T:-)M's Night Shift

Walkin' T:-)M's Journey through Irish Songs

Carl Spitzweg ,Der arme Poet', www.spitzweg.de "When we study the semi-political songs of the Irish peasantry, we should bear in mind the magical power attributed to words in traditional societies, the potency of language for inflicting harm or obtaining what is most desired. The belief in the possibility to change the world by songs and speeches is perhaps one of the keys to the understanding of Irish political and patriotic literature." (G.D. Zimmermann)

The author I'd like to introduce was born in a cottage on Crockglass (i.e. green hill), Co. Donegal. Later the family moved to Glasgow (i.e. green hollow). To explain the title of his book. After retirement John McLaughlin began to study the map of the old country and was amazed at how many of the place names just jumped off the page at me. Although I knew very little about them, I recognised most of them by a line from one song or another. But he was puzzled: What exactly are the origins of the words and music of these songs? How faithful are they to the historical events which inspired them? How do we separate the real story from the myths and propaganda?

The written story of these events fills libraries and keeps historians busy. Often though it has been the songs that have kept the stories alive. I have tried to get at what Thomas Davis called the gem-like history contained in the songs: respecting the traditions, but weeding out much of the bias, trying to separate the real story from legend, myth and propaganda.
One Green Hill - Journeys through Irish Songs is John McLaughlin's answer to all these questions. He chose songs that would contribute towards a very basic outline www.btpale.com history of Ireland, i.e. those songs which we usually call rebel songs and, equally, their counterparts in the pro-British tradition.

The journey takes off with the Plantation of Ulster and the first rebels and rebel songs emerging. The "Outlaw Rapparee" (ir. rapaire: a short rapier or pike) is just one example:

Lift your glasses, friends with mine and give your hand to me.
I'm Ireland's friend, I'm Englands foe, I'm an outlaw rapparee.
One of the most famous rapparee certainly was Eamonn Ó Ryan (1670-1724) from Co. Tipperary. Ryan became an outlaw after shooting a tax collector during a quarrel over the confiscation of a poor woman's only cow. He was finally murdered and beheaded while asleep by a relative for a reward of £200. A memorial today marks the spot where he is buried at Curraheen, near Hollyford. Ryan is immortalised as Eamonn an Chnoic (Ned of the Hill) in a traditional slow air, and a contemporary song written by Ron Kavana and Terry Woods as well.

Twenty-one main songs, and many more mentioned, about the Siege of Derry in 1689 (Derry's Walls), the Battle of the Boyne 1690 (Green Grassy Slopes of the Boyne), the Penal Laws of the 1700s (Bard of Armagh -> FW#13, FW#22), deportation to Australia (Boys of Mullaghbawn -> FW#13), the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798 (-> FW#4; Boolavogue -> FW#7, FW#13, FW#18; Kelly the Boy from Killanne -> FW#7; Henry Joy -> FW#7; General Monro -> FW#7, FW#23; Roddy McCorley -> FW#7, FW#13; Man from God Knows Where), the Young Ireland rebellion 1848 (West's Awake -> FW#18),

General HumbertFather MurphyHenry Joy McCrackenLord Edward FitzgeraldTheobald Wolfe Tone
sectarian clashes in the 1800s (Dolly's Brae), the Great Famine 1845-49 (Skibbereen -> FW#13, FW#18, FW#24), the Fenian movement of the 1860s (Bold Fenian Men; which is not the same as the well-known Glory-O To The Bold Fenian Man -> FW#13, FW#25), flax and whiskey trades (Hackler from Grouse Hall), emigration (-> FW#20, FW#24; My Lagan Love -> FW#18), the Easter rising 1916 (James Connolly; this is not Galvin's song with the same title -> FW#13, FW#17; the labour leader himself tried his hand at versification -> FW#25), the War of Independence 1919-21 (Scarriff Martyrs), and the Civil War 1922-23 (Drumboe Martyrs).

There are more historical details included as I found in many history books. Did you know that tory, the nickname of the Conservative Party of Britain, comes from the Irish tóraí which means raider. Did you know that Thomas Osborne Davis, author of "The West's Awake" and "A Nation Once Again", has been christened after a major loyalist icon, Sir Thomas Osborne, who helped install William of Orange on the British throne?

The Battle of the Boyne took place on 1 July 1690. The Williamite army lit their bonfires, the orgin of the loyalist bonfires that are still lit on the eve of The Twelfth. [The Gregorian calendar of 1582] had been introduced [in England] in 1752 until it was absolutely certain that it was not yet another Popish Plot, and using this, the equivalent modern date would be 11 July. The year 1700 was a leap year under the Julian calendar but not under the Gregorian and somehow the confusion led to an extra day being added to the date of the Boyne, making it The Twelfth. Republicans may question the logical thought processes of loyalists but the shrewd loyalist places the blame firmly where it belongs, on the Pope of Rome!
Another myth is that William's men wore orange; in fact they wore green identifying sprigs. Only recently I overheard Noel Duggan of Clannad www.edwins.co.uk fame (-> FW#6) attributing "The Foggy Dew" (-> FW#13, FW#20) to Padraic Pearse who actually dies in this song (-> FW#26). Let's hear John about it:
Some misunderstanding surrounds authorship of The Foggy Dew because the author, Father Charles O'Neill (1887-1963), is sometimes confused with his brother Patrick who was also a priest. Born in Portglenone, Antrim [-> FW#18], Father Charles spent all of his clerical life in the North at parishes in Belfast, Kilcoo and Newcastle, where he is buried. A photograph showing him in relaxed mood with De Valera and Frank Aiken confirms that he was at home in the highest of political circles.

Actually, I love this book. This is everything that folk song is about: music, entertainment, history, politics, emotion, a sense of place. One thing though, I'm missing a proper index. And at last, to answer a question raised by John. If you're looking for a recording of "Bagenal Harvey's Lament", look no further, Frank Harte did it (-> FW#7).

The book ends with "Sean South of Garryowen", one of those 20th century rapparees, thus prior to the eruption of the "Troubles" in 1969 (-> FW#23). IRA volunteer Sean South (1928-1957) from Limerick and his mates tried to raid the police station in Brookeborough, Co. Fermanagh, the song says it all.

It was on a dreary New Year's eve as the shades of night came down,
A lorry load of volunteers approached a Border town.
And as they moved along the street up to the barracks door,
They scorned the dangers they would meet, the fate that lay in store.
But the sergeant spoiled their daring plan, he spied them through the door,
Then the sten guns and the rifles soon, a hail of death did pour.
And when that awful night was past, two men lay cold as stone,
One from near the Border and one from Garryowen.
The song is set to the same tune as "Roddy McCorley" (see above). The composer is one Sean Costello (+1991), a Limerick man as well. A musician and writer himself, Sean South is regarded equally as a shy, gentle-natured, even-tempered man and narrow-minded McCarthyite, who railed against "reds", "atheists" and "Judeo-Masonic controlled sources".

In fact, contrary to the song words, Sean South was from the city centre of Limerick. The suburb Garryowen is better known from the drinking song, Irish Street Ballad Let Bacchus' sons be not dismayed but join me each jovial blade, which was adopted by General Custer as the regimental march of the 7th US Cavalry. Today there is also a town called Garryowen within the former Little Bighorn battlefield.

Music is the first faculty of the Irish, said Davis. Now let me tell you quick: The above cited Swiss scholar Georges Denis Zimmermann collected Songs of Irish Rebellion, which is the classic textbook on the subject. Originally from 1966, it has been re-published only recently. Other related items are Terry Moylan's The Age of Revolution in the Irish Song Tradition, and Danny Doyle's The Gold Sun of Irish Freedom. The latter with a detailed account on the 1798 rebellion.

If you are interested in Irish music in general, The Rough Guide to Irish Music is quite handy though filled to the brim with information. If you like it short, try Ciaran Carson's Irish Traditional Music or Gearoid O hAllmhurain A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music, or the classic study of Breandan Breathnach, Folk Music and Dances of Ireland. Leaving almost no topic untouched, it has to be The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, the ultimate A-Z reference guide.

But if you feel like singing an Irish song, remember:

The simple solutions suggested in the songs - on the one hand drive the British into the sea, on the other croppies lie down - are no longer viable. The old songs though won't simply be abandoned for they are too integral a part of both Catholic and Protestant history and culture, etched into our being in the cradle and in the cradles of our ancestors. However by looking at them afresh, in context and appreciating that the participants on both sides were mere victims of the chance and circumstance of history, it's my hope, however vain, that both traditions may be able to view the other with just a little more tolerance and appreciation. (J. McLaughlin)

In the end, I guess, Taigs and Prods like Guinness best instead the Waters of the Boyne.

Oíche mhaith, T:-)M.

Breathnach, Breandan. Folk Music and Dances of Ireland. Ossian, Cork, 1996, ISBN 1-900-428-652, Paperback, 152pp.
Carson, Ciaran. Irish Traditional Music. Appletree, Belfast, 198, ISBN 0-86281-168-6, Paperback, 72pp.
Doyle, Danny & Terence Folan. The Gold Sun of Irish Freedom - 1798 in Song and Story. Mercier, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 1-85635-208-0, Paperback, 202pp.
McLaughlin, John. One Green Hill - Journeys through Irish Songs. Beyond the Pale, Belfast, 2003, ISBN 1-900960-21-4, Hardcover, 233pp, £14,90.
Moylan, Terry. The Age of Revolution in the Irish Song Tradition - 1776 to 1815. Lilliput, Dublin, 2000, ISBN 1-901866-49-1, Paperback, 168pp.
O hAllmhurain, Gearoid. A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music. O'Brien, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 0-86278-555-3, Paperback, 160pp.
Vallely, Fintan (ed.). The Companion to Irish Traditional Music. Cork University Press, Cork, 1999, ISBN 1-85918-148-1, Hardcover, 478pp.
Wallis, Geoff & Sue Wilson. The Rough Guide to Irish Music. Rough Guides, London, 1999, ISBN 1-85828-642-5, Paperback, 599pp.
Zimmermann, Georges Denis. Songs of Irish Rebellion - Irish Political Street Ballads and Rebel Songs, 1780-1900. Four Courts, Dublin, 2002, ISBN 1-85182-629-7, Paperback, 342pp.

More Things Irish: FW#19, FW#20, FW#22, FW#24

T:-)M's Night Shift, FW#26

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