This reel was composed by West Cork accordionist Finbar Dwyer, but is sometimes claimed to be the work of Paddy Fahy. It is on the Kevin Burke and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill album Portland (1982), as well as Mick Conneely’s Selkie (1999). It’s a two-part reel played AABB, with the A-part in Emix and the B-part in Edor. The name comes from an scenic island in Bantry Bay, in the western part of co. Cork, Ireland. It’s off the Beara Peninsula, and known as “Oiléan Béarra” in Irish, and in English “Beare Island” or “Bere Island,” which sounds close to Beer Island to me. In fact, the Irish word “Béarra” means Bear, and the island acquired this name in the second century when the King of Munster named it after his wife, from the O’Sullivan-Beara clan, daughter of Heber Mór, King of Castile. Still, today it is officially called “An tOileán Mór” meaning “The Big Island.” With a population of about two hundred, it has two ferries and its highest point is Knockanallig. The main harbor of the island is Lawrence Cove, near the main village of Rerrin, or Raerainn in Irish, which is toward its eastern end. In August of 2014 they held the first Bere Island Music and Silence Festival.
The tune is in two modes (as are a few other tunes). The first part (A part) is in E ionian (E major), while the second part (the B part) is in E Dorian (E minor, or E natural minor). This is important because when backing the tune you need to be sensitive to the changes in order to provide either a standard backing, or to improvise a new, more interesting accompaniment.
For the ABC click Beare Island