By David Hennessy
Ademar O’Connor from Edenderry, Co. Offaly was crowned Fiddler of London 2023 at the live final which took place at The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith on Saturday 15 April.
After all ten finalists had played, Ademar was judged by well known adjudicator and ‘fiddle virtuoso’ Zoe Conway to be the winner of the competition’s third year.
Ademar takes the crown from Una McGlinchey who was last year’s winner.
The Irish World got Ademar’s reaction when the news was still sinking in.
Ademar told us: “I didn’t think it was going to happen, this is just remarkable altogether.
“I was absolutely blown away when Zoe said my name.
“I’m delighted, absolutely thrilled.
“I don’t have any more words than that. I didn’t think it would happen at all.
“I wanted to be here.
“It’s such a prestigious competition and it’s so professionally run.
“It’s an absolute honour to be here and it’s a huge honour to win it.”
Ademar had a busy night. In addition to playing his own set, he accompanied Up and Coming Fiddler of London Dara Morley on piano for his performance.
“Dara’s just a pleasure to play with.
“He’s absolutely amazing and he deserved that junior title 100%.
“I think he’s class and it’s easy to play the piano with him anyways, he nearly plays the piano for you.
“It’s amazing this place. I’ll be back next year, that’s for sure.
“And obviously, being announced winner was an absolute jaw dropper and a half.
“I’m just delighted to be here. I think it’s a huge honour and I’d love to come back just to watch the competition because it’s such a high standard and I’m pure lucky to win it.”
Ademar is the third annual Fiddler of London following Meabh Smyth the inaugural winner and last year’s winner Una McGlinchey.
“I’ve had some battles with them before,” Ademar said.
“I think I’m just in huge presence.
“I’m in the presence of greats and I’m just honoured to be here.
“I’m just happy and I’m thankful that I’m here.
“And I’m very thankful that I won.
“I have to thank everyone who brought me over here and the mother and father for bringing me and inspiring me and thanks to Eilish and everyone who runs this, they’re absolutely amazing and hugely professional.
“It’s just an honour to be here as I’ve said so many times but it has to be announced so many times because it’s true.”
This year’s competition had an international flavour with finalists coming from as far away as Spain and Poland.
Irenen Vioque Gonzalez travelled from Madrid and impressed the audience when she revealed she had only been playing three years.
Aibhlin Stewart from Galway had travelled from Poland where she studies medicine.
The ten finalists were completed by Neil Kennedy from Donegal, Rachel Isherwood from London, Seánna Donohoe from Longford, Orla Corrigan from Monaghan, Rosie McElroy from Tyrone, Eoghan Hughes from Mayo and Owen Spafford from Leeds.
The Fiddler of London is open to entries from all over the world with entries coming from as far away as Japan.
Sky Kelsey, the Fiddler of London 2023 Diaspora Award winner, had travelled all the way from Colorado to be there.
Sky Kelsey, from Alaska, was the Diaspora Fiddler of London and had travelled from Colorado to be there.
Sky told us: “It feels amazing.
“It’s great to get recognised for doing something you’ve done your entire life and something you will continue to do your entire life.
“I enjoyed it absolutely.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better evening.
“The whole competition ran incredibly smooth and all the competitors are great to meet, just incredibly deep field and it’s always good to see at a competition like this.
“I’m just over the moon and I’m looking forward to the session later.”
Asked how he found trad music as far away as Alaska Sky said: “There was a hammered dulcimer player and a guitar player, Denise Martin and Jim Kerr, and they helped foster the Irish music scene in Anchorage, Alaska, where I grew up.
“And along with Suzy Foley, and John Walsh, they were able to bring for a week only out of the year players the likes of Lawrence Nugent, and Rose Flanagan and Eamon O’ Leary.
“Rose really got me started playing traditional Irish music on the fiddle, and Eamon taught me how to play the banjo.
“And Larry got me into the flute and the whistle.
“So a week out of the year, I had contact with true people of the diaspora.
“At the age of 12, I reached out to James Kelly. He graciously decided to give this kid in Alaska lessons over Skype.
“I hope he’d be proud (of my win). And I know Amanda Kerr- who initially got me started on the fiddle when I was eight- I know she’s proud and she was excited.
“I know that the community back home is supporting 100%.”
Regarding future plans, Sky wishes to spend some time in Ireland.
“I’d like to pursue higher education in Ireland and eventually just spend time out there.
“I’d like to really spend some time in Ireland, in Clare and in Donegal.
“I know it’s my calling, and I’ve got to be there absolutely.
“So that’s the immediate goal.”
There was also a performance from Up and Coming Fiddler Dara Morley.
Dara Morley told The Irish World: “It’s such an honour.
“I was really, really delighted when I got the result.
“I really enjoyed playing in such a nice venue in front of so many great musicians like the competitors and obviously Zoe Conway as well. I’ve been listening to her music for ages.
“I had Ademar O’Connor who was accompanying me as well so I was really lucky.”
On Ademar’s win Dara said: “I was (delighted for him), so well deserved honestly.
“He really deserved to get the title and he’s just such a competent musician.”
Would you have believed where it would lead when you were entering first? “No, not at all.
“I remember taking the videos and then a while later, I got the email.
“No, it was such a shock but I was really, really happy to get the news.”
Dara follows last year’s winner Laoise NÍ Chinnéide.
“Laoise is an amazing musician, as well.
“She’s so good and it’s great to be in the company of musicians like her.”
Will Dara come back in a few years to try for the Fiddler of London crown itself? “Definitely, I’d love to go for it again because it was such a positive experience this time around obviously.
“I really, really enjoyed the opportunity.
“So hopefully in the years to come, who knows?”
Adjudicator Zoe Conway had the unenviable job of choosing the winner.
Zoe told The Irish World: “It was not easy. The standard was incredible.
“I said it in the adjudication, I think there were no mistakes from the start of the night until the end of the night which is quite remarkable because these are amateur players and even to get that from a roomful of professionals is amazing.
“So it really was a brilliant competition.
“I mean, these are the final ten out of quite a large amount of entries so I knew it was going to be hard because I chose the final ten. It was quite difficult to even get them down to ten.
“I was hoping that there would be a standout performance that would really make it easy for me, and I thought there was in Ademar. He really played an amazing set tonight.
“I just felt he had that ease of performance and fluidity that I was looking for.
“I was so happy to be able to award it to him, but really unbelievable playing for the whole night.”
On the other winners Skyler and Dara who Zoe had already chosen, she said: “Worthy winners.
“For the under 16 category, that’s quite incredible. The standard of Dara playing tonight, absolutely beautiful.
“I had never met Skyler before and it was really a pleasure to get to hear him playing coming from so far away from Ireland.
“I could really hear the influence of James Kelly in his playing actually, and a real beauty and a real integrity to his traditional playing which is remarkable.
“I was kind of crossing my fingers that those performances would go well and considering that I’ve already awarded those guys, really they did me proud. It was just wonderful.”
On the competition Zoe said: “It’s these kinds of things that really make a difference to players.
“It makes them refine what they’re doing, consider what they’re doing, choose their best material and put it together in such a way that they can perform it in a really competitive environment.
“I think it’s so good in that sense as long as they don’t get disheartened that some of them didn’t win tonight. As long as they can carry themselves with pride and feel like they really played their best, which I’m sure they all did, it was immaculate performances.
“I think it can really help a young musician to grow in terms of their performance.
“I did enter competitions quite a lot as a young player myself. I would have loved to enter the Fiddler of London, and the Feile Oriel wasn’t running when I was young either.
“Those competitions really can be a good focus for people as long as you don’t take the results too seriously, which I never did.
“It’s amazing. I have to say it’s been so incredibly well run.
“I’d love to be back.
“I love London.
“I have a few relatives living here and lots of friends as well so I’m making the most of my trip over here.”
Fiddler of London founder and director Eilish Byrne- Whelehan, told The Irish World: “I’m delighted (it went so well). It was a great night, thoroughly enjoyed it and really lovely to see Ademar the winner.
“I’m just looking forward to his year in office because he’s going to become the Fiddler of London for the Irish community.
“He’s got a lot of work going ahead, because he’s playing at so many festivals over the summer with our festival partners.
“I think it’s going to be a great year for Ademar.
“The standard was amazing, outstanding.
“Even from the videos that were uploaded onto the website, amazing to see how many good fiddle players are out there.
“And for the adjudicator each year, it’s such a difficult job.
“Brilliant finalists this year.”
Ademar will now play at the upcoming Feile Oriel in Monaghan, the Belfast Tradfest in July, the Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival and at the All- Ireland Fleadh Cheol in Mullingar.
On the competition’s continued growth, Eilish said: “The competition has out past anything that I thought and this year, when I think about how big the global reach has been, we had entries from Japan and they were amazing. So the global reach is phenomenal.
“It’s amazing and it’s a great feeling to be doing something that’s very passionate for me.”
The Fiddler of London was established by Eilish as a tribute to her late husband Justin.
“The competition is a tribute to Justin.
“As I said tonight, he was such a support to me all over the years.
“Everything I did within music, he was there working away in the background.
“I was thinking tonight, ‘What would he be doing if he was here tonight?’
“And I know he’d absolutely enjoy every minute of the night.
“He’d be behind the scenes working, getting everything done but still having a few pints along the way and having the craic with everyone.
“He’s sadly missed and he always will be by Olivia, Christy and I and the Fiddler of London is a tribute to him.
“As long as the Fiddler of London keeps going, it’s passing on his legacy and that’s brilliant.”