The Bays Boys: First Place Winners!

Willie and Owen

It’s getting to be a habit – the best kind I can think of.  Irish fiddler, Randal Bays sent this email message yesterday:

Dear friends and family, We have some exciting news… both Willie and Owen won first place on their instruments at the Midwest Fleadh Cheoil  in St. Louis this weekend, one of two events in North America that qualify the winners to go to Ireland and compete in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil this summer.  We are very proud of these guys, not just for their musical abilities but for their great attitudes and all the effort they put into preparing for this competition.

Fabulous!!  But what exactly is a Fleadh Cheoil and how in the world do you pronounce it? According to good old Google, “The Fleadh Cheoil (Irish Pronunciation: [f?l?a? ço?l?], meaning “festival of music”) is an Irish music competition run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ). … North America has two regional qualifying Fleadh Cheoil.”

Bays Family Band

That didn’t help much – especially with the pronunciation, so I went to and watched and listened.  Still no help.  Whatever Irish genes I have (presumably quite a few on both sides of my family) they do not include a natural gift for the language or the brogue.

But, DNA and ancestral genes aside, we couldn’t be prouder of our young friends Owen and Willie!  They both qualified last year, as well, and the entire family were off to Ireland – the first trip for the boys and the first chance for Randal to introduce his family to his many friends there.  Randal, though American born and bred, is well-loved and respected in Ireland and bears the distinction of being the only non-Irish-born musician to have a recording of Irish fiddle music in Ireland’s top ten. The Irish Examiner, the third largest newspaper in Ireland, deemed Bays “a rare beast, a master of both the fiddle and the guitar”, and Fiddler Magazine said he is “among the best Irish style fiddlers of his generation.”


And the Bays Boys’ mom, Susan, is no slouch either. Not only is she a fine fiddler in her own right, but she also holds a PhD in Ecology from the University of Washington. Currently she works as a Rare Species Ecologist and coordinates federal, academic and non-profit partners in restoration and reintroduction actions in prairie habitat with special interest in the federally endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. (Wow! How’s that for a mouthful!)

If only I could add a category to my bucket list of what I want to be next time I grow up!  I’m sure it would have something to do with living in the Bays-Waters family, at least now and then, with special emphasis on being a roadie on their journeys to the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann which, of course, I’d know how to pronounce to perfection!



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