Seamus Grant 1934-2005

A video tribute to Seamus by the
Inishowen Traditional Music Project

The townland of Gortnahinson overlooks Clonmany village on the Inishowen Peninsula. This place, nestling in the foothills of Bulba, bounded by Lough Swilly to the West and the Atlantic to the North is where Seamus lived most of his life. This is where he worked the land he loved and shared in the music, song, dance and storytelling of a place of great natural beauty, strong history and a vibrant culture.

Seamus playing the fiddle in 1996


Seamus was born in the neighbouring townland of Cloughfin, Clonmany in 1934 to Mary Ann Grant and Willie Grant, both talented musicians themselves. Seamus had that same natural gift for music passed to him by his parents. He learned also, from the playing of his uncle, Willie Joe Grant and from a neighbour, “White” Dan Doherty who was later to become his father in law. White Dan was a fiddler, singer and dancer and a great source of tunes, many learned during harvest time in Scotland. As a young boy White Dan often assisted in taking the blind fiddler Paddy Kelly to the many local house dances. A noted fiddler of his day, Paddy was much in demand until his death in the 1920s.

Mary Anne Grant (Seamus’s mother) and ‘White’ Dan Doherty

From the age of about fifteen, Seamus himself was in big demand to play at the “Big Nights” which were central to the musical culture of Inishowen and marked occasions in the community such as weddings, christenings, and emigration. These nights were filled with storytelling, music, song and dance. They were lively events that often went on all night. It is in the spirit of these same “Big Nights” that the idea of Seamus Grant Weekend of Traditional Music and Culture was born.

Seamus plays “The Londonderry Hornpipe” at a Big Night in Cloontagh, Clonmany

Seamus married Brigid Doherty in 1961, moved across the fields from Cloughfin to Gortnahinson and made a happy home with their seven children – Billy, Danny, Seamus, Martina, Sally, Sheila and Rosaleen.

Seamus plays “The Haste of the Wedding” jig at a Big Night in Cloontagh, Clonmany

“Big Nights” began to die out in the early 1950s. Musical tastes were changing as popular music and modern dance became more accessible. Music and culture were becoming associated with a backward way of life. The Clonmany Ceili band was formed in 1956 by local curate Fr. Desmond Mullan to promote ceili dancing and to represent the Parish at Feiseanna. The early members, along with Seamus were Ned and Jimmy Doherty (drums and double bass), his lifelong friend Maeliosa Doherty (button accordion), John McCarron (button accordion), Neil McGonigle (fiddle) and Desmond Kavanagh (piano) and in later years Pat Hughes (piano). Dinny McLaughlin (fiddle) also joined them regularly. The band was hugely popular and played regularly throughout Donegal, Derry and Tyrone up to the early 1970s. Later Seamus continued with his good friend, the late Connie Doherty (piano accordion) supporting ceili classes, dances and concerts.

Seamus (left) with St Mary's Ceili band
Seamus (left) with St Mary’s Ceili band

Seamus remained true to the repertoire of his area, gave generously of his knowledge and music and while always striving to reach his potential. With every considered note Seamus enriched it with the generosity of his spirit and the charm of his soul. Since his death in 2005 Seamus is dearly missed by many. His music will forever be found in the mountains of dark Inishowen.

Seamus play’s the slow air Blind Mary followed by reel at a house party
in Cloontagh, Clonmany