Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

His Irish eyes are smiling

Winnipeg doctor, musician serious about promoting cultural traditions of his ancestral homeland

  • Print

"Never get one of those cheap tin whistles. It leads to much harder drugs like pipes and flutes."

-- Unknown

David Strang is glad he never took the advice from that famous anonymous quote, although it's partly true in his case.

The whistle was a musical gateway drug, of sorts, for the president of the Winnipeg chapter of Comhaltas (pronounced coal-tis), one that led down a path to the concertina, a hand-held, bellows-driven instrument similar to a button accordion.

He plays the instrument in two different traditional Irish ceili bands -- the Flatland Ceili Band and the Barefoot Ceili Band -- that play regularly around town at different events, jams and sessions with people hooked on other instruments such as the Uilleann pipes, bodhran, guitar and fiddle.

"I've just always loved all sorts of music. I don't know what it is; that's how I'm wired," Strang says.

"I've always liked the traditional music. The folk festival was my exposure to it. I'm told my maternal grandfather played the fiddle as well, so there's probably something genetic about it."

The 50-year-old doctor's love of traditional music from the Emerald Isle led to his involvement in the local chapter of Comhaltas, which aims to promote Irish culture in the areas of music, dance and language.

The organization was founded in Ireland in 1951 and now boasts 400 branches and 75,000 members around the world. The Winnipeg group was founded 25 years ago by Irish expats. These days, most members of the volunteer non-profit organization were born here but share a love of the culture, from the music to Guinness beer.

"People get enthusiastic about it. They want to share the word and spread it to people to keep the traditions alive. The people that are in Comhaltas all love this kind of music. We like to play it and find other people that like to play it. It's happy music. Jigs and reels are all pretty catchy. It's hard not to tap your foot along. It's all dance music," Strang says.

The bands sometimes, but not always, perform with dance groups, including the McConnell School of Dance and local set-dancing groups, which differs from the more famous step-dancing (Riverdance) by being more like square dancing, with four couples dancing together, performing different figures and sets.

Comhaltas organizes regular set-dancing nights at Riverview Elementary School and a drop-in music night at Sam's Place bookstore and café on Henderson Highway the last Friday of every month.

They tried to organize Gaelic lessons but couldn't get enough members to hold a regular quorum, Strang says.

Comhaltas' most well-known event is the annual Irish Fest, which takes place every October and includes concerts at the Irish Club and the West End Cultural Centre, along with workshops at Gordon Bell High School.

This year, the parent Comhaltas chapter in Dublin will send its touring music group to Winnipeg for the Oct. 12 and 13 festivities, which will be a boon for lovers of authentic traditional music, Strang says.

"I think all these traditional cultures are valuable. They do go in cycles or waves. If you don't watch out, in a downturn you lose it, and once it's gone, it's gone. Traditionally, it was by aural tradition -- people learned tunes by ear. It's only in the last century people have started writing it down," he says.

To help get Irish Fest off the ground, Comhaltas started a fundraiser called Reels on Wheels, featuring three bands playing at three different houses. The bands play three sets a night and the crowd moves from house to house during the course of the evening, catching music everywhere they go. By the end of the night, every participant has seen a set from each of the bands. "It's like a progressive dinner party," Strang says.

Information about the event will be posted online at the group's website,

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 J13

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets fan gets inked

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Perfect Day- Paul Buteux walks  his dog Cassie Tuesday on the Sagimay Trail in Assiniboine Forest enjoying a almost perfect  fall day in Winnipeg- Standup photo – September 27, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Jia Ping Lu practices tai chi in Assiniboine Park at the duck pond Thursday morning under the eye of a Canada goose  - See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge Day 13- May 17, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

  • Africa edition

    Africa is one complex and gloriously unmanageable 'theme' to choose to kick off our 2012 series, Our City Our World, which is why it took up the whole newspaper on Jan. 18.

  • China edition

    Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba.

  • Germany edition

    German immigrants have played a surprisingly large role in the development of the province.

  • Iceland edition

    Arriving in Manitoba in the 1870s unprepared for a brutal winter, Icelandic settlers and their descendants have left their mark on our province.

  • Italy edition

    Industrious Italians rose from peasant roots and adapted to Canadian society by mastering L’art d’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by).

  • Latin America edition

    It used to be the only time Prairie folks met Spanish-speaking people was when they vacationed down south. More often now, they're the people next door.

  • Middle East edition

    When the first Middle East families immigrated to Manitoba, mosques were unheard of and even yogurt was exotic. But now all that has changed.

  • Philippines edition

    A booming Filipino community nearly 60,000 strong has transformed Manitoba.

  • South Asian edition

    As the city's Indo-Canadian population experiences dramatic growth, its pioneers recall their warm Winnipeg welcome.

  • Ukraine edition

    Scarred by Holodomor, the Ukrainian community helped shape Winnipeg's cultural mosaic.

  • United Kingdom edition

    Manitoba's history is built on a foundation provided by settlers from the U.K., who came here seeking better lives.


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google