Irish World Newspaper, London

We are forty

Shaskeen celebrate forty years with original member, Tom Cussen

By Shelley Marsden - 20/01/10

Tom Cussen one of the original members that formed Shaskeen in 1970, taking their name from the great Michael Coleman reel. They’re still going strong – and the road to that meeting of musical minds was varied and stood them in good stead for the years of musical partnership ahead. Who would have thought that, four decades later, they would still be at the forefront of traditional Irish music, as vibrant as it ever was.

Tony Howley, of Monlea, Aclare, Co. Sligo, picked up the sax at aged 12, inspired by local talents Mike Marron, Martin Higgins and Mick Delahunty. 

He played with J P Boland band and then the Tommy Rowley band, coming to London in ‘57, where he became a well-known figure on the Irish music scene playing with acclaimed musicians such as Martin Burns (fiddle) Raymond Roland (accordion) and others. 

Tony made the move to Manchester in 1965, when he had the opportunity to play with the late Desi Donnelly on the Irish trad scene there. He went on to form his own band and is still a familiar face on the music scene in and around the North West.

Bandmate Tom Cussen, from Broadford, Co. Limerick was always interested in Irish traditional and ceili music. His interest intensified frequenting Ceili Dances and listening to bands like the Tulla & Kilfenora.

Tom headed across the water to London in 1968. and during this time truly immersed himself in the music, buying his first banjo. He said,  “I learned most of my music in London among great players like Johnny Clifford, Sean McDonagh, Jimmy Power, Bobby Clancy, Maureen Minogue - to name but a few.”

He played a host of sessions and gigs with ever-evolving line-ups while in London, and at one point played with The Sugawn Folk Group, before starting the  Shaskeen group in 1970 playing every Friday night in the Oxford Tavern, Kentish Town, North London.  He returned to Galway in 1971 and now resides in Clarinbridge where he continues to play and make his famous “Clareen Banjos”.

Tom still leads Shaskeen as they enter their 40th year on the road, while the line up has changed over the years the enthusiasm & fire in the music still lives on.

Tony Howley now plays on regularly with Shaskeen, and performed in the bands latest CD called “Walking up Town” with other members Patsy McDonagh, accordion,Eamonn Cotter, Concert flute, Pat Broderick, Uilleann pipes, Geraldine Cotter, Piano, Johnny Donnellan, Bodhran & Patt Costello, Vocals, guitar & banjo.

The latest and 15th album from this brilliant band reflects the long and exciting journey they have made since forming all those years ago. A concert-based collection (moving on from a series of  set-dancing albums) with a wonderful variety of arrangements of songs, hornpipes, jigs and reels within its 16 tracks, plenty of music to get your dancing shoes on to.

The title track is a joyous, American rag-style tune, and it’s what this band is all about. Much of the album is instrumental, with classic old drinking songs such as ‘All For Me Grog’ and ‘The Jail of Cluain Meala’, but what each has in common is a real sense of fun; it makes you want to seek out a good session.

Indeed, it might even remind a few old hands who saw the group in action in the 70s, when they played Tuam’s Shamrock Bar every Monday for years.

An album which conveys some of the ‘fun and mischief’ the pair confessed to having while making it, Waking Up The Town is a great showcase of trad played with panache and great authority.

These guys seem to only get better with age – and their love for their roots and the music of their homeland shines ever brighter.

For more info on albums and upcoming tour dates, visit,