Phil Coulter and Highland Cathedral

This CD is just about the prettiest of all that Phil has done, personal taste, of course.  I even wore one out, and recently rebought it from  I really love the music in this CD, and I recommend it to anyone who is a Phil Coulter fan, and who has not heard it.  It is not, of course, the only CD of Phil’s that I have – it is just my preference.  I wish it had been available back when I had my Celtic music radio show, but then my audience may have gotten very tired of it.


Subject : Phil in the Cathedral

Posted Date: : May 13, 2010 8:39 AM

Phil Coulter’s Highland Cathedral is my fave of all of him he has recorded.  Personal taste, perhaps, but I find absolutely nothing on this CD to dislike.

He uses Aoife Ni Fhearraigh ( in four songs on it.  She has a fabulous voice, and is from the same part of Donegal as Maire Ni Bhraonain, Maire’s sister Enya, and Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh of Altan.  Phil speaks of their “ethereal voices – there must be something in the water up there”, and I agree.  I tried to find a recording of Our Island Barque to post here so everyone can give it a listen, but the most I found was about 30 seconds of it.  I could not find it listed in his long listing of songs on YouTube.

So I am thinking the hold-up in getting a free listen is probably The Voice Squad, who sing back-up vocals.  The song is available for purchase.

Aoife can also be heard on Tranquility, a reworking of one of Phil’s older tunes; If These Stones Could Speak, and Pilgrim’s Way.

If These Stones Could Speak was written by Phil as a commission from the Irish Minister for the Arts in celebration of Donegal Castle.  This castle was the ancestral home of Red Hugh O’Donnell, who is a hero to the Irish, along with his friend Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone in the 1590s in a nine year war against England, which he almost won.  Phil says “they were the last of the great Irish warlords, and those were glory days”.

There are 14 tracks on this CD, beginning with the tune Highland Cathedral, and ending with Our Island Barque.  In between are 12 equally beautiful tunes.  I’ll mention several.

The Flowers of the Forest.  You have heard this mentioned in CT’s song Green Fields of France.  I find it interesting that flowers are symbols of men killed in war in several places; we had our own song in the 60s, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, in the US.  This arrangement by Phil includes viola and button key accordion standouts.

The Gathering-Bealtaine.  I am not a Christian, only in the sense that I do not believe that God wears Jesus’ face; I don’t believe in the Trinity.  I believe that Jesus did walk on earth, though, but as another child of God as I am.  Though certainly smarter than I am.

My spirituality is very much old-style Celtic, perhaps closest to the old Druid ways, but no sacrificing.  Simply a nature spirituality, and an unshaking belief in God/dess.  I bring this up not to start a discussion, or debate, on religion.  I respect everyone’s choice of faith.  I simply am saying that Bealtaine is a very important day in my own spiritual course throughout the year.

Coultergeist.  Phil wrote this after he was told that his music is so popular as background music in restaurants and elevators and hotel lobbies in Ireland that people have come to call the music the Coultergeist.  He thought it was clever, and wrote a tune.  I think it is also clever, and the tune is fun.

The title song Highland Cathedral.  The song was featured in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Phil liked it so much he did his own arrangement.  I am such a bagpipe fan, from the Highland long pipes (whcih are used to play pibroch, or classical, music)  to the Irish uillean pipes, and this track features pipes.

The whole recording is just a delight to sit and listen to.  I recommend it highly to anyone who has never heard it, even if Celtic music is not your favourite kind of music.

Musicians on the recording include the ever-present Brendan Monaghan and David Cooke.  Also listed are Dermot Byrne on button key accordion,   Rory McCarron,  a member of the Different Drums of Ireland group;  he was one of the two drummers on CT’s The Show.  Finally, a Noel Bridgeman is mentioned on drums, and I wonder if he is the husband, or other kin, to Audrey Bridgeman, who was also featured on The Show.


An aside:  The name Byrne shows up a lot on Coulter/CT recordings and shows, and I wonder if Byrne is that common a name in Ireland, as Sands is a common name, or if all the Byrnes Phil uses are related – Dermot, Neil, Joanna.

About carolstepp

Music is about the most important thing in my life, and I follow a large number of musicians, particularly Irish, Scots, Classical, Crossovers of any of these. I was writing a blog about Celtic Thunder regularly on MySpace, and now I have left them after a year, and will start writing my blogs here. I am 70, retired, living on Social Security, and have a lot of social network fans.
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