Fermanagh purveyor of songs, Gabriel ‘Gabie’ McArdle releases his much-anticipated and long-awaited debut solo record this weekend, Saturday, February 25 at Belfast TradFest Winter Weekend.

Gabriel is one of Ireland’s untouched cultural treasures with a vast and unique repertoire of traditional songs and a voice that is as natural as the lakes and waterways of his home county, Fermanagh.

Described as a singer’s singer, he is regarded as an icon in Ulster Traditional and folk singing circles. This, his first solo album, is a snapshot in time and a reflection on the life in song of the singer and concertina player from Kinawley, who is considered one of the finest exponents of the Ulster traditional singing style.

Produced by Dónal O’Connor, the record also features Ciarán Curran of Altan, Fermanagh accordion maestro Jim McGrath, and Pat McManus of Mama’s Boys and Celtus.

Gabriel said: “I am now in my 74th year and this is my first solo recording, although I have recorded previously with groups I was in, and with friends.

“Early in my career I recorded and performed with ‘NaDraíodóirí’, which included Robbie Hughes on uilleann pipes, Jim Hoy on accordion, Gerry O’Donnell on flute and Mal Whyte on Bodhrán. We recorded an album that was released on the Breton record label, Keltia Musique.

“After that I recorded for Claddagh Records with other musicians from Fermanagh and Leitrim, including Seamus Quinn, Ben Lennon and Ciarán Curran on an album called ‘Dog Big, Dog Little’.

“I then recorded another album called ‘Jig Away the Donkey’ with Gerry O’Connor and Martin Quinn, and we toured this around Ireland and Europe.”

Having been a joiner and carpenter since he was young, Gabriel says he came somewhat late to being able to devote most of his time to music.

“I hope you find enjoyment in this album,” he added.

Featuring a selection of classics from the Fermanagh singing tradition such as ‘Devenish in Dreams’, ‘Far from Erne’s Shore’ and ‘The Waves of the Silvery Tide’, the album also features instrumental dance tunes and rare and previously unrecorded songs such as ‘Bessy the Beauty of Rossanure Hill’ and ‘Johnny & Molly’.

Irish Folk musician and singer-songwriter Andy Irvine said: “Gabriel McArdle is one of the finest of all Ulster singers with a great repertoire of songs, many of which I have never heard anyone else sing.

“I treasure the memory of nights we had playing together in Blakes of the Hollow in Enniskillen and I hope that the Irish Traditional Music Archive will shortly record his extensive collection.”

He added: “I am always delighted when Gabriel records his music and song and I look forward hugely to hearing this latest offering with the inimitable Dónal O’Connor.”

In the late 1970s, Gabriel helped establish a Folk club in Enniskillen and one of the frequent visitors to it was the local actor, Adrian Dunbar.

Adrian has had a lifelong interest in Folk and Traditional music and song, and both have remained good friends over the years.

Adrian said: “Gabie’s legacy will be that he came into Enniskillen from the country as a young man and he brought a love of Traditional music with him, and especially Traditional singing; great concertina playing too, but great songs, reminding us of how important our traditional heritage is, and he has kept that flame alive in this area and that will be to his credit forever.”