The best musicians always have their own distinctive sound, they can make their own of their instruments and their sound in instantly recognisable and Cormac Breatnach is one of those, he has a way of playing his whistles and of making his own of old tunes which you can recognise straight away, as from his days with the Donal Lunny Band, or with Deiseal or his days with Martin Dunlea; his individual accent always comes through and that is definitely the case with this latest project, called the Whistle Blower….a valuable testament proving how powerfully music can tell a story” Aoife Nic Chormaic, RTE The Rolling Wave

More information:

Listen to Track One of The Whistle Blower (on YouTube)  and see the wonderful motion graphics created by Luis Poveda to accompany the track.

Read more about the background of the Whistle Blower Project 

The Sallins Case timeline (from Cormac Breatnach’s Whistle Blower website)

Cormac Breatnach by Gary O’Neill
Breathnach Family, from The Whistle Blower website