The Arts Interview: Kirsten Allstaff

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

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Originally, from Scotland, I have been living in Ireland for almost 16 years.

Originally, from Scotland, I have been living in Ireland for almost 16 years.

My new album, Gallowglass, is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother Edith Lynne Allstaff (née Stewart), who fostered in me a love and appreciation of traditional music. She came from a large family of musicians who played pipes, accordions and fiddles. My dad still plays guitar and sings traditional songs, so there was always music in the house when I was growing-up.

After completing my Undergraduate Degree in Scottish History and Celtic Studies, at The University of Glasgow, I moved to Dublin.

Here, I played lots of music and really developed a love for Irish traditional music. I was, then, accepted onto a Masters programme at the University of Limerick (UL), in The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (IWAMD). While studying there I was delighted to be given the opportunity of learning music with some of my favourite flute players.

Following my Master’s Degree, I stayed in Limerick for eight years, tutoring the flute and lecturing on the BA course.

During the time I spent here I used to play in lots of sessions at Nancy Blake’s and Dolan’s. This period of my life also saw me touring as a musician with a few Irish dance shows such as Gaelforce Dance, The Rhythm of the Dance and Celtic Legends. It was great fun, and in addition, I was able to spend valuable time on the road, in America, Taiwan, Korea, France, Greece and many other places.

When I was 12, my parents immigrated to Canada where I lived for six years.

At school, there, everyone in my class had to learn a woodwind instrument. I picked the Flute. We were taught in a class full of Tubas, Trombones, Saxophones, and Clarinets. I have no idea how the teacher did it. It was a cacophony of noise. In the end I never took to Classical Music, however, I came to love Irish traditional music, which is mostly learnt and played by ear. Today, I play mainly traditional Irish and Scottish tunes, however, lately, I have been playing with a fantastic band called Los Paddys De Las Pampas who blend South American, and Spanish music with Irish tunes, overlaid with a bit of Rock ‘n’ Roll for good measure.

My debut album, Gallowglass, was named after a group of Scottish warriors who settled in Ireland during the 13th - 16th centuries.

They were hired by Irish chieftains to fight on their behalf against opposing clans. They soon infiltrated into Irish society, however, and in time there came to be many native Irish Gallowglasses who possessed the fine infantry skills of the original Scottish warriors. As Scots, they were Gaels (Gall Gaeil or foreign Gaels), who shared a common language and culture with the Irish and as a Scot living in Ireland this particularly resonates with me. The Gallowglass Jig, also, happens to be the name of my favourite tune, which is played on the album.

The Gallowglass CD features some amazing Scottish, Irish and French musicians. Mhairi Hall is a Scottish piano player who gives a really unique sound to my album.

John Joe Kelly, a bodhrán player from the great band Flook, also joins me providing beats that give a nice groove throughout. I am delighted to have been joined by top Clare musicians and friends like Eoin O’Neill (bouzouki), Jon O’Connell (double bass), and Adam Shapiro on fiddle. Last, but not least, is Frenchman Jean Damei (fuitar). Jean was a former student (flute) of mine when I worked at UL. He is a fabulous guitarist, today, who lives in Quilty, in Co. Clare.

Traditional music sessions, every Sunday, in Joseph McHugh’s pub in Liscannor are a favourite pastime of mine.

Songs from different countries are sung between the jigs and reels. The atmosphere is always fantastic with farmers, surfers, locals and tourists mingling together in a convivial atmosphere. For example, recently, there was a Bodhrán player from Denmark, a flute player from Argentina, another flute player from Scotland and a double bass player from Kilfenora who all showed-up. Sometimes one of the local children even plays a tune on the Concertina or the tin whistle. At other times it is just a quiet tune by myself and Eoin, and that is always good too. I have been made to feel really welcome by the local community who love their traditional music in the village.

Music is a great release as it helps people to switch off from the ever present stresses of everyday life.

However, my main job is running the Online Academy of Irish Music which I co-founded alongside my partner. I feel really fortunate to have a career in the field of Irish music. Through our website ( lots of retired people are signing up and learning an instrument for the first time. I think this is really great. You are never too old to learn, and whatever your skill level is, there is great enjoyment to be had simply from learning and playing.

Throughout my twenties I toured extensively with Irish dance shows and with various bands all over Asia, America and Europe.

One of my favourite countries is definitely Finland. I was there most recently with Eoin O’Neill and Quentin Cowper for a tour of the country.

For further information about Kirsten Allstaff’s debut album ‘Gallowglass’ please see: and Kirsten’s CD is available online at and from Custy’s Music Shop, in Ennis.