FolkWorld Issue 41 03/2010; Article by Walkin' T:-)M

Folk Music on the Silver Screen (4)
You Can't Find Out Everything from Books - The Secret of Kells

The Book of Kells, Folio 27v

The Book of Kells is one of the most famous illuminated mediaeval manuscripts. The Secret of Kells is an animated feature film inspired by Ireland's national treasure. Its Academy Award Nomination is only appropriate.

Irish Music on the Silver Screen

Nostalgic traditional music put into the musical score [The Quiet Man]; emigrants having a party with jigs and reels at the steerage deck [Titanic]; a police officer patrolling to Clannad's Celtic mysticism [Intermission]; an IRA attack to the rhythm of traditional dance music [Some Mother's Son]; British soldiers marching out to a Chieftains soundtrack [Rob Roy]; Ant soldiers singing we ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah, we slaughter termites just for fun, hurrah, hurrah [Antz]. Only recently composer Hans Zimmer described his Sherlock Holmes score as the sound of the Pogues joining a Romanian orchestra. There you have it. Irish music is everywhere. Even The Commitments, supposed to bring soul music to Dublin, can't do without a haunting Irish ballad and lively Irish step dancing. Here's some songs and tunes that can be heard on the silver screen, and there's probably more ...

Irish Musicians on the Silver Screen:

  • Ronan Browne (Agnes Browne)
  • Nollaig Casey (Hear My Song)
  • Pecker Dunne (Trojan Eddie)
  • Finbar Furey (Gangs of New York)
  • Cathal Hayden (Hear My Song)
  • Ron Kavana (Hidden Agenda)
  • Dolores Keane (Trojan Eddie)
  • Arty McGlynn (Hear My Song)
  • Maura O'Connell (Gangs of New York)
  • Sinead O'Connor (Butcher Boy)
  • Sharon Shannon (Ondine)
  • Desi Wilkinson (Agnes Browne)
  • Terry Woods (Hidden Agenda)

    More Musicians on the Soundtrack:

  • Harry Bradley (Boys from County Clare)
  • Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill (Dancing at Lughnasa)
  • Paddy & Seamus Glackin (Boys from County Clare)
  • Dolores Keane (Dancing at Lughnasa)
  • Donal Lunny (Brylcreem Boys, Last of the High Kings)
  • Eleanor McEvoy (Some Mother's Son)
  • Arty McGlynn (Ordinary Decent Criminal)
  • Liam O'Flynn (The Field, Hear My Song)
  • Declan Masterson (Some Mother's Son)
  • Paul McGrattan (Boys from County Clare)
  • Sinead O'Connor (Michael Collins)
  • Sharon Shannon (Brylcreem Boys, Last of the High...)
  • Davy Spillane (Michael Collins)
  • Stockton's Wing (The Field)
  • The Voice Squad (Waking Ned)

    Some Irish Songs on the Silver Screen:

  • Amhran na bhFian (Some Mother's Son, Wind That...)
  • Arthur McBride (Christmas Morning)
  • Bunch of Thyme (Molly's Way)
  • Down by the Sally Gardens (Dancing at Lughnasa)
  • Eileen Aroon (Molly..., perf. by S. Eggar & R. Harris)
  • Fields of Athenry (Veronica Guerin)
  • Fil, Fil A Run O (The Nephew)
  • Homes of Donegal (Dancing at Lughnasa)
  • I'll Tell Me Ma (Mickybo & Me)
  • Jimmy Mo Mhile Stor (Boys from County Clare)
  • Joe McDonnell (Hidden Agenda)
  • Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye (Dr. Strange..., Luck..., Antz)
  • Lass of Aughrim (Nora, perf. by E.McGregor & S.Lynch)
  • Maid in the Garret (I Racconti di Canterbury)
  • New York Girls (Gangs of New York)
  • Oró! Sé Do Bheatha 'Bhaile (Wind That Shakes the...)
  • Paddy's Lamentation (Gangs of New York)
  • The Parting Glass (Waking Ned)
  • Raglan Road (In Bruges)
  • Rocky Road to Dublin (Sherlock Holmes)
  • She is Far from the Land (Nora, perf. by E. McGregor)
  • She Moved Through the Fair (Ned Kelly, Michael...)
  • Skibbereen (Michael Collins, rec. by Liam Neeson)
  • Star of the County Down (Nora)
  • Tipping It Up to Nancy (Juno and the Paycock)
  • The Well Below the Valley (Magdalene Sisters
  • When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (Young Guns)
  • Whiskey in the Jar (The Nephew, Boys from County...)
  • Wild Colonial Boy (Ned Kelly)
  • Wild Rover (Boys from County Clare, Wind That...)
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Wind That Shakes...)
  • Young Ned of the Hill (Hidden Agenda)

    Some Irish Tunes on the Silver Screen:

  • A Spailpín A Rún (Titanic)
  • Blarney Pilgrim (Titanic)
  • Bonaparte's Retreat (Cold Mountain, perf. by B. Gleeson)
  • Boys On The Hilltop (Titanic)
  • Bucks Of Oranmore (Titanic)
  • Carolan's Draught (Ordinary Decent Criminal)
  • Doon Reel (Wind That Shakes the Barley)
  • Floating Crowbar (Ordinary Decent Criminal)
  • Fox Chase (Darby O'Gill)
  • Galway Bay (Quiet Man)
  • Garryowen (Molly Maguires)
  • Humours of Caledon (Titanic)
  • Isle of Innisfree (Quiet Man)
  • John Ryan's Polka (Titanic)
  • Kesh Jig (Ned Kelly)
  • Liliburlero (Barry Lyndon)
  • Mna na hEireann (Barry Lyndon)
  • Morning Star (Ned Kelly)
  • Morrison's Jig (Gangs of New York)
  • Music for a Found Harmonium (Hear My Song)
  • O'Sullivan's March (Rob Roy)
  • Red-Haired Lass (Titanic)
  • Star of Munster (Ordinary Decent Criminal, Ned Kelly)
  • Tatter Jack Walsh (Ned Kelly)
  • Wearing of the Green (Quiet Man)
  • Wild Colonial Boy (Quiet Man)

    Brendan Gleeson
  • The Book of Kells is the most famous of a group of manuscripts in what is known as the Insular style, created from the 6th to the 9th century AD in monasteries with Irish, Scottish and Anglo-Saxon foundations. It comprehends the four Gospels of the New Testament plus various introductions and was transcribed approx. 800 AD. The name is derived from the Abbey of Kells in County Meath, Ireland, which was its home for much of the mediaeval period. It is widely believed that the book's production was begun at Iona Abbey and continued at Kells.

    The text is accompanied by many full-page miniatures as well as decorated initials and small figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, often tied into complicated knots, which appear throughout the text. The knot work has many parallels in Celtic metalwork and stone carving of the period, motifs that are still used today in jewellery and tattoos. The pigments for the colourful illustrations would have been imported from the Mediterranean and, in the case of the lapis lazuli, as far as Afghanistan.

    The Secret of Kells

    Kells Abbey was plundered by Vikings in the 10th century. The earliest historical reference to the Book of Kells can be found in 1007 AD; the Annals of Ulster record that the great Gospel of Columkille, the chief relic of the Western

    The Secret of Kells

    Brendan: You can't find out ev-erything from books, you know.
    Aidan: I think I read that once.
    World, was wickedly stolen during the night from the western sacristy of the great stone church at Cenannas on account of its wrought shrine
    . The manuscript was recovered a few months later under a sod - only its gilded cover was gone. It is generally believed that the great Gospel of Columkille is the Book of Kells.

    One millennium afterwards, The Secret of Kells (working title: Brendan and the Secret of Kells) is an Irish-Belgian-French animated feature film by Cartoon Saloon, an animation house from Kilkenny, Ireland, that premiered at last year's Berlin International Film Festival. Director Tomm Moore relates the creation of The Book of Kells from the perspective of 12-year-old Brendan, who is living with his uncle, the stern Abbot Callach Cellach (voice: Brendan Gleeson), at Kells Abbey.

    The Abbot is preoccupied with the fortification of Kells against the invading Vikings. Brendan’s life changes when the master illuminator Aidan arrives with the famous book as a refugee from Iona. Brendan is captivated by the art of decoration and illustration. To complete the book, Aidan needs certain berries to derive colour from. Brendan slips away into the woods where he meets the enchanting fairy girl Aisling and had eventually to fight the demon Crom Cruach.

    The Secret of Kells

    Whereas the narrative of the film is rather straightforward and predictable, the visuals are a feast for the eye. The stylised cartoons are directly inspired by the Book of Kells’ illustrations. The haunting soundtrack had been created by Bruno Coulais, one of the most sought-after composers of French film music.

    Coulais' music can be heard in blockbusters such as Les rivières pourpres [The Crimson Rivers, 2000] and Vidocq [2000], TV series such as Le comte de Monte Cristo [The Count of Monte Cristo, 1998] and Balzac [1999], and docu features such as Le peuple migrateur [Winged Migration, 2001] and Oceans [2009].

    His musical style is changing from one film to another, but often there is a certain affinity for world music and mixing different musical cultures. While Bruno Coulais composed and orchestrated the soundtrack, the music is performed by members of the Irish band Kíla, namely Colm O Snodaigh (flute, whistles), Eoin Dillon (uilleann pipes), Dee Armstrong (fiddle, viola) and Rossa O Snodaigh and Lance Hogan (percussion).


    Kíla @ FolkWorld: FW#4, #19, #26, #26, #26, #30, #32, #33, #33, #34, #34, #35, #40

    Icon Sound @     Icon Movie @

    Bruno Coulais' soundtrack covers the full spectrum of emotions, and the delivery is opposed to the fireworks of Kíla's traditional Irish / world beat amalgam. The music should have been nominated for an Academy Award (as the film is nominated for Best Animated Feature Film).

    Kíla already had a guest appearance as a band in the short film Olive [2003], and before that they created the soundtrack to a theatre production of the BBC TV show Monkey! [2001]. For The Secret of Kells, Colm O Snodaigh and Dee Armstrong composed an additional piece. There is also Rossa's tune "Epicy" from the "Lemonade & Buns" album (2000) and Colm's "Cardinal Knowledge" from "Gambler's Ballet" (2007).

    Kells Abbey was dissolved in the 12th century AD, the Book of Kells remained in the then parish church until 1654. When Cromwell's cavalry was quartered therein, it was sent to Dublin for safekeeping. The book has remained ever since at Trinity College and has been on display to the public in the Old Library since the 19th century, a popular tourist destination today. The library usually displays two of the current four volumes at a time, one showing a major illustrated page, the other opened at two text pages with smaller decorations.

    Folk Music on the Silver Screen:
    (3) Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever - Robert Burns & Scotland

    Photo Credits: (1) Book of Kells, Folio 27v containing the symbols of the Four Evangelists (by Wikipedia); (2)-(4) The Secret of Kells, (5) Kíla (from website); (6) Brendan Gleeson (unknown).

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