​The Whistle - Blower Project

RTE Radio 1 DocOnOne – ‘The Whistleblower’ July 2019

“The Whistleblower” was the most popular podcast of 2019 from the Documentary On One series. Additionally, it was the single most downloaded podcast across all of RTÉ content for 2019. The podcast was re-broadcast by RTE on January 1, 2020. To date, it has garnered over 650,000 listens and downloads between Ireland and Canada (where it was also broadcast on Canada CBS, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).

Amnesty International UK Media Awards 2020 – April 2020

Under the category of human rights, “The Whistleblower” was shortlisted in Amnesty International’s UK Media Awards 2020. This year, the awards received 320 entries overall, the highest number of entries yet. “The Whistleblower” made it to the shortlist of the final 10 for the award ceremony scheduled for April 22.

The NY Radio Festival Awards 2020 – April 2020

In the category of human rights, RTE’s “The Whistleblower” won the Silver Medal Award at the online NY Radio Festival Awards 2020 on April 21.

The Law Society Justice Media Awards 2020 – June 2020

Under the category of Broadcast Journalism (radio/podcast – national), “The Whistleblower” received a Certificate of Merit at the online award ceremony on June 25. The judges described it as:

“A richly-textured, atmospheric look at the fallout from the wrongful convictions for the Sallins train robbery. This was a wonderful piece of audio journalism, highlighting severe failings in the criminal justice system in 1970s Ireland and documenting the process of healing from wrongful conviction.”

The Irish Music Rights Organisation 2020 Radio Awards – October 2020

Under the category of Arts, Music & Culture  ‘The Whistleblower’ won a Bronze Medal at the online award ceremony on the 2nd October.

Des Mondes de Musiques 5 Planetes

Philippe Cousin

The Irish Echo (NY) - March 2019

Album Explores Family Trauma - Dan Neely

On March 31, 1976, the Cork to Dublin Travelling Post Office Train was robbed of over £200,000 in Sallins, Co. Kildare. The police targeted the Irish Republican Socialist Party for its alleged role and began rounding up people for arrest under the Offenses Against the State Act, thus initiating one of the most notorious and dishonorable episodes in Ireland’s modern history.

In the weeks following the heist, events unfolded rapidly. IRSP members were arrested, released, and rearrested. During this time, they were subjected to “special interrogation” by Dublin’s Central Detective unit, a group popularly known as the “Heavy Gang” for the brutality of its information-gathering techniques. Confessions were collected (with evidence showing torture was involved). In 1978, the Special Criminal Court convicted Osgur Breatnach, Brian McNally, and Nicky Kelly for what it said was their role in “the Sallins Train Robbery.” Breatnach and McNally went to prison, while Kelly went into exile.

In April 1980 the Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for the heist. As a result, Breatnach and McNally were acquitted on appeal, and expecting to be exonerated, Kelly returned to Ireland, but instead was rearrested, and sent to prison. The state was in the wrong throughout all of this. Kelly was eventually given a presidential pardon in 1992 and he, along with the other two men, received substantial compensation from the Irish government the following year. But the fallout from Ireland’s longest-running criminal trial had severe repercussions for the country and especially for the families of those involved, including Breatnach’s, who spent an significant portion of their lives consumed with overturning their son’s wrongful conviction.

Cormac Breatnach was 13 when his brother Osgur was arrested and tortured for his alleged role in the heist. It was a defining time in his life and the subject of his most recent recording project, “The Whistle Blower.” In it, Breatnach “explore[s] and express[es] musically how a single traumatic event affected [him] from the age of 13 into [his] adulthood.” This short but potent album includes six tracks of affecting instrumental music and includes the playing of Breatnach (whistle), Daire Bracken (fiddle) and Martin Tourish (piano accordion).

It’s a fascinating work. It’s a concept album that immediately drew to mind projects such as Susan McKeown’s “Singing in the Dark” album, which addresses mental illness, and Brian Fleming’s show “A Sacrilegious Lesbian and Homosexual Parade,” about sexuality and the St. Pat’s For All parade in Sunnyside, Queens, as all three address and work through issues of cultural significance. It perhaps should not have been a surprise, then, to see that this project was in part inspired by collaborative workshops Breatnach did with McKeown and Fleming in 2015. (McKeown and Fleming in fact appear on the soundtrack of a short film that figures into Breatnach’s live “Whistle-Blower” performance of this project, which use film, discussion, and music to communicate Breatnach’s artistic and emotional journey.)

The music Breatnach lays out here is complex and deeply personal, using rich texture and melodic beauty to move the listener through a wide range of expressive moods. “On Board The Cork and Dublin Travelling Post Office Train While Justice Sleeps” is the album’s first track, and it’s dedicated to Osgur. The track begins with melodic percussive figure that recalls the ticking of a clock and then gently introduces an upbeat melody played on low whistle. The sound of a train is alluded to. As the arrangement unfolds it becomes progressively darker, evoking the events on the night of March 31, 1976 which pulls the listener close and sets a propitious artistic tone, foreshadowing the seriousness of what is to come.

The sound of a moving train also figures into a few of the album’s other tracks, including “Lost Whistle,” which is dedicated to Breatnach’s father Deasún (an Irish writer, journalist and editor who worked for the Irish Independent, the Irish Press, and An Phoblacht newspapers) and “See No Evil Hear No Evil Speak No Evil,” which is dedicated to Breatnach’s brothers Diarmuid and Oisín. The two tracks are strikingly different (despite some rhythmic connectedness), the former a pensive and exploratory melodic excursion and the latter taking a more puckish call and response approach.

“Amhrán Na Mná” and “Faoi Bhláth,” are companion pieces inspired by poet Liam Ó Muirthile work “Amhrán Na Mná Faoi Bhláth.” The former is an episodic, brooding slow air with accompaniment, while the latter has a more upbeat, sanguine feel to it. Both are dedicated to the women in his family. The album’s final track, “The Beginning And The End: Aftermath,” is dedicated to Breatnach’s wife and puts a cap on the whole album. It has kind of a pastoral spirit about it and feels very much like a piece of music intended to bring about a sense of closure.

This is a powerful album that will touch anyone old enough to remember the Sallins train robbery, but it’s also one that has the opportunity to reach those dealing with trauma in a more general sense. Breatnach, who is an exceptional musician and who has surrounded himself with a pair of equally talented partners, writes instability well, but in his arrangements it also seems he understands how to shed positive light on resolution. It’s a hard journey, but “The Whistle Blower” is an album well worth experiencing. Breatnach has been touring the album on a tour called "Out of Time"  At the time of writing, it includes two more stops, the first in Portlaoise on March 9, and the second in Kildare on March 22. To learn more, visit www.whistleblower.ie.

JMI - Jan 2019

The End and The Beginning - Ian Bascombe

Cormac Breatnach's 'The Whistle Blower' tour and album, featuring Daire Bracken and Martin Tourish, is both an act of healing as well as a challenging musical offering. Ian Bascombe reviews the performance at Glór.​

Whistle-player Cormac Breatnach’s music has often asked questions of his listeners. His ground-breaking albums from the 1990s with the group Deiseal stretched traditional music’s boundaries, exhibiting brandishments of jazz and blues and challenging customary aesthetics.

Later solo projects and collaborations – for example, with Roger Doyle – pushed further at the limits, and more recently his work with Sonamusprobes the intersection of traditional and Baroque musics. Nevertheless, Breatnach’s status as a tradition-bearer seems assured with some prestigious appearances, notably at the Masters of Tradition festival in Bantry.

With this year’s The Whistle Blower album and tour, Breatnach continues to challenge – investigating composition and film, and indeed interrogating the very integrity of the State through an exploration of personal events from 1976: namely, the wrongful arrest, extorted confession and ensuing 17 months’ imprisonment of his brother Osgur. Last week in Glór in Ennis, Breatnach recounted those events in a stylish documentary/animated film that preceded, then backdropped, the concert.

Sonic railway

Breatnach’s trio opened with the track ‘On Board’, introduced by a tapped staccato effect on the whistle – a trademark much used by him down the years (Deiseal’s ‘The Shores of Loch Ghamhna’ springs to mind). The piece then transformed into sonic railway imagery with the rumbling reel-time piano accordion of Martin Tourish, and unfolding in an episodic ‘programme’ structure. Lilted and whistled melody gave way to voiced whistle (reminiscent of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson), followed by spoken word. Next, a slower, reflective passage was unfurled, with leisurely scat singing from Breatnach. Finally, dense textures from Tourish and fiddler Daire Bracken gave way to solo voice. 

Railway-sound evocation underpinned much of the concert’s first-half, returned to in See No Evil – the music now in jig time – with each member of the ensemble swapping melodic lines in an elaborate sequence of both echo and call-and-answer. This was a music that was almost visual, or as Breatnach described it, one that ‘bears witness’.

The recital’s second-half brought a musical and emotional shift. With the slow air Amhrán na Mná, a modulating melody in traditional solo form (introduced by Tourish) grew in stature and intensity as Bracken assumed ownership, with Breatnach bringing the piece to a poignant climax. In the linked follow-on Faoi Bhláth, the ensemble treated a comparatively simple melodic line to a sophisticated arrangement, weaving and then combining to create a rich summation. 

Musical apotheosis

Even for those already familiar with Breatnach’s capacity to convey emotional intensity, these tracks represented something more. This, conceivably, was the music that he had been waiting to write and play since 1976 – a distillation of both pain and hope into a searingly beautiful melodic apotheosis. With the finale of the evening – ‘The Beginning and the End’ – a continuation of the second half’s tonal centre, aided by Tourish’s harmonic deftness and Bracken’s occasional and gentle vamping, ensured that the effect was maintained – as one listener described it, ‘touching souls’.

I’ve always had a sense that Cormac Breatnach’s music is his release-valve: here is a man with a seemingly quiet demeanour who produces music that not only challenges but displays unchained flourishes of feeling; sometimes melancholic, frequently joyful, and often questing in spirit – like lava bubbling through an outer-crust.

The Whistle Blower album and tour does much to explain both this apparent exterior reticence and his musical trajectory. The project seems to be a simultaneous act of healing and a reminder that work still needs to be done – but also an acknowledgement that, sometimes, there are simply no right outcomes. The strands are synthesised into a musical offering of the highest calibre, perhaps his finest work.

“an extraordinary project that Cormac undertook a couple of years back as a result of an arts council funded initiative: he uses the music a suite of pieces to tell the story of the Sallins Mail Train Robbery, in which his brother Osgur was wrongly accused; it’s a wonderful piece of work and the music is just gorgeous with co musicians Daire Bracken and Martin Tourish…”

Ellen Cranitch ‘Vespertine’ RTÉ Lyric FM - 20/01/2019



The Whistle Blower, Own Label, 6 Tracks, 26 Minutes www.thewhistleblower.ie

A fascinating and disturbing album, The Whistle Blower is inspired by a 1976 train robbery and its miscarriage of justice and its repercussions over the next forty years. At a time when Irish justice is again being challenged and questioned, when the role of the rich and powerful in Irish society seems as shady and destructive as ever, this story is a stark reminder of the effect of institutional corruption on the lives of ordinary people, and the dangers posed by any faction which believes that the ends justify the means, and that justice can be bought and sold.

World-renowned whistle virtuoso Cormac Juan Breatnach wrote the music on this CD. Fiddler Daire Bracken and accordionist Martin Tour­ ish, both in the top echelon of today's Irish musicians, join him but too young to remember 1976, and the mail train robbery that started the chain of events commemorated here. Cormac's brother was arrested, tried, and convicted on the flimsiest of evidence - a conviction, which was later quashed. The first piece here recounts that night in 1976 with spoken words and scat singing over a lively tune. Lost Whistle is more ominous, tramping feet and a dark melody, touches of Spanish music. The third track returns to the railway theme with squealing fiddle and steam-train percussion. Breatnach also eerily recreates the mood of 1970s Chieftains albums with his call-and-answer arrangements.

Amhran na Mna evokes the lamentation of family members, partic­ularly the mothers of the convicted men, in an accordion-led piece which approaches church music. Faoi Bhlath is more uplifting, the de­ fiance of the campaigners who refused to give in. The final track is a complex piece, twisting and turning, bittersweet as befits a story with no real resolution. The Whistle Blower is a cautionary tale for our times, a reminder of the effect of even a relatively small injustice on the lives of so many people, a compelling collection of music with a powerful message.

Alex Monaghan


Léirmheas ar The Whistle Blower – Cormac Juan Breatnach, Daire Bracken & Martin Tourish


Samhain 2018


Nach ait an mac an saol!

Ar an 24ú Deireadh Fómair bhí tuairisc san Irish Times faoin gCommisinéir úr Gardaí Síochána, Drew Harris, ag maoímh gur ghá do ghach garda cloí go docht le ‘code of ethics’. Is maith sin, ach ar an lá céanna bhí alt san nuachtán céanna faoi Osgur Breatnach (ag fógairt craoladh an chláir fháisnéise Finné ar Tg4) ag rá go raibh Osgur fós ag lorg freagraí ó na Gardaí, an Córas Dlí agus Cirt agus an Stát mar gheall ar an bhfeall a imríodh air daichead bliain ó shoin. Bhí seisean ar duine des na daoine a cuireadh ina leith go ndearnadar traein sna Solláin I gCo Chill Dara a robáil. 

I gcillíní na bpóilíní buaileadh an cac astu, cuireadh iachall orthu ráiteas bréagach a shíniú, cúisíodh iad, ciontaíodh, daoradh iad agus bhí a fhios ag na muca is na madraí ar gach aon sráid nach rabhadar ciontach. 

Caoga trí garda san iomlán a thug éithigh sna cúirteanna, i bhfianaise dé mar dhea. Níor admhaigh éinne acu go ndearnadar aon ní mí-cheart riamh cé gur fuaireadh tar éis ath-chomhairc nach raibh an ciontú sábháilte. 

Tá Osgur fós ag lorg freagraí mar a léirigh an clár teilfíse go beacht. 

Deartháir leis is ea Cormac Breatnach. Sár-cheoltóir. Sár-chumadóir. Sár-ealaíontóir. Agus le blianta beaga anuas tá sé tar éis inúchadh ealaíne a dhéanamh ar an éifeacht a bhí ag an gcomhcheilg seo air féin go pearsanta agus an chuid eile dá chlann. 

An bhliain seo chaite léirigh sé gearr-scannán,  ‘The Whistle Blower’.  Scannán mí-shocair go leor atá ann don lucht féachana óir is scéal ana-phearsanta atá á insint aige. Níl ceiltear aon mhothúchán! 

Agus é ag leanúint leis an doimhin-inúchadh anama, chum Cormac sé phíosa ceoil atá anois ar albam aige The Whistle Blower. Idir spraoi agus dáiríre atá san ceol. Tá an spraoi agus an dáiríreacht san phíosa On Board the Dublin and Cork Travelling Post Office While Justice Sleeps agus Cormac ag athrú ó sheinnt go portaireacht béil agus ar ais arís. Tá an spraoi ann arís san rian See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil ach ní ró-fhada ón ndáiríreacht a bhíonn an ceol riamh le comhcheol na beirte eile dorcha go leor ar uaireabh. Macallaí an albam Briotánach Triptyque ar The Beginning and The End: Aftermath, macallaí a shean bhanna Méiristem ar an rian Faoi Bhláth. 

Ní bheidh aon chathaoir breithiúnais á bhunú chun fírinne an cheoil seo a fhiosrú. Tá sé oilte. Tá sé fíor-chumasach – ní bheinn ag súil lena mhalairt ó méaracha an triúr seo. Tá Cormac ag tabhairt a fhreagra fhéin ar cad, conas, cén fáth a tharla an rud a tharla. Le ceol is féidir nithe a rá gan focail. Is féidir leis mothúcháin a bhíonn deacair a rá damhsa idir na nótaí ceoil agus dul I bhfolach san ornáidíocht.

Colm Ó Snodaigh


The Sunday Times November 2018 

Brother composes songs of innocence for wrongly convicted Sallins ‘train robber’

The brother of one of the three men wrongly convicted of the Sallins train robbery in 1976 has recorded a concept album and devised a stage show based on his experiences.

Cormac Breatnach, a trad musician living in Wicklow, is a brother of Osgur, who along with Nicky Kelly and Brian McNally was convicted of robbing IR£200,000 (€254,000) from the Cork to Dublin mail train in March 1976. The convictions were solely based on signed confessions, which the men claimed were beaten out of them in garda custody. The gardai suggested their injuries were self-inflicted. Breatnach and McNally were acquitted in 1980, and Kelly was later pardoned.

Cormac Breatnach was aged 13 when his brother was arrested and charged with the robbery. “It’s something I’ve grappled with for 42 years,” he said. “I was going to school. When I came back, I did my homework and immediately went out postering, painting slogans on walls, running the gauntlet with the Special Branch. Coming back home, going to school the next day, repeat.”

Breatnach has now released The Whistle Blower, a six-track concept album inspired by the case. The album title is a play on trains, the recent whistleblower scandal within the gardaí, and Breatnach’s instrument of choice: the low whistle. He will perform the album on a nationwide tour starting in Bray in January. The show will feature songs, and a short film inspired by the robbery and subsequent fallout.

“When a family is attacked, you are [forced] into the adult world,” he said. “When you’re involved in this process of defending a family member, the emotional impact on me and the rest of us [was huge]. We all concentrated on Osgur’s situation and getting him out. It was only years later — when I left the family home and had relationships, including my first marriage, which broke down largely because of my inability to deal with aspects of the emotional impact the case had on me — that’s when I was diagnosed with PTSD by Professor Ivor Browne.”

Breatnach is one of six children and has a good relationship with his brother Osgur, now 68. They grew up in a trilingual household — his father was an Irish-language journalist and his mother was from Spain. “All my family were involved in politics. I can remember megaphones on the floor, posters, people calling to the house, meetings,” said Breatnach. “Whereas other families may have had sport, I had music and politics.”

Eithne Shorthall, Arts Editor, The Sunday Times Ireland Edition


'Sound Out' RTÉ Lyric fm - 18.11.2018

"What a fascinating project and credible way to deal with a personal ordeal and turn into something beautiful.."

Ian McGlynn

https://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b16_10962972_26655_18-11-2018_ for the full programme



Cormac Breatnach recalled some dark days when he spoke to Derek Copley about the album The Whistle Blower. 

On March 31st, 1976, an event took place, which would have profound consequences on musician Cormac Juan Breatnach’s life. He was only 13 years old, when the composer’s brother, Osgur Breatnach, along with other members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, Michael Plunkett and John Fitzpatrick were arrested in connection with what would become known as the Sallins Mail Train Robbery. During interrogation by the Gardaí, all except Plunkett signed alleged confessions, and all displayed injuries they claimed were inflicted by gardaí. The only evidence against them were their statements extracted from them in garda custody.

Having been jailed for their alleged crimes, Breatnach, Kelly and McNally would eventually be released over the ensuing years, with Breatnach and McNally’s sentences being quashed 17 months later, and in 1984, with Kelly being released on ‘humanitarian grounds’ after two hunger-strikes.

The whole event had an overwhelmingly traumatic effect on Cormac and his family’s life.

“Music was my way to cope with trauma, through the recordings of the Bothy Band, Planxty and others”

“It was a drama that scarred me and cast a long shadow into my adulthood. I became withdrawn and taciturn,” he told me, adding that it was through music that he found a way to express himself.

“I developed my love of music through the recordings of the Bothy Band, Planxty and others. They inspired me to develop my own musical talents and I started to compose music at an early age.”

An initial visit in 2007 to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre to try to write his story was followed by a return to the centre in 2014 with actor/director Raymond Deane. It was there that the foundations of the new Whistle Blower project would be laid. “My aim [in 2014] was to show how fear and trauma from a miscarriage of justice against my older brother unknowingly affected me throughout my teenage years and into adulthood.”

The Whistle Blower is a complex work, cathartic in its creation. This new six-track album works in conjunction with a short film of the same title, directed by Trish McAdam, which premiered in 2017 following a highly collaborative process, which drew on the skills of artists like, Robert Ballagh, in visual design, Trevor Knight, composition and theatre-making, Brian Fleming, percussion, and Susan McKeown, song/lyric writer. 

This new release however features Martin Tourish on piano accordion and Daire Bracken on fiddle, for what is a genre-fluid, emotive body of work, which plays on sounds and moods connected directly to the imagery of the traumatic events. Accompanied by six new videos they will be performed live as part of the Whistle Blower Out of Time Tour (2019).

The project removes Cormac and his current collaborators from their more familiar traditional backgrounds. “Working with the band Deiseal in the 1990s was a wonderful creative and explorative musical journey for me and my collaborators…. I came across the shaman of sean-nós, Lorcán MacMathúna performing in the Chester Beatty Library one Sunday afternoon. Accompanying him, were Daire Bracken and Martin Tourish. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and thought to myself, ‘I wonder would Daire and Martin join me in my own musical journey as a new trio’. Thankfully, they agreed. I owe a great sense of gratitude to them. I believe that the three (main) instruments which feature on this recording provide the necessary textures to do the compositions justice.”

And how was the process, how did they address the ambience, the mood of the new compositions? 

“I was daunted by the challenge but I rely a lot on instinct. In time, the initial melodies came easily to me and which I then developed. Daire and Martin’s special musical relationship greatly enhanced all six tracks through their own compositional/ co-arrangements and by allowing the musical works to breathe: I am indebted to them for providing the necessary oxygen.”

On cultivating the album into six conceptual tracks, Cormac said: “First and foremost, the music must speak for itself which is contextualised by the album liner notes. However, according to Hans Christian Anderson,‘where words fail, music speaks’.”

The Whistle Blower Out of Time Tour 2019 is co-funded by The Arts Council of Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The trio will tour the work in Ireland from January to March 2019.

More details can be found at www.thewhistleblower.ie. 

Derek Copley