Sweet Nightingale


For many years the Howth Singing Circle produced a magazine called The Sweet Nightingale, which included news, photos, stories etc.  We now have a new series.

Here is the latest:


The Sweet Nightingale February 2021














Uachtaráin: Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh

Saoithe: Paddy Daly, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 16, December 2020

The Best Laid Plans

Covid continues to threaten us all and deny us opportunities to meet together and enjoy singing and playing music. Our best wishes to everyone, stay strong and stay healthy. We have tried to maintain contact through our Zoom sessions, a learning curve for us all – those administering the sessions, those performing and those just watching or listening. You have let us know about your experiences and in this Nightingale you will find some hopefully helpful notes to enable everyone get the most out of their Zoom experience.
We have an exciting Burns Nicht weekend organised – albeit it will be done virtually – and details appear below. In the meantime, may we wish everyone peace and health for 2021.

Uachtaráin Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh

As you will know from the tribute published in The Sweet Nightingale, no, 16, September 2020, the Howth Singing Circle (HSC) invited Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh to become our Uachtaráin.

That honour was formally conferred on him at the November Zoom session of the HSC, a night on which we launched Young Singer/Musician in Residence Cathal Caulfield’s pamphlet and recordings, a launch described in detail below. The conferral was performed by Daire Ó Baoill and his short address is carried here with a facsimile of the framed certificate that was presented to Diarmuid to mark his inauguration.

Diarmuid a Chara,

Thar ceann Ciorcal Ceoil Bhinn Eadair, is ónair mhór domhsa cúpla focal a rá anseo anocht agus tú ag ceiliúradh oíche speisialta agus Uachtarán an chumann bronnta ort. Tá a fhios again uilig go bhfuil an t-aitheantas seo mar Uachtarán tuillte go mór agat mar go dtugann tú do am, do shaothar agus do chomhairle go fial fairsing do achan bhall den chumann.

Ar nóta pearsanta, bhí tú thar a bheith cuidiúil agus cairdiúil liomsa ón chéad oíche a tháinig mé agus spreag tú i gcónaí mé le ceol ar an tsean-nós.

Ar mo shon fhéin agus ar shon Ciorcal Ceoil Bhinn Eadair, níonn muid comhghairdeas ó chroí leat agus go mbeidh rath agus bláth ort; agus go mbainfidh tú sult agus pléisiúr as do cheannaireacht mar Uachtarán an Chiorcal Ceoil Bhinn Eadair.

Mise do chara, Daire Ó Baoill

Diarmuid in full flow with the Harvest Basket in the Pier House, c2002, and at a recent Burns Nicht (photograph by Colm Keating)

It was with great sadness that we learned that Diarmuid had passed away. His funeral on Tuesday, 17 November was a moving tribute to him with friends playing beautiful music and delivering thoughtful and wonderfully considered orations. Despite Covid, many were moved to attend the church, while many, many more followed the live stream of the funeral mass. This was, of course, a small fraction of the attendance that would have occurred had the virus not imposed restrictions as Diarmuid was known and respected throughout Ireland and beyond in the worlds of traditional music, song and lore; Irish language publishing and arts; story-telling and local history; not to mentions his hundreds of friendships.

Howth Singing were asked to sing ‘The Parting Glass’ as Diarmuid left the chapel and we were joined by others who felt moved to join this choral tribute to a friend.

Howth Singing Circle salutes you Diarmuid and extends condolences to Áine, his children and grandchildren and their extended families, and his countless friends. We will miss someone whose contribution has been immense and irreplaceable.

You can read a tribute to in the latest online edition of Fonn, ‘Ómós Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh’ https://fonn.online/ms-diarmuid-cathasaigh-p848-215.htm

Using Zoom at Our Zoom Sessions

 As with everyone else, we have been learning as we go along with the Howth Singing Circle Zoom sessions. Members sent in a number of complaints, queries, suggestions and appeals for assistance regarding how to get the best out of your Zoom experience and we drew up the following pointers which we hope will prove of use.

We are all missing our live singing sessions, but like other groups Howth Singing Circle (HSC) has gone the online route to keep us all connected. Thank you to everyone who has joined us on Zoom. We appreciate your interest in our club and look forward to seeing and hearing you all again. As we develop our Zoom expertise and in response to questions from some of you, here is some information on HSC sessions and a few tips on how to make them as enjoyable as possible for you and everyone else.

In HSC sessions we normally have two Bean/Fear a Tí who host the night and they call three singers at a time.  

  • when called, unmute yourself and proceed – you will be heard, so no need to ask.
  • at the end of each three items everyone should unmute themselves – this allows us all to hear applause and some comments and creates an inclusive, lively atmosphere – but please remember to mute again when the next person is being called.
  • we want to create a sense of company, so it’s good to be able to see everyone properly – make sure you are sitting comfortably and well positioned facing towards the camera. Likewise, it’s preferable not to have blank screens – we all want to see each other.
  • please keep sleeve notes to a minimum – lengthy introductions take up valuable time and may result in others not being called.   You can use the chat if you wish to let people know about your song.
  • it’s best if you sing a song you know – if you do have to consult words or notes best to have the words in front of you and in large print. Otherwise, if you’re looking down, the sound can be muffled and all we will see is the top of your head.
  • the chat room is there for communication. Use it to message everyone or to contact someone privately.   The Bean/Fear a’Tí may send messages to alert people they are about to be called.

Technical details:

Muting/unmuting / video buttons / viewing options / chat option

  • the mute and video buttons are usually found at the bottom left on your screen
  • viewing option usually at top right of screen
  • chat room and participants buttons at bottom centre of screen

Viewing the session / your position on screen / video

  • check how you appear on screen and adjust your camera angle if necessary.
  • create an image to represent you if you need to disappear for a moment – making a cup of tea or whatever – this is preferable to a black screen. (Click on participants, your name, ‘more’ and ‘edit profile picture’)
  • we are aware that if you have a bad internet connection you may only be able to attend in audio mode – that’s fine and we do understand.
  • choose either Gallery or Speaker view – you can alternate between the two
    • Gallery View gives you twenty or more small participants on screen
    • Speaker View gives you whoever is speaking as full screen image, with a few small thumbnails

Streaming on Facebook or You Tube

  • if Howth Singing Circle simultaneously streams any session on Facebook or You Tube, you will be told in advance and have the choice not to participate

Contribution Box https://howthsingingcircle.com/donate/

  • Howth is following others’ lead and organising a Contribution Box to allow you make a contribution to cover ongoing expenses – like the fees to register for Zoom, Young Singer in Residence and other initiatives – and any contribution will be welcome
  • Howth Singing Circle publishes its annual accounts in The Sweet Nightingale and so you can see where your money goes.

Ann Riordan

Luke Cheevers: Four Score

Our friend Luke Cheevers recently celebrated his eightieth birthday. Originally from Ringsend but long living in Marino, he is most associated with An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club founded by Tim Dennehy and Dónal De Barra in 1979. Luke has, of course, regularly been out to Howth for sessions in the old Lighthouse pub and was a regular presence in the Howth Singing Circle (HSC) from its earliest days. He has been a valued member of the HSC groups performing at the Annual Singathon for St Francis Hospice, other festival and fund-raising events, and the Burns Nicht. Indeed, the striking linen portrait of Robert Burns that graces the stage at each Burns Nicht was kindly donated by Luke. His vocal and terpsichorean performance – with a carefully selected ‘victim’ – of ‘Slip, Jigs & Reels’ has become a legendary memory of the annual Burns weekend.

As a boy, Luke remembers his mother singing ballads like ‘Galway Bay’ and ‘Teddy O’Neill’, while his father favoured cowboy and music hall songs. Luke himself likes westerns and has a general interest in films. He travelled around Ireland listening to noted traditional singers like Sarah Ann O’Neill, Geordie Hanna, Tom Lenihan, Liam Weldon, and Frank Harte. He is, however, just as interested in ‘unknown’ singers, his warm welcome to An Góilín one that encouraged many a newcomer, young or old, to sing. His specialism is Dublin songs which, as he says himself, he performs rather than just sings.

Both as a Fear an Tí and performer, Luke can have an audience in stitches with his theatricality and wit. A famous song in that genre is his version of ‘Treacherous Waves of Lough Muck’ which he recorded on his CD, Just Me Sagging Shelf, http://claddaghrecords.com/index.php/luke-cheevers-it-s-just-me-saggin-shelf.html That said, he can also interpret great ballads like ‘The Flying Cloud’ or his own ‘The Ouzel Galley’, https://vimeo.com/24721639. A fraction of Luke’s huge repertoire can be accessed on the ITMA website, http://Luke Cheevers: Four Score Our friend Luke Cheevers recently celebrated his eightieth birthday. Originally from Ringsend but long living in Marino, he is most associated with An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club founded by Tim Dennehy and Dónal De Barra in 1979. Luke has, of course, regularly been out to Howth for sessions in the old Lighthouse pub and was a regular presence in the Howth Singing Circle (HSC) from its earliest days. He has been a valued member of the HSC groups performing at the Annual Singathon for St Francis Hospice, other festival and fund-raising events, and the Burns Nicht. Indeed, the striking linen portrait of Robert Burns that graces the stage at each Burns Nicht was kindly donated by Luke. His vocal and terpsichorean performance – with a carefully selected ‘victim’ – of ‘Slip, Jigs & Reels’ has become a legendary memory of the annual Burns weekend. As a boy, Luke remembers his mother singing ballads like ‘Galway Bay’ and ‘Teddy O’Neill’, while his father favoured cowboy and music hall songs. Luke himself likes westerns and has a general interest in films. He travelled around Ireland listening to noted traditional singers like Sarah Ann O’Neill, Geordie Hanna, Tom Lenihan, Liam Weldon, and Frank Harte. He is, however, just as interested in ‘unknown’ singers, his warm welcome to An Góilín one that encouraged many a newcomer, young or old, to sing. His specialism is Dublin songs which, as he says himself, he performs rather than just sings. Both as a Fear an Tí and performer, Luke can have an audience in stitches with his theatricality and wit. A famous song in that genre is his version of ‘Treacherous Waves of Lough Muck’ which he recorded on his CD, Just Me Sagging Shelf, http://claddaghrecords.com/index.php/luke-cheevers-it-s-just-me-saggin-shelf.html That said, he can also interpret great ballads like ‘The Flying Cloud’ or his own ‘The Ouzel Galley’, https://vimeo.com/24721639. A fraction of Luke’s huge repertoire can be accessed on the ITMA website, www.itma.ie/goilin/singer/cheevers_luke

A lovely portrait of Luke taken from the ITMA website and Luke as part of the annual Singathon for St Francis Hospice at Sutton Methodist Church – l-r, Noel Kelly (Howth Pipe Band), Fergus Russell, Niamh Parsons, Willie O’Connor, Tony Fitzpatrick, Ann Riordan, Eugene McEldowney, Luke, Gerry O’Connor, Helen Lahert, Walter Kennedy, Eddie Phillips, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Laurence Bond

Howth Singing Circle sent their best wishes to Luke and his wife Dolores on the occasion of Luke’s eightieth and acknowledge all he has done for our Circle over the years.

Many more of them Luke and thank you

September Zoom Session

Howth Singing Circle commenced its Twentieth Anniversary year with a session on Thursday 20 September. This was our first venture into an open Zoom session and we hope that we will only have to remain in a ‘virtual’ singing environment for a short while. Mna a’Tí for the evening were Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan and we were delighted to welcome thirty-five guests to the session, with representation from Bray to Balerno, from Clontarf to Chicago, with a myriad of places in-between.

The highlight of the night was the ‘Three-in-a-Row’ spot which featured Eddie Phillips, a long-time and valued stalwart of Howth Singing Circle. Eddie’s performance was a tour-de-force. Firstly, he gave a beautiful rendition of Thomas Moore’s ‘Meeting of the Waters’, which brought Eddie back to his roots in County Wicklow. His second song, Don MacClean’s ‘Frightened Atmosphere’ whose chorus ‘I love you for your courage in this frightened atmosphere’, was a timely reassurance to us all in the slightly bewildering Covid times in which we find ourselves.   Finally, Eddie gave a moving interpretation of Sean Mone’s ‘Rosalita and Jack Campbell,’ demonstrating the depth and breadth of his singing and song knowledge. Thank you, Eddie, for providing such a powerful start to our featured singers’ spot in our twentieth year.

Including Eddie, twenty-eight performers contributed on the night, too many to list, but here are a few to give a flavour of the night   For the autumnal season Kay Burke recited Heaney’s’ Blackberry Picking’, Frank Callery the ‘Ode to Autumn,’ Tony Fitzpatrick sang ‘Westlin’ Winds’ and, somewhat incongruously, Martyn Wyndham-Read ‘Roved Out One May Morning’! In line with our participants being spread across the globe, the songs took us in many directions – to the ‘Mountains of Mourne’ (Úna Kane), ‘Donegal Danny’ (Tom Finn), a ‘Liquor Store in Texas’ (Laurence Bond), ‘Isles o’ Hirta’ (Gerry O’Connor) and ‘Squirrel Hill’ (Niamh Parsons). This was a slightly surreal start of our twenty-first season, but all rose to the challenge of the Howth Singing Circle’s virtual session and we look forward to the rest of the year’s celebrations with anticipation.

Ann Riordan

Autumn Harvest Zoom Session, October

Wow! What a night!   The Howth Singing Circle continued its Twentieth Anniversary celebrations on the theme ‘Autumn Harvest’ via Zoom. Ann Riordan took control of the technical demands of keeping all the participants involved over a two-and-a-half hour session. The night was ably co-hosted by Fear agus Bean an Tí Gerry O’Connor and Helen Lahert with their usual aplomb. Such was the interest in the night that some of our regulars and friends did not get an opportunity to be called. Next time !

There were many standout moments with a variety of songs, poetry and music. We were delighted to see Tony McGaley back in action and he did not disappoint with memories of boyhood trips to orchards in South County Dublin and the wonderful poem by Séamus Heaney, ‘Blackberries’. A beardless Tony Fitzpatrick provided a concertina accompaniment to a song with Howth connections. His CD in aid of Dublin Simon, Sailors & Whalers is still available on Bandcamp don’t forget – https://tonyfitzpatrick.bandcamp.com/album/sailors-and-whalers. Niamh Parsons set a high standard as usual while ‘ironing out’ a few domestic chores. Andy Burke told us to beware of the Wexford ladies as he sang ‘The Bantry Girls’ Lament’. Máire Ní Bhaoill sang ‘An Chéad Mháirt’ telling of a boating tragedy in Donegal. Martina Kearney sang the ballad ‘Erin the Green’ followed by Bernie Dermody’s rendition of the Percy French song ‘Cutting the Corn’.

Eugene McEldowney entertained us with a classic Robbie Burns song ‘When Rosy May Comes In Wi’ Flowers’ and Walter Kennedy brought us ‘round and round’ the Windmills. Annie Reid, joining us from Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, treated us to the poem ‘I Just Want To Hug My Mum’ which was followed by Máiríde Woods’ ‘Three in a row’, the highlight of the night, entertaining us with a selection of poems and songs. Her tribute to the French actress and singer Juliet Greco was her version of the love song ‘When Autumn Leaves start to Fall’ en français and in English.

A memory of our last Burns Nicht with Tony Fitzpatrick leading the Howth Singing Circle Choir in ‘The Greenland Whale Fishery’, l-r, Brenda O’Riordan, Manus O’Riordan, Úna Kane, Fergus Carey, Helen Lahert, Finola Young, Tom Finn, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Niamh Parsons, Tony Fitzpatrick, Paddy Daly, Antoinette Daly, Gerry O’Connor, Edie Phillips, Francy Devine.

The photograph is a typical Colm Keating delight

We welcomed Claudia Anderson from the USA with a song her father sang to her as a child; Stephen Connor from Belfast Singing Circle sang the Armagh song ‘The Hills of Granemore’; Joe Gallagher from the Comeraghs sang about the sweet Dungarvan homes; Joe O’Connor gave us all a treat with a poem about the travelling man ‘Jack Monaghan’; while Michael O’Leary from Massachusetts was in fine form and sang a beautiful version of ‘The Blackbird’. We had a Fingal sporting song from Dave O’Connor fresh from his workshop sessions at the Góilín’s Frank Harte weekend.

George Henderson from the Bray Singing Circle sang about a girl called Nancy while Larry O’Toole, an avid Bohs fan, kept a weather eye on Dundalk‘s progress as he read Michael Hartnett’s poem ‘Billie Mulvihill’. Mick Fowler matched this with his new poem from Japan ‘The Master Carpenter’. There were additional songs from Dáire Ó Baoill, Eddie Phillips, Antoinette Daly, Fergus Carey, Liam Ó Droma and Mick Dunne. Ann Riordan recited Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Stoney Grey Soil’ in memory of Charlie Mooney; Eileen Clancy recited ‘Winter Birds’; and Kay Burke reminded us all to look out for the harvest moon visible in Howth all week with Walter De La Mere’s ‘Silver’, a fitting end to an autumn evening.

The evening concluded with ‘The Parting Glass’ led by Francy Devine and a reminder of the next Zoom session was fixed for 5 November. The session was very successful from a technical point of view. The unmuting worked well and contributed to the lively atmosphere of the evening. Well done Ann.

Brian & Mary Doyle

Launch of Cathal’s Pamphlet: November Zoom

In November, Laurence Bond hosted the launch of Howth Young Singer/Musician in Residence Cathal Caulfield’s pamphlet and recordings of comic songs in the Munnelly Collection on a night of firsts for the Howth Singer Circle. Thanks to Ann Riordan and Niamh Parsons’ behind-the-scenes work, we now have a PayPal account to enable people to purchase the pamphlet or make donations; we streamed the launch event live on Facebook and, as of the time of writing, over 4,000 people viewed it; and the event was simultaneously recorded. Managing a large Zoom attendance – with folk coming and going and constant texts/e-mails from people wanting to know codes or where such-and-such a button is – is demanding and requires constant attention making for a tiring night for the evening’s unseen technical administrator, Ann Riordan, so big thanks to her.

Cathal Caulfield – photograph taken from the Zoom recording – and Annette & Tom Munnelly at the launch of a collection of essays in Tom’s honour a few years back

 The launch of Tales of Humour, Wonder & Woe featured Cathal singing three of the songs in the publication – ‘Old Brobston Brown’, collected from Patsy Johnston; Micho Russell’s version of ‘The Wonderful Nose’ with fiddle accompaniment; and Rose Daly’s ‘The Neat Little Window’. Cathal introduced the songs giving their provenance and spoke generally about the project.

Críostóir Mac Carthaigh of the National Folklore Collection (NFC) in University College Dublin – which houses the vast Munnelly Collection – congratulated Cathal and acknowledged Anna Bale and Rónán Galvin who had assisted with the project and guided him to the sources. Críostóir announced that Munnelly’s meticulous index to the English-language songs he collected – all 12,600 of them – was being digitised and would form part of a website dedicated to the Munnelly Collection which will be launched imminently. Críostóir reminisced about Tom Munnelly’s Folklore Department days and praised Cathal’s diligence, enthusiasm and scholarship.

Liam O’Connor, Director, Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA), recalled tutoring the young Cathal – as did Liam’s sister Aoife (concertina) – recalling that this student stood out as one who pursued sources, keenly researched fiddle players and their music, and generally showed an application and comprehension of the craft of fiddle playing that lifting him from the norm. Liam reflected on his own experience of the NFC and the Munnelly Collection, his investigations of P.W. Joyce and the Gleann Oisín concertina player Eugene Barkman, and Munnelly’s inspiring assistance. He recalled Munnelly’s role in the Arts Council and as the guiding first Chair of the ITMA. He recalled Brendan Kennelly’s ‘all songs are living ghosts and long for a living voice’, praising Cathal for his breath of life given to his chosen songs. Liam hoped it would inspire other young people to discover and sing songs and explore the sources contained in the NFC and ITMA. For Liam, the purpose of archives was to serve the living tradition and the Howth Singing Circle and Cathal had done that admirably.

The final speaker at the launch was Annette Munnelly who expressed her delight at the project, congratulating Cathal on his work. She was very pleased that Tom Munnelly’s work was becoming more accessible and that young people were looking to it for new songs – which were of course old songs. The HSC thanked Annette and her brother Jerry O’Reilly for their assistance with the project; Alan Woods and Brian Doyle in the ITMA for recording the songs which are available through info@itma.ie; and the NFC and their staff for their encouragement and support throughout. Christy Hammond (CRM Design & Print) produced an attractive publication. Our biggest thanks of course are to Cathal Caulfield who proved a wonderful Young Singer in Residence, bringing humour, considerable talent and an ever-willing contribution to our activities.

For more information on the booklet, see https://howthsingingcircle.com/cds-books/

Críostóir Mac Carthaigh, National Folklore Collection (NFC) and Liam O’Connor, Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) who spoke eloquently at the launch, enriching the occasion [pictures taken from the Zoom launch]

Liam O’Connor began the informal part of the evening with three fiddle tunes, a hornpipe and two reels, the last ‘Farewell to Miltown Malbay’ in honour of Annette and Tom Munnelly. Over thirty singers followed, their song choices varying from the comic to the macabre. Helen Lahert began things with Cisco Houston’s ‘The Frozen Logger’ which led over the next few days to multiple cases of scalded thumbs being treated in Beaumont Hospital; Claudia Anderson performed the Nora Cleary song ‘The Codfish’ – and Claudia is a good performer on the Zoom screen; and Carole Prior delivered an Adam McNaughtan classic Shakesperean reduction of ‘The Scottish Play’. Alan Woods sang a song Tom Munnelly collected from Alan’s grandfather Michael Moran; Marianne McAleer sang like a lark in the morning; and George Henderson disappeared below mountains of hazlet, polony, black pudding and brawn. Eddie Duffy from Penrhiwceiber in South Wales (via Inishowen) walked along ‘Sweet Baltray’; Ian Russell in one of the night’s most dramatic renditions – Shakespeare notwithstanding’ – got up to some ‘dirty work’; and Mick Dunne found himself scalped in the Crossmaglen barber’s chair – again. The funniest song of the night was undoubtedly Tony McGaley’s ‘I Am Me Own Grandpa’, while Niamh Parsons ‘My Willie’ and Stephen Connor (Belfast Singing Circle) with a 1798 ‘funny song’ ‘The Cow & The Piper’ added gravitas to proceedings.

Daire Ó Baoill, after singing beautifully, formally inaugurated Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh as Uachtaráin, HSC, in a moving ceremony that is described elsewhere. Appropriately, Cathal finished the night with ‘He’s Gone & On to Glory’, thanking those who had said nice things about him! They were all true, Cathal! The night was streamed by Howth Singing Circle, ITMA and NFC and generated a huge response, so a big thank you to all concerned.

Note that you can access Cathal’s recordings of the songs in the pamphlet on this Bandcamp site – with thanks to the ITMA.


More Twentieth Anniversary memories – our late first President Willie O’Connor; Nellie Weldon enjoying her trip to the seaside with Colm Keating next to her wondering when he will be getting ice cream – Stiofán Ó hAoláin at the top table; and Mick Fowler engrossed by Luke Cheevers under full sail

Howth Singing Circlers 2: Eugene McEldowney

For our Twentieth Anniversary, The Sweet Nightingale will profile some of our regular personalities and learn a little about their musical journeys. Eugene McEldowney has been one of the outstanding singers and personalities from the Howth Singing Circle’s earliest days, his presence and wonderful voice always commanding respectful attention. Highlights for many over the twenty years were Eugene’s renditions of ‘Pleasant and Delightful’, ‘The Recruited Collier’ or, especially, the McGarrigle Sisters’ haunting ‘Mendocino’, the three songs illustrate Eugene’s versatility and range. Yes, Eugene McEldowney has been an outstanding and much-loved personality over our two decades.

Eugene McEldowney was born in Belfast in 1943, a city of blackouts, food rationing, occasional bombing raids and war-related industrial activity. His mother sang Moore’s Melodies like ‘The Minstrel Boy’ so he says ‘I literally learned to sing at my mother’s knee’. The only song he recalled his father singing was ‘I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen’, Kathleen being his mother’s name. Eugene discovered that it was not an Irish song at all but written in 1875 by German-American Thomas Westendorf, John McCormack making it popular. Radio Éireann, especially the Irish Sweepstakes programme and The Waltons were his source for music and song with skipping and other street songs like ‘The Doffing Mistress’, ‘The Band-tyero’, ‘I’ll Tell Me Ma’ and ‘My Aunt Jane’.

The Winnowers, l-r, Tom Hickland, Eugene McEldowney, Ray Maguire, Rhona Toner, Fergus Woods, Brian Toner; and Eugene with the late Al O’Donnell, the HSC’s first guest

At Holy Cross Primary School, Dermot Magennis was the Music Teacher and Director of the church choir. Clashing with his preferred choice of football, evening choir practice nevertheless installed good technique in the young McEldowney through breathing, diction and voice projection exercises. At secondary school, a favourite was George Sigerson’s ‘The Mountains of Pomeroy’, perhaps a re-working of an 1814 broadside called ‘The Mountains High’ which begins ‘One day upon my rambles, some miles beyond Pimroy’. Sigerson’s song introduced Eugene to the shadowy figure of Reynardine, half man-half fox who seduces a young woman.

Once a gramophone came into the house, new musical worlds opened, a first record being by Richard Hayward, actor and folklorist, which ‘had ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ on one side and ‘The Old Orange Flute’ on the other’. Some Orange songs remain in Eugene’s repertoire like the triumphant ‘The Bold Orange Heroes of Comber’ and ‘Dolly’s Brae’ or the humorous ‘The Old Orange Flute’. His parents hosted house parties where everyone sang. He enjoyed these occasions enormously and heard songs like ‘Skibbereen’, ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’, Roddy McCorley’ and ‘Are You Right, Moriarity’. Although not conscious of it, this was an important exercise in transmission by oral tradition for young McEldowney.

In 1960, Eugene left Belfast to work in London. He became involved with the Labour Party Young Socialists where there was as much singing as politics. In the Clarion hostel in Kent, he heard English traditional songs and London Cockney favourites like ‘My Old Dutch’ and ‘My Old Man Said Follow the Van’ as well as ‘The Internationale’, ‘The Red Flag’ and ‘Harry Was a Bolshie’, a song about Harry Pollitt, leader of the Communist Party. The song making the greatest impression was ‘The Ballad of Joe Hill’. In 1964, Eugene returned to study at Queen’s University as The Dubliners and Clancy Brothers were becoming famous. He recalls, ‘I think the influence of these groups is sometimes under-appreciated. They were resurrecting songs that had fallen out of fashion and bringing them to a young audience. They were also introducing new songs and not just from their own Irish heritage. We began to hear industrial ballads, songs of the sea, protest songs, songs of war and romance’.

Eugene joined Queen’s Folk Music Society through which he borrowed LPs of Scottish and English songs like ‘Bogie’s Bonny Belle’. He heard the work of Shirley Collins, Peter Bellamy, the Copper Family and Watersons. The latter’s unaccompanied, harmony singing had a lasting impact on him, ‘The Holmfirth Anthem’ still a firm favourite. He shared songs with David Hammond, Robin Morton, John Moulden, Dave Scott, Terry Brown and Tony McAuley, and learned about Dominic Behan, The McPeakes, Paddy Tunney, The Boys of the Lough and, especially, Sean O’Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann, Ewan MacColl and Bob Dylan. He had developed eclectic tastes.

Two great photographs of Eugene from Colm Keating and Eugene’s LP Irish Rebel Ballads – still available on Amazon!

In 1966, Billy McBurney of The Premier Record shop in Smithfield Market and Outlet Records, invited Eugene to make an LP called James Connolly, The Irish Rebel, to coincide with the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Rising. Fergus Woods asked him to join The Winnowers who were quite successful, performing in the Ulster Hall before The Dubliners. Luke Kelly was a big influence and ‘The Croppy Boy’ became an oft-sung song. Having taught English at St Malachy’s College where students included Cathal Goan and Martin O’Neill, in 1972 Eugene and his wife Maura moved toDublin and he began a career in the Irish Times. The paper’s folk reviewer George Hodnett’s ‘Monto’ was added to the McEldowney repertoire.

Moving to Howth, a neighbour was Boston College Professor and folk-enthusiast George Madous who introduced Eugene to the Australian Henry Lawson’s songs of shearing and outback life. Howth was full of great talent like banjo players Barney McKenna and his brother Seán Óg, piper Leo Rickard, Phil Lynott and the incomparable Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore. Then came the Howth Singing Circle and songs with Niamh Parsons, Luke Cheevers, Barry Gleeson, Al O’Donnell, Tom Crean, Siobhán Moore, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh and Paddy Daly. Through the HSC, Eugene went on to An Góilín, Clé Club and other singing events.

Eugene winning the Harvest Basket and on stage in Liberty Hall to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association with Liffey Banks, l-r, Noel Pocock, Nora Geraghty, Tony Murphy, and Eva & Des Geraghty

Eugene’s attitude to singing is epitomised by Robert Wadsworth Lowry’s 1869 song ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’, popularised by Pete Seeger in the 1960s. In these dark Covid times, the song’s sentiments keep Eugene McEldowney in fine voice and heart.

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

Although the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
But though the darkness ’round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging;
Since love is lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

(repeat first verse) 

Eugene sings ‘Blow the Man Down Down’, ‘Dashing Jimmy’, ‘I Wish I Was A Maid Again’, ‘Rocking the Cradle’, ‘The Croppy Boy’ and ‘The Unquiet Grave’, www.itma.ie/goilin/singer/mceldowney_eugene

More Memories & Videos

Some more photographic memories are provided here. We are interested in any of your images – especially from the Club’s early days. We are delighted to announce that we have commissioned two Videos that will reflect the various aspects of the Howth Singing Circle’s twenty years. It will be edited and assembled by Séamas Shiels to whom we are very grateful.

The Committee found it difficult to select those to be invited to contribute as there were so many excellent performers and outstanding contributions that suggested themselves. To assist in arriving at a representative selection, fourteen themes were agreed and then performers requested to provide material to represent or reflect those themes. The themes were – Pier House, Presidents, Community/Charity, Guests, Walks, Angling Club, Music, Young Singer in Residence, Oícheanta Gaelach, poetry, Burns Nicht, Fiddle Bus, Abbey Tavern, and ‘The Parting Glass’. We were delighted that everyone invited to contribute accepted with enthusiasm and we think the final productions will be of a high standard and reflect much of that the Howth Singing Circle is about.

More memories –Nan & Jack Barron who always spread sunshine; Áine Bean Uí Chathasaigh, Niamh Parsons & Ann Riordan in the Sea Angling Club; and Siobhán Moore – watched by Luke Cheevers and Seán Ó hEarcháin

One the most memorable and funniest guests Micil Ned Quinn from Mullaghbawn with Len Graham and singing for the Lifeboat at the Howth Prawn Festival with Willie O’Connor on the big screen – Tony Fitzpatrick, Luke Cheevers, Willie, Barry Gleeson, Fergus Russell and Niamh Parsons 

An Gie’s a Hand o Thine: Howth Burns Nicht 2021

Recognising that Covid would preclude us from running our Twentieth Burns Nicht in the normal fashion, we approached Edinburgh Folk Club and The World’s Room – Auld Reekie’s premier singers’ club – and asked would they be interested in jointly organising a weekend of events? They enthusiastically responded and John Barrow and David Francis have been working with the HSC to devise a weekend programme of events to be held on Saturday & Sunday, 23-24 January 2021. It promises to be a special and unique event with a concert of live and pre-recorded music and song on the Saturday and an Open Zoom Singing Session on the Sunday.

Since, moving the Burns Nicht to the Abbey Tavern, we have always sold out to our capacity of 180 and are grateful to have such sustained demand for the event. We felt we needed to respond to your support and produce an event that would be memorable, of high standard and one we can all enjoy and be proud of. Both the Edinburgh Folk Club – https://efc1973.com/ – and The World’s Room – http://theworldsroom.org/ – are run to the highest standards and we are honoured and delighted that they have agreed to co-host the weekend with Howth Singing Circle.

We are not, at the time of writing, in a position to detail the weekend’s events but we will circulate the programme as soon as it is finalised. We are hoping to have an electronic version of the brochure that we usually print and this will be an aide to those of you who attend the events either through Zoom or the live streaming on Facebook.

Remembering Liam Weldon

The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Liam Weldon’s death produced a number of tribute events. Although born in inner city Dublin in 1933, Liam is identified with Ballyfermot where he moved with his family. Here, he developed a life-long interest in Traveller culture, writing songs that reflected his anger at disadvantage, exclusion and poverty. His lyrics are powerful and memorable, his compositions fitting immediately and seamlessly into the tradition. He worked in Britain from sixteen years of age, returning to Dublin and singing, composing and running clubs like the Pavees Club in Slattery’s, Capel Street, and sessions in the Tailors’ Hall and the Brazen Head. In the 1970s, he sang and played bodhrán with ‘1691’ – the year the Treaty of Limerick was signed – a group that included Peter Browne, Matt Molloy, Tríona Ní Dhomnháill, and Tommy Peoples.

The first tribute night organised by the Howth Singing Circle by the late Andrew Clarke was to Liam. The night was graced by Nellie and Shay Weldon’s attendance and they have been fairly regular and always a most welcome visitors over the years. Liam’s best-known and much sung songs include ‘Dark Horse on the Wind’ – written in 1966 for the 50th Anniversary of the Rising, ‘Smuggling the Tin’ and ‘The Blue Tar Road’, the latter a protest against Dublin Corporation’s eviction of Traveller families from Cherry Orchard.

In contrast, Liam wrote extraordinary love songs like ‘My Love is a Well’ and ‘Via Exstasia’ demonstrating his extraordinary emotional range and capacity as a song-writer. You can hear Nellie and Shay on the ITMA website. To them and the rest of the Weldon family, we offer our best wishes as the anniversary occurs.

Inspired by Liam’s wonderful lyrics and Nellie’s beautiful singing, Francy Devine wrote the following tribute called ‘Liam’ and dedicated to Nellie.

nothing machine-turned,
yet an artistic elegance
about everything created,
master wordsmith,
time-served, delivering
joy and anger, insight
and far-sight, gathered
around flickering caravans
or warming winter parlour,
singing of blue tar, fraughans –
royal purple and black –
dark horses and smuggled tin,
fathomless wells, bleached
bones, a last leaf on
autumn’s broken bough.

And always he remained
indivisible from she,
his gentle raindrop
with the fierce cry,
guarding eye and clear
dream-time remembrance,
old and yet new,
a constant, considered
continuance of genius

Liam died on 28 November 1995, his loss still mourned but his influence and the regard in which he is held as an artist rising yet.

You can read of an ‘Intimate Tribute’ to Liam in the latest online edition of Fonn https://fonn.online/intimate-tribute-honours-liam-weldon-p862-213.htm

Next Events

Thurs 3 December, Zoom, Ann Riordan & Kay Burke, Christmas Special, ‘A Thrill of Hope –   The Weary World Rejoices’

Thurs 7 January, Zoom, Helen Lahert & Niamh Parsons, ‘Nollaig na mBan: Women’s Songs’

Thurs, 4 February, Zoom, Daire Ó Baoill, Oíche Gaelach le haoi speisialta 

Buíochas Mór

We thank those who have contributed to this Sweet Nightingale: Cathal Caulfield; Mary Doyle; Christy Hammond (CRM Design & Print); Colm Keating; Áine Bean Uí Chathasaigh; and the Howth Singing Circle Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Francy Devine, Brian Doyle, Helen Lahert, Daire Ó Baoill, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan.

‘No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that rock I’m clinging;

Since love is lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from Singing?’ 

Thank you all for your support in 2020, stay safe and

Peace and Health for 2021










The Sweet Nightingale Diarmuid O’C October 2020

Uachtaráin: Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh

Saoithe: Paddy Daly, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 15, September 2020

Special Presidential Issue: Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh

As we celebrate the Twentieth Anniversary of the Howth Singing Circle in these bizarre and dangerous times, it was decided that we would elect Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh as our new Uachtaráin to succeed the late Willie O’Connor – or Willie D. as he became known.








Diarmuid in song with Fergal Costello in the Pier House and applauding Niamh Parsons in The Abbey Tavern

Diarmuid is a Saoi of the Howth Singing Circle but it is absolutely appropriate that he now become our President. Diarmuid is one of a handful of people that can claim to have been with the Club in every one of its twenty years. He began by being much-respected as a singer – go háirithe amhráin i nGaeilge – and dramatic deliverer of recitations. Indeed, who could ever forget those occasions when the lights would suddenly go out in the Pier House as Diarmuid announced that Dangerous Dan McGrew was firing two shots and to – accompanying screams of terror and excitement from a shocked audience – a cannily concealed Dave O’Connor would twice fire Diarmuid’s starting pistol?

Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark,

And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.

Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,

While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that’s known as Lou.

Diarmuid has, of course, contributed to preserving and carrying traditional Irish culture for far longer than the two decades of the Howth Singing Circle. He was closely associated with singers and musicians in every county, especially when his job as a salesman took him around the country, his itinerary no doubt calculated to coincide with Fleadh, seisiún or calling in on some musical pal. His knowledge of songs in Irish and English is second to none. Much of his footnotes he gathered at source from the song-writer or air composer or from the singer or musician who is most associated with the piece. He delights in variations of songs or in contrasting the Louth version of the song or tune with that heard in Sliabh Luachra or an Antrim Glen.







Diarmuid leading ‘The Parting Glass’ at two Annual Dinners – left in Aqua with Jock Burns (concertina), Ann Riordan (Bean an Tí), Brian McCarthy (banjo), John Kelly (fiddle) and Jimmy Kelly; and right, in Ivan’s, Jimmy Good (sound), Seán McKeon (pipes), Liam O’Connor (fiddle) and Antoinette Daly

A beautiful singer, for many years Diarmuid was a stalwart at the weekly sessions of An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club in Dublin but his voice is equally recognisable in Gaoth Dobhair, An Rinn, Ros Muc or Corca Dhuibhne. Again, he searches out old versions of songs, researches their provenance, delights in the subtleties and nuances of the Irish, variations from each Gaeltacht. But then, he is steeped in gaelic literature having served for years on Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge and Áisíneacht Dáileacháin Leabhar (ÁIS) (the Books Distribution Agency). Once in a bookshop in Kemper (Quimper) in Brittany, the bookseller asked a Howth Singing Circler where they were from. They told him they were from a fishing village north of Dublin, to which he replied, ‘Ah – Howth! Ensuite, vous devez connaître Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh!’ They were proud to admit that they did. The book dealer knew Diarmuid through various Celtic language agencies and, of course, in exchanging books in Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish and Breton.








Diarmuid with Declan Fay, Anne and Niamh Parsons, and Johnny Nolan, stalwarts all; and right, Diarmuid with Cyril Guinan, Aidan and Joyce O’Hara and Áine Bean Uí Chathasaigh



A favourite singer of Diarmuid’s is Darach Ó Catháin, for many as good as any there has been. Once, at the seán-nós competition at the Meath Fleadh, Diarmuid won and Darach, then living in Rath Cáirn, was only runner up!  Nuair a míníodh an toradh, dúradh le Darach gur ‘toisc go raibh a fhuaimniú bocht’ (when the result was explained, Darach was told it was because ‘his diction was poor!’). It was typical that Diarmuid told this story against himself but equally typical that he held Darach in the deepest respect. Diarmuid lay the foundations upon which Stiofáin Ó hAoláin and Daire Ó Baoill have developed our annual Oícheanta Gaeilge. Is léir an grá atá ag Diarmuid don teanga agus a dhíograis i leith amhránaíocht seán-nós. Is cúis áthais dom ní amháin a chuid amhránaíochta féin a chloisteáil ach féachaint air agus é ag éisteacht go géar le hamhránaí, bileog súile, ag bualadh gáire.








Diarmuid and Colly Moore presenting Howth Singing Circle song sheets and copies of The Sweet Nightingale to Nicholas Carolan, Director, Irish Traditional Music Archive in The Pier House; and Diarmuid accepting Robert Kelly’s beautifully crafted wheel with Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill in the background

A noticeable characteristic of Diarmuid’s – and one that has typified his contribution to the Howth Singing Circle – is his welcoming and encouraging hand to singers and musicians, particularly young performers or those clearly unused to or unsure about performing. When the idea for a Young Singer in Residence was mooted, Diarmuid was an immediate enthusiast and displayed great encouragement to Ruth Clinton and Cathal Caulfield, our two Young Singers. Diarmuid brought many news ideas and occasions to the Howth Singing Circle, his Harvest Basket becoming an annual celebration of the end of summer and the beginning on a new season for the Club.

Cyril Guiney. Laurence Bond, Willie O’Connor, Tom Lantrey, Mary Doyle, Cian agus Séamus Ó Súilleabháin and Ann Riordan join Diarmuid in ‘The Parting Glass’ in the Angling Club

For many years, Diarmuid ran events in the Holybrook Hotel where singing, dancing and music were the high class order of the day. It was but one of many of his multi-faceted activities to promote and enjoy traditional music, song, dance and story teling. In Howth, he was often the only singer as gaeilge in an evening, with favourites ‘Thugamar Féin an Samradh Linn’ and ‘Mo Ghile Mear’. He often produces obscure versions of songs or long-lost trabnslations rooted out of his vast library, songs always relevant to the date, a commemoration or centenary or having a Howth connection. He collected anything to do with Howth and knew many of its more celebrated residents like Colm Ó Lochláinn. If you ever need the provenance of a song – in English or Irish – Diarmuid is your man and you will receive detailed notes, including those answering questions you did not even ask! In the days when the Cock Tavern held great sessions led by piper Leo Rickard and – when he was ashore – the legendary Bull Moore – Diarmuid demonstrated his command of the mouth organ, not an instrument regularly heard playing traditional music and even less so when leading sets of tunes. He can surely ‘make the harmonica talk’.








Diarmuid performing one of the best versions heard of Robert Burns ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ at the Annual Howth Burns Nicht, Catriona Crowe sitting in appreciation – Rabbie looks weel tricket tae; and Diarmuid in reflective voice in the Abbey Tavern

Originally from County Louth, Diarmuid and his wife Áine have contributed hugely to the Howth community. Active in the Church where Diarmuid sings and plays harmonica on regular occasions, he is also a central figure in the Howth Peninsula Heritage Society – http://www.howthheritage.com/ He has delivered numerous lectures and typically trawled through local newspapers and the minutes of the Howth Town Council to recover the history of the people and their activities. Diarmuid can be found in any progressive activity in the town – for to locals it is a town not a village – where his energy and ideas are welcomed.

Diarmuid with Andy Burke playing tunes in the Abbey with Eugene McEldowney looking on; Gerry O’Connor, Helen Lahert, Walter Kennedy, Eddie Phillips and Laurence Bond with Diarmuid after a Singathon for St Francis Hospice at Sutton Methodist Church; and a familiar sound, Diarmuid playing a fascinating medley

Returning to Diarmuid’s skill in delivering recitations – be they Robert Service’s Yukon adventures or Florence M. Wilson’s ‘The man From God Knows Where’ – it is rare to see a room held in stasis as Diarmuid changes the mood with a drop in his voice, that familiar flick of the head, an emphasis that catches its audience by surprise. Even though the room may have heard the story umpteen times before, like his pal Micil Ned Quinn from Mullaghbawn, it does not matter because the delivery is always fresh and exciting. Another favourite, one that reflects his love for Howth, is the poem ‘Tommy Swan’s Dog’, an episode in the many adventures of the old Evora Bar!







Diarmuid at the Annual Dinner in The House with, l-r, Antoinette & Paddy Daly, Niamh Parsons, Francy Devine, Áine Bean Uí Chathasaigh, Walter Kennedy, Ann Riordan, Gerry O’Connor and Laurence Bond, Isla Fitzgerald back to camera

Diarmuid at the Annual Singathon for St Francis Hospice at Sutton Methodist Churcjh, l-r, Noel Kelly (Pipe Major, St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band), Fergus Russell, Niamh Parsons, Willie D. O’Connor, Tony Fitzpatrick, Ann Riordan. Eugene McEldowney, Luke Cheevers, Gerry O’Connor, Helen Lahert, Walter Kennedy, Eddie Phillips and Laurence Bond


In addition to knowing every county in Ireland – together with its lore and legend – backwards, Diarmuid and Áine are well travelled from Alaska to Brazil, Scandinavia to Beijing, Russia to New York and many places in between. The pity it is, in C.J. Boland’s words that Diarmuid oft recited, that – as they were never in Mullinahone – they could not say they had ever travelled at all!

And I’d rather be strolling along the quay,

And watching the river flow,

Than growing tea with the cute Chinee,

Or mining in Mexico.

And I wouldn’t much care for Sierra Leone,

If I hadn’t seen Killenaule,

And the man that was never in Mullinahone

Shouldn’t say he had travelled at all”









Diarmuid in full flow on our Walk – ‘Down By Yon Flowery Garden’ – in the National Botanic Gardens and Willie O’Connor


Before we finish with ‘The Parting Glass’ as Diarmuid has done at the close of virtually every Howth Singing Circle session over the last twenty years, let us celebrate his many achievements and, in asking him to become our President, recognise the amazing energy and commitment he has brough to the HSC which he has promoted far and wide. He has brought an informed perspective on traditional music, many new friends and guests through his extensive contacts around Ireland, and a dimension to our activities that has reflected his unique, dynamic and generous personality.









Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Uachtarán, Ciorcal Ceoil Bheann Éadair,

táimid ag beannú duit!

Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, President, Howth Singing Circle,

we thank and salute you


Next Zoom Session, Comic Songs

Thursday, 5 November 2020 at 8pm

Launch of Young Singer in Residence Cathal Caulfield’s

Tales of Humour, Wonder & Woe

launch by Críostóir Mac Carthaigh (NFC), Annette Munnelly

& Liam O’Connor (ITMA)


for Zoom codes contact rioann@gmail.com






















Sweet Nightingale 2020 Sept pdf

Saoithe: Paddy Daly, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 14, September 2020 

The Silence of Covid 19 

We begin this Sweet Nigtingale by trusting that everyone is healthy and safe. We have missed your company and songs.

As this is being typed, 11 August, matters are still very uncertain as regards when we might be able to hold our monthly sessions again. We will begin what will be our Twentieth Anniversary season by hosting an Open Zoom session on Thursday, 10 September – contact and registering details to follow.

We have attempted to maintain contact with HSC regulars through posting material on our FB page and by holding a number of private Zoom sessions. These sessions were restricted to a maximum of twenty screens with invitations confined to those who have been regular monthly attenders. The sessions proved enjoyable, their privacy and small scale allowing for conversation and craic as well as for singing. An Open Session will presumably be different and probably larger in scale, although we do not imagine Howth attracting the sort of numbers other similar singing clubs have done.

So, we hope to see and hear some of you on 10 September.

Twentieth Anniversary

The limitations imposed by Covid have stymied much of what was being planned to celebrate our Twentieth Anniversary. We will, however, hold a number of events and we would like as much assistance as possible.

We invite anyone to let us have your thoughts on some of the following questions, please –

  • what are your favourite Howth Singing Circle memories?
  • which singers or songs stand out when you reflect on your times at the HSC/
  • do you have Pier House memories you would like to share?
  • do you have Sea Anglers’ Club you would like to share?
  • do you have Abbey Tavern you would like to share?
  • what do you recall of Burns Nichts, Singathons and Singing the Fishing Sessions, Fiddle Buses or any other HSC activity;
  • what songs typify the HSC for you?
  • Have you any photographs or recordings you can share with us?

Please let us have some of your memories as they will assist us plan various events and we may include things in future editions of The Sweet Nightingale or any special publication.

 Where Did Your Shillings Go ?

Our Treasurer Ann Riordan drew up our annual accounts and, as is Howth Singing Circle tradition, we feel it is appropriate that we let those attended our sessions what happens to their voluntary contribution of €4. Our total income was €6,699 and our outgoings were €7,538.39 resulting in a deficit for the year of €839.39. This leaves a balance of €1,786.74. Our balance has been reducing slowly over the last few years but it must be remembered that the Howth Singing Circle receives no funding from any quarter. The Club is totally reliant on the contributions collected at our monthly sessions. We hope you feel that your money has been well spent. Last year, in addition to the monthly sessions and excellent guests, we performed in the National Maritime Museum for the Dún Laoghaire Vinyl Festival and at the Green Schools Project in the Royal Marine, Dún Laoghaire. The Tannahill Weavers were our Burns Nicht guests and Doireann Ní Glaicin at the Annual Dinner.

So, thank you again for your continued support which will be even more vital to us in this special year.

Howth Singing Circle, Zoom Session, 4 June

Deciding on a session of no more than twenty screens, we dipped our toes into the virtual world. Helen Lahert and Daire Ó’Baoill acted as Fear agus Bean an Tí and welcomed the participants, explaining the difficult but fair method used to choose from our regulars. Eugene McEldowney launched the night with ‘A Bunch of Thyme’ and Úna Kane followed with ‘My Ringsend Rose’, Brenda O’Riordan dedicated her rendition of ‘The Flower of Magherally-O’ to Tony and Ann and Laurence Bond sang Alistair Claire’s ‘Old Man’s Song’. During a night that held a great mixture of poetry, story and song, the first poem was from Mary Doyle who recited Drew Dillinger’, ‘Hieroglyphic Stairway’: ‘What did you do when the earth was unravelling?’, an appropriate choice for the times that are in it.

Tony McGaley regaled us with the tale of ‘Shaky Hand Pete and Forty Niner Joe’ and Martina Kearney sang the beautiful ‘Bright Silvery Light of the Moon’. Gerry O’Connor sang ‘Dumbarton’s Drums’ and Eileen Clancy recited Derek Mahon’s consoling poem ‘Everything is going to be Alright’. Francy Devine read us his own ‘Cuckoo Flower and Orange Tip’ and Antoinette Daly sang ‘High Germany’. Máire Ní Baoill gave us ‘Sweet Lough Neagh’ and Paddy Daly recited ‘The Garden Where the Lilies Grow’. Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh performed ‘Woes for Prince Charlie’ and Ann Riordan recited Séamus Heaney’s ‘Mint’: ‘my last things will be first things slipping from me’. Walter Kennedy remembered his Irish Press days in the Sixties and roused us with Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’. Brian Doyle was at ‘The Roseville Fair’ and Áine Bean UíCathasaigh told the story of the Chinese woman with the hole in her bucket, which, rather than wasting water, helped the seeds to sprout and thrive along her way and Eddie Phillips made us nostalgic for the pub with his version of ‘There’s the Day’.

Máiríde Woods, sang ‘It Isn’t Nice’ – ‘but if that’s freedom’s Price we don’t mind’. Ann Gourlay reminded us not to ask our children to strive for extraordinary lives in a poem by William Martin and Helen Lahert with ‘An Buachaillín Donn’ and Daire Ó’Baoill with ‘The Old cross of Ardboe’ accompanied on the shruti box, rounded up the night. And as no Howth Singing Session would be complete without it, we virtually linked arms to sing ‘The Parting Glass’.

Helen Lahert

Zoom Sa Gaeilge, 23 July

Bhí sar-oíche ag Ciorcal Ceoil Bhinn Éadair ar an 23/07/2020 nuair a cuireadh an chéad seisiún Zoom oscailte ar líne i láthair. ‘Oíche Ghaelach’ téama na hoíche agus ba é Daire Ó Baoill as Tír Chonaill fear an tí le cúnamh ó Eiín Ní Bhaoill ó am go ham. Ag coinneáil leis na Conallaigh, bhí Clíona Ní Ghallachóir as Mín an Chladaigh, Co. Dhún na nGall mar aoi speisialta agus ba dheas an taispeántas a chur sí ar fáil le cnuasach amhrán thar tréimhse na hoíche. Ceoltóir sean nós den chéad scoth í Clíona; a bhfuil cliú agus cáil bainte amach aici thar na mblianta agus a lán gradaim buaite aici i gcomórtais, an Oireachtais agus Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann san áireamh

Nuair a tugadh cuireadh den chéad triúr an t-urlár a ghlacadh, chuir Helen Lahert tús le imeachtaí na h-oíche le leagan binn de ‘Jimí Mo Mhíle Stór’, ag leanstan le Joe Gallagher leis an ‘Ciarraíoch Maillithe’ agus ansin thug Brenda blaiseadh álainn dúinn de ‘Gleanntáin Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair’.

Thug Dáire cuireadh speisialta do chailín óg; Aela bheith i láthair ar an oíche agus go deimhin chuaigh sí síos go mór leis an lucht éisteachta le leagan aoibhinn de ‘Is fada liom uaim í’ agus ‘An bhean udaí thall’.

Clíona Ní Ghallachóir lena trófaí craobhchomórtais agus Daire Ó Baoill

Ghlac said seo leanas páirt in imeachtaí na hoíche idir amhráin agus dánta agus chuir said go mór le pléisiúr agus taitneamh na hócáide agus tá Ciorcal Ceoil Bhinn Éadair faoi chomaoin acu uilig. Diarmuid, Mairtín, Antoinette, Andy Burke, Bernie Dermody, Eddie Philips, Maire Ní Bhaoill, Walter Kennedy, Virginia Blankenhorn, Brian Doyle, Phyl O’Connor, Kay Burke, Donal Cronin, Una Kane, Mairíde, Eileen Clancy agus Dave.

Ag deireadh na hoíche, thug fear an tí é féin; Daire Ó Baoill, leagan deas de ‘Thíos cois na trá’ dúinn agus dar ndóigh; ag coinneáil le traidisiún, ceoladh ‘The Parting Glass’ le deireach a chur leis an seisiún – mar a dhéantar i dtólamh gach oiche i gCiorcal Ceoil Bhinn Éadair. Tá ard mholadh tuillte ag lucht eagraíochta na hoíche agus go mbeidh taispeántas eile dá shórt againn gan mhoill.

Daire Ó Baoill

 Howth Singing Circlers 1:

Eddie Phillips

For our Twentieth Anniversary, The Sweet Nightingale will profile some of our regular personalities

and learn a little about their musical journeys.

Howth Singing Circle monthly sessions often have a theme. On some occasions, virtually every song reflects the theme while on others, few if any do. What is guaranteed, however, is that Eddie Phillips will sing something on the theme learned especially for the occasion. That said, of course, he has his favourites some of which involve rolling with the sea or ‘bloody well boozing’! So, in recognising some of those who have brought so much to the Club and who better to start with than Eddie Phillips!

Eddie is a native of Baltinglass, County Wicklow, and sat in the same classroom in the Technical School as Larry O’Toole. Baltinglass has a lot to answer for! Eddie’s first musical memory is of his mother, Maureen Synott, whistling or giving ‘a bit of a song’ around the house. Music mostly came via the radio, however, with Eddie still able to sing Cliff Richard’s ‘The Young Ones’ and recalling Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones. That said, he did not disagree with Walton’s suggestion of ‘If You Feel Like Singing, Do Sing an Irish Song’ and loved RTÉ’s ‘Ceilí House’ weekly broadcast.

Moving to Dublin, Eddie and some pals used to attend the Universal Folk Centre (UFC) in Parnell Square. You can catch an RTÉ reflection on the UFC here – https://www.rte.ie/archives/2019/1111/1090045-universal-folk-club/ The UFC’s ‘urban expression’ of the tradition engaged young Eddie who would ‘be walking on air at two in the morning leaving the club’. Eddie was an attentive listener and his musical tastes were wide. Another favourite was Mr Gay & The City Gents, ‘a jazzy’ group.

Two of Eddie’s musical memory – a recording drawn from the Universal Folk Centre

and Fiddle Bus 5 at the graveside of Mickey McIlhatton in Glenravel Churchyard

Eddie did not really sing in public until he discovered the Howth Singing Circle. At parties or family gatherings, there would be ‘sing-songs’ and he ‘loved the idea of singing’ but often ‘found it hard to learn a song’. An example of the sort of song he was now singing was Bob Dylan’s ‘Hey, Mr Tambourine Man’. Once he began attended the monthly sessions in Howth, he determined to learn songs and he has now done that and acquired a wide repertoire not only of different songs but material drawn from differing genres. Eddie served on the HSC Committee but also has other interests not least his involvement with the Bayside Writers’ Group with the seventh edition of Migrating Minds in the offing. The late John O’Malley was a central figure in Bayside and attended HSC sessions too. During Lockdown, Eddie has been wood carving in his shed accompanied by the fiddle music of Paul Anderson, a musician he met through the Fiddle Bus.

Eddie was on the first Fiddle Bus to Naul and Skreen and the last Fiddle Bus to North Antrim. He loved discovering the background of famous fiddle players, their tunes and life stories and found visiting the grave of ‘The King of the Glens’, Mickey McIlhatton in the beautiful, peaceful surroundings of Glenravel Church graveyard. Through the Club, Eddie got to know the singing of Steve Byrne and Ballymoney’s Mark Dunlop whose CD Islands of the Moon provided him with several songs including ‘The Lag’s Song’, a tribute to the singing of Luke Kelly and song writing of Ewan MacColl, and the humorous ‘Quaker’s Dong’. Another favourite, and one that links Eddie’s musical journey together, is the late Al O’Donnell’s version of ‘Matt Hyland’, the first song he learned for the HSC. He also acquired ‘Jock o’ Hazeldene’, Eddie’s ‘R’s’ rrrrrolled morrrre than most in his rrrrrendition!

Eddie leading ‘The Roll of the Sea’ in the National Maritime Museum and, in the Angling Club, getting and his celebrated all-singing, all-dancing presentation of ‘Phil the Fluter’ at the Annual Dinner in the King Sitric

Eddie feels he has ‘met a lot of wonderful and talented people’ through the Howth Singing Circle. He has enjoyed the monthly sessions, the walking tours and the annual dinner, performing at all with distinction. From slightly nervous beginnings, Eddie has become a much-respected stalwart, regularly producing something new and always giving a truthful and considered performance. Eddie Phillips highlights for many would include his Burns Nicht songs, leading the ‘Roll of the Sea’ in the National Maritime Museum in Dún Laoghaire and his spontaneous step dancing for the last verse of ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’ at an annual dinner.

Eddie Phillips has brought so much to the Howth Singing Circle and we salute him for that.


MiseFosta and FairPlé on RTE’s Primetime

Musicians’ Union of Ireland Executive member Niamh Parsons has previously brought the work of FairPlé to the attention of readers of The Sweet Nightingale. She updates the campaign against sexism and sexual harassment with traditional and folk music through Misefosta and RTÉ’s recent coverage of events on Prime Time. Howth Singing Circle applauds Niamh’s work in these campaigns

Following the rise of disturbing stories online under the #misefosta hashtag (Ulster Irish for #MeToo), Paul Murphy digs deeper on RTÉ Prime Time Investigates into how the #MeToo movement has finally arrived into the Irish Traditional music scene. Supported by FairPlé, a campaign set up by Dr. Karan Casey to highlight gender imbalance in Irish traditional and folk music, the programme interviewed some brave young female musicians who told their stories. In such a small music scene where everyone knows everyone else, these young musicians have shown that now is the time to stand up for themselves and for all victims of abuse and harassment.

The FairPlé movement began in early 2018 when MUI member, singer and researcher Dr. Karan Casey, along with other prominent female traditional and folk musicians, began to question why so few women performers were not headlining festivals. After a few meetings, FairPlé (Plé being Irish for Discussion) was set up with the aims to achieving gender balance in the production, performance, promotion, and development of Irish traditional and folk music. Initial reaction was that most in the music scene were either not aware of the imbalance, or in some negative cases, felt these musicians were just ‘looking for more gigs’. But the movement grew and FairPlé arranged concerts highlighting some of the best female performers in Irish traditional and folk, debates and an academic research symposium among other events, see https://www.fairple.com/report.  Sexism, lack of respect in a male-dominated world and sexual harassment were among the topics discussed at length. As these musicians do not have a governing body, it was difficult for victims to find somewhere to report instances because of the lack of formal structures.

Niamh Parsons with, on the right, her sister Anne

Then along came #MiseFosta. While many of us older women knew of these instances, annoying at the very least, criminal at the very worst, we did what woman had always done, ignored it, brushed it under the carpet, hide it from everyone, or sometimes spoke among ourselves but did not report anything. One of the problems is that we all know each other, or know of each other, and have met at various fleadhs, festivals and gatherings over the years. Some of these instances came from highly respected and powerful musicians.

Úna Monaghan, harper, composer, researcher and sound engineer from Belfast put out a call for anonymous stories https://youtu.be/WmfQ2_BZpVM. She received 121 stories: ‘Every single one of those stories, almost, can be dismissed in one of many ways; either as someone’s bad behaviour; as a misunderstanding; as something that happens in society in general and should be shrugged off … the evidence does not come from individual stories it comes from taking a lot of collective stories’.

Recently, younger women and men started to come out publicly under the hashtag #MiseFosta. The #MiseFosta movement is a loose grouping of about twenty, mainly younger men and women whose aim is to address sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault within the community. These sometimes shocking stories were unsurprising but it was the first time it was public. These brave young people, in telling their stories, spurred more people to come forward. RTÉ Investigates took up the story and highlighted these issues with Paul Murphy investigating for RTE’s Prime Time. On the programme, some musicians speak out of their experiences, their fear of reporting instances because they may forfeit their own musicianship, their freedom to play in sessions, and their hopes and dreams of pursuing a career in music being compromised.

Dr. Karan Casey said, ‘I think Mise Fosta actually has shown someone like myself how silenced my generation has been about these issues and I think they are really brave and we owe them an awful lot, I think we all need to start having a genuine conversation about sexual assault and how it happens within the arts’.

Niamh Parsons

You can watch the Prime Time programme or news item at

www.rte.ie/player/series/prime-time/SI0000000825?epguid=IH000383005 www.rte.ie/news/investigations-unit/2020/0723/1155183-misefosta-calls-halt-to-sexual-wrongdoing-in-traditional-music/ 

MUI Review of An Ownerless Corner of Earth

This is singer Francy Devine’s long awaited second offering coming a full six years after his acclaimed 2014 debut, My Father Told Me, which was top rated by the Irish Times and others. Devine’s new double CD is grounded not just in the wealth of his talent but in the breadth of his collaborators, principal among whom is accomplished Scottish Traditional Singer of the Year, musicologist and producer, Steve Byrne. The opening track, ‘The Old Poachers Song’, was written by Meath man Jim Connell, a man who knew a thing or two about that noble art, being the author not just of the world famous Socialist anthem, ‘The Red Flag’, but of a classic volume on his other metier, Confessions of a Poacher. More on point as far as the overall project is concerned, the opening sets not just the title, ‘An Ownerless Corner of Earth’ as well as the free born tone of the album, but also inspires the image of a mountain hare on the cover.

The late, great Liam Weldon’s arrangement of ‘One Starry Night’ (track 3) provides what is, for this reviewer, the standout moment of the first CD in this 26-track compilation. It’s always a challenge to inject originality and inspiration into such a beautiful song, so well covered already by other fine singers. However, Devine, in a perfect fit for his voice, and accompanied by guitarist Graham Dunne, singer Niamh Parsons and others, passes with flying colours. His poem, ‘Gazing at Lochnagar’ (track 6) provides an opportunity to appreciate another of Devine’s other talents. Even more so it is the chance to hear what has to be one of the most moving pieces in the canon of Scottish fiddling, ‘Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife’, played by award-winning Scots fiddler and composer, Paul Anderson. Irish fiddling is well represented too by the outstanding Liam O’Connor on both fiddle and viola in the musical backdrop to another intensely rich poem of Devine’s, ‘When Abdul Moneim Khalifa Met Darach Ó Catháin’ (track 9). The final track on CD 1 is Steve Byrne’s delivery of the well-known ‘Tramps and Hawkers’ (track 13). Like many of my generation, I’m hotwired to the version sung by the late Luke Kelly. Nevertheless, I still remember the first time I heard Byrne sing this a few years ago in Liberty Hall and his rendition here is as fresh as on that evening.

If the first CD is owned by the hares, then the second belongs to the other part of that dubious ‘sporting’ equation – the lurcher, or, to be more precise, Jim Connell’s favourite of the breed, ‘My Nellie’ (track 1). And if ‘One Starry Night’ is the standout moment of the first part of this work, then Devine’s own composition ‘Dark and Slender Boy’ (track 2, has to be that of the second CD. Inspired by the well-known traditional air ‘An Buachaill Caol Dubh’, his English version is true to the sensibility of the original and, like ‘One Starry Night’, a perfect fit for his voice. Likewise, the singer’s own ‘Magaidh Ruaidh’ (track 7), suggested by the wonderful Kathleen MacInnes’s interpretation of the Scots Gàidhlig  ‘Ceud Failt Air Gach Gleann’ air. Devine is joined on the penultimate track (12) by Northumbrian shepherd and singer Dave McCracken in the late Terry Conway’s ‘Fare Thee Weel Regality’. Like many, I was blown away when I first heard this sung, in my case by the Unthanks. It’s still one of my all-time favourite songs and can never be sung too often. An Ownerless Corner of Earth is both entertainment and, with erudite sleeve notes, an education and while Devine’s first album might have been his ‘Prentice Piece’ (to borrow from the work of singer Dick Gaughan), this, his second, is the work of a master craftsman at the height of his powers.

Michael Halpenny

This review first appeared in SoundPost, newsletter of the Musicians’ Union of Ireland vol. 18, no. 2, Summer 2020 www.siptu.ie/bulletin/pdf/1590679100FinalSoundPost.pdf

Bendle’s Bit

The following piece is adapted from ‘Bendle’s Bit’ first published in Tatters, Newsletter of Tigerfolk, July 2020, see www.tigerfolk.com

At a weekend sing we go to there is a very popular session that encourages people to tell the story behind the song they are going to sing. This was inspired by Lincolnshire song collector, singer and accordionist Brian Dawson (1939-2013) and in whose memory it is held. For, as many of you know, Brian was well-versed in fascinating introductions to nearly every one of his songs and, in some cases, the introduction could be longer than the song! What this is leading into is the story behind a song on Francy Devine’s CD An Ownerless Corner of Earth called ‘The Labour League.

It was well over a decade ago that Brian and Francy were both guests at a singing weekend at Bradfield in South Yorkshire and where they met for the first time. An interesting sort of a do, set in lovely countryside, with a wealth of talented singers, it is where friendships between Francy and Brian and Francy and ourselves were forged. The two of them met up over the years mainly up at Cullerlie, a weekend sing near Aberdeen, but also once in Leicestershire, for a number of us had been invited over to Ireland for an epic singing weekend and a reciprocal visit was organised. This took place in Shepshed at the beautiful watermill but the Irish were slightly outnumbered on the song front and as Brian said he would like to come along and catchup with folks, he was consequently invited ‘to bat for Ireland’. Both of them have an affinity to Lincolnshire, Brain being a ‘Yellow Belly’ – the traditional name for a person from that county and the same term applied in Ireland to a person from Wexford – through and through, whereas Francy had been raised and spent his formative years on the county’s edges in Peterborough with a Lincolnshire mother and Scots/Irish father. Furthermore, both Grace Winter Devine, Francy’s mother, and Brian had both taught at the same school – Brocklesby Parlk School – although at different times. As time went on Grace moved over to Ireland and lived with Francy and Ann, so it was not unusual on our trips across to see them to take bits and pieces from Brian for Grace. Grace, in return, would furnish Brian with Lincolnshire expressions, phrases and words in dialect she recalled from her childhood as he was an avid collector of all things Lincolnshire and an active member of the Dialect Society.

Ann Riordan believing every word John Bentham says – and why wouldn’t she? –

and the late Jimmy Kelly on the Club’s Walk in Glasnevin singing at Luke’s grave

When Francy was pulling together material for his current double CD he came across ‘The Labour League’ which originally appeared in the Amalgamated Labour League’s The Labourer on 10 May 1879. He found it in a publication by Rex C. Russell, The ‘Revolt of the Field’ in Lincs; The Origins & Early History of Farm Workers’ Trade Unions published by the Lincolnshire County Committee, national Union of Agricultural Workers in 1956. Now for the likes of me delving deep and to this extent is foreign territory but, as many of you know, Francy is assiduous in his research and likes nothing more than ferreting things out. The tune that it was sung to was unknown to him and so he turned to Brian to see if the tune listed in The Labourer, ‘The Union Jack of England’, was known to him. He also asked Brian if he knew of Rex. As far as the tune was concerned Brian had no knowledge but as for Rex, well, yes he knew him, not only that but he was still alive and that he was shortly going to visit him in hospital! Rex at this time was ninety-six years of age and when Brian asked him he had no tune for the song but was overcome emotionally knowing that ‘some bloke in Dublin still had me book’. Consequently, Francy set the words to an appropriate tune. As a matter of interest Rex wrote extensively on Lincolnshire on a variety of subjects including headstones, the enclosure system, sedition and cock fighting. As a footnote. Rex died aged ninety-eight and outlived both Grace and Brian who passed away just over a year previously and within a month or so each other.

I hope you agree that as an introduction to a song it would have been just the sort of material Brian would have used.

John Bentham

Brian Dawson, 16 August 1939-22 November 2013, was a member of The Meggies, founders of The Grimsby Folk Club in the 1960s); The Redwings, The Higgeldy Piggeldy Band; The Grimsby Morris Men; The Plowgild Folk Dance Group; and The Broadside with whom he recorded a number of albums. He was an expert in Lincolnshire dialect and the Lincolnshire folk song collecting of the Australian composer Percy Grainger.   He was friends with folklorist and collector Ethel Rudkin and helped in organising the Cleethorpes Folk Festival. As he might well have wished for, Dawson collapsed with a heart attack during a performance at Howsham Village Hall on 9 November 2013 and died aged 74, in Scunthorpe General Hospital. A great performer, generous with other performers, in addition to his recordings much of his legacy has been preserved through the efforts of friends like John Bentham. It was a privilege to have known him and shared a song – FD

Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger & the Irish Workers’ Music Co-op

In September 1980, the Irish Labour History Society (ILHS) held an international conference in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra called ‘The Making of the Irish Working Class’. The ILHS Committee discussed arranging a social event on the Saturday night for the five hundred delegates and it was agreed to invite Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger to make a presentation of labour songs. I rang Blackthorne Records and, to my surprise, MacColl answered the phone and we quickly agreed fees, flight and travel arrangements. The ILHS Committee then baulked at the size of the fees – not by any means extravagant but as most academics in those days appeared without fee and just travel and accommodation – something they had not considered. A Sunday night concert in Liberty Hall was suggested to balance costs but this was rejected until I said that ‘another organisation’ would take responsibility for such a concert.

The ‘other organisation’ did not exist and myself, Éamon Thornton from Drogheda and Berliner Helga Woggon hurriedly formed the Workers’ Music C-operative. It was a considerable risk as we stood to lose quite a bit. We hurriedly got out a crude poster and printed tickets at £2 – what a bargain! The demands of the ILHS event meant that we then gave little thought to the concert other than Peggy’s request that they stay ‘somewhere quiet’ as Ewan’s health was not the best. I was going to be in Drumcondra all weekend as, for many, the Conference was residential and my two children, Caoimhe and Fiachra, then aged seven and five, would be with their childminder in her parents’ home in Meath. The problem was thus solved, Ewan and Peggy took my house in Bayside.

The Conference was a massive success but exhausting for those of us doing the organising – late night drinking and singing adding to the fatigue. MacColl & Seeger were a big hit on the Saturday night but by Sunday we were worried that no one would turn up in Liberty Hall. We had sold only a handful of tickets and many of those who might have attended had been in Drumcondra all weekend at the Conference and were as exhausted as we were. The Liberty Hall concert now seemed a terrible idea and we had little energy or enthusiasm for it. Arriving for the sound checks, we found that less than fifty tickets had been sold for a hall then holding over 700! Apart from our own worries, MacColl & Seeger deserved better and we began apologising. MacColl was having none of it: ‘Relax, Comrades, you have done a great job all weekend and if only fifty turn up, we’ll still have a concert!’

By a quarter to eight, we could not cope with the throng turning up. Some of the early arrivals – the two Johnnys – Flood and ‘Clancy’ MacDonnell – and Paul O’Brien immediately manned the ticket desk, ushered folk to seats and generally did whatever needed to be done. And still they came! Hundreds of them! MacColl & Seeger had not played Dublin for a while and there was a massive hunger to see and hear them. We undoubtedly broke all the Fire Regulations as by just after eight, the auditorium and balcony were crammed to overflow with some having to stand. We had a strict policy of no entry or leaving when a song was being performed and this caused some problems among those who, having been stripped of their two quid, thought they were being prevented from getting in!

The atmosphere was electric and we had a huge sense of achievement. We made a considerable sum of money almost all of which we blew on a tour for Seeger and Neil MacColl the following year under the title ‘Different Therefore Equal’. Events were held in Connolly Hall, Cork; Glentworth Hotel, Limerick; The Hide Out, Drogheda; and Liberty Hall. Unhappily, they coincided with a national petrol drivers’ strike and few were able to attend. The Workers’ Music Co-op was though now ell established and – mainly through John MacDonnell’s efforts – ran a weekly singing event in the Irish Post Office Engineering Club; promoted support activities for strikes and campaigns – most notably the Dunne’s Stores Anti-Apartheid Strike and the British Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985; published song sheets; ran a day trip to Meath to celebrate Jim Connell and the writing of ‘The Red Flag’; and ran further memorable gigs for MacColl & Seeger.

Francis Devine

Buíochas Mór

As ever, The Sweet Nightingale, as with all HSC activities, does not just appear and we are grateful to the following: Richard Tobin, Allison O’Rourke and staff of the Abbey Tavern; John Bentham, Tigerfolk, Long Eaton; Michael Halpenny; Eddie Phillips; John Swift, Musicians’ Union of Ireland; Finola Young for many supports; and your Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Brian Doyle, Helen Lahert, Daire Ó Baoill, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan.

Daoirí Farrell in the Sea Angling Club and Lankum [Lynched as they were then] at the Annual Dinner in Aqua

Damien Dempsey in The Abbey and Laurence Bond bestowing the Presidency on Willie D. O’Connor

The beautiful and sadly missed Joan Harmon

and Cian Ó Súilleabháin, one of Howth Singing Circle’s great personalities

From our 2015 Concert – The Drôle – Peadar Ó Riada, John Kelly and Éamon McGivney-

followed by The Voice Squad – Phil Callery, Fran McPhail and Gerry Cullen


Next Session by Zoom – Thursday, 10 September at 8pm

The Sweet Nightingale May 2020


Saoithe: Paddy Daly, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 13, May 2020

The Silence of Covid 19

For singers and musicians, the Lockdown imposed by Covid 19 means no sessions. Howth Singing Circle is in abeyance until precautions are eased and it is safe to reassemble to enjoy each other’s company and songs. There are, of course, many Zoom sessions being held and you can both tune in and enjoy some singing or you can seek to participate yourself. We are aware of Zoom sessions being promoted by Bray, An Góilín, The Night Before Larry Got Stretched and The Sunflower, Belfast, and would recommend them to you. There is also a Cancelled Singing Sessions FB page. Many musicians are also hosting events online – either as live sessions or recordings. Those who earn their living from performance are, like many others in different walks of life, suddenly bereft of income. You can help by contributing by purchasing artists’ material that is available through Bandcamp and other hosting platforms, direct from a favourite artist’s web or Facebook page where recordings can be sourced, or by showing your appreciation of online sessions like those held each Friday by our old friends Paul and Shona Anderson.

An early edition of The Sweet Nightingale – how many can you identify? Answers at the end of this newsletter

We have been putting some recordings up on the Howth Singing Circle Facebook pages inviting you to enjoy artists like Niamh Parsons and Graham Dunne or Tony Fitzpatrick and to support their recordings. Of course, many hundreds of thousands are taking financial hits but for the vast majority of musicians, their income, even in good economic times, is precarious and erratic.

If there is anything else you feel you would like Howth Singing Circle to do, please let us know.

Until we can resume our normal activities, we salute our health care and other front-line workers for everything they are doing on all our behalfs. Stay safe everyone.

Fás Bliain is Fiche

It is beginning to look as if we may not be able to resume this season’s programme for some time to come. In September, we are due to commence our twentieth season. We intend to start the year with a ‘Back to the Beginning’ session led by Siobhán Moore and Dave Moran who organised the first singing session to commemorate Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore in the Red Herring (the old Evora and now a gym) which then led to the start of our Circle.

We would like to hear from you regarding how we should acknowledge our anniversary. We would also like to hear from you or see any photographs you have from our activities over the years. So, think about the following and let us have your views –

  • what are your favourite Howth Singing Circle memories?
  • do any particular songs or singers stand out in your mind and why?
  • do you have any amusing stories or anecdotes about the Howth Singing Circle that you would like to share?
  • have you got any photographs that you would like to share?
  • would you like to see the Howth Singing Circle celebrate twenty years in any particular way?

 Please, let us know what you think.

Howth Burns Nicht 2020

Howth Burns Nicht 2020 proved another action-packed weekend of song, poetry, music, dance and fun. The excited mood of the sell-out crowd was set by the display of flags and Burns’s portrait tastefully decorating the hall thanks to the hard work of visitors John Bentham (Loughborough) and Dave McCracken (Tarset, Northumbira). The Burns flag was donated to us by Luke Cheevers. Daire Ó Baoill and Gerry O’Connor ran a fast-paced programme of songs, poetry, music, dancing, piping and great fun. Regular visitor Janet Weatherston (Dalkeith) began the night with ‘The Sodger Laddie’ and Helen Lahert delivered Ewan MacColl’s moving Spanish Civil War anthem ‘Jamie Foyers’. Gerry O’Connor and Éamonn Hunt then performed a harmonic version of ‘Dumbarton’s Drums’.

Ba é an chéad chuid eile den chlár ná amhráin agus dánta i nGaeilge. Léigh Úna Kane dán John O’Donoghue ‘Beannacht’ agus léigh Eileen Clancy dán Sheáin Uí Ríordáin ‘Oíche Nollag na mBan’ (‘The Night of Women’s Christmas’). D’imir Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh sraith foinn Albanacha ar an harmonica, an lucht féachana ag canadh agus ag bualadh. Ansin labhair Brenda Ní Ríordáin leagan álainn de ‘An Raibh Tú ar an gCarraig?’

Our ‘Resident Band’ – John Kelly (fiddle), Larry Egan (box) and Mick Mullen (guitar) – then took the stage and played some stunning sets of tunes. The numbers up dancing showed how much they were appreciated, although they do not always get the credit they deserve for the high class playing they bring to the night. Our first guest was George Duff from Edinburgh, a new voice to the audience but one they immediately responded to. He began with Burns’ ‘Aye Waukin O’ and held the crowd in his palm. The Tannahill Weavers – Roy Gullane (vocals, guitar), Phil Smillie (strings, whistles, bodhrán), Malcolm Bushby (fiddle) and Fraser Fifield (Highland pipes and whistles) – then played their first set. Their lively, up-tempo style engaged the audience who gave them a great reception.

Top: a full blown Fraser Fifield and Úna Kane reading beautifully

Below: George Duff in full flow and a packed house with the Tannahill Weavers – all pictures from Colm Keating’s excellent photographic record of the night

Pipe Major Noel Kelly led the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band in ahead of the haggis carried by Club regulars Myles and Isla Fitzgerald. Morag Dunbar did her rousing ‘Address Tae the Haggis’ as ainly she can and ‘The Selkirk Grace’ was given by the kilted David McCall. After a very short break, Noel played a lament, ‘Tommy Tully’s Air’, aye poignant and moving moment.

The mood was immediately lifted by the Howth Singing Circle Shanty Singers who delivered ‘Billy O’Shea’ led by Tom Finn, ‘The Greenland Whale Fishery’ led by Tony Fitzpatrick, and the lively ‘Star Wars Shanty’. There were over twenty singers and this new development on the night was listed as many folks’ highlight in the feedback we received.

Sheinn Máire Ní Bhaoill ‘Pilleadh chun Oileáin’, amhrán a scríobh a hathair Pádraig, agus thug Daire Ó Baoill léiriú álainn ar ‘Griogal Cridhe’. Ba bhuaicphointí na hoíche iad an dá léiriú seo. Niamh Parsons and Graham Dunne completed this section with their jazzy, much-loved version of Burns’s ‘The Slave’s Lament’. John Kelly, Larry Egan and Mick Mullen returned, their sets sharp, tight and irresistible. George Duff guested with them and sang ‘A Man’s a Man’. The raffle – as one person said, ‘the fastest I have ever seen’ – saw over twenty prizes handed out including very attractive hampers, CDs, calendars, books, whisky and all manner of goodies. The Tannahill Weavers rounded off the night before a finale of George singing ‘Sae Will We Yet’ with the Tannies, John Kelly and others providing orchestral accompaniment; The Tannahill Weavers led ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’ before ‘The Parting Glass’ signalled the end of another enjoyable Howth Burns Nicht.

Sunday’s Fare Thee Weel Session was gently managed by Niamh Parsons and Northumberland visitor Dave McCracken. George Duff sang ‘The Rigs o Rye’, his Dufferised version of ‘The Grey Funnel Line’ and a stout-hearted condemnation of scabbery with ‘The Blackleg Miner’, his own colliery days informing the song’s sentiments. He completed his sets with ‘The Baron’s Heir’ and, appropriately for the Hamish Henderson centenary just past, ‘Freedom Cam Aa Ye!’ George proved to be a much-appreciated guest, both audiences liking for him reflected in the impressive sales of his CD The Collier Laddie. There were many greats songs and performances that included Corinne Male (Ibstock), ‘The St Pancras Rent Strike’; Antoinette Daly, ‘Maggie Pickens’; Seán Ó hÉarchain, ‘Hame o Mine’; Helen Lahert, ‘Ballyshannon Lane’; Eugene McEldowney, ‘When the Breaker Goes Back on Full-Time’; Jane Considine who read Dermot Bolger’s ‘The Frost is All Over’; Fergus Carey, ‘I’m Leaving the Fishing’; Ciarán Ó Maoiléoin, ‘Baith Sides o the Tweed’; and Eddie Phillips, ‘Away From the Roll of the Sea’. Fiana Ní Chonáill, Irish harp, and Anthony, guitar, provided a bonus by starting the second half with some lovely tunes.

Of course, weekends like Burns Nicht do not just happen. Our thanks to your Committee but also to to all those others whose collective efforts made the weekend so enjoyable: our guests – The Tannahill Weavers, George Duff and the John Kelly Band; Richard Tobin, Allison O’Rourke and Abbey Tavern staff; Chris Boland on sound; Ricky Higgins, Higgins Family Butchers, Sutton Cross, for the haggis; Christy Hammond, CRM Design & Print for the superb ticket and brochure; Colm Keating for his wonderful photographs; Morag Dunbar, David McCall, Myles & Isla Fitzgerald for attending the haggis; John Bentham & Dave McCracken for decorating and, with some assistance, undecorating the hall; Noel Kelly & the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band; our Fir an Tí Daire Ó Baoill & Gerry O’Connor with Niamh Parsons & Dave McCracken on the Sunday; Ann Riordan and Helen Lahert for managing the door and the seating; all who helped run the raffle and to those who donated prizes – Brian & Mary Doyle, George Duff, Úna Kane, Jack McGinley (Umiskin Press), and Finola Young.

Billy o'se

drink tea

Tom Finn leads the crew in ‘Billy O’Shea’ – note that, at the Organisers’ request, we all had to ‘drink tea’ rather than ‘get drunk’

Green Schools Shanties

On Wednesday and Thursday, 29-30 January, Howth Singing Circle singers presented some sea shanties to the Green Schools National Marine Environment Conference in the Marine Hotel, Dún Laghoaire arranged by Chloe Devlin and Caoimhe O’Brien Moran from An Taisce Environmental Education Unit. Each day over 300 National School students from Waterford to Donegal, Mayo to Dublin spent their morning learning about the threats to their environment and what role they and their schools could play in averting disaster.

Plastic free schools and beach cleaning were among the subjects discussed, supported by wonderful project work that was displayed around the hall. Television naturalist Nick Baker was among the speakers who engaged the students in discussing the world they would grow up into. It was uplifting to witness their informed enthusiasm.

After their lunch, the motley HSC crew had the job of holding their attention as they digested their meal and their thoughts turned to the – in some cases – long bus ride home. Fergus Carey led a verse and response of ‘Blow the Man Down’ as an example of what a shanty was before Tom Finn roused the hall with ‘Billy O’Shea’, the singers providing great drive and purpose. Many students, when given the roving microphone, were only too keen to answer the call.

Tony Fitzpatrick then played an introduction to the ‘Greenland Whale Fishery’ on concertina, the room falling into a hushed, appreciative silence before eagerly taking up the chorus and clapping along in rhythm with the song. The ‘Star Wars Shanty’ proved very popular with verses taken by Helen Lahert, Eddie Phillips and Jack Plunkett, the variety of voices – and especially Helen’s – amusing and enthralling the students in equal measure. A PowerPoint production threw up images of seafarers hauling sails and sheets, tall ships and whalers, as well as the basic words that the students could sing.

For those who gave their time and talents over the two days, the Howth Singing Circle is extremely grateful. Those participating were Fergus Carey, Eileen Clancy, Paddy & Antoinette Daly, Brian & Mary Doyle, Tom Finn, Tony Fitzpatrick, Walter Kennedy, Helen Lahert, Máire Ní Bhaoill, Martina Nic Cearnaigh, Paul O’Mahony, and Jack & Angela Plunkett.

It was a most enjoyable experience for everyone and we thank the Green Schools Project for the opportunity to perform. Caoimhe O’Brien Moran wrote to say, ‘Thank-you all so much for coming, it was a real highlight of the conference and you brought great energy to the post-lunch slump! The shanties came up a lot in our feedback forms as their favourite part of the day’. Caoimhe also provided the two photographs above.

Caoimhe O’Brien Moran, An Taisce’s Environmental Education Unit Green-Schools Officer Green-Schools Officer forwarded a video that they had made of the Dún Laoghaire events with a brief reference to the Howth Singing Circle shanty singers that you can access here  www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Mt9aIEilxo&feature=youtu.be

A Soul to the Universe

Helen Lahert reflects on singing throughout her life

My mother loved to listen to my sister and I sing. As children we’d be called upon, into the seldom-used sitting room, to sing for visitors, unwilling, bribed by her cream and fruit flan. My mother was a cousin of the Clancy Brothers and when they became famous in the Sixties she was very proud. She joked that she hadn’t been awake when the gift of music and song was handed out.

I saved for a guitar over two years of knitting Aran jumpers under the desk at the back of the class in school, trying to avoid the clicking noises that would alert the teacher. I taught myself five chords from a book, fiddling with my finger picking. I still play by ear. I never had any formal or informal lessons. I was into Dylan and Baez, no Clancy Brothers for me, though privately I loved the raucous choruses of ‘Fine Girl You Are’ and the sweet airs of songs like ‘The Shoals of Herring’. I painstakingly wrote words from LPs into notebooks, playing songs over and over to catch a particularly difficult word or phrase. Some of these I never worked out and they remained as question marks in my songbooks until Google made life simpler many years later. In this way I grew my repertoire with songs from Joni Mitchell, Christy Moore, The Dubliners and Planxty.

I married Philip O’Connor who comes from a large Dublin family of singers and while his heroes, when I met him, were Jimmy Hendrix, Rory Gallagher and Led Zeppelin, Dublin ballads were also hardwired into his DNA. There’s a photograph of the two of us singing ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’ at our wedding. When our children were young they played fiddle and guitar and sang ‘Monto’, ‘The Button Pusher’, ‘Dirty Old Town’ and other Dubliners’ tunes and surprised me in recent years with their memory of these songs learned in childhood.

When we moved from Coolock to Bayside we began to frequent Howth pubs and became particularly attached to the Lighthouse Bar on Church Street and its sessions on a Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. When the Lighthouse closed, just after we moved to Howth, we were devastated. But living in and becoming involved in Howth activities I quickly learned that Howth has a tradition of music and singing, deep in the old families like the Moores and the Rickards. Many, like uileann piper Leo Rickard came from fishing families who had worked the trawlers out of Howth for generations and also had a deep interest in Irish music. Leo’s brother Dave was a member of the St. Lawrence Howth Pipe Band and his brother Kevin is a fine concertina player. With local musicians Snowy and Paul McLoughlin, Collie Moore and Tina McLaughlin, Leo played in a band called Clann Eadair, which Phil Lynnot fronted on the Late Late Show, singing their ‘Tribute to Sandy Denny’. When Phil died, Leo piped a final lament at his graveside in St Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton and I can’t imagine that there could have been a better way to leave this mortal coil than with the strains of Leo’s piping floating in the air. Recently Damien Dempsey told me that his first time to sing in public as a teenager was in the Lighthouse Bar.


A Parting Glass with Tony Fitzpatrick, Kay Nolan, Dave McKane, Helen Lahert, Marina Nic Cearnaigh, Philip O’Connor

By chance I discovered the Howth Singing Circle in the Anglers’ Club on the West pier and initially couldn’t believe that such events existed, people taking it in turns to sing unaccompanied while others quietly listened. The session had been set up in memory of Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore who died before his time in 2000. His friends gathered in The Red Herring (previously the Evora Bar and now the gym on Church Street) for a night of songs to remember him. It was from this night that the monthly singing club began in the back room of the Pier House in 2000.

This year Howth Singing Circle celebrates twenty years in existence and we’ll remember Bull Moore in whose memory it was founded. An obituary in the Irish Times in November 2000, described Bull as ‘a much-revered figure among the community of Howth, cherished for his decency, his loyalty and his big heart. He loved the sea and he loved to sing about it’. The journalist wrote: ‘I first encountered him in the Lighthouse pub many years ago, at one of those cosy traditional music sessions that make Howth unique among the villages of Dublin. Bull had a vast repertoire of songs about seafaring and the joys and hardships of the sailor’s life. He had only to sit down at a music session for the event to catch fire’.

As always, Howth Singing Circle’s main programme of events for the year starts with the annual Burns Nicht in the Abbey Tavern in January, when the audience stands, while Noel Kelly, Pipe Major of the award winning Howth St Lawrence Pipe Band, leads the band to pipe in the Haggis, carried on a silver platter in true Scottish style and Howth welcomes some of the best of Scottish traditional musicians and singers.

I went to the Howth Singing Circle three times, happily listening to people like Willie O’Connor singing ‘Goodbye Old Ship of Mine’, before Larry O’Toole, who knew me from Coolock days, called on me to sing. Now, nearly fifteen years later, singing unaccompanied is part of my life and I’m linked with a network of singers who are retrieving and learning songs that might otherwise have been lost and writing new ones. These songs range from lullabies to stories of evictions, deportations and emigration, songs of fishing and disasters, rebel songs of valour and songs of love and loss. In returning to singing I’ve been able to re-learn the songs of my childhood, which were buried but still recoverable from my brain, and I’ve learned new songs from wonderful teachers like Fionnuala Maxwell from Drumsna in Leitrim who is working with children there to retrieve and learn the old songs of their county.

Howth is a rare and unique place where the traditions of music and song survive and thrive and so it is a place that, as Plato wrote, ‘gives a soul to the universe’. Travelling the country, I’m reminded that many towns and villages, which have more of a reputation as music destinations and standard bearers of the tradition, have nothing like the range of music and song that we have here. We’re spoilt with a choice of places to listen, sing and play. We are blessed with a beautiful place to live, where we can wander miles of open pathways, through acres of protected forest, meadows, heathlands and cliffs, but we are doubly blessed that this place carries on a tradition of music and song that goes back deep to the core of the fishing communities of old and continues to provide an open, safe space for young emerging talent to practice their craft.

Máire Ní Choilm – Amhránaí Iontach

Cúis áthais agus bróid do Chiorcal Ceoil Bheann Éadair, Máire Ní Choilm a bheith linn mar aoi speisialta ag an Oíche Gaelach ar an 6ú Feabhra. Ceoltóir sean-nós den scoith atá i Máire agus a lán comórtais agus gradaim faighte aici le blianta anuas, Corn Uí Riada ina measc. Tá stór agus réimse suntasach amhráin ina seilbh a roinn Máire go fial flaithiúil leis an lucht éisteachta ar an oíche. Bhain iomlán a bhí i lathair sult as a cuid ceoil agus a comhluadar agus guímid gach rath agus ádh uirthi ins na blianta amach romhainn.

On 6 February2020, Ciorcal Ceoil Bheann Éadair held its annual Oíche Gaelach session in the Abbey Tavern. The Oíche Gaelach is an eagerly anticipated date in HSC’s calendar for many and this year’s session was well-attended with Daire Ó Baoill (Fear an Tí) and Ann Riordan (Bean an Tí) ably hosting a memorable night of songs, stories and recitations. Aoi Speisialta on the night was none other than the acclaimed sean-nós singer, Máire Ní Choilm from Mín an Iolair, Doirí Beaga, Dún na nGall. Máire has won many sean-nós singing competitions with the most recent being the prestigious Corn Uí Riada at Oireachtas na Samhna in 2019.

Máire’s style of singing was very much influenced by singers from Gweedore and Tory island and during her visit to Howth, she treated us to a beautiful repertoire of ballads and songs ranging from haunting laments such as ‘An Chéad Mháirt d’Fhómhar’ to the more upbeat and lively verses of ‘Amhrán na Scadán’ – amhrán náisiúnta ag muintir Thoraí!

Maire 1

Maire 2

Máire Ní Choilm with our host for the night Daire Ó Baoill and Ann Riordan and Máire winning Corn Uí Riada

Throughout the night there was a fantastic selection of songs from the floor – many of which included catchy choruses which had the whole room singing in unison. We sampled songs in every dialect of Gaeilge and Máire commended the efforts of all who performed. In true character, Máire intimately engaged with the audience in both Gaeilge and English throughout the night and between songs. This added to the wonderful atmosphere in the room which made the night particularly memorable.

Ag súil go mór leis an chéad oíche eile.

Daire Ó Baoill

Marching Into Spring

In March, in what turned out to be our last hurrah session before lockdown, we were just enough aware of Corona Virus to desist from holding hands singing ‘The Parting Glass’ at the end of the session, but we were a bit skittish about it and we still didn’t have any concept about the world lockdown that would follow.

It was a small intimate session ably hosted by Brian Doyle and Walter Kennedy, but that just added to the atmosphere and fun. The weather was miserable enough to put off the fainthearted but those who came had no regrets. The special guest was Mick Cantwell, who regaled us with songs like ‘Whiskey on a Sunday’ and sweet melodeon tunes like ‘The Marino Waltz’ and ‘Mo Ghile Mear’.

The song sheet was a blaze of spring colour and the content reminded everyone that ‘Marching into Spring’ included the nesting of birds and the bursting of flower-buds but also marching to independence and freedom. We had thirty-two songs during the night, many people taking to the great song-sheet for inspiration.

march into

Larry O’Toole sang ‘Down by the Glenside’; Fergus Carey gave us ‘Gráinne Mhaol’ and Seán Ó Cinné’de ‘The Gaol of Cluain Meala’. We welcomed Mary Murphy back after a long illness and she gave us a beautiful rendition of ‘My Home at the Foot of Slieve Bloom’. Tom Finn sang Wordsworth’s well-loved ‘Daffodils’ having added the tune himself; Eddie Phillips gathered ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’; Laurence Bond cheered us with ‘In the Town of Ballybay’; and Antoinette Daly roamed ‘The Green Glens of Antrim’. Úna Kane marched along with ‘The Minstrel Boy’; Máiride Woods wandered by #The Lakes of Pontchartrain’ agus chan Liam Ó Droma sheinn mé an t-amhrán céanna i nGaeilge. Walter Kennedy plucked ‘When Yellow’s on the Broom’ and Brian Doyle conducted ‘McNamara’s Band’. We even had a rousing chorus of ‘A Nation Once Again’, but, and this requires a pause, we also had the privilege of listening to a melodious rendition of ‘Katie Daly’ from Paddy Daly himself.

Helen Lahert

The Given Note/ Port na bPúcaí –

‘Myths, Musings and Musicians’

At a relaxed singing session in the Abbey Tavern after dinner, which followed the final Singathon for the Hospice that afternoon, Ann Riordan recited ‘The Given Note’ a poem by the late Séamus Heaney. The poem itself is based on his understanding of the traditional tune ‘Port na bPúcaí’, also known as ‘The Tune of the Fairies’, ‘Lament of the Inis’ or the ‘Pooka’s Tune’. Ann’s fine reading of the poem set me to rights on the background to the poem/tune, with what I had to hand in recordings and documentary form, and any other gleanings.

Séamus Heaney reads the poem on the wonderful recording he did not so long ago with Liam Óg O’Flynn, with the title The Poet and the Piper (Claddagh Records- CCT21CD). Heaney recites it in his own, deep-throated, inimitable style and is followed by Liam Óg playing the tune. The poem was originally published in Door into the Dark, (Faber, London, 1972).

Origin of the Tune

The stories, or should I say interpretations, of what happened when the tune came about and was composed, are many and various.

The man who composed it was living on the Great Blasket Island and the main thread of the story is that he went to the sister island Innisvickillane (Inis Mhic Aoibhleáin). He had sheep there and because a storm came up, he had to spend the night in a shelter used for the sheep, and then came back with the tune to the main Island. He maintained he had heard the wailing of hump-backed whales during the night and turned it into a tune – ‘For he had gone alone into the Island / And brought back the whole thing’.

On the CD Beauty an Oileain – Music and Song of the Blasket Islands (Claddagh Rceords, CC56Cd), produced with transcriptions by Ríonach Uí Ógáin’s produced and Ríonach Uí Ógáib abd musical notes by the fiddle player Máire Ní Chaoimh, islander Seán Cheaist Ó Catháin says

‘There were people from the Great Blasket who were living in Inis Mhic Uibhleain eighty years ago, herdsmen looking after stock for a landlord who lived in Dingle. One winter’s night they were in bed asleep and the old woman heard the sound first, of birds she thought, and woke the old man beside her .. and listened to the sound for a long time .. and remembered it .. and it has been on the Blasket ever since, ‘The Fairies Lament’.’

Uí Ógáin recorded that it was said that it was first heard by members of the Ó Dálaigh or Ó Guithín families. But there are oral accounts in which it is said the music was first heard in the form of a song. Seán Cheaist said

‘A woman called Neans Ní Dhálaigh was on Inis with others and they left in two boats. Herself and another man stayed and as she sat on a stone she heard the song, then twice, and the third time with a voice; then the voice disappeared. The man heard it again and was fearful, she asked had he heard it and both agreed. Others were there but did not hear any voice, the group returned and Neans was singing it on the boat going home. The others were afraid when they heard it; the song of the Fairies is still heard on the Great Blasket.’ 

Ciarán Mac Mathúna collected some of the words from Tomás O Dálaigh:

‘I am a fairy woman who has come across the sea

And I was taken away during the night to spend some time abroad,

And I am in this kingdom by the grace of a fairy woman,

And I will be on this earth until the cock crows’

According to oral tradition it is magical or fairy music which was heard by the people of the Inis in the nineteenth century. The tune was not known outside the Blaskets till the 1930s

By-the-by, the ‘given note’ as understood is looked down on, frowned upon in the strictest sense of pure traditional sound. For example, an accordion player will play a given note as his instrument provides it, whereas a flute or tin whistle player has to ‘make’ the notes, as they use a wind instrument, and a fiddler has to create the sound through his fingers and the use of the bow combined. Some years ago there was a round table discussion on this subject during an afternoon in the Willie Clancy week in Miltown Malbay. It was roundly agreed that the above instruments were the ‘true’ pieces of Irish Traditional music, along with the Uilleann pipes. But Séamus Heaney in a very subtle way was probably very aware of this, and used the title of the poem to convey that the man had been ‘given’ the piece, by the fairies or whatever other source, indeed ‘sound’, he heard that night rather than being the composer himself.


Colm Keating catches a very happy Mick Fowler on Burns Nicht 

Musicians and Versions of the Tune

I first heard Tony MacMahon playing the tune and, frankly, was mesmerised by it. Having listened to literally hundreds of tunes and recordings of Traditional Irish music, I had never heard anything quite like this. It had a strange quality to it, impossible to categorise yet clearly a traditionally structured piece. Hearing again Liam Óg O’Flynn playing the tune, is marked by the sadness of his premature parting from us. But let us just enjoy his beautiful, warm piping style on the above recording.

The most fascinating version to hand, though, is by the Blasket Islander Seán Cheaist Ó Catháin. Firstly, as against the previous two musicians, he is playing the instrument it was composed on – the fiddle. Secondly, as I said he comes from the Island and so one senses this is the dúchas, the folklore, the ‘genuine article’ of the piece, the whole of it passed on through generations to this man. The finishing note is the most stunning moment of all these recordings, as he draws out the bow and lets it slowly fade quietly into the distance.


The Blasket Islands and their legacy of literature, folklore and music handed down for centuries, and finally recorded in the twentieth century is to me but an indication, a glimpse of a cultured noble past, the remnants of a sadly all-but-disappeared civilisation. The word civilisation springs to mind the comment of Sir Kenneth Clarke in the opening episode of ‘Civilisation’, the ground-breaking BBC series on western art and literature. In this sequence he refers to Ireland and in particular to a neighbouring island of the Blaskets, namely Sceilg Mhicíl thus, ‘Western civilisation survived (the barbarians) by clinging on to places like Skellig Michael …’. I have always been conscious of how noble our past was, and of course wouldn’t it have been grand if we had never seen a Dane, a Norman, a Saxon ship coming over the horizon to conquer us! But, that’s history.

 Thanks, Ann, for sparking this journey of memory.

Mick Fowler

Blasket Islands literature includes. Tomás Ó Crohan, An tOileánach/The Islandman; Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, Fiche Bliain ag Fás/Twenty Years A-Growing; Peig Sayers, Peig, A Scéal Féin/My Story; and the RTÉ recording, produced by Cathal Porteir, Blasket Island Reflections, and the works of George Thomson and Robin Flower- who collected folklore the Blaskets.

Séamus Heaney – ‘The Given Note’

Having read Mick Fowler’s fascinating memories stirred by Ann Riordan’s reading of Heaney’s poem ‘The Given Note’, here it is.

On the most westerly Blasket
In a dry-stone hut
He got this air out of the night.
Strange noises were heard
By others who followed, bits of a tune
Coming in on loud weather
Though nothing like melody.
He blamed their fingers and ear

ann r
     Ann Riordan with Laurence Bond

As unpractised, their fiddling easy
For he had gone alone into the island
And brought back the whole thing.
The house throbbed like his full violin.
So whether he calls it spirit music
Or not, I don’t care. He took it
Out of wind off mid-Atlantic.
Still he maintains, from nowhere.
It comes off the bow gravely,
Rephrases itself into the air.

Nic Jones, Penguin Eggs & Memories of Carbery’s

Carbery’s in Drogheda has been a huge influence on my hearing and learning of songs. I regularly travelled up on Sunday mornings where musicians and singers included Seán Corcoran and Desi Wilkinson (flute); Liz & Jim McArdle; Tom Sullivan (or O’Sullivan on accordion) and Wally Murphy; Gerry Cullen, Fran McPhail and the late Brian Leahy whose close harmonies were a special treat; and many more. For those of us who were regularly crammed into Carbery’s, the day forty years or so ago that Nic Jones turned up will live with us forever. Pubs in those days closed between two and four on a Sunday. At about ten to two and with no room for any extra sardines in the tin – with the unspoken rule that it was now only tunes to end the session – Caitlín Bean Uí Cairbre, the bar’s redoubtable owner, squeezed through the two, inner swing doors and insisted that space be made for a tall, dark chap that nobody knew. Worse, she forced someone to surrender their guitar so this newcomer could sing a song. It was her pub and so, despite the annoyance, folk complied. Precious time was being lost as this stranger managed to work himself into a seat and then tuned up. A general unease swept around the place, the collective fears realised when he started and was not very good. Before his last note died, the session picked up more frantically than ever and as he awkwardly extracted himself from the sacred musicians’ corner there as a general muttering of ‘who’s yer feckin man?’

It was to get worse – or so we thought – when at about ten past two, Caitlín fetched him again, this time with his own instrument. She insisted that he was shoehorned into the corner, regulars having to stand to make enough room for him. This time he made no delay and wow! The voice, the guitar playing, the brilliance of song choice and arrangement: all were superb. It was the first time I – and I think everybody in the pub – had ever heard of Nic Jones who the late Finbar Boyle had brought along. The rest of that afternoon has, appropriately, become folklore. Needless to say, the pub never shut, doors were closed but the session went on, the standard climbing as the resident musicians responded to the artistry being displayed by a man who was already ‘our guest’. Everyone sensed that they were experiencing something unique, something destined to be a lifetime’s memory. My eldest two kids – Caoimhe and Fiachra, then five, six or seven – and indeed everyone else’s children – and there were a gansaí load of youngsters – seemed to cotton on to the rarity of the occasion. They became less demanding, peered in at the adult throng in spellbound awe of the guy in the corner.

Nic Jones and the brilliant Penguin Eggs; Gerry Cullen entrances an audience in Carbery’s today

This was not long before Jones was involved in a serious road accident in February 1982 when he was struck by a lorry pulling out of Whittlesea Brickworks on the road between Peterborough – where I lived as a child – and March in Cambridgeshire where he then lived. The accident left him seriously injured and effectively ended his career. In August 2010, he gloriously reappeared at Sidmouth Folk Week, a veritable triumph over massive adversities. In 2012, he performed solo gigs and on 22 September was awarded the English Folk Dance & Song Society Gold Badge as a special concert in London’s Cecil Sharp House. On 30 January 2013, he was named BBC Folk Singer of the Year.

The LP – as it was then, now a CD and download – that crystallised Jones’s talent and whose contents he effectively played that afternoon in Carbery’s, was the iconic Penguin Eggs. The song that captured many was ‘Penguin Eggs’, a song most often heard in Dublin sung by Frank Nugent, mountaineer and adventurer who actually sang it the hut on South Georgia the song was written about. On Shetland in the summer of 2016, near Sandness, we stopped for a cup of tea and homemade bun in a local Community Hall one afternoon. I was earwigging two men at the next table without being able to comprehend their accent and dialect. The elder of the two men asked, ‘Whaur are ye frae?’ He offered his hand as I said ‘Ireland’ and I felt a life of toil and experience. It turns out that he crofted and fished, sailed deep sea and was a whaler. The younger man was from Out Skerries and was crofter, fisherman, mariner, deep sea diver, shipwright and oil painter. He had also served on whaling ships, a past that neither man was proud of. Their berths had taken them to South Georgia, Leith Harbour and the little hut. He had never heard the song and I asked would he like to hear it? As I sang, I could feel the intensity and, as it finished and the eyes opened, both men were tearful and the elder man gave me a strong, lingering handshake. I wrote down Jones’s name and found a recording on my phone which I forwarded to him so he could hear the song well sung.

Jones had great impact on me but such was his majesty that I rarely attempt to sing any of the material he recorded. It is well to ken your limitations! If I had a favourite, it would be ‘Courting is a Pleasure’ which you can access here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrsYZwfx9dA Listening to it as I write, it reinforces my decision to keep a respectful vocal distance and leave it to the master. It also brings echoes of wonderful tunes, songs and friendships from Carbery’s and memories of Caitlín, who encouraged me to sing.

Francy Devine

Jones discography includes solo albums – Ballads & Songs (1970), Nic Jones (1971), The Noah’s Ark Trap (1977), From the Devil to a Stranger (1978), and Penguin Eggs (1980); and re-mastered live albums – In Search of Nic Jones (1998), Unearthed (2001), and Game Set Match (2006) .

A Lifting of Spirits

A review of Francy Devine with Steve Byrne & Friends, An Ownerless Corner of Earth available at https://francydevine.bandcamp.com/album/an-ownerless-corner-of-earth

An Ownerless Corner of the Earth is the second offering from Howth-based singer Francy Devine. His first was the much praised My Father Told Me released in 2014. This latest set might be seen by some as somewhat ambitious, with two CDs containing twenty-six tracks. While the project might indeed have been an ambitious one, for the listener it represents an act of generosity. Others might have kept half the tracks in the can for a third quality release. But not this singer. In one go he has given us a wonderful tapestry of song and verse.

Francis Devine is remarkable in so many ways. He is not only a fine singer but also a songwriter, a published poet, an author, an immensely knowledgeable observer of the natural world (take a look at his Facebook page), an educator, campaigner for the rights of his fellow humans, and a labour activist both in terms of organising and knowledge. All of these qualities should be acknowledged because they infuse the tracks with meaning on this wonderful collection.

In the superb booklet that accompanies the CDs, of which more later, Devine says that there is no obvious theme. But I think there is, and it would be a deep sense of humanity throughout. From Jim

Connell’s ‘socialist bones’ of the opening track (the first of three pieces, the others being ‘My Nellie’ and ‘The Miners’ Song’, by the composer of ‘The Red Flag’), whose first line gives the album its title; to the uplifting and rousing ‘Sae Will We Yet’ which ends the collection with words by the nineteenth century weaver Walter Watson. In these difficult times which we all share, the playing on that track alone is guaranteed to lift the spirits.

But the collection is more than a gathering of memorable songs and poems, though they are certainly that. They are a journey through the rich heritage of our islands and the voices of its peoples; and, one might also suggest, a glimpse into the world of the performer himself. He is a man who knows our islands well through birth, upbringing, education, place and exploration. Someone also with a love of football and especially Finn Harps. This is reflected in the collection by Peter Goulding’s poem, which Francy has set to music. Called ‘The Ballad of Brendan Bradley’, it tells of the legendary goal scorer from Donegal’s Premier Division. This typifies much of what he so often sings and writes about, the lesser known and sometimes overlooked people who in their different ways made a difference to the lives of others, including our own.

The collection is also richly packaged. From the beautifully designed casing, fronted by Steve Rennie’s ghost-like photographic image of a Mountain Hare, to the booklet of notes and sources. The lyrics of each song can be found on the Bandcamp website at https://francydevine.bandcamp.com/album/an-ownerless-corner-of-earth. They are worth looking up. The booklet itself is a treasure trove, a virtual tutorial that reflects the educator in the singer and draws the reader into wanting to know more. It brings to life wordsmiths and communities from the far reaches of the islands. What they reveal are tales of love, struggle and sometimes anger. As the singer says in his notes, they also evoke memories.

Colm Keating captured some of the talented musicians at the launch of An Ownerless Corner of Earth: Daoirí Farrell who performed the launch with Dave McCracken (Northumberland), Mark Dunlop (Balymoney/Fife) and Steve Byrne looking on; bagpiper Noel Kelly with the night’s Fear an Tí Laurence Bond behind; Liam O’Connor, Steve Byrne and Graham Dunne

Each track is sensitively performed, supported and enhanced by a group of friends who add sympathetic instrumentation and subtle vocal accompaniment. Give a particular listen to the fine ensemble renderings on a stirring ‘The Labour League’ and ‘The Miners’ Song’. While too many to list in this review, though mention should be made of Graham Dunne’s delicate guitar support on several tracks, it would be remiss not highlight the presence of the singer’s two longstanding collaborators: master fiddler Paul Anderson and multi-instrumentalist and arranger Steve Byrne. And it was once again the latter who produced and helped in the arrangements of the collection.

In a collection of such range and beauty there is sadly insufficient space in this review to assess each performance. I leave the listener with some pleasurable work to do. I will give focus instead on some of the tracks where the singer has made a particular input to their composition or arrangement. Listen for instance to Francy’s reading of his own poem ‘Gazing at Lochnagar’ in which he invokes the beautiful Scottish air, ‘Niel Gow’s Lament for the Death of His Second Wife’. ‘Through shut eyes’, the poet says, ‘I saw everything’, at which point Paul Anderson’s fiddle enters quietly to play the play the lament and carry us away. Then there is Liam O’Connor’s viola and fiddle which give such meaning to Francy’s poem of memory and friendship, ‘When Abdul Moneim Khalifa Met Darach Ó Catháin’. Lastly, Aoife and John Kelly add a subtle but emotional edge on concertina and fiddle to the reading of ‘Scattery Island’, a poem of remembrances, both personal and political.

The control and sensitivity that Francy Devine brings to his own voice are exemplified in the largely unaccompanied songs of rare quality, including the aforementioned ‘Brendan Bradley’. But at the beginning of the collection is the Ulster hunting song where the hare reappears, ‘On Yonder Hill.’ While it is about a further hill that Francy gives another powerful lone voice performance recalling Daniel O’Connell’s massed meetings demanding Catholic Emancipation, the largest of which was ‘The Tara Monster Meeting’. Included as well is the evocative ‘Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly?’ which I witnessed Francy singing in 2018 in front of the Connolly Memorial Statue, opposite Liberty Hall in Dublin, when he was accompanied, as here, by Noel Kelly on the Highland Pipes. Is there a more heartfelt and moving remembrance of Connolly than here?

Colm Keating catches the essence of the CD – the comradeship between Francy Devine and Steve Byrne, while Mícheál Mac Donncha shows Shona Donaldson and Paul Anderson in full flight with Caoimhe Hogarty, Daoirí Farrell and Catriona looking on

There is a special treat in the duet with Dave McCracken, accompanied by Andrew Watchorn on Northumbrian pipes, on the late Terry Conway’s moving composition of parting and friendship, ‘Fare Thee Weel Regality’. The group adds a new dimension to a song widely performed by the Northumbrian sister duo, The Unthanks, and others. While on the tender ‘The Banks of Inverurie’ there is another subtle duet, this time with Shona Donaldson.

But it is to Francy Devine’s own compositional skills that I will finish. In the collection they can be found early on with his tender song of love and loss, ‘Dark and Slender Boy’, whose death causes his love to leave Ireland where ‘From Derry quay she sailed away … to seek my life’s sad fortune’ while ‘no man more shall know me.’ Yet for me perhaps there is one song that draws the collection together. It is Francy’s own composition ‘Magaidh Ruaidh’, to which he added music drawing on Kathleen MacInnnes’s beautiful Gaelic rendering, ‘Ceud Failt Air Gach Gleann’, which must also be heard. Francy’s song is perfectly augmented by Steve Byrne on guitar and harmonium and movingly by Fin Moore on pipes. It is a song of loss and evocation, the memories the singer talks of in his notes. It might easily be sung across our islands whenever people have left home for what they hope will be a better life. Its sentiments are universal whether for the migrant or refugee. It sums up that sense of humanity which I spoke about at the beginning

But there is so much more in the collection which must surely be widely listened to. There is another homage to the influential Ewan MacColl in ‘The Shellback’, Eddie Butcher’s unique ‘Alexander’, fresh insights into standards such as ‘The Lowlands o Holland’ and ‘Tramps and Hawkers’; and others besides. In these times of some isolation, and not a little fear, the whole collection can be guaranteed to help lift the spirits of the listener.

Mike Mecham (London)

The Good Old Days

Many fondly look back to the ‘good old days’ when the Howth Singing Circle began in the Pier House, now O’Connell’s. Sessions were packed, lively and great fun, although most forget the pall of smoke that gripped the back of your throat and stank your clothes! A friend once came out from Dublin ‘to see what this new singing session was all about’. When asked what he had made of it, he replied, ‘I came home with everyone else’s fleas’. It was a complement to the packed, welcoming company. Paddy Daly recorded many of the nights on his camera and here are a few of his pictorial memories. Sadly, some of those featured have passed away while others no longer come to the club. It underlines what a great turnover there has been in the twenty years since we started. It would be lovely to see those who no longer come to visit us again as we celebrate.

Here are some great stalwarts of the club, left, Jack & Nan Barron who always brought sunshine; and Anne Buckley & Andrew Clarke, behind them Eugene McEldowney, Antoinette Daly, Vera & Dave Rickard and Charlie Costello

Left, Niamh Parsons with behind her Jerry O’Reilly, Declan Fay,  Graham Dunne and Doreen Gallagher;

Right, Vera Rickard brings in a cake for Nan & Jack Barron with Liam Ó Droma, Alison O’Donnell, Tom Crean, Doreen Gallagher and front right Janet McCormack looking on 

Buíochas Mór

As ever, The Sweet Nightingale, as with all HSC activities, does not just appear and we are grateful to the following: Richard Tobin, Allison O’Rourke and staff of the Abbey Tavern; Mick Fowler; Christy Hammond of CRM Design & Print for various print jobs; Colm Keating, photographs; Mícheál Mac Donncha, photographs; Mike Mecham; Finola Young for many supports; and your Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Brian Doyle, Helen Lahert, Daire Ó Baoill, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan.

Above: the ever smiling Stiofán Ó hAoláin with plenty of reason to smile; the late and sorely missed Joan Harmon, a beautiful singer and beautiful woman; the dedoubtable Paddy D, Saoi

Below: Tony McGaley in the Botanical Gardens; Robert Kelly’s skilfully crafted wheel; and where it all started for Lankum, Lynched as they were then, at the Howth Singing Circle Dinner Dance!

Photos on Front Page

Those we can identify in the left-hand picture are,

top row, l-r, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh and Colly Moore presenting Song Sheets to Nicholas Carolan, Irish Traditional Music Archive, Andrew Clarke, unknown, Luke Cheevers

Second row, l-r, Jerry O’Reilly, unknown, Tom Crean, Pat Lynch, Cliodhna Ní Shúilleabháin

Third row, l-r, Máirín & Jimmy Kelly; Niamh Parsons, unknown, unknown

Fourth row, l-r, Gus Ahearn; Nan & Jack Barron, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh; Ann Riordan

Fifth row, l-r, Francy Devine, Thomas Westen, Seán Óg McKenna & Eugene McEldowney; Cian & Séamus Ó Súilleabháin

Bottom row, l-r, Máirtín Dempsey, Siobhán Moore, Jimmy Smith, Dave Rickard & Tina McLoughlin

And the other picture,

Gus & Betty Ahearn, two unknown, Siobhán Moore, Janet McCormack, two unknown, Vera Rickard

A long, long road now winds before me

And fate may take me where it will

Through deep valleys and over mountains

I’ll not forget, I’ll remember you still

So here’s to you and our time together

I’ll share with you now a parting glass

And bid adieu with a smile and laughter

Our time apart will be short and pass

(from So Here’s to You – Alan Bell)

Scroll down to read past editions.

The Sweet Nightingale February 2020[3]

Saoithe: Paddy Daly, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 12, February 2020

Shanties in Dún Laoghaire

On Saturday 2 November last, the Howth Singing Circle were invited, for the second year, by the Dún Laoghaire Vinyl Festival to perform a session of Sea Shanties. The venue was the atmospheric surroundings of the old church in Haig Terrace now the National Maritime Museum and the singers sang, fittingly, below the impressive edifice of the old Baily Lighthouse light. Despite the awful weather, a good audience attended and sang lustily along from their Song Sheets and were very complimentary as they left after the performance.

The ever-reliable Eddie Philips nudged our vessel from its berth and ‘Away From the Roll of the Sea’ before Tom Finn lustily led ‘The Greenland Whale Fishery’, the choruses swelling in the vastness of the old church. Paddy Daly paid tribute to the late seamen and dockers’ union leader, diver and naval archaeologist Des Branigan who was closely associated with the development of the Museum and the Maritime Institute. Paddy read the poem ‘Cork on the Sea’ with great feeling as it described the badge Branigan designed for the Marine, Port & General Workers’ Union which featured the knot of St Brendan the Navigator and the Starry Plough.

Some of the objects and subjects in the National Maritime Museum

Helen Lahert led a poignant version of ‘Three Score and ten’, reminding the audience of the continued sacrifice of fisher folk and seafarers. Laurence Bond provided a lusty version of ‘Blood Red Roses’, perhaps the closest we came to actually sounding like a crew hauling sheets or turning capstans. It roused the audience who were then well-primed to provide solid chorus work as Brian Doyle sang ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’. An undoubted highlight was Daire Ó Baoill’s beautiful, soaring performance of ‘Mhéir Mé Ó’ which utterly captivated audience and crewmates alike. Frank Spiers followed with Ewan MacColl’s ‘Come All Ye Fisher Lassies’, a song first heard in the celebrated Radio Ballad Singing the Fishing’. Frank, a yachtsman with a heritage from Portsoy and other fishing ports mentioned in the song, hit the nail of the song full square. Jack & Angela Plunket led ‘Bully in the Alley’, a contrast to many of the more familiar songs but one thoroughly appreciated by the audience. Eugene McEldowney then got everyone to puff their chests and cheeks to ‘Blow the Man Down’, an old favourite that everyone knew.

Shanties belting out from below the old Baily Light to an appreciative and responsive audience;

Ann Riordan berating the congregation and instructing them to go down to the galley for an enjoyable de-brief after singing their exertions

Gerry O’Connor introduced a more gentle, reflective mood with ‘Old Whitby Harbour’ and Ann Riordan read the poem ‘The Santa Domingo’ that told the story of the many seamen who are badly exploited and often arrive in port with no pay and little by way of provisions. The poem was commissioned by the International Transport Workers’ Federation who published it in over fifteen languages in tribute to the late Tony Ayton, Ireland’s first ITF Inspector, who reclaimed millions of dollars in unpaid wages for seafarers stranded on our shores. Niamh Parsons pleaded ‘Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her’, another favourite that was followed by the ‘Star Wars Shanty’ that brought smiles to all and some terrific responses to the calls.

Luke Cheevers brought the performance to a close with ‘Billy O’Shea’ rejoined by an audience now fully warmed up and enthusiastic to sing along – the essential purpose of the day. Howth Singing Circle were grateful to Neil Goodman and Brian O’Flaherty for the invitation to perform at the Vinyl Festival; to the staff of the National Maritime Museum for their assistance and courtesy; to those who joined the crew without the opportunity to lead a song – Fergus Carey, Mary Doyle, Úna Kane and Walter Kennedy; and, mostly of course, to those who stood on the quay and sang along as we sailed past. All were engaged when the session concluded in the traditional fashion with the singing of ‘The Parting Glass’.

One poem that was included in the Shanty Session was ‘Last Request’ which was written in honour of John de Courcy Ireland, a significant figure in the development of both the National Maritime Museum and Maritime Institute, an internationally acclaimed and highly decorated maritime historian, polyglot and writer, for many years Secretary of the Dún Laoghaire Lifeboat, life-long socialist and campaigner for peace and environmental protection. First published in 1997, it has become a frighteningly real possibility: When the last ocean dried / it requested that its salts be /scattered over Jacques Cousteau / and John de Courcy Ireland.

Women’s Songs

Our November session, hosted by Niamh Parsons and Helen Lahert celebrated songs and poems for and about women and gathered regulars, new voices and people welcomed back after a long absence. We heard songs and poems of defiance and rebellion of hard work and fights for rights, loss of loved ones and advice to daughters, all sung and recited with passion.

Caitriona Crow in ‘Millworker’ reminded us that ‘millwork aint nothing but an awful boring job’ and Siobhán Moore sang ‘The Doffing Mistress’. Martina Ní Chearnaigh sang of the mother watching her child leave, never to return, in ‘Weary O’ and Máire Ní Bhaoill sang ‘The Flower of Gortade’ unrivalled mid the daughters of Erin. Deirdre Madden sang a great version of ‘Black Coffee’ and Eugene McEldowney, ‘The Bonny Boy’. Tommy Lehane sang to ‘Caitlín’ and Seán Ó h’Éarcháin, ‘The Roses of Picardy’. Laurence Bond sang of the woman waiting for a boy down ‘Salters Road’ and Eddie Phillips gave the stunning song ‘You Have Lives’. Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh sang about ‘Adam in Paradise’ while Helen Lahert sang of the pillars of society doing their business with ‘The Backroom Lady’. Walter Kennedy sang of the river as a lady with “’weet Thames Flow Softly’ and Ann Riordan read a poem reminding us to tell our daughters of their strengths beyond beauty. Eileen Clancy recited Jonathan Swift’s poem of two women, Vanessa and Stella. Francy Devine sang of steadfast love in ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’ and Andy Burke of the feisty ‘Wife of the Bold Tennant Farmer’. Tom Finn gave us ‘The Gartan Mothers Lullaby’ and Fergus Carey sang ‘Mothers, Daughters, Wives’. Niamh Parsons on guitar, accompanied by Siobhán Moore, was the haunted woman of the hill in ‘Clohinne Winds’ and Tony Fitzpatrick reminded us of the bravery of the Dunnes Stores workers fighting against apartheid in Ewan MacColl’s ‘Ten Young Women and One Young Man’. Joyce Mahon sang ‘I Am Woman’ and Siobhán Moore treated us to her beautiful interpretation of ‘The irish Girl’.

The women in these songs and poems were mothers and daughters, mistresses, revolutionaries and workers, mourning the loss of their children to immigration and feeling invincible in older age. It was a night of high-quality songs excellently sung.

Helen Lahert

Doireann Glackin & the Annual Dinner 

This year’s Annual Dinner was held in 30 Church Street, a new restaurant and one that provided a meal that everyone enjoyed. An open fire and pizza oven provided a cosy, welcoming atmosphere for what proved to be a most enjoyable occasion. Our Special Guest was Doireann Glackin and she proved to be just that with two sets of excellent fiddle playing, good singing and some informative and humorous sleeve notes to her items.

Ann Riordan, Doireann Glackin & Daire Ó Baoill who ran the night and Doireann displaying her tremendous fiddle playing skills

Above: Doireann in fine voice and Daire delivering ‘An Bunnán Buí’ 

Some folk felt that the Annual Dinner may have run its course but Ann Riordan organised another much appreciated evening. Plenty of people got to sing or play in addition to Doireann’s two sets. The restaurant was a popular choice and next autumn – to celebrate our Twentieth Anniversary – no doubt the Dinner will take place again – perhaps with some surprises.

Andy ‘Lockjaw’ Burke playing tribute to Seán Ó Riada and a somewhat bleary image of Eddie Phillips but then he was boozing; and Helen Lahert bringing poignant memories of Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore with ‘The Nightingale’

Spilling the Behans

Tony McGaley and Gerry O’Connor led us off in the first session of the new decade with ‘Spilling the Behans’, a tribute to the song-writing and singing contribution of Kathleen Behan and her boys. Tony’s expertise shone through with his choice of material and folk to either sing or recite it. A large crowd certainly enjoyed themselves and Tony and Gerry set a warm, welcoming tone throughout. There were over thirty contributors not including the Three in a Row presented by Macdara Yeates – ‘Easy & Slow’, ‘The Patriot Game’ and the squib ‘Cheer Up Russell Street’. Among many highlights were Laurence Bond waking us from our cells with ‘The Ould Triangle’; Larry O’Toole’s galloping down the last behind Millhouse until Arkle took the prize; Luke Cheevers’s inimitable version of ‘The Captains & the Kings’; Deirdre Madden’s sensitive interpretation of ‘When All the World Was Young’; Éamonn Hunt’s soulful, ‘My Laughing Boy’; Fergus Carey’s rousing ‘Me Red Headed Mot From Ringsend’; and Tom Finn’s emigrant building workers’ anthem, Dominc’s ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’. Mick Simpson stole the show among the recitations and poems with his very dramatic and exceedingly funny delivery of an excerpt from Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy: Mick was that offender! Áine Bean Uí Chathasaigh, Paddy Daly with his Lighthouse Keeper’s complaint about Brendan’s house painting skills, Mick Fowler, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Manus O’Riordan and Ann Riordan also recited or recalled anecdotes from the endless Behan collections

Some non-Behan material crept in late on – something neither mother nor brothers would have quibbled about as by then there was a warm, your own front room atmosphere. Peter Byrne made heads turn towards sleep with his gentle ‘John o Dreams’, the scallywag Eddie Phillips set off ‘Boozing’ – again; and Walter Kennedy invoked Zozimus. Two of the best contributions came late with Daire Ó Baoill’s powerful, macaronic version of ‘James Connolly’ and Siobhán Moore’s ear-catching ‘The Galway Rebels Boys’ about Liam Mellows, Irish Volunteers and Athenry – a far cry from the fields but a beautiful, poignant song.

So, a great start to the year and a huge triumph for Tony himself. Gerry worked attentively behind the scenes to facilitate things and the night ultimately displayed everything that is good about the Howth Singing Circle – and singing sessions generally.

Tony McGaley & Gerry O’Connor spilling Behans all over the place and the large audience rehearsing shanties

Cathal Caulfield & Tales of Humour, Wonder & Woe

Cathal Caulfield proved to be an excellent Young Singer/Musician in Residence being involved in the Fiddle Bus to Antrim, performing a great set at the Burns Nicht, running monthly sessions and generally being active and supportive in his role despite the demands of his studies – in which he excelled – and general musical life. As part of his brief, Cathal selected comic songs from the vast Tommy Munnelly Collection in the National Folklore Collection held in University College Dublin. Cathal has recorded these songs thanks to the Irish Traditional Music Archive and produced them in a booklet entitled Tales of Humour, Wonder & Woe. Cathal was assisted for the Howth Singing Circle Committee by Laurence Bond and Francy Devine who guided the work to publication.

Tony Fitzpatrick’s CD, Sailors & Whalers

It is always a pleasure to listen to the seemingly effortless, clear and perfect pitch of Tony Fitzpatrick’s voice and his repertoire of songs continues to amaze. So, it was with anticipation that I began to listen to his first recorded album, Sailors & Whalers. I was not disappointed.

Tony, originally from Drimnagh, sings with a passion imbued with a love of life and roots embedded in Dublin tradition, with influences from his father, a staunch trade unionist, his wife Anne Gourlay, ‘the constant listener’ from Dundee in Scotland and his three sons, Graham, Ruairí and Darragh, as well as the community of singing circles in Dublin and beyond. Graham accompanies Tony on flute and whistles.

Given Tony’s amazing repertoire it is not surprising that he has chosen an interesting collection, from the songs of Ewan MacColl, ‘Tunnel Tigers’ and ‘My Old Man’, the latter sung with passion and understanding given his own father’s experience in the trade union movement. Tony was keen to include some songs from Liam Weldon and chose ‘The Town of Castle D’Oliver’ from Liam’s singing and ‘Jinny Joe’, written by the maestro for his son and sung with passion by Tony, this rendition particularly poignant given that this recording was at the request of Tony’s sons: ‘Where will you be my blue eyed son, when your daddy’s race is run’.

There are familiar old favourites like ‘The Night Visiting Song’, learned from the singing of Luke Kelly and the traditional, ‘Flower of Magherally O’ from County Down. With the influence of his life-long partner from Dundee, the album could not have been without a Scottish song and ‘The Balaena’ brings in a shanty with a wonderful banjo accompanied change of tempo in the middle. There are surprises like the haunting ‘Birds and Ships’, new to me, a lover of Woody Guthrie songs. This one was written by Woody but not recorded until his daughter gave it to Billy Bragg and Wilco, who added the music. Tony also sings songs like ‘Ratcliffe Highway’, which he learned from Luke Cheevers at An Góilín and ‘Greenland Whale Fisheries’, a shanty learned at Howth Burns Night and something of a Club anthem. He finishes the album with ‘The Last Leviathan’, written by Andy Barnes in 1980 and as relevant as ever today: ‘I am the last of the great whales and I am dying’.

The CD cover and Tony in fine voice at the Clé Club in Liberty Hall

While Tony’s unaccompanied singing is sufficient unto itself – he sings a number unaccompanied with his signature concertina introduction – the addition of Andrew Meaney on guitar, Rory O’Rourke on fiddle, mandolin and banjo, and Tony’s son Graham on flute and whistles, is executed delicately, never overpowering Tony’s voice. The fiddle and flute add haunting notes and the minimal, muted guitar accompaniment to songs like ‘My Old Man’ and ‘Birds and Ships’ is superb. The choice of music and the mix of instruments serve only to enhance these beautiful songs and Tony’s singing of them. The album was recorded and mixed by Brian Murphy.

It is available online at the Bandcamp site given below. All proceeds go to the Simon Community.

Helen Lahert


A Wonderful Website on John Kelly of Capel Street

Aoife Kelly, daughter of John Kelly – well-known tp Howth Singing Circlers through the Fiddle Bus and his performances at the annual Burns Nicht –has developed a wonderful website on the music and life of her grandfather John Kelly, the fiddle and concertina player from Rehy West, Kilbaha, Clare, who became well known in Dublin through his shop The Horseshoe in Capel Street. Kelly was a pivotal figure in traditional Irish music throughout the twentieth century and still significantly influences musicians today. Aoife designed the website ‘in order to share her family’s knowledge with the wider Irish traditional music community’. It can be accessed at

Pages inform readers who John Kelly was an acknowledge the many contributors. Kelly’s repertoire is presented through fifty audio and visual clips with airs, hornpipes, jigs, marches, reels, slides and slip-jigs. Many of the images have previously been unseen and each item carries the tune’s provenance, sometimes with John Kelly himself providing the explanation. In this way, the site becomes both personal and provocative, an intimate meeting with an inspiring figure with insights into how difficult it was for traditional musicians to gain any sort of recognition for their art – particularly in Dublin where they and their music were openly derided by many. Pages provide details of Kelly’s family background in Clare, his musical influences from the loop Head area and his mother’s Scattery Island. It is a lifestyle lost, tough and demanding, subsistence farming and harsh season’s setting life’s rhythms and yet it produced such beautiful music, almost regal at times and quite at odds with what might be expected from an isolated rural community. Kelly’s comments on his musical ‘welcome’ are probably shocking tom young musicians but they underline the debt contemporary musicians owe to those who ploughed a lonely furrow – especially those who maintained and developed the tradition in the capital.

Kelly’s ‘Musical Connections’ were vast and interviews he gave to his son John and other family members provide fascinating insights into those he played and collaborated with like Brendán Breathnach, Bobby Casey, Willie Clancy, Andy Conroy, Mrs Crotty, Johnny Doran, Nell Galvin, Patsy Geary, Seán Ó Riada, and Joe Ryan. There are stories of places he played in like O’Donoghue’s and The Four Seasons and groups he was associated with like the Castle Céilí, Éamon de Buitléar and Ceoltóirí Laighean, Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann. Many memories will be evoked by the pages on Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy with Mary Kelly’s photographs and videos a central resource for this and many other pages.

This is an exceptional resource that rewards any visitor. Beware though as ‘a quick five minutes’ will rarely be that as you mine gem after gem, stirring memories of tunes, players and occasions, and learning all the time to respect and be grateful for the legacy and heritage musicians like John Kelly bequeathed to all of us, a stunning bequest that has been heard from Kilbaha to Kyoto, Rehy West to Rangoon, Capel Street to Chicago, Quebec and Alice Springs. And long may it continue – replenished when needs be by this wonderful source of music, family history and sheer joy in the listening and viewing.

Deirdre Madden, Francy Devine & Catriona Crowe ‘Crossing the Bar’ at the December sessio

Burns Nicht 2020: Will There Be One in 2021?

A full reflection on Burns Nicht 2020 will appear in the next edition of The Sweet Nightingale. Our Special Guests were the Tannahill Weavers and George Duff from Edinburgh – with the usual, much-appreciated contributions from the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band and our ‘Resident Band’ of John Kelly (fiddle), Larry Egan (box) and Mick Mullen (guitar).

The question was raised as to whether there would be another Burns Nicht – our costs are rising and our organisers ‘getting auld’. The price of a Burns Nicht ticket has never risen from €20 and we would like to know what you feel about it being raised to, say, €25 or even €30.

We would also like you to tell us what changes you might suggest we make to the Burns Nicht and Fare Thee Weel Session to improve them? And who would you like to see as main guests if we go ahead next year?

Twentieth Anniversary !

The Howth Singing Circle commences its twentieth season next September. We would love to hear your ideas as to how we should celebrate this. We will start the year with a ‘Back to the Beginning’ session led by Siobhán Moore and Dave Moran who organised the first singing session to commemorate Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore in the Red Herring (the old Evora and now a gym) which then led to the start of our Circle the following September.

So, please, let us know what you think.

An early edition of The Sweet Nightingale – how many can you identify?

And a happy night from the Pier House sessions

Buíochas Mór

As ever, The Sweet Nightingale, as with all HSC activities, does not just appear and we are grateful to the following: Richard Tobin, Allison O’Rourke and staff of the Abbey Tavern; Finola Young for many supports; Noel Kelly, St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band; Christy Hammond of CRM Design & Print for various print jobs; and your Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Brian Doyle, Helen Lahert, Daire Ó Baoill, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan.

Programme For 2020

6 February – Daire Ó Baoill – Oiche Gaelach with Special Guest Máire Ní Choilm 

5 March – Brian Doyle with theme to be announced

2 April – Special Guest Liam O’Connor, Director, Irish Traditional Music Archive

7 May – Laurence Bond with Special Guests Paddy & Caoimhín Branigan 

4 June – to be announced 

Saturday 18 July – ‘Singing the Fishing’ walking tour of Howth Harbour 

3 September – ‘Back to the Beginning’ with Siobhán Moran & Dave Moran

Howth Singing Circle 

First Thursday Every Month, Abbey Tavern, 9pm


All Welcome

Dancing the nicht awa at the 2020 Howth Burns Nicht

The Sweet Nightingale September 2019

Saoithe: Paddy Daly, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 11, September 2019

Nineteen Not Out

The Howth Singing Circle season beginning this September will run into our Nineteenth year of activity. The first thing to say is to thank all those who have supported the Circle through their attendance as performers or listeners; the management and staff of the Pier House, Howth Sea Angling Club and Abbey Tavern; and to those who have put in the unseen work of organising the many events. As with any traditional singers’ club, Howth Singing Circle has known its highs and lows. It is interesting to see the changing faces. We have, sadly, lost many of those who were central to the Club in its early days with Jack Barron – with Nan better known as ‘Sunshine’, Andrew Clarke, Charlie Costello, Tom Crean, Tommy Lawrence, Charles O’Neill and our President Willie O’Connor among the more notable names.

Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore who inspired our Club in whose memory it is dedicated Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh & Colly Moore presenting an early collection of The Sweet Nightingale to Nicholas Carolan for deposit in the Irish Traditional Music Archive in the Pier House

Nothing would please us more if any of those who have ‘got out the habit’ of attending Howth would come back, at least for one night. You were – and remain – part of who we were, are and will be. You would be welcome. We are open to suggestions as to how we might remember our past and, as part of that, will carry some images of past nights in The Sweet Nightingale, mainly thanks to Il Paddarazzi – Paddy Daly who has catalogued our activities either on camera or on recorder.

The Club was founded in the memory of Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore, a Howth fisherman and extraordinary character who we honoured with a weekend Festival, The Bull’s Roar. After his untimely death in 2000, some of his friends suggested a night of songs to remember him and many gathered in what was then The Red Herring, better known for its former name of the Evora Bar, now a gym. The night – led from memory by Dave Moran and Siobhán Moore – was most enjoyable and a monthly club began in the back room of the Pier House. From September, it struggled – not through lack of singers and musicians – and we had a lot of music in those early days – but from competition with locals who would not either vacate the room or stay quiet during songs. At Christmas, we had ‘one final go’ and produced a theme – Christmas, a song sheet and sandwiches. Whatever all that did, particularly the sandwiches, the club took off and the first Burns Nicht saw attendances rise and a new, vibrant singers’ club was born. The room was jam-packed – and very smoky! – and one visitor from Dublin when asked what he thought of the HSC said, ‘Great! I came home with everyone else’s fleas!’ He was being complimentary if you can understand his logic – and he became a regular. In addition to those mentioned, Ann Buckley, Victor Byrne, Luke Cheevers, Máirtín Dempsey, Eileen & John Griffiths, Janet McCormack, Paddy Mackey, Colly Moore, Jerry & Anne O’Reilly, Dave & Vera Rickard, Gabriel Roberts and Elke & Thomas Westen were among the monthly stalwarts.

In addition to our monthly sessions, Howth Singing Circle has had

  • many Special Guests from the late Al O’Donnell to the most recent visitors from Appalachia, Elizabeth LaPrelle and Sandy Newlin;
  • hosted the Howth Burns Nicht, a unique night in the city’s traditional calendar and one that has again brought many outstanding Scottish guests to Ireland;
  • run a number of day and weekend trips away;
  • organised the fabulous Fiddle Buses to Naul and Skryne, Donegal, Antrim and Scotland in association with John Kelly and Liam O’Connor, Paul and Shona Anderson;
  • held acclaimed Singing/Walking Tours of Dublin’s Quays and the National Botanic Gardens;
  • raised considerable sums of money for St Francis Hospice, Raheny and Howth Lifeboat through the annual ‘Singing the Fishing’ sessions and the Sutton Methodist Church Singathons;
  • held an annual Dinner Dance with guests including the Kelly Ensemble; Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne; Seán McKeon & Liam O’Connor; Lynched [now known as Lankum]; Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin & Saileóg Ní Cheannabháin; Daoirí Farrell; and Jimmy Crowley;
  • supported and been supported by St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band who have graced our Burns Nicht and other occasions;
  • organised concerts with Damien Dempsey; Andy Irvine; The Drôle (John Kelly, Éamon McGivney & Peadar Ó Riada); Andy Irvine; Gatehouse and Martyn Wyndham Read; and The Voice Squad;
  • enjoyed the talents of our two Young Singers/Musicians in Residence, Ruth Clinton and Cathal Caulfield;
  • produced The Sweet Nightingale and maintained Facebook and web pages to publicise our activities and maintain contact with Club activists.

All this has been done on a completely voluntary basis. Howth Singing Circle has never received any sponsorship nor sought it. We publish our annual accounts to allow participants to see what happens to their €4 contribution at our monthly sessions. This contribution funds all that we do although many people contribute their time and energy to making our events successful.

Most of all, no traditional singers’ club could survive without its singers and listeners and to each and everyone who has attended and supported the Howth Singing Circle over the past twenty years, our sincere thanks. Without that support, we would not have survived.

Fáilte Helen agus Daire

A welcome to the two new members of the Howth Singing Circle Committee, Helen Lahert and Daire Ó Baoill. Helen is pictured here with the redoubtable Janet Weatherston from Dalkeith, Midlothian, when the two of them ran the Burns Nicht Fare Thee Weel Session last February. Daire is pictured in action on the MayFest Singing/Walking Tour performing a great version of ‘An Bonnán Buí’.

Helen with Janet Weatherston at the Fare Thee weel Session and Daire down by the Liffeyside

Where Does Your 4 Go ?

As we always do, we request a €4 voluntary contribution from those attending our monthly sessions. Where does this money go? Firstly, we pay a small fee to the Abbey Tavern for the use of the room and the provision of sandwiches. We also pay our guests – at rates in line with or above Musicians’ Union of Ireland rates. In the last season, we paid €1,800 to guests, all of whom were excellent and gave great value for money. For our Dinner, we take payment only for what the meals cost the Circle, the guest’s fee comes out of our general accounts.

The only event we charge for is the Burns Nicht. In January 2019, the Burns Nicht cost us €3,661.64 to put on – and, we should remind our audiences, we receive no funding or sponsorship whatsoever. Thanks to the 180 who attended and the draw at the Fare Thee Weel Session, we actually showed a small surplus of €97.36 on the weekend. Since September 2018 until June 2019, our total income was €6,429 with outgoings of €6,097.64 leaving a surplus of €331.36, although some items remain outstanding.

So, please appreciate that our Singing Circle is run on a voluntary basis and could not do so without your monthly contribution. We account for that income and, we feel, give great value for money – for instance, the Burns Nicht cost of €20 is unchanged for the last decade!

Thank you all again.

An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club at 40

Howth Singing Circle extends our sincere and admiring congratulations to An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club who are currently celebrating their Fortieth Anniversary. An Góilín was founded by Tim Dennehy and Dónal de Barra ‘to give a platform for people who like to sing and listen to traditional Irish songs and singing’. In addition to their weekly Friday sessions nowadays held in The Teachers’ Club in Parnell Square, the club holds various other events, most notably the annual Frank Harte Festival, this year from 20-22 September. You can follow their events here –www.goilin.com/ We wish An Góilín continued success in all they do.

The mirror reflecting a cosy Christmas night in the Abbey with Laurence Bond and Ann Riordan

Liam O’Connor

 On Thursday, 13 June, the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) announced the appointment of Liam O’Connor as its new next Director of ITMA, a position he took up in late August. organisation in a new role. The ITMA said that ‘as a respected musician, collector, researcher and teacher, Liam O’Connor’s music activities, qualifications and experience seamlessly align with the values, culture and ethos of ITMA’.  They acknowledged that Liam had ‘gained considerable insight into the internal and external workings of the ITMA having used the Archive for over twenty years in a variety of roles: from transition year work experience as a teenager, to unearthing rare tunes such as ‘The Loom’ sourced from the collections’.  They noted that his work had included serving on the ITMA Board; research on Irish language songs recorded, 1928–1931, in the RIA Doegen Collection;  applying for, and delivering on, Arts Council funded projects such as the innovative P.W. Joyce PORT Project (https://youtu.be/b0NXjdRDsEU); and publicly representing the ITMA with archival partner TG4 at Gradam Ceoil 2019.

Howth Singing Circle offered its congratulations to Liam on his appointment. He has been associated with the HSC in a variety of ways, performing at our Annual Dinner and in concerts, memorably with Damien Dempsey when he played with piper Seán McKeon, and – together with Paul Anderson, John Kelly and Ann Riordan – being central to the organisation of our Fiddle Bus excursions. Without the involvement of Liam and John those Fiddle Bus trips would not have attracted the calibre of musicians that they did or be as well informed about the fiddle music and musicians of the venues that we visited. Liam’s father, flute player Mick O’Connor, has made an outstanding contribution to the performance, collection and standing of traditional music for decades and has also been a strong supporter of HSC events in many different ways, Fiddle Bus ventures included.

So, the HSC is delighted to congratulate Liam on his appointment and wish him every success.

Liam O’Connor with his sister Aoife, Aoife Kelly (concertina) and his wife Niamh McNeela in the Séamus Ennis Centre, Naul, on the first Fiddle Bus; and performing in the Burnett ArmsHotel, Banchory at a Concert for the erection of a statue to Scott Skinner in the town on Fiddle Bus 3. His father Mick is sitting behind him

Howth Burns Nicht 2019

Howth Burns Nicht 2019 was another memorable weekend of great singing, music and company. Our main guests – Paul Anderson and Shona Donaldson Anderson – are old friends and were received with great affection. Paul’s courage and calm in dealing with serious illness – including an unscheduled trip to hospital just before his Saturday night performance – struck a chord with an audience well attuned to his struggles. Gerry O’Connor, accompanied by John Keely, started with ‘The Night Visiting Song’ and Eugene McEldowney and Janet Weatherston completed an opening set of Scottish songs. As the Nicht was held on 2 February, tribute was paid to Saint Brigid – or Bride as the Scots ken her – with Eileen Clancy and Kay Burke read Séamus Heaney poems with Kay appropriately producing a straw girdle she had made for Heaney’s ‘A Brigid’s Girdle’. Máire Ní Chróinín sang ‘Gamhan Molta Bhríde’ and Manus O’Riordan, ‘Saint Brigid’s Prayer’, while our Saoi Paddy Daly made his Burns Nicht debut by reading ‘St Brigid & the Baker’. In the second half, three Burns items were sung: Catriona Crowe with ‘Ye Jacobites By Name’; Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’; and Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne, ‘The Slave’s Lament’. Superb music was provided, as ever, by John Kelly (fiddle), Mick Mullen (guitar) and Larry Egan (box), with many unable to resist the urge to step it out to the tunes.

Paul Anderson in full flow and Shona Donaldson Anderson with her HSC Choir – the sacrifice they all made flying over to Aberdeen twice a week for months for rehearsals can only be admired

A highlight of the night was our Young Singer/Musician in Residence Cathal Caulfield performing songs and fiddle tunes, displaying originality, invention and great technique. The haggis – again made by Ricky Higgins of Higgins Family Butchers, Sutton Cross – was piped in by St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band led by Pipe Major Noel Kelly. Noel returned after the break to play the lament ‘Tommy Tully’s Air’. The ‘Address Tae the Haggis’ was delivered in inimitable style by Morag Dunbar and the ‘Selkirk Grace’ was made by Reverend Kenneth MacKenzie, Crathie Kirk, Deeside.

One of the best moments of the night was the appearance of the HSC Choir under the direction of Shona Donaldson. They sang Burns’s song ‘The White Cockade’ and astounded the hall with their parts singing, pitch perfect standard and stage presence. They received a rapturous reception. At the night’s end, Nóirín Lynch led the crowd in singing the ‘The Foggy Dew’; Paul Redmond raised the rafters with ‘The Minstrel Boy’; and Shona got everyone on their feet with ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Our Young Singer/Musician in Residence Cathal Caulfield gracing the Burns Nicht and our ‘Resident Band’ performing mighty sets – Larry Egan (box), John Kelly (fiddle) and Mick Mullen (guitar)

Declan Hoey

Our Special Guest in April indeed proved to be special – Declan Hoey, together with his Boyneside supporters, charmed his audience with great song selection, superb tone and command, and a great presence. Laurence Bond began the night with Cotswold stone while Tom Finn commemorated Martin Luther King, 4 April, and Abraham Lincoln, 15 April, with ‘Abraham, Martin & John’. Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh serenaded Norah McGinn; Seán Ó h Éarcháin, ‘Moira’; Des from Drogheda, ‘Carolina’; and Seán Faulkner, also Drogheda, ‘Sweet Hannah McKay’. Ruth and Noel Bailey completed the Louth contribution with ‘I Am Stretched on Your Grave’ and John Boyle O’Reilly’s ‘Cry of the Dreamer’. Regular voices were Antoinette Daly, Helen Lahert, Colin Stokes, Eugene McEldowney, Larry O’Toole, Úna Kane – who acted as Bean an Tí, Daire Ó Baoill, Brian Doyle, Eddie Phillips, Séamus Shiels, Kay and Andy Burke, Gerry O’Connor and Brenda Ní Ríordáin. Rose Hoey gave us ‘The Ballad of Drogheda’ and Siobhán Kavanagh showed great style with Shirley Collins’s ‘I Once Loved a Boy’ and the powerful ‘Underneath Her Apron’.

Declan Hoey began with ‘The Wheels of the World’ and ‘Bonnie Blue Eyes Nancy’, the latter demonstrating his range and artistry. He continued with ‘Lough Erne’s Green Shore’, ‘Johnny & Molly’, ‘Loving Hannah’ and ‘Pretty Susan, the Pride of Moyclare’. He had the room singing with ‘How Can I Keep From Singing?’ and ended with ‘Sleep on Beloved’. For some, his most powerful song was Gerry Cullen’s ‘Leave the Wood’, an opportunity for Declan to demonstrate his ability to deliver a wide range of material. So, a splendid night with much humour and bonhomie. Our thanks again to those who had travelled down from the Far Side.

Helen Lahert captures some of our excellent guests – Rose & Declan Hoey and Sandy Newlin & Elizabeth La Prelle – Angela and Jack Plunket with Niamh Parsons looking appreciatively on

 Cathal Caulfield – HSC Young Singer/Musician in Residence

The term of our Young Singer/Musician in Residence Cathal Caulfield is nearly complete. Cathal was a very diligent and extremely engaging appointment and contributed hugely to the HSC activities during his residency. From his research project, he has compiled a booklet to be entitled Tales of Humour, Wonder and Woe: A Selection of Comic Songs Collected by Tom Munnelly drawn from material in the Munnelly Collection in the National Folklore Collection, UCD. We hope to have the booklet and attendant materials out before Christmas.

Bring Out the Banners – Singing & Walking Tour With SIPTU

On Sunday 4 March, the HSC in association with SIPTU and Mandate organised ‘Bring Out the Banners: An Historical Walking & Singing Tour’ as part of SIPTU’s May Fest. Manus O’Riordan began at the International Brigade Memorial at Liberty Hall with ‘A Song for Charlie Donnelly’, his adaptation of Blanaid Salkeld’s tribute to Donnelly and SIPTU’s Deputy General Secretary Ethel Buckley read Michael Longley’s ‘In Memory of Charles Donnelly’. At the Irish Women Workers’ Union and Mother Jones’s plaques, Niamh Parsons sang Charles Oppenheimer’s anthem ‘Bread and Roses’ and Frank Nugent performed Ewan MacColl’s moving song ‘Nobody Knew She Was There’. At the Connolly Monument, Pipe Major Noel Kelly of St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band accompanied Francy Devine’s singing of Patrick Galvin’s ‘Where O Where is James Connolly’ and adding Robert Mathieson’s ‘Blackbird’ within the rendition. SIPTU’s Rachael Ryan read Winifred Letts ‘The Connaught Rangers’ and Ann Riordan read Eavan Boland’s ‘Quarantine’ at the Famine statues on the quays. At the plaque for the SS Hare, the first foodship to arrive during the 1913 Lockout, Francy Devine sang ‘Who Fears to Wear the Red Hand Badge?’, Macdara Yeates’s John Warner’s ‘Bring Out the Banners’ – our day’s theme song, and Tony Fitzpatrick ‘Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore’. Before we crossed the Seán O’Casey bridge, SIPTU’s Vice President Bernie Casey sang his ‘Red Roses For Me’ and Luke Cheevers greeted us on the other side with the shanty ‘Billy O’Shea’. Laurence Bond recited E.J. Brady’s ‘The Dockers’ Orchestra’ at the Lineman sculpture and at the Matt Talbot Statue Daire Ó Baoill sang Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna’s ‘An Bunnán Buí’. On Rosie Hackett Bridge, Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin stirred us all with Philip O’Neill’s ‘The Cumann na mBan’ and at the Abbey Theatre Helen Lahert gave a beautiful reading of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘For James Connolly’. At the Larkin Monument, we sang MacColl’s anthem for the Dunne’s Stores Strikers, ‘Ten Young Women & One Young Man’; Siobhán Kavanagh performed Dan O’Neill’s song ‘The ballad of the Clery’s Workers’; and Fergus Whelan delivered ‘In Dublin City in 1913’. Éamon Hunt stirringly gave Jim Larkin’s oration ‘The Great Only Appear Great …’; Éamon Thornton read Francis Devine’s poem’ Remembering Jim Larkin’; and everyone raised their voices for Jim Connell’s ‘The Red Flag’.

Pipe Major Noel Kelly leading the marchers to the Larkin Monument and our award-winning writer Helen Lahert reading Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘For James Connolly’ at the Abbey Theatre

After the Walk, we retired to Pipers Corner specially opened for us by Seán Potts, Our thanks to Brian Tracey (SIPTU) for sound; Sonia Slevin (SIPTU Communications Department) for design of the brochure with all the songs; Pipe Major Noel Kelly (St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band) who piped us around the keys and played so mightily afterwards; Ethel Buckley (SIPTU) and to Ann Riordan for general organisation. It was a most enjoyable day.

Helen Lahert captures Francy Devine & Noel Kelly performing Patrick Galvin’s ‘Oh, Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly?’ at the Connolly Monument in Beresford Place

and Francy with Raven at the East of Ireland Pipe Band Championships in June

Elizabeth LaPrelle & Sandy Newlin 

June session was moved from our normal Thursday to the following Tuesday to avail of the opportunity to have two very Special Guests, Elizabeth LaPrelle and her mother Sandy Newlin from East Virginia, USA. A large crowd gathered to hear these two fine exponents of Appalachian singing and banjo playing and among the many fine performances from the floor were Laurence Bond, ‘The Most Familiar Place I’ve Ever Known’; Eugene McEldowney, ‘Babes in the Wood’; Máire Ní Bhaoill’s modern day parable on the life of ‘John C. Clarke’; Martina Ní Chearnaigh, ‘Mary From Loughrea’; Ciarán Ó Maoléoin, ‘A Maid on the Shore’; Mags Maxwell with ‘My Love Beside Me & the Tide Flows In’; Jack Plunkett, ‘The Broom o’ the Cowdenknowes’. Mick Fowler sang of the dentists from Fivemiletown; Máirídhe Woods flashed a silver dagger; and Daire Ó Baoill sang a Donegal drinking song. Welcome visitors from Roscommon were Declan Coyne who sang the West Virginia song ‘He was the World to Me’ and Fionnuala Maxwell with ‘Weary O’

The crowd had, of course, come to hear Elizabeth and Sandy and they proved to be excellent guests. Modest, understated, they let their talents and their material shine. Elizabeth provided excellent provenance for her songs, almost all deriving from her region and reflecting the mountainy, rural lifestyle of those who wrote or first performed them. ‘Sail Away Lady’ was associated with Uncle Dave Macon, 1871-1952, the ‘Dixie Dewdrop’ famed for his whiskers, gold teeth, gates-ajar collar and plug hat and ‘As I Walked Over London’s Bridge’ was a moving version of a song associated with Sam Russell. Quite a few hogs were hunted, whether real or supernatural, as in ‘Wild Hog in the Woods’, and advice was given to East Virginia girls regarding the quality – or absence thereof – of menfolk from West Virginia. Texas Gladys – who had sisters with names like Minnesota – provided the source for ‘Three Little Babes’.

Elizabeth and Sandy sang harmonically and Elizabeth accompanied some songs on banjo providing an additional sense of the Appalachian for the spellbound audience. ‘The Hills of Mexico’. ‘Shoulder Up Your Gun – Groundhog’ and ‘I Wish’ were all well received, the latter a fitting and moving finale to a magical night. The chorus in ‘I’ve Endured’ was joined with gusto, an opportunity for a skilled audience to offer their own supportive harmonies, an ultimate compliment to their guests.

Sandy & Elizabeth and our hosts for the night Helen Lahert & Philip O’Connor

Elizabeth was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina but grew up in Rural Retreat and lives in Cedar Springs, East Virginia and, while she sings a wide variety of north American international and contemporary songs, she is best known for her interpretation of Appalachian ballads. As she says, ‘I love music, and I love the mountains’. She graduated from the College of William & Mary with a self-designed major in ‘Southern Appalachian Traditional Performance’ and is best known for her work with Anna Roberts-Gevalt with whom she has made extensive recordings. Elizabeth, singer and banjo player, won prizes for singing from a very young age and her ‘dedicated research, passion, and a powerful voice to the ancient art of Appalachian ballad-singing’. As her sleeve notes on the night revealed, she acquired her songs from field-recordings, books, family, friends, and tradition-bearers like Sheila Kay Adams and Ginny Hawker.   She has three sole albums: Rain & Snow, (2004); Lizard in the Spring, (2007); and Birds’ Advice (2011).  You can see and hear Elizabeth singing ‘Pretty Sato’ here www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSI-jMiagLw or performing ‘East Virginia’ here www.youtube.com/watch?v=soHmyn2BQik

Fun at the Fare Thee Weel Session of the Howth Burns Nicht 2019 – Gerry O’Connor’s wish to have someone to love him was miraculously answered when Madonna appeared – though she’s put a bit of weight on since she was last seen at Howth Singing Circle! Andy Burke crowns Kay with the St Brigid’s Girdle she expertly made for the weekend

We are indebted to Macdara Yeates from The Night Before Larry Was Stretched for offering us the opportunity to hear Elizabeth and Sandy. The night was run by Helen Lahert and Philip O’Connor, who also provided hospitality for our guests, and Gerry O’Connor acted as chauffeur for our visitors. A lot goes into a night like the one enjoyed by so many. Finally, may we thank everyone who came along and especially those who had travelled distances to get there.

Wheels, Walks & Songs

In June, Howth Singing Circle and the Heels & Wheels Group co-hosted a Singing/Cycling/Omnibus/Walking tour of Dublin, as part of International Velo Week 2019. The event was the initiative of Des Kane of the Heels & Wheels Group which is sponsored by Dublin City Council. It was an invigorating and interesting event, with approximately forty people taking part. Commencing at the Ierne Sports & Social Club, we made our way to South Andrew Street with Brian Doyle serenading Molly Malone and Luke Cheevers leading singing (and dancing) with his performance of ‘Slip Jigs and Reels’. We then visited Luke Kelly on South King Street, remembering him with ‘Dirty Old Town’ sung by Tony Fitzpatrick followed by Eddie Phillips taking us on a ‘Dublin Saunter’. Next we repaired to St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park in the Liberties, where Tom Finn celebrated ‘Biddy Mulligan’ and Peter Byrne took us to ‘Tim Finnegan’s Wak’e. At Kilmainham Jail, we paused for some moving performances – Teresa Devaney of Heels & Wheels led the singing of ‘Grace’, Tony Fitzpatrick sang ‘Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly?’ while Gerry O’Connor sang the very moving ‘Last Call of the Day’. We sped onwards to the Phoenix Park, where we ‘entertained’ a group doing yoga in the bandstand.   Appropriately, Joe Walsh sang ‘The Zoological Gardens’, which was followed by the equally apposite ‘Abroad for Pleasure’ from Eugene McEldowney, with a trio of songs being completed by Luke Cheevers with ‘Down by the Liffeyside’. At the Royal Canal, Ann Riordan mingled two canals by reading Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Canal Bank Walk’ and Mick Dunne concluded the event by singing with ‘The Auld Triangle’, adjacent to Mountjoy

After the singing, we retired to the Ierne Sports & Social Club for a debrief. Heels & Wheels put on a great post-cycle spread, with the pièce-de-résistance a cake which depicted the two groups’s logos and some of the songs. Howth Singing Circle must give special thanks to Des Kane of Heels & Wheels for conceiving of and organising our singing saunter; to Derek Ahern of Dublin City Council Sports & Wellbeing Officer; and to all participants who contributed to making the event so enjoyable and successful. Thanks also to Dublin City Council for producing a video of the event, a link to which is included here – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tQgQDJOFUSi11tGD34xLZAV9hkTmK2Qq/view

Gerry O’Connor and Ann Riordan

Above: Kilmainham Jail; Tom Finn with ‘Biddy Mulligan’Below: Luke Cheevers & Gerry O’Coonor chatting by Molly; Brian & Mary Doyle enjoying the day

Howth at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann

The HSC were delighted to accept an invitation from the organisers of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Drogheda to host one of the singing sessions in the Boomerang Café on Sunday morning 11 August. We expected a quiet start early on a Sunday morning, but as we got into the swing of the singing, seats filled up and numbers swelled to close to eighty people. Helen Lahert started the ball rolling as Bean an Tí until we could welcome Fear an Tí Daire Ó Baoill fresh from competition, having come second in the Seán Nós Singing. He delighted us with ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’. Ann Riordan made sure that all guests who wished to sing were welcomed and invited to take the floor.

Eddie Phillips got the room buzzing with ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’; Margaret Keane, sang ‘Caledonia’; Mick Dunne with his cigar box guitar was ably accompanied by his son Seán on bodhrán to keep Dublin’s side up, singing ‘Biddy Mulligan’; Martina Nic Cearnaigh sang a lovely version of ‘Sweet Eireann the Green’; Francy Devine sang ‘One Starry Night’; and Tommy Collins regaled us with a story of ‘pucky fresian cows’. Goretti Molloy gave us ‘The Cabin with the Roses around the Door’, while young singers Hannah and Charlie from Cavan, sang ‘Lough Sheelin’s Side’ and ‘As I Roved Out’.

Helen Lahert, Daire Ó Baoill and Ann Riordan running the show; the Dunne family in full flow; Eddie Phillips flutering about to Antoinette Daly’s amusement and Daire getting the big crowd going

Pauleen Egan sang ‘Eileen O’Neill’; Helen Lahert sang ‘Ballyshannon Lane’; and Gerry Shannon, ‘Morrissey and the Russian Sailor’. Dennis O’Higgins read us a story from his book about Knockrockery. Máirídhe Woods sang ‘The Blue Hills of Antrim’ and John Ennis from Wexford, ‘My Love is a Tall Ship’. Margaret sang ‘The Home I Left Behind’ and a wonderful young singer, Kayla Traynor, wowed the house with her rendition of Fionnuala Maxwell’s ‘In Ireland we are All Related’. Stephen O’Connor from Belfast sang Maurice Leyden’s ‘The Tern and the Swallow’ and Brian Doyle from Howth sang ‘Blackwaterside’. Níall Wall from Enniscorthy sang for us and minded us well on behalf of the Fleadh committee and we were well fed and looked after by the Boomerang Café staff.

We heard thirty-nine singers from Cavan, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Down, Dublin, Fermanagh, Kerry, Louth, Monaghan, Offaly, Tyrone, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow, and finished in true HSC tradition, linking arms to sing ‘The Parting Glass’.

Helen Lahert

Buíochas Mór

As ever, The Sweet Nightingale, as with all HSC activities, does not just appear and we are grateful to the following: Richard Tobin, Allison O’Rourke and staff of the Abbey Tavern; Noelle Bowe & Drogheda Committee, Fleadh Ceoil na h Éireann; Ethel Buckley & Sonia Slevin (SIPTU); Des & Úna Kane, in tandem of course; Seán Potts & Pipers’ Corner; Finola Young for many supports; Macdara Yeates; Noel Kelly, St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band; Cathal Caulfield, Young Singer/Musician in Residence; and your Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Brian Doyle, Helen Lahert, Daire Ó Baoill, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan.

We are not sure what the collective noun for Riordans is but here is a rare collection. Our superb guest Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin provided a beautiful night of song and harp music with our Mna an Tí Brenda O’Riordan and Ann Riordan. There is nothing wrong with the photograph it is merely the sensational speed of the dancers!

Sonia Slevin’s beautifully designed brochure for our Walk and Siobhán Kavanagh singing ‘The Ballad of the Clery’s Workers’ at the Larkin Monument

Programme For 2019-2020

5 September – Diarmuid agus Áine Ó Cathasaigh, ‘Some Things Change, some Things Stay’

3 October – Special Guest Liam O’Connor – night begins with talk on the Irish Traditional Music Archive at 8.30 from its new Director, Liam O’Connor 

7 November – Helen Lahert & Niamh Parsons, ‘Women’s Songs’

21 November – Annual Dinner with Special Guests

5 December – Ann Riordan & Laurence Bond with Special Guest Tim Dennehy

9 January – Gerry O’Connor & Tony McGaley, ‘Captains, Kings & McAlpine’s

                           Fusiliers: A Tribute to the Behans’ 

25 January – Howth Burns Nicht 2020, Tannahill Weavers, Abbey Tavern, 20

26 January – Fare Thee Weel Session, Abbey Tavern, 3-6, free 

6 February – Daire Ó Baoill – Oiche Gaelach with Special Guest

 5 March – Brian Doyle with theme to be announced 

3 April – Francy Devine with Special Guests Paddy & Caoimhín Branigan

7 May – Laurence Bond with theme to be announced

4 June – ‘Thanks for the Memories’

‘She exceeds Flora, or bright Aurora
Or beauteous Venus from the briny froth
I am captivated, I do repeat it
By Hannah Healy, the pride of Howth’

Howth Singing Circle

First Thursday Every Month, Abbey tavern, 9pm 

All Welcome

sweet nightingale february 2019

Saoithe: Paddy Daly, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 10, January 2019

In reading our latest edition of The Sweet Nightingale, please feel free to comment on any items – either within the newsletter or generally regarding your view of Howth Singing Circle activities. We would also welcome more general articles from any of you – reviews of recordings or performances, reflections on your favourite songs, anything that relates to traditional singing and music.

Since our last Nightingale, the traditional world has been hit by the loss of some great talents including Finbar Boyle, Garech Brown, Vincent Campbell, Alec Finn, Liam Óg Ó Floinn, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Tommy Peoples, Jer O’Leary and Tim Lyons. Whilst there is general comment regarding the amount of young people playing traditional music, these deaths underline how fragile the tradition can be and how blessed we have been to have heard these talented people play and sing.

No Briars in the Botanic Gardens

 Below are two of the outstanding contributors to the ‘Down By You Flowery Garden’ Singing Walk in the Botanic Gardens in July last. Micheál Quinn’s rendition of ‘Dobbins Flowery Vale’ was class. The lyrics were most appropriate: ‘One morning fair as Phoebus bright /Her radiant smiles displayed / When Flora in her verdant garb, / The fragrant plains arrayed, / As I did rove throughout each grove, / No care did me assail / When a pair I spied by a riverside, / In Dobbin’s Flowery Vale.

Walter Kennedy’s wonderful rendition of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ and Mícheál Quinn – ably assisted by his Technical Director Bennery – with ‘Dobbins Flowery Vale’.

The performance of the day, however – and no offence to anyone else – was, by popular acclaim that of Walter Kennedy of Thomas Moore’s ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, both he and Micheál performing at the rose bush taken as a cutting from the original plant in Jenkinstown Park, County Kilkenny, that inspired Moore. Walter’s rendition was beautiful and reflected considerable work, practice and, above all, total understanding of the song. As with all great interpretations, he ‘got inside the song’ and provided a memorable finale to a great afternoon.

‘Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.

Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

Harbour Lights: A Celebration of Howth Harbour

Against a backdrop of photographic memorabilia of the construction of the new Howth Harbour (1808-1818), our October session was led by Bean agus Fear a’ Tí were Áine agus Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh. Sea-faring songs, many with Howth references, rightfully dominated the occasion. Seán Ó hEarcháin set the tone with his fine rendering of ‘Bantry Bay’. Then Úna Kane moved us up the west coast to her own ‘Dear Galway Bay’. Máire Ní Bhaoill brought us further up country and we heard Tír Conaill’s lovely ‘An Mhaighdean Mhara’. Luke Cheevers gave us two epic songs of the sea-the first his own composition ‘The Ouzel Galley’ and later ‘The Waterford Sea’ – each song with more than a baker’s dozen of verses!

Dave O’Connor amused us greatly with his ‘Hannah Healy the Pride of Howth’ and its plethora of internal rhymes, as was his second song ‘The Primal Light’: ‘As he wandered gaily down past the Baily / Where night and daily the water flows’. Breege Mc Nally sang ‘The High Walls of Derry’ and then her ‘Táimse i’ mo Shuí ó d’éirigh an ghealach aréir’, was another highlight of the night. Paul Redmond sang his own composition ‘The Ben Eader Lass’ and later ‘Let the Light of the Lighthouse Shine on Me’, both songs very relevant to the theme of the night. Míle buíochas, Paul.

Diarmuid & Áine steering all boats into the safety of Howth Harbour

Máire Mhic Aogáin, on her first visit to our Club, gave us a spirited rendition of ‘Bhí ‘Divarsion’ Aerach ar an Aonac’h.   Art Mac Cumhaigh (1715-1773) the Armagh poet, got honourable mention from Diarmuid who quoted a few verses from Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s translation of Mac Cumhaigh’s poignant poem ‘Cuan Bhinn Éadair’, on his exiling to Howth and notes his regret at the diminishing use of the Irish language in his new surroundings.

Contributions were made by virtually everyone in attendance which included Martina Ní Cearnaigh, Pat Ferne, Tom Finn and our stalwarts Francy Devine, Eugene Mc Eldowney, Máiríde Woods, Ann Riordan, Antoinette Daly, Walter Kennedy, Eddie Phillips and Brian Doyle. To borrow from Paul Redmond’s song, ‘Let the Light of the Lighthouse’ continue to shine on all the members and supporters of Ciorcal Ceoil Bheann Éadair !         Áine agus Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh

Songs of Wexford with Cathal Caulfield

In November, our Young Singer/Musician in Residence Cathal Caulfield led a night of ‘Songs of Wexford’, a theme well adhered to by the floor. Among over twenty singers, Úna Kane set the standard with ‘The Land Where the Slaney Flows’ while Máirídhe Woods reflected on the fact that ‘There Was an Old Woman From Wexford’. Walter Kennedy movingly sang of a Wexford massacre and Seán Ó hEarcháin of ‘Boulavogue. Seán Ó Cinnéide provided an old and uncommon version of ‘The Croppy Boy’ and Ann Riordan read John Boyle O’Reilly’s ‘The Fishermen of Wexford’.

Cathal at the Howth Singing Circle and as guest in Marrowbone Books

It was lovely to see Cathal’s parents John and Carol on the night. Cathal played appropriate tunes about banshees and púcas as were adjacent to Halloween. His songs included ‘The Fethard Lifeboat Disaster’, ‘Paddy and the Whale’ and a song from his people’s area ‘The Saltmills Explosion’. His footnotes were informative and entertaining providing context and explanation in equal measure. He finished by granting us a tantalising glimpse of his residency project by extracting comic songs from the Tom Munnelly Collection in the National Folk Archive. He produced many laughs with his stylish and enthusiastic presentation of ‘The Neat Little Window’. There was a deep sense of appreciation for our Young Singer on a night that was most enjoyable.

Dún Laoghaire Vinyl Festival

At the invitation of Brian O’Flaherty, organiser of the Dún Laoghaire Vinyl Festival, the Howth Singing Circle were invited to perform some shanties on the Friday night, 16 November, in Eblana Avenue. Our Skipper Gerry O’Connor assembled a motley crew – aren’t crews always motley? – and Mick Dunne was first to walk the plank with his ‘Man on the Flying Trapeze’. Gerry himself led ‘Whitby Harbour’, while Niamh Parsons and Eddie Phillips brought Cyril Tawney’s ‘Grey Funnel Line’ and ‘Sammy’s Bar’ to starboard and Brian Doyle berthed in Mingulay. Our shanty leaders were Tom Finn, ‘Fair Bungle Rye’; Jack and Angela Plunkett, ‘Bully in the Alley’; Joe Gallagher ‘Sally Brown’; Luke Cheevers, ‘Billy O’Shea’; and George Henderson, ‘John Kanaka-naka’. Ann Riordan assisted Gerry with arrangements and two Club favourites completed the set: Tony Fitzpatrick, ‘Greenland Whale’, and Fergus Russell, ‘The Bonnie Light Horseman’. The audience response was warm and they readily sang along. Gerry O’Connor’s hard work ensured a most enjoyable evening.

Left: those hours of rehearsal in dank, draughty halls paid off: l-r, Tom Finn, Mick Dunne, Ann Riordan, Fergus Russell, Luke Cheevers, Niamh Parsons, Brian Doyle, Captain Gerard O’Connor, Jack & Angela Plunkett, Tony Fitzpatrick, Eddie Phillips, Joe Gallagher & George Henderson. Right: Mick Dunne explains that he has left his trapeze behind while Luke & Gerry look on in obvious disappointment that Mick’s acrobatic skills will be denied the audience queuing round the corner in anticipation

Songs for Nollaig na mBan

Our monthly sessions started off the year on 3 January with sisters Anne & Niamh Parsons at the helm.  A relatively quiet night, we were graced with thirty old and newer songs and carols and one poem. Laurence Bond began with a new song written by Holly Near, followed by a song as gaelige from Antoinette Daly. Newcomer Colin gave us ‘A Pint of Plain’ and ‘January Man’, a song destined to be sung at some stage during the night. Our visitors from Sidmouth, Kath and Bill, entertained us with interesting songs in English and in Welsh, including the classic ‘Calon Lân’.  Francy Devine sang ‘The Lowlands of Holland’ in Scots, and Máirídhe Woods gave us one of her wonderful poems as well as the ‘Silver Dagger’. Malahide Singing Circle was represented by Máire Ní Bhaoill and Martina Nic Cearnaigh. Gerry O’Connor led the evocative ‘Night Visiting Song’ and Siobhán Moore followed with her version of what we feel is ‘our’ song, Bull Moore’s version of ‘The Nightingale’. You can listen to Siobhan singing harmonies here https://youtu.be/q0uH701JJxQ.  Joyce gave us an old Dan Fogleberg song ‘Another old Lang Syne’ and James Oppenheim’s anthem ‘Bread & Roses’, and Noeleen Berry, Eleanor McEvoy’s ‘A Woman’s Heart’. We had Twelfth Night carols from Eddie Phillips and Kath. Graham Dunne gave a sublime rendition on nylon string guitar of ‘Moonriver’. The first half finished by two sisters singing ‘Two Sisters’.

In the second half, Graham played another and Niamh and Anne sang Sara Daniels’ ‘Bramblethorn’. Kath sang a new fisherman’s song and Séamus Shields brilliant ‘mash-up’ ‘Spencer the Rover/The Wild Rover’ – what he called ‘Spencer the Wild Rover’ – was hilarious and very difficult to sing.   Other items included, Máire Ní Bhaoill, ‘Mary from Kilmore’; Siobhan, Karine Polwart’s ‘I’ve Got It All’; Máirídhe, ‘Three Lovely Lassies From Banyan’; and Martina a moving version of ‘Dónal Óg’.   Niamh sang of ‘The Wrens’, Antoinette her own composition about the fishing women in Killybegs, and Eddie reminded us of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Old Friends’. The night finished with the wonderful ‘Misalliance’ from Anne, learnt from her late father, Jack Parsons. It was a lovely start to the New Year.                                                                                                                            Niamh Parsons

Niamh Parsons Campaigning for the Musicians’ Union of Ireland

& Gender Equality Through FairPlé

At its AGM in November, Niamh Parsons was re-elected to the Executive of the Musicians’ Union of Ireland (MUI). An affiliate of SIPTU, the MUI represents musicians from every genre along with music teachers, singers and other music professionals. It works hard to protect members, whether freelance or directly employed, from exploitation and has a successful track record of ensuring that members receive all contractual entitlements arising from their performances.

Through the MUI’s membership of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM), the union plays an important part in advancing, promoting and protecting the rights of musicians in a global marketplace in the digital age. In this context, the MUI is developing positive working relationships with all of the relevant stakeholders including the collecting societies. As a founding member of the Association of Artists’ Representative Organisations (AARO) the MUI has joined forces with a number of other bodies representative of Writers, Directors, Actors, Composers, Visual Artists and others in pursuit of the right of all artists to collectively negotiate terms and conditions, the right to Social Protection, the right to share in the economic life of the work artists create and the right to representation on all of the relevant arts bodies in this country.

Details of the MUI can be gained at https://mui.ie/news-events/

or by reading the union’s online journal SoundPost –

Niamh would encourage all musicians, singers, music teachers and music professionals to join the MUI to strengthen musicians’ voice in defending our national orchestras, establishing fair rates of pay for musicians – full-time and freelance, and protecting musicians’ rights in recording, broadcasting, performing and in arts policy generally.


For full-time musicians:

for those earning over €500 per week is €4.70 per week

for those earning over €325 and up to and including €500 per week is €4.00 per week

for those earning over €200 and up to and including €325 per week is €2.80 per week

for those earning over €127 and up to and including €200 per week is €1.90 per week

for those members earning €127 a week or under pay contribution at a rate of €1 per week

For freelance musicians: €106 per year or €8.23 per month

In addition to Niamh’s campaigning work with the MUI, she has also played a prominent role in FairPlé, a group set to demand gender balance in Irish traditional and folk music. Fair Plé have held events and symposia to draw attention to their campaign and Niamh has been a prominent participant in these activities. Check out the FairPlé website for news of their activities and position papers – https://www.fairple.com/

The MUI logo and the incoming Executive, l-r, Andy Irvine, Éamon Murray, Níall O’Loughlin, Séamus Doyle (President), Francy Devine, Niamh Parsons, David Agnew and Graham Macken (Organiser) – missing from picture Liam Kennedy, Cormac Ó hAodáin, Fintan Warfield, Robert Swift

Eddie Phillips in City Hall

As part of an October lunchtime lecture series on ‘Dublin Port and Dockers’ organised by Dublin City Libraries, Eddie Phillips read E.J. Brady’s ‘The Dockers’ Orchestra’ after Joe Mooney presented a ‘Virtual Tour of Dublin Port. Chaired by the Lord Mayor Nial Ring, Eddie represented the Howth Singing Circle with distinction. Others performing at these lectures were Luke Cheevers, Pádraig Ó Nualláin, and Dara Yeates. Details of the lectures can be found at: www.dublincity.ie/main-menu-services-culture-and-amenities-dublin-city-public-libraries-and-archive-events/dublin-port

Eddie Phillips in City Hall

Robert Cinnamond

The acclaimed singer Róisín White organised a weekend of events in November last to pay tribute to the Antrim singer Robert Cinnamond who died fifty years ago. After events in the Sunflower Club and Cinnamond’s native Glenavy, a workshop and concert were held in Belfast folowed by a singing session hosted by the Belfast Singing Circle. The concert featured those who sing on a CD released for the occasion that complements the re-mastered CD of Cinnamond’s original Topic LP, You Rambling Boys of Pleasure: Jane Cassidy, Len Graham, Maurice Leyden, Maebh Meir, Jennifer Orr, and Róisín White. They were joined by Glenavy flute player Brendan Mulholland and Derry fiddler John McLaughlin who played Cinnamond’s fiddle ‘Bob’.

Cinnamond was born in Glenavy on 18 May 1884. He worked as an agricultural labourer and basketweaver. He lost his wife, Elizabeth Murphy, aged only forty-two on 27 October 1936 whilst giving birth to their ninth child. The BBC arranged for recordings of Cinnamond in the early 1950s and those formed the basis of the Topic LP. Having lived in the United states from the late 1950s, he returned home to Glenavy and died, aged 84, on 3 June 1968. The commeorative booklet is entitled ‘Tis Pretty to be in Ballinderry and it contains much detail and the song lyrics, like those of the title song beautifully peformed on the night by Jennifer Orr, produced below. The booklet with its two CDs can be obtained from Róisín.

‘Tis Pretty To Be In Ballinderry

 ‘Tis pretty to be in Ballinderry
‘Tis pretty to be in Aughalee
‘Tis prettier to be on Bonny Ram’s Island
A-sitting forever beneath a tree
Ochón, ochón, ochón, ochón

Oft times I’ve sailed to Bonny Ram’s Island
Arm in arm with Félimí Diamond
And often he’d court me and I’d be shy
In my heart I loved him, the darling boy

Ochón, ochón, ochón, ochón

I’m going he says from Bonny Ram’s Island
Out and across the stormy sea
And if in your heart you love me Mary
Open your arms at last to me

Ochón, ochón, ochón, ochón

‘Twas pretty to be in Ballinderry
But now it’s as sad as sad can be
For the ship that sailed with Félimí Diamond
Is sunk forever beneath the sea

Ochón, ochón, ochón, ochón

I wish I was the weeping willow

I’d wander far by yon lonesome billow

And cry our o’er the cruel sea

Oh Félimí Diamond come back to me

Ochón, ochón, ochón, ochón

Dinner with Jimmy Crowley

On November 22, our annual Dinner was held in Howth Yacht Club with Special Guest Cork’s Jimmy Crowley. Jimmy is a stalwart of the traditional music scene and has made a unique contribution as singer, song-writer and collector. A copy of Jimmy and Stoker’s Lodge’s seminal LP was raffled on the night and Ann Riordan’s organisation of matters extended to arranging for Jimmy to pull out her number. The HSC also made a special presentation of a bouquet of flowers to Finola Young as she does a large amount of work for the Circle – putting guests and visitors up at her own expense, arranging raffle prices, selling tickets and generally being available for many myriad, largely unseen tasks.

Jimmy Crowley going full shteam ahead and presenting a bouquet to Finola Young

Jimmy Crowley draws Ann Riordan’s ticket for a prized LP; Paddy Daly enjoying his night; and the sensational new Boy Band, Gerry O’Connor and John Keely

The night was run by Ann Riordan and Gerry O’Connor, the latter surprising us all by singing with his new accompanist John Keely, their song a suitable tribute to the man after whose memory the Club was formed, Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore who regularly sang ‘The Night Parting Song’. There were great contributions from, among others, Cathal Caulfield, Brian Dunne, Walter Kennedy, Angela Murray, Paul O’Mahony, Paul Redmond. Jimmy’s set encompassed old favourites and new songs, a celebration of maritime life, Cork’s rebel girls and his own takes on ordinary life. It was an imaginative and lively set with plenty of entertaining sleeve notes thrown in. He concluded the night with a rousing version of ‘Salonika’, the audience lustily joining in.

Francy in the Summer

Many Howth Singing Circlers attend festivals in Ireland and elsewhere over the summer. Recognition of the Club is evidenced by invitations to members to perform at such events. Francy Devine was a guest at the 40th Stonehaven Folk Festival, presenting ‘The Songs of Jim Connell and James Connolly’ with assistance from the Laggan Folk’s Arthur Johnstone and Aberdeen’s Danny Couper. On the Sunday, Francy joined the illustrious company of the legendary singer, song-writer, collector and musicologist Adam McNaughtan, Christine Kydd and Emma Speirs in the Tradition Bearers’ Concert. Thanks to Meg Findlay and Annie Reid for the invitation to participate in a most enjoyable event.

Later in the summer, Tom Holmes invited Anderson, Byrne and Devine to perform at the Star Folk Club in Glasgow. It was an emotional night for Francy as his father’s family were from Glasgow and the attendance of many friends and comrades from the city added to the sense of occasions. It remains a mystery as to how he entices musicians of the calibre of Steve Byrne and Paul Anderson to accompany him on such occasions.

Above: Francy Devine and two greats of Scottish traditional singing – Arthur Johnstone (Glasgow) and Danny Couper (Aberdeen) presenting the songs of Jim Connell and James Connolly and Francy performing at The Tradition Bearers Concert at Stonehaven Folk Festival

Below: Adam McNaugtan (Glasgow), Annie Reid (Stonehaven), Emma Speirs (Inverurie) and Christine Kidd (Kirriemuir) at Stonehaven and Steve Byrne, Francy and Paul Anderson at a packed Star Folk Club in Glasgow

Fonn – New Traditional Music Magazine

Fonn is a quarterly magazine dedicated to traditional music and song, produced in Ireland and available free of charge online. It features on developments in traditional music – including reviews of concerts and recordings, profiles of major figures and a calendar of upcoming events. Fonn features many clubs and Singing Circles that not only preserve the traditions of the past but also carry music and song forward into the future.

Of particular interest to Singing Circle regulars is the guide to the upcoming sessions around the country, with information on guests or themes where this is available. If you need more than your monthly fix of songs and stories at the Howth Singing Circle, Fonn will guide you to other venues, near or far.

December’s issue carried an extended interview with Rhiannon Giddens, the award-winning multi-instrumentalist and singer who delighted audiences at the South Roscommon Traditional Singing Weekend and the Sligo Music Festival. Uilleann piper Rónán Browne reflected on the late Garech de Brun, founder of Claddagh Records. Fonn previewed of some of the artists appearing at Dublin’s Tradfest in Dublin this month.

Fonn’s autumn issue is available at https://issuu.com/ssheils/docs/fonn_autumn_2018.  You can download the magazine as a pdf or on the Adobe platform: http://bit.ly/fonn18aut. Follow Fonn on Facebook at @fonn0 for notifications about further issues or updates. You can also email Séamas Sheils at ssheils@me.com to receive a notice directly into your mailbox.     Séamas Shiels

Howth Singing Circle at the Dún Laoghaire Vinyl Festival and providing singers for Ardmhéara Mícheál MacDonncha’s Conference on the Anti-Conscription Strike in the Mansion House: back, Larry O’Toole and Tony Fitzpatrick; front, Liz Gillis, Mícheál and Pádraig Ó Nualláin

Buíochas Mór

As ever, The Sweet Nightingale does not appear by magic. Our thanks to the following: Cathal Caulfield; Áine Lalor Ó Cathasaigh; Finola Young; and the Howth Singing Circle Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Francy Devine, Helen Lahert, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan.

She exceeds Flora, or bright Aurora / Or beauteous Venus from the briny froth / I am captivated, I do repeat it / By Hannah Healy, the pride of Howth

 Above: Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh’s display celebrating two hundred years of Howth Harbour and Cathal Caulfield, mysteriously filed under J

Below: those hours in cold rehearsal rooms and then the release back into the open air: Sutton Methodist Singathin [not a misspelling] 2018

John Bentham and Éibhlís Ní Ríordáin on the Liffey banks

Programme for 2019

 2 February

         – Workshop with Shona Donaldson, Abbey tavern, 11.30-1, 10

 2 February

         – Howth Burns Nicht 2019

                       Paul Anderson & Shona Donaldson Anderson

  3 February

       – Fare Thee Weel Session, Helen Lahert & Dave McCracken, Abbey

                 Tavern, 3-6, free

 7 February

         – Brenda Ní Ríordáin & Antoinette Daly, ‘Oiche Gaelach’, aoi speisialta

                 Éibhlis Ní Ríordáin

 7 March

       – Cathal Caulfield as Young Singer in Residence to present his Song Project

 4 April

       – Special Guest, Declan Hoey (Drogheda)

 2 May

  • ‘Songs for May Day’, Laurence Bond

 6 June

   – Helen Lahert

20 July

   – ‘Singing the Fishing’, a Walking Tour of Howth Harbour

From everyone at Howth Singing Circle, peace and health for 2019.

Thank you for your support throughout 2018

and we look forward to seeing and hearing you all again soon

The Sweet Nightingale September 2018

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 9, September 2018

Quite a Year

Howth Singing Circle meets on the first Thursday each month in the Abbey Tavern from 9pm. Follow us on https://howthsingingcircle.com/ or our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Howthmusiccircle/ or shttps://www.facebook.com/howth.singingcircle?fref=search

As we begin our nineteenth season, we can look back on an action-packed year. Our monthly sessions last year were well attended. They were: September, Bean agus Fir an Tí Ann Riordan & Laurence Bond with ‘Harvest songs’; October, Cathal Caulfield & Francy Devine with Special Guests Stuart Carolan (Tullyallen) and Feilimí O’Connor (Ravensdale); November, ‘Contagious to the Nile’, Dublin Comic Songs, Tom Finn & Tony McGaley with Three in a Row from Barry Gleeson; December, ‘Good People All This Christmas Time’, Gerry O’Connor & Mick Fowler with three from Fergus Russell; January, Niamh Parsons with three from Graham Dunne, ‘Nollaig na mBan’; February, ‘Oiche Gaelach’ with Stiofán Ó hAoláin and Guest Antaine Ó Faracháin; March, ‘March Hares & Other Madness’, Francy Devine & Úna Kane; April, Ann Riordan with Special Guest, Annie Reid (Stonehaven, Scotland); May, ‘Me Oul Flower’ with Tony Fitzpatrick & Brendan Kennedy; and ‘June Jubilations ‘, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh.

On Friday, 25 August, 2017, Ardmhéara Micheál Mac Donncha hosted Dublin’s singing clubs in the oak-paneled surroundings of the Mansion House and issued Certificates of Recognition to those present. The certificate, lavishly illustrated with the city’s coat-of-arms and insignia, read, ‘Bronnta ar Howth Singing Circle mar aitheaththas do sheirbhís don traidisiún amhráinaíochta agus d’ár gcultúr’ [‘Awarded to Howth Singing Circle in recognition of your service to the singing tradition of our culture ‘]. Ann Riordan accepted the Certificate on behalf of Howth Singing Circle. Also in August, Brian Doyle and Walter Kennedy attended the Mansion House when Ardmhéara Mac Donncha welcomed the shanty singers from the Star Project Ballymun, a group who the Howth Singing Circle had supported when Tony Fitzpatrick and Francy Devine conducted singing workshops with them.

On Sunday, 1 October, twenty-two Howth Singing Circlers travelled to Belfast for a Mary Ann McCracken Walk led by Jane Cassidy and Maurice Leyden. Mary Ann McCracken, 8 July 1770 -26 July 1866, was a lifelong republican and social reformer, identifying with her brother Henry Joy’s commitment to the ideals of the United Irishmen. Mary Ann was part of the revival of the Belfast Harp Society in 1808 and assisted Edward Bunting in collecting songs and tunes. She raised funds to provide clothing and food for the children of Belfast Poorhouse – now Clifton House – and, after arranging Elizabeth Fry’s visit to the city, formed a Ladies Committee of the Belfast Charitable Society to establish a primary school, for orphans. She led a Women’s Abolitionary Committee in campaigning against slavery. Aged eighty-eight, she handed out anti-slavery leaflets to those boarding ships for America. The Walk concluded at her grave in Clifton Street Cemetery where Henry Joy’s body was also later interred. After a hearty bowl of stew in Kelly’s Cellars, a singing session of high quality – both in terms of song selection and performance – rounded off an enjoyable, highly informative and – especially at her graveside – emotional day. Thanks to Jane and Maurice for their informative presentation of songs and to Ann Riordan for organisation.

In January this year, the eighteenth annual Howth Burns Nicht – the tenth in the Abbey Tavern – was aptly named as ‘Joy & Pleasure’. Our Special Guests were Robyn Stapleton (Stranraer), fiddler Kristan Harvey (Orkney) and keyboard player Alistair Iain Paterson (isle of Lewis/Bishopton). Technically first class, the trio enthralled, amused and thrilled with a selection dominated by Burns’s material. Robyn included songs by Violet Jacob and others and we also discovered that she was – in another life – ‘The Quine That Does The Strip in Inverurie’. Kristan’s fiddle pieces were very well received and her dramatic presence engaged everyone, the tunes ranging from breakneck to the subtlety of Niel Gow’s slow air ‘The Lament For the Death of His Second Wife’. Robyn’s flaming hair, gentle and engaging manner, and clear tones won every heart with many saying ‘the best yet’. Our ‘resident band’ of John Kelly (fiddle), John Regan (box) and Mick Mullen (guitar) played two high-class sets with plenty of opportunity to dance. A highlight was John Regan playing Gow’s ‘Coilsfield House’ in a beautiful interpretation. Burns, a fiddle player, went out of his way to meet Gow, 1827-1807, in Dunkeld on one of his Highland tours. Among many other high points were young Howth violinist Elizabeth Fox playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s [1756-1791] ‘Romance’ from his ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, reminding us that one of the first to orchestrate ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was Beethoven; and Paul Redmond’s stirring rendition of Thomas Moore’s [1779-1852] ‘The Minstrel Boy Boy’ which surely got the room’s pulses racing. The haggis was piped in by Pipe Major Noel Kelly and the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band; carried by Ardmhéara Mícheál Mac Donncha; and addressed, in inimitable fashion, by Willie Gibson. Sunday’s ‘Fare Thee Weel Session’, again in the Abbey, was of the highest standard and huge fun.

As you will read below, Howth hosted guests from two English Folk Clubs from the Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire area and facilitated Fiddle Bus 5 on its weekend in Antrim with Scots visitors from Aberdeenshire.

Stiofán Ó hAoláin

After serving on the HSC Committee for the past number of years, Stiofán Ó hAoláin has decided to take a wee break – although we fully expect him to attend our monthly sessions. Stiofán has been a highly popular member of the Committee, contributing significantly to the behind-the-scenes planning of various events, demonstrating enthusiastic commitment and knowledgeable suggestions. He has, of course, been most associated with our Oíche Ghaeilge – an innovation Stiofán was responsible for. They have proved very popular and Stiofán’s many connections – particularly with Conamara – have enabled the Club to hear some outstanding singers. One of the last occasions that Stiofán did the HSC proud was in the Mansion House on Good Friday when Ardmhéara Mícheál Mac Donncha hosted Linda Ervine’s group Cairde Turas from east Belfast, an event reported on below.

Mar sin, Stiofán, buíochas ó chroí ó gach duine a bhfuil baint acu leis an Ciorcail Amhránaí Howth. Thug tú do aoibh gháire iontach duit, do ghrá don Ghaeilge, agus do chairde ón nGaeltacht chun amhránaíocht a dhéanamh dúinn. Go raibh maith agat, Stiofán.

Where Does Your Money Go ?

As every year since we began, we feel that those attending the Howth Singing Circle and voluntarily contributing their €4 are entitled to know where it goes. As you will see from the account below, our opening balance was €3,082 and the closing balance €2,466. Our income and expenditure from September 2017 to July 2018 was €8,782 and €9,409.

Howth Singing Circle Accounts – September 2017 to July 2018, €

         I           Income        Expenditure  
Opening Balance 3,092.82      
Monthly Sessions September – July        
September – Harvest songs 85.00   50.00  
October -Guests: Félimí O’Connor / Stuart Carolan 247.85   262.00  
November – Comic Songs 154.00   74.00  
December – All Hail! All Hail! 154.00   74.00  
January – Nollaig na mBan 160.00   50.00  
February – Guest: – Antaine Ó Faracháin 130.00   200.00  
March – March Hares and other Madness 90.00   50.00  
April- Guest; Annie Reid 108.00   330.00  
May – Me Oul’ Flower’ 155.00   50.00  
June   – June Jubilations 80.00   50.00  
Special events:        
October -Mary Ann McCracken Walk, Belfast 550   633.76  
November – Dinner 1925   1970  
January – Burns Nicht 3755.00   3719.00  
March – ‘Bring Out the Banners’ walk, with guests from Tiger and Grand Union Folk Clubs 84.00   0.00  
April – Fiddle Bus 1090   1265  
Young Singer in Residence 0   200  
Donation to St. Lawrence Howth Pipe Band 0.00   200.00  
Bank fees, web administration, printing / stationery/Songsheets/booklets 15.00   231.62  
Total Income / Expenditure 8782.85   9409.38  
Closing Balance 2,466.29      

In addition, Howth Singing Circle ran two events in aid of St. Francis Hospice, Raheny, which between them raised a total of €1,261 for the Hospice

March – Singathon in Sutton Methodist Church, with our guests from the Tiger and Grand Union Folk Clubs

July – ‘Down by Yon Flowery Garden’, walk and singing session co-hosted with the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland

Howth Prawn Festival Wash Out

Gerry O’Connor organised an impressive array of singers to perform at the Howth Prawn Festival in March only for the snows and high winds to cause the event’s cancellation. On Howth Singing Circle’s behalf, Gerry wishes to thank those who had agreed to perform: Luke Cheevers, Brian Doyle, Mick Dunne, Tom Finn, Joe Gallagher, George Henderson, Eugene McEldowney, Deirdre Madden, Siobhán Moore, Niamh Parsons, Eddie Phillips, Jack & Angela Plunkett, and Fergus Russell.

March Hares & Other Madness

Our March session, March Hares & Other Madness, was also postponed because of the weather. On the rearranged night, Gerry O’Connor and Áine Bean Uí Chathasaigh invited twenty-two singers -all of whom sang twice – and Brendan Kennedy did an impressive Three-in-a-Row.

Cairde Turas in the Mansion House

On Good Friday, Ardmhéara Mícheál Mac Donncha hosted a group from Cairde Turas led by Linda Ervine in the Mansion House. Cairde Turas are an east Belfast group promoting and teaching Irish. John Kelly (fiddle), Jock Burns (concertina), Brian McCarthy (banjo) and Mick Mullen (guitar) provided music and were joined by the incomparable Jimmy Kelly whose singing was a highlight. The HSC’s Stiofán Ó hAoláin brought along Caitríona Ní Cheannabháin and both sang seán-nós songs to the delight of the visiitors. Turas sang as a choir and performed unusual Irish versions of ‘Molly Malone’ and ‘Raglan Road’, their Choir leader Caoimhe Ní Chatháil also singing beautifully. The Lord Mayor presented Turas with a certificate of recognition for their outstanding cultural work. Sadly but in ways wonderfully, the event appeared to be the last time the late Jimmy Kelly performed in public.

Musicians and singers in the Mansion House and Linda Ervine with Stiofán Ó hAoláin

A View of the Howth Singing Circle From Across the water

John Bentham from Tigerfolk in Long Eaton, Derbyshire – although he and his wife Sheila live in Loughborough, Leicestershire – was one of our visitors last April for a weekend of events. In Tatters, his club’s newsletter, he reflected on his weekend. The HSC must take this opportunity to acknowledge all those who made the trip over from the English East Midlands to give us a memorable weekend.

The Howth Singing Circle (HSC) for the last decade has supported the St. Francis’ Hospice in Raheny with an annual ‘Singathon’ in Sutton Methodist Church. We were approached by the HSC some time ago to see if we could arrange a visit and participate in the event. No second asking was required and so it was that Sheila and I met up with the rest of the group for a song packed weekend in and around Dublin. Our party consisted of regulars of the Grand Union Folk Club and Tigerfolk who all contributed to making this a really memorable visit. Friday night was a grand sing at An Góilín in the Teachers’ Club in Parnell Square in the heart of Dublin. As it was the weekend of the annual gathering organised by the Inishowen Traditional Singers’ Circle, it was reckoned that An Góilín would be a bit quieter than normal but far from it. The room started to fill and by the time the evening got under way, we had a pretty packed room. Thanks to Jerry O’Reilly and everyone at the club for making us so welcome.

Saturday was the day of the ‘Singathon’ and quite a bit of time had been spent beforehand sorting out a programme of songs. It was felt that good strong chorus songs should form the backbone of the contribution from us visitors because, as you may well know, chorus singing, generally, in Ireland is in short supply. Turn and turn about we went and as it says in the song ‘When All Men Sing’: ‘As unison accords the song, Uplifting beams in Inn and Hall, and shaking plaster from the wall, When all Men sing’. Well we certainly did! Friendships bands were certainly tightened after that wonderful sing followed by some downtime spent in different ways by different members of the party, a meal and more socialising (read into that what you may) and a not too late nightcap before retiring.

A mode of propriety and model of piety, Éibhlís Ní Ríordáin presents ‘The Cumann na mBan’ on Rosie Hackett Bridge and Éamon Thornton of Drogheda reads ‘Remembering James Larkin’ below the Larkin Monument

Sunday morning found us on the banks of the Liffey in the heart of Dublin. Noel Kelly, that piper of great fame from St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band, led us on a tour along the river and when he stopped, we stopped. Where he stopped was pre-ordained as this was a walking tour entitled ‘Bring Out Your Banners’ and featured songs and readings at waterfront sites that echoed workers’ experiences, in particular, during the 1913 Dublin Lockout. Again, much time and effort had been put in to the selection of the programme and a great deal of research by Francy Devine proved to be a winning combination. For a couple of hours we were conducted on a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening walk in this fascinating city. Food and liquid refreshment awaited us back at the Teachers’ Club where we rounded off this song-filled weekend with more laughter and singing. Great company and great weather made this a visit that we will all treasure and look forward to repeating. As in the past, the Howth Singing Circle were a joy to be with and it would be an honour to welcome them over for a visit. Thanks to them all for making us so welcome but especially to Ann Riordan who put in so much work in the organising, not only of the Sunday walking tour but the whole weekend. You did us proud!   John Bentham

This item first appeared as ‘Bendle’s Bit’ in the Tatters, Newsletter of Tigerfolk, July/August 2018, http://www.tigerfolk.co.uk

Historical Walking Tour of Dublin Quays

On the last weekend in March, Howth Singing Circle hosted a dozen singers from the Grand Union Folk Club, Sileby, Leicestershire, and the Tigerfolk Traditional Folk Club from Long Eaton, Derbyshire. Our guests attended An Góilín on the Friday night and were to sing at the Tenth Sutton Methodist Church Singathon on the Saturday – see below. A meal and singing session in the Abbey Tavern followed the ‘Singathin’ and on Sunday morning ‘Bring Out the Banners: A Walking & Traditional Singing Tour’ took place along Dublin’s quays, followed by a very high-quality session in the Teachers’ Club. A full-colour 36-page brochure itemised the locations and provided background information and the lyrics of each song and poem. We were piped around the Walk by Pipe Major Noel Kelly of St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band, a herculean effort.

Steve Parry sings Seán O’Casey’s ‘Red Roses For Me’ and Eddie Phillips reads E.J. Brady’s ‘The Dockers’ Orchestra’ by Dony McManu’s ‘The Lineman’

Twenty-six items were sung or read on the Walk, the performers being: Howth Singing Circle: Aoife Dermody, Tom Finn, Tony Fitzpatrick, Caoimhe Hogarty, Máire Ní Bhaoill, Éibhlís Ní Ríordáin, Pádraig Ó Nualláin, Manus O’Riordan, Niamh Parsons, Eddie Phillips, Ann Riordan, Éamon Thornton, Fergus Whelan and Máiríde Woods; and Grand Union/Tigerfolk, John and Sheila Bentham, Ed Butler, Karen Harris, Jennifer Hurst, Steven Parry, John Stevenson, John Whitelaw and Bill Wilkes. Fergus Carey managed the sound system kindly lent to us for the occasion by An Góilín. Our thanks were also due to Tadhg Mac Pháidín and the Teachers’ Club; Christy Hammond of CRM Design & Print for the brochure; and Finola Young. The Walk was greatly enjoyed by all those who attended, including the waifs and strays acquired at the various stops. Our visitors enjoyed themselves and John Bentham and Ann Riordan are to be thanked for their organisation of things.


Sutton ‘Singathin’ for The Hospice

Poor Ian Maxwell’s herculean efforts to hold his tenth Singathon for St Francis Hospice, Raheny, were thwarted by late withdrawals of some choirs and so he was forced to cancel. With our English visitors due to sing, Ann Riordan persuaded Ian to hold a ‘Singathin’ and Howth, Grand Union and Tigerfolk performed from 3.30, piped in an out by Pipe Major Noel Kelly, St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band. Including a generous donation from Third Day Chorale, our efforts raised €815 for St Francis Hospice and provided the attendance with some high-quality singing. Yes, all those months of rehearsals paid off! Those performing – in addition to our English visitors – were Laurence Bobnd, Antoinette Daly, Brian Doyle, Mick Fowler, Walter Kennedy, Eugene McEldowney, Gerry O’Connor, Marie Ó Laoi, Paul O’Mahony, Niamh Parsons, and Eddie Phillips. Our thanks to Ann Riordan for arranging things and to Ian Maxwell for accepting our offer to perform anyway.

The Choristers in full voice and, led by Pipe Major Noel Kelly, St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band, celebrating afterwards


Annie Reid – April’s Special Guest

Annie Reid from Stonehaven proved a splendid guest. She possesses a great range of songs from the ribald and risqué ‘The Quine Who Did the Strip at Inverurie’ to Doric – the North East dialect of Scots – ballads. She has great command as a performer, her gestures and facial expressions adding greatly to the enjoyment of the audience, a characteristic of performers from Annie’s area of Scotland, especially those delivering ‘Bothy Ballads’. A highlight was Annie’s extremely moving singing of Karine Polwart’s ‘Whaur Dae Ye Lie’, a song inspired by the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniaks at Srebenica. Annie brought all her life experience as daughter, wife and mother to bear and, as some say, ‘got right inside the song’ to bring the audience to momentary silence as the last chorus line faded away. It was one of the great performances of the year. For those interested, here are Karine’s lyrics


Whaur dae ye lie, my faither?

Whaur dae ye lie, my son?

Whaur dae ye lie, my ane true love?

When will the truth be won?

Oor friends, they came tae protect us

Oor friends, they bade us bide

Oor friends left us standing there naked

Wi’ nae place left tae hide

Oor neighbors, they came wi’ a hundred year hate

Oor neighbors, they came wi’ guns

Oor neighbors, they came for oor menfolk

An’ they slew them, everyone

I hae sought oot yer grave wi’ my mither

I hae sought oot yer grave in vain

I hae sought the bare banes o’ the truth and the men

Faither, whaur are ye lain?

I hae cried oot yer name tae the four winds

I hae cried oot yer name ’til the dawn

I hae cried in the arms o’ yer sister dear

Whaur dae ye lie, my son?

I hae dream’d o’ yer breath upon me

I hae dream’d o’ yer yellow hair

I hae dream’d o’ the sounds o’ yer dying love

Whaur dae ye lie, my dear?

Here is Karine singing the song when with Malinky here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-WWwQNfzVE


Fiddle Bus 5

Fiddle Bus 5 celebrated the Counties Antrim & Derry Country Fiddlers’ Association (CADCFA) 65th Anniversary and were hosted by CADCFA in Broughshane and Derek Anderson and the Skerry Inn, Newtown Crommelin. Forty-four folk travelled including fiddle players Duncan Adams, Paul Anderson, Shona Anderson, James Beatley, Cathal Caulfield, George Davidson, Séamus Glackin, John Kelly, Liam O’Connor, and Séamus Sands, together with other musicians Gearóid Cahillane, Mark Dunlop, James Littlejohn, Mick Mullen and Mick O’Connor. The day began in the Dunsilly Hotel, Antrim, a venue that pleased the visitors and provided good facilities for late sessions and a presentation. The group moved to the Slemish Barn at Aughafatten where Paul Anderson, Cathal Caulfield and George Davidson, and Shona Anderson conducted workshops while an informal session was held. The workshops were excellent, the participants praising of their tutors and, in Shona’s case, the singers were provided with a showcase for their collective talents at the concert.

Two great men of traditional music, John Kennedy of Cullybackey and Mick O’Connor; and Young Singer in Residence Cathal Caulfield plays away

The concert in Broughshane Community Hall provided opportunities for the Irish and Scots to perform, with Shona, Paul, George, Liam and Mark all having solo spots and the Shona Donaldson Choir singing most impressively. The event was attended by the DUP Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Paul Reid, who clearly enjoyed the proceedings. Back in Dunsilly, our driver displayed his singing talents, while great tunes flowed in another room. On Sunday morning, an illustrated presentation on Joe Holmes – largely drawn from Len Graham’s biography Joe Holmes: Here I Am Amongst You, (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2010) – began with Séamus Sands 1976 recording of Joe which set a marvellous tone to the talk. Mark Dunlop played ‘The Girl That Broke My Heart’; Paul Anderson, ‘Niel Gow’s Farewell to Whisky’; and Séamus Sands, James Beatley, John Kelly, Liam & Mick O’Connor played Joe Holmes’ fiddle selections. From Holmes’s huge song repertoire, Máire NíBhaoill sang ‘Slievegallon Braes’; Shona Donaldson Anderson, ‘The Corncrake Amang the Whinny Knowes’ and Mark Dunlop, ‘Long Cookstown’ and Holmes’ moving version of ‘The Parting Glass’, while Ann Riordan read Robin Harper’s poem ‘The People Danced’.

Ann Riordan and luthier James Beatley with a Sam Stevenson fiddle and Máire Ní Bhaoill performs the Joe Holmes’ song ‘Slievegallon Braes’

Views over the tranquil graveyard at Glenravel where Maebh McKeown, Paul Anderson, Shona Anderson, James Littlejohn, George Davidson, Séamus Sands and Duncan Adams play tribute to Mickey McIlhatton, his grand-nephew Alistair in the foreground

The Bus then paid tribute to past Antrim & Derry fiddlers at the grave of ‘The King of the Glens’, Mickey McIlhatton in the beautiful, peaceful surroundings of Glenravel Church graveyard. McIlhatton’s great nephew Alistair spoke movingly at the graveside and the tunes played drifted across the adjacent river Ravel, swollen by the spring rains, and blossoming trees. The trip finished off in the Skerry Inn where Derek Anderson arranged a show of high quality – particularly the very impressive Ty Tara group from Loreto College, Coleraine, and Dick Glasgow who, among other instruments, played the dulcimer in tribute to Johnny Rea. All the local artists impressed and joined their visitors for a final session of great tunes.

Indicative of the great thought Derek Anderson had put into the afternoon, he arranged for ninety-year old flute player and singer John Kennedy to grace the afternoon with his presence. A native of Cullybackey, you can read Fintan Vallely’s moving tribute to John here http://imusic.ie/together-in-time/ and here his rendition of ‘The Banks of the Bann’ here www.itma.ie/digital-library/sound/banks_of_the_bann_john_kennedy To have the occasion adorned and enjoyed by John who has contributed so much to the tradition in Antrim and the island was a highlight.

Twa Scots guests, Duncan Adams in the Dunsilly and Annie Reid in The Piper’s Corner

Concert in Broughshane Community Hall, standing, l-r, Gearoid Cahillane, Séamus Glackin, Séamus Sands, Cathal Caulfield, Liam O’Connor; sitting, l-r, Mick O’Connor, Mark Dunlop, James Beatley, John Kelly and Mick Mullen; and some important business being discussed in the Slemish Barn

A particular joy of the Fiddle Bus was the presence of our young Scots fiddle players Duncan Adams and George Davidson who, in addition to playing beautifully, were great company and conducted themselves marvellously all weekend. Similarly, we were delighted that our Young Singer in Residence Cathal Caulfield made the trip, played and sang so well, and with George conducted a great workshop. Two others who travelled from Scotland were our singing guest Annie Reid from Stonehaven and, from Cardenden, Fife, a returning Ballymoney man, Mark Dunlop, long-standing member of Malinky. Both contributed enormously to the two days of fun, great music and good company.

Finally, our thanks to the Dunsilly Hotel; Michael of Corduff Coaches; Jane Davison, Maebh McKeown and Elaine Orr, CADCFA; Derek Anderson, Skerry Inn; and the Fiddle Bus organisers Paul and Shona Anderson, John Kelly, Liam O’Connor and Ann Riordan. Most of all, of course, thanks to all who participated as fiddle players, musicians, singers or listeners.

Down By Yon Flowery Garden

On Sunday 22 July, the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland (NBGI) co-hosted a Singing Walk with Howth Singing Circle. We would like to thank Felicity Gaffney, NBGI Education Officer, for agreeing to host the walk in the Gardens and Ciara Travers for liaising with us on the arrangements. Particular thanks go to Karen Buckley who accompanied us on the walk and who took the photographs published here.   A special word of thanks also to Rónán Ó Fearail for lending us his amplification system for the event. The Walk culminated with lunch followed by an afternoon of singing in the Visitor Centre. The event was the Howth Singing Circle annual fundraiser in aid of St. Francis Hospice, Raheny, and a total of €445 was raised for the Hospice.

On an overcast Sunday morning, the group met at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens and Gerry O’Connor and Ann Riordan led participants to the Herbarium and Library, which location provided the background for Tony McGaley to start proceedings with ‘The Travelling Librarian’. Then, being close to Glasnevin Cemetery, Francy Devine sang ‘What’s the Life of A Man’, which provided a fitting reflection on the life’s seasons, and our Young Singer in Residence Cathal Caulfield provided a very traditional rendition of ‘Castlehyde’.

A particularly important corner of the Botanic Gardens is ‘Wild Ireland’. As noted in the Botanic Gardens Guidebook, this area features a diverse range of Ireland’s natural habitats and the plants and trees which flourish there.

Paddy Daly

In the Wild Garden, Brenda Ní Riordáin celebrated the ‘Flower of Magherally-O’, Paddy Daly transmogrified into a flower with a sensitive reading of the ‘Song of the Flower’, and then Eugene McEldowney brought us ‘Abroad for Pleasure’ to complete this set.

After sauntering through the Rock Garden, we paused in Yew Walk, with some participants taking the opportunity to rest awhile on a conveniently situated millstone.

Here, Eibhlís Ní Riordáin brought summer to life with the ‘May Morning Dew’, Éamonn Hunt sang the fitting ‘Song of the Woodland’ and Cathal Caulfield played ‘The Fairest Rose’ and ‘The Garden of the Daisies’, tunes chosen in honour of the setting in the Botanic Gardens.

Cathal Caulfield

In The Millfield, under the watchful eye of Socrates, Ann Riordan read an excerpt from Erasmus Darwin’s ‘The Botanic Garden’, written in 1791, four years before the National Botanic Gardens were established in Ireland; Brian Doyle, pictured below, led everyone in ‘Will You Go Lassie, Go’; and, appropriately for the location on the banks of the Tolka, Jack and Angela Plunkett sang Robert Burns’s ‘Green Grow the Rashes, O’.

Brian Doyle

One of the Botanic Gardens most popular areas is the Rose Garden. Under a stand of trees opposite the roses, Tom Finn sang ‘The Briar and the Rose’, and Gerry O’Connor continued the roseate theme with ‘Red is the Rose’.   Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh read the lyrical ‘An Droighneán Donn’.

We then moved to the rose bush situated opposite the Director’s Residence.   Francy Devine sang the ‘Banks of Claudy’ from which song the title of the walk, ‘Down by Yon Flower Gardens’, was taken.   Michéal Quinn provided a beautiful version of ‘Dobbin’s Flower Vale’, and finally pictured below is Walter Kennedy serenading ‘The Last Rose of Summer’. This rose bush is from a cutting of the original rose bush in the garden of Jenkinstown House, County Kilkenny that inspired Thomas Moore to write the song in 1805.

Walter’s beautiful version of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ provided a fitting finale. Listening intently are Gerry O’Connor and Tom Finn, who heroically carried the sound system throughout the Walk.

The group then repaired to the Visitor Centre for lunch, which was provided by the restaurant in the Botanic Gardens – thanks to Sarah Curran and Krzysztof Bobko. The broad range of songs, poems and tunes chosen for the walk reflected just how much inspiration can be drawn from the natural world. This theme was continued during the afternoon session, where all contributors demonstrated great imagination in their choice of song and music.   Throughout the day, the Botanic Gardens provided a lush and colourful location and inspiration for both the walk and the afternoon session.

Events like these take quite a bit of organisation. We must acknowledge the time spent by Francy Devine, Gerry O’Connor and Ann Riordan who met with the staff of the Botanic Gardens on a number of occasions – particularly Ciara Travers – and paid a few visits to map out and time the route.   Once again, we wish to thank the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland for co-hosting the event and for their assistance in both the planning process and on the day itself. We repeat our gratitude to Karen Buckley for participating on the walk and providing the excellent photographs, which provide a visual memory for us. Logistical constraints meant that in order to keep the group together (and on time), the Walk was confined to a fairly tight circular route through a portion of the Gardens – there are many untouched corners, amongst them the walled fruit and vegetable garden, the many glasshouses, and the alpine yard, awaiting exploration on a future walk.

‘This dread and darkness of the mind cannot be dispelled by the sunbeams, the shining shafts of day, but only by an understanding of the outward form and inner workings of nature’

– Lucretius, 1st Century Ann Riordan

 Plaque outside Teak House, National Botanic Gardens of Ireland

Programme for 2018-2019

Our monthly programme until March 2019 is as follows.

All events start as close to 9 o’clock as we can and we endeavour to sing the last song at about 11.45

6 September – Gerry O’Connor & Helen Lahert, ‘Harvest Songs’ with Three in a Row from John Keeley

4 October – Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh & Andy Burke, ‘Harbour Lights’

1 November – Cathal Caulfield & Francy Devine, ‘Dublin Songs’

22 November – Dinner with Special Guest Jimmy Crowley

6 December – Ann Riordan & Laurence Bond, ‘Christmas Songs’

3 January – Niamh Parsons, ‘Nollaig na mBan’

7 February – Stiofán Ó hAoláin & Antoinette Daly, Oiche Gaelach, aoi speisialta Éibhlis Ní Ríordáin

 7 March – Cathal Caulfield as Young Singer in Residence to present his Song Project


Howth Burns Nicht 2019

Howth Burns Nicht 2019 will be held on Saturday 2 February with the Fare Thee Weel Session on Sunday from 3-6, both events in the Abbey Tavern. In addition to the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band and our resident traditional musicians, our Special Guests will be Paul Anderson and Shona Donaldson Anderson from Tarland and Huntly in Aberdeenshire, guests making a welcome return after five or six years. After the success of Shona’s Singing Workshop in Broughshane, it is hope to arrange a Singing Workshop on the morning or afternoon of the Burns Nicht with a view that those attending would perform at the Burns Nicht itself. 

Buíochas Mór

As ever, The Sweet Nightingale does not just appear. Our thanks are due to your Committee of Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Francy Devine, Brian Doyle, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan; to Richard Tobin & staff at the Abbey Tavern; and to Paul & Shona Anderson, John Bentham (Tiger Folk Traditional Folk Club); Karen Buckley (National Botanic Gardens of Ireland); John Kelly; Ian Maxwell; and Liam & Mick O’Connor.

Of all the comrades that e’er I had

They are sorry for my going away

And all the sweethearts that e’er I had

They would wish me one more day to stay

But since it falls unto my lot

That I should rise and you should not

I’ll gently rise and softly call

Good night and joy be to you all

The Sweet Nightingale march 2018 – latest


The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 8, March 2018

Howth Singing Circle Saoithe

Niamh and Ann

Brian Doyle with our new Saoithe Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan

At our Dinner in November, Brian Doyle inducted two more of our stalwarts as Saoithe of the Howth Singing Circle. Joining our first two appointees, Paddy Daly and Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, were Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan. Niamh has been a valued and valuable regular almost from the beginning generously sharing her lengthy experience as a professional recording artist with the rest of us, ever encouraging and enthusiastic. Niamh was a member of Killera, Loose Connections and Arcady, appearing throughout Ireland and in Austria, Belgium, Brittany, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Wales, Japan and North America. Now performing with Graham Dunne, her CDs include Loosely Connected (1992) and Loosen Up (1997) with the band The Loose Connections, and solo cds – Blackbirds & Thrushes (1999); In My Prime (2000); Heart’s Desire (2002); Live at Fylde (2005); The Old Simplicity (2006); and Kind Providence (2016). Ann Riordan, a founding member, has regularly proved vital to the unseen organisation of events like the Burns Nicht, Fiddle Bus, Singathon and much more. No Club could operate without diligent and unsung work behind the scenes and it is appropriate that that contribution be acknowledged. We have no plans to induct any other Saoithe in the foreseeable future but felt it important, as we enter our eighteenth season, that some recognition be given to Ann and Niamh alongside Diarmuid and Paddy.

Feilimí O’Connor & Stuart Carolan

October’s session – ably managed by our Young Singer in Residence Cathal Caulfield – provided a night of high quality, led by our Special Guests from County Louth – Feilimí O’Connor from Ravensdale, north of Dundalk, and Stuart Carolan from Tullyallen, north of Drogheda. They brought a very welcome band of supporters including Stuart’s wife Siobhán and his father Pat who delivered a moving version of ‘Along the Silvery Tide’. Mountaineer, explorer and broadcaster Dermot Somers sang of the tough life of workers from the Steel City of Sheffield; Noel Bailey urged the laddies to come; Irene Bagenal taught us how to tell widow from bride; and Gerry Cullen delved into his bluegrass roots. There were many other notable performanced: Laurence Bond roamed the bogs of Shanaheever; Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh rendered the late poet Michael Hartnett’s thoughtful translation of ‘Na Connery’s’ and Gerry O’Connor sounded the last call of the day. Andras Scarff, a German visitor, brought us to Tirol; Helen Lahert was up on the sweet brown knowe; and Eugene McEldowney courted a blacksmith! Eddie Phillips sailed aqway on the rioll of the sea and Cian Ó Súilleabháin made a triumphant return via the fields of Athenry. Cathal and his brother Éoin played sets on fiddle and flute and Cathal sang od ‘An Cailín Dubh’. Another fifteen singers added to a crammed evening.

Cathal Caulfield with Guests Stuart Carolan and Feilimí O’Connor listening intently; Gerry O’Connor mit seinem Freund Andreas Scarf (photographs Gerry O’Connor)

Our Guests, appropriately, were the stars, however, each displaying their singing pedigree derived from their parents, grandparents and families. Feilimí’s arrangements of ‘Green Grow the Laurel’ and, especially his Inis Toraigh version of ‘Dónal Óg’ floated over an audience silent in deep appreciation. He completed his set with ‘Son, Come Tell It Unto Me’ and a haunting ‘Siúil a Rún’. Stuart began with his grandfather’s very different version of ‘The Wild Rover’ and styled as phoenix ‘The Maid of Ballymore’, a song ‘pinched from me father’. His Shetland ‘Night Parting Song’ was a favourite to a Howth audience who minded the song from Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore’s singing, reminding us why we started the Club. Stuart concluded with ‘In This God Forsaken Land’, his voice carrying the pain and anguish of the song-writer’s experience. Led by Gerry Cullen, the Drogheda folk concluded the night with the Carolan family version of ‘The Bonnie Light Horseman’, the chorusing powerful and moving.

So, thanks to Feilimí, Stuart, and all the Boynesiders, for a night that will liove long in the memory.

Musicians’ Union of Ireland

The Howth Singing Circle is proud to say that two of our Committee members serve on the Executive of the Musicians’ Union of Ireland (MUI) – Francy Devine and Niamh Parsons. Niamh is particularly active serving on SIPTU’s Service Division and Sectoral Committees. Youican learn about the MUI at http://mui.ie/about-the-mui/ and follow its activities through its quarterly newsletter SoundPost

Finally, of course, the MUI welcomes members who are musicians, singers, teachers, composers or writers or those who wish simply to be unionised in solidarity with musicians: http://mui.ie/join-the-mui/

Niamh with SIPTU Organiser Graham Macken and MUI President Séamus Doyle at the SIPTU Biennial Conference in Cork in October: and Niamh at the Conference Rostrum

Contagious to the Nile

In November, Tom Finn and Tony McGaley provided a night of fun and high-quality singing on the theme of ‘Contagious to the Nile – Dublin Comic Songs’. Helen Lahert for got her sailor while Brenda Ní Ríordáin remembered her Shéamuisín; and Joe Gallagher and Gerry O’Connor – who made a lovely couple – couldn’t remember or was it that they couldn’t forget? Laurence Bond waxed lyrical by the Dargle; Eddie Phillips got fluthered with Phil; Úna Kane kept dubious company with Dicey Riley; and Angela Murray wandered between the Liffeyside and Salonika. Eugene McEldowney visited The Monto as Siobhán Moore chased fleas on Rothesay-O! Andrew Burke paid tribute to Conor Cruise O’Brien – well, maybe not tribute but he remembered him; Walter Kennedy was let into the Charladies’ ball; and Brian Doyle was with a Twangman somewhere in the vicinity of Kimmage. Irene Bagenal recalled a Gamekeeper while Tony McGaley regretted the failure of Dublin City Council to develop the Blue Lagoon. Peter Byrne left his shaving kit in a salubrious Australia lodging house; Andrew Basquille strolled through Bloom’s Day; and Éamonn Hunt sand ‘Maloney’s Lament’ and regretted ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’ – two great songs. Antoinette Daly, Tom Finn, Martina Nic Cearnaigh, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Philip O’Connor, Larry O’Toole, Kieran Wade and Joy also performed. Barry Gleeson was the perfect choice for Three in a Row with Leo Maguire’s ‘The Dublin washerwoman’, ‘The Ballad of Pearse Reilly’ – a Joycean tour de force; and, betraying one suspects a misspent youth, ‘Tamango’s’. In this form, Barry is irresistible, hugely entertaining, a master of his craft and a joy to listen to and be entertained by. Thank you, Barry.

Good People All This Christmas Time

Our Christmas was graced by two Santies: Mick Fowler and Gerry O’Connor appearing suitably attired creating a sustained atmosphere of fun and seasonality. Eugene McEldowney began with ‘O The Holly’; Tom Finn gave us Seán Tyrrell’s ‘The Lights of Little Chistmas’; Walter Kennedy presented ‘The Boar’s Head’; and Helen Lahert sang of ‘This Lovely Christmas Night’. Recording artist Séamus Ó Súilleabháin sang ‘A Winter’s Tale’ from his newly released CD and Cian Ó Súilleabháin recalled ‘Molly Malone’. Joe Gallagher gave a beautiful rendition of Barbara Callan’s ‘Solstice Carol’ while Laurence Bond wondered while he wandered. Máire Ní Chróinín took enormous delight in doing unspeakable things to turkeys; Úna Kane recounted Christmas’s twelve days; Kieran Wade confessed that he had never got used to life on the dole; while Eddie Phillips got the whole earth to sing. Mick Fowler sang his own composition – Howth Singing Circle’s carol ‘All Hail! All Hail!’ Mairidhe Woods seduced ‘Santa Baby’ while Fergus Russell gave the Three in a Row: ‘Diana Kitty Anna Mariah’; ‘Rolling Home’; and his bird song, a composition open to considerable interpretation! The raffle provided nearly twenty prizes and folk when home in splendid festive form after a night of fun, frolics and fine singing.

The two Santies, Mick Fowler & Gerry O’Connor, and their two Little Helpers, Áine agus Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh

Songs for Nollaig na mBan

Niamh Parsons hosted a well-attended opening session of 2018 with songs to celebrate Nollaig na mBan. Antoinette Daly began by scaling the ‘Green Hills of Antrim’ while Máirídhe Woods sang in the style o0f Loretta Lynn. Peter Byrne sang of ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’ and ‘The Grey Funnel Line’ and Daoirí Farrell was a Contender whilst wearing a Galway Shawl. Walter Kennedy was hard to see as he just sang in the twilight while Stiofán Ó hAoláin serenaded Eibhlín a Rún’. Diarmaid Ó Cathasaigh played Sliabh na mBan and Séamus Ó Súilleabháin ploughed Pat Murphy’s meadow. Eddie Phillips sang a Kilmore Carol and Paul Redmond stirringly presented his own composition ‘Ben Eadair Lass’. Spanish visitor Carlos presented a painful sick note but recovered to work on England’s motorways. Ann Riordan read Seán Ó Ríordáin’s ‘Oiche Nollaig na mBan’ and Tony McGaley presented his own comic view of the tradition. Highlight was Graham Dunne’s Three in Row of tunes: ‘The South West Wind and Petticoat Breeze’ in honour of Peadar O’Loughlin; Gershwin’s ‘Summer Time’; and ‘Ard Uí Cuan’ followed by reels. He then accompanied our host Niamh Parsons with their highly original arrangement of Robert Burns ‘The Slave’s Lament’. Over thirty folk performed on what was a very pleasant and engaging start to the New Year.

Burns Nicht 2018 – Joy & Pleasure

Howth Burns Nicht 2018 – the eighteenth such occasion and tenth to be held in the Abbey Tavern – generated huge acclaim. Presented by Gerry O’Connor and Scots visitor Morag Dunbar, the night began with a section recalling the ending of the First World War. After Mick Fowler began with the County Antrim song ‘Bonnie Wood Green’, there were three readings – all thoughtfully delivered – Úna Kane with W.B. Yeats’ ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’, Frank Allen with Francis Ledwidge’s ‘Soliloquy’ and Finola Young with Ledwidge’s ‘Lament for Thomas MacDonagh’. Gerry O’Connor concluded the section with Graeme Miles’ moving ‘Lights Out’. Troon’s Willie Gibson, making a welcome return after a few years, delighted various ‘ladies’ by reciting Burns’s poems and presenting them to his ‘victims’, all of whom seemed thrilled to be chosen.

Next came our ‘resident band’ of John Kelly (fiddle), John Regan (box) and Mick Mullen (guitar). While noise levels unfortunately rose at this point, many took the opportunity to dance. Later, in the lads’ second set, John Regan played Niel Gow’s slow air ‘Coilsfield House’, a beautiful interpretation and a highlight of the night. Burns, himself a fiddle player, went out of his way to meet Gow, 1827-1807, in Dunkeld on one of his Highland tours. Fiddle Bus Fower had visited Blair Castle and Dunkeld to pay tribute to Gow.

John Regan, John Kelly and Mick Mullen, our much under-valued ‘Resident Band’, and Úna Kane reading W.B. Yeats ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’

This was followed by a powerful set of items drawn from material contemporary to Burns. Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh played Burns’s ‘Ye Banks & Braes’ on the harmonica and Áine Bean Uí Chathasaigh recited his ‘Lament of Mary, Queen of Scots’, her stage presence and command superb. Young Howth violinist Elizabeth Fox played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s [1756-1791] ‘Romance’ from his ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, reminding us that one of the first to orchestrate ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was Beethoven. Paul Redmond’s stirring rendition of Thomas Moore’s [1779-1852] ‘The Minstrel Boy Boy’ was magnificent and got the room’s pulses racing.

Then came our Special Guests Robyn Stapleton (Stranraer), fiddler Kristan Harvey (Orkney) and keyboard player Alistair Iain Paterson (Lewis/Bishopton). Technically first class, the trio enthralled, amused and thrilled with a selection dominated by Burns’s songs. In fact, Howth Burns Nicht has probably never had so much Burns material. In her second set, Robyn included songs by Violet Jacob and others and we also discovered that she was – in another life – ‘The Quine That Does The Strip in Inverurie’. Kristan’s fiddle pieces were very well received and her dramatic presence engaged everyone, the tunes ranging from breakneck to the subtlety of Gow’s slow air ‘The Lament For the Death of His Second Wife’. Robyn’s flaming hair, gentle and engaging manner, and clear tones won every heart with many saying ‘the best yet’. We had told Robyn of the ‘Miller Effect’ after Siobhán Miller’s huge success last year but we can only guess at what the ‘Stapleton Effect’ will be!

Paul Redmond with his storming delivery of Thomas Moore’s ‘The Minstrel Boy’ and Dave McCracken and Ann Riordan suitably embarrassing our Special Guests Kristan Harvey and Alistair Paterson

An annual highlight was the piping in of the haggis by Pipe Major Noel Kelly and the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band. The haggis – made by Ricky Higgins of Higgins Family Butchers, Sutton Cross – was carried in by Ardmhéara Mícheál Mac Donncha and addressed, in inimitable fashion, by Willie Gibson. There followed a ‘Scottish Section’ with Carole Prior singing her own composition in praise of a Scots staple ‘Oats’; our own Stiofán Ó hAoláin with some breath-taking ‘Puirt a Beul’; Morag Dunbar and Janet Weatherston, complete with kazoos, with ‘The Kelty Clippies’; and the wonderful tones of Alan Prior with Burns’ ‘My Love id Like a Red Red Rose’. The Finale was led by Janet Weatherston with ‘Happy Ae Are A’ Th’gither’; Francy Devine, ‘Banks o Reid Roses’; and Fergus Russell, ‘Bonnie Light Horseman’. Lastly, Robyn led ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and Diarmuid ‘The Parting Glass’.

Robyn Stapleton with Kristan Harvey and Alistair Paterson and Burns Nicht stalwarts John Bentham, Dave McCracken and Sheila Bentham

On Sunday, Brian Doyle and Janet Weatherston led a crowded and fun-filled ‘Fare Thee Weel Session’, again in the Abbey, cramming in thirty-seven items as well as a raffle. Incidentally, out of Burns Nicht costs of over €3,700, the Club gave back over €400 in raffle prizes. Performances that caught the ear included SeánÓ hEarcháin, ‘Dear Home o Mine’; Helen Lahert, ‘I Wonder What’s Keeping My True Love Tonight’; Kathy Hobkirk, ‘Ye Hae Laen Wrang, Lassie’; Seán Considine who managed to escape when the Dun Cow went on fire; Pádraig Ó Nualláin, ‘Ballyronan Maid’; Edwarrrrrrrrrd Phillips, ‘Jock o Hazeldean’; James O’Byrne, ‘It’s Written in the Stars’; and Éamonn Hunt who found no man worth regarding. There were many others with many moments of sustained laughter, none more so than when Alan Prior got fu’ on the barley bree. A good few folk stayed on to finish the weekend off with a meal and to be further impressed by the sheer professionalism of Richard Tobin and all his staff in the Abbey Tavern who served up a splendid dinner.

Lastly, we must thank Chris Boland (sound); Christy Hammond (CRM Design & Print) for a fabulous brochure and ticket; Finola Young who hosted our visitors and baked some mouth-watering desserts; Sheila and John Bentham (Loughborough) and Dave McCracken (Tarset, Northumbria) who decorated [and undecorated] the hall and did much else of the mullocking besides; Colm Keating whose wonderful photographs so caught the spirit of the night; and Ann Riordan who managed the door and generally kept an unseen hand on the Burns Nicht tiller. Thanks above all to the 200 and more who attended the events and were so co-operative when buying, settling or sending back tickets and who provided such great audiences and not forgetting the dozens who we simply could not accommodate. The night was aptly named: it was indeed a joy and pleasure!

Finally, we had talked of would this be the last Burns Nicht?  The Howth Singing Circle Committee would love to hear constructive views on the matter.

UNESCO Recognition for Irish Folklore Collection and Uilleann Pipes

Late in 2017, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) inscribed the Irish Folklore Commission Collection into its ‘Memory of the World’ Register. This was followed earlier this year by UNESCO adding the uilleann pipes to its list of Intangible Cultural. President Michael D. Higgins acknowledged both UNESCO actions as an honour for Ireland. For uilleann piping, he said that UNESCO’s action was a ‘valuable recognition of the skills, imagination, creativity and importance of those who make, restore and play na píobaí uilleann’. He added that ‘the music and craftwork’ of Ireland ‘connect us in profound ways, weaving together cultural memory and contemporary vision’.

Howth Singing Circle adds its voice to all those connected with the Folklore Collection and na Píobairí Uilleann for their dedication and hard work to ensure that this recognition was won. Whether the State will respond by adequately supporting these two institutions remains to be seen You can learn more about these two now globally significant elements of Irish culture, by visiting www.ucd.ie/irishfolklore/en/ and http://pipers.ie/unesco-recognition-for-uilleann-piping-update/

The Rowsome Quartet in the 1940s featuring Michael Páidín, Leo Rowsome, Tom Rowsome, and Eddie Potts; and, right, Howth piper Leo Rickard, whose uncle Jimmy Rickard played with the earliest Rowsome Quartet

Fiddle Bus 5

Fiddle Bus 5 will travel to Antrim on Saturday-Sunday, 7-8 April and, based in Broughshane and Newtown Crommelin will be linking with the County Antrim & Derry Country Fiddlers’ Association. The limited places are, by the time this Sweet Nightingale is published, likely to be booked out and will include the usual blend of Scots and Irish musicians. Organisation has again been undertaken by John Kelly, Liam O’Connor and Ann Riordan.

Music of the Heart: Seamus Ó Súulleabháin’s CD

At the December Howth Singing Circle session, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that James O’Sullivan – known to us as Seamus Ó Súilleabháin – has produced a beautiful album Music of the Heart. Seamus, together with his wife Bernie and their son Cian have been regulars at the HSC over many years. The CD opens with a beautiful rendition of ‘Coast of Malabar’ and includes many well-loved songs such as ‘Boolovouge’, ‘Bruach na Carraige Bhana’, ‘Sweet Ballyvaughan’ and the Don McLean composition ‘Vincent’. Two of my favourites on the album are the haunting melody ‘Ardi Cuan’ and ‘One Starry Night’, a song associated with Liam Weldon. Seamus is accompanied on the CD by the inimitable Mick Mullen on guitar and Liam Curran on fiddle and harmonica. This duo, with Seamus on accordion, features a couple of polkas on the album’s instrumental tracks.

If you like your songs and music with a touch of nostalgia, this album is a must to add to your collection. As the sleeve notes say, ‘This album is a collection of stories. Some old, some new but all with a tale to tell of some event that happened in the past; be it love or tragedy or hope or even sadness’. As the album title says this production is truly ‘Music of the heart’. Well done, Seamus.     Larry O’Toole

Buíochas Mór

We thank those who have contributed to this Sweet Nightingale: Colm Keating; Larry O’Toole, Musicians’ Union of Ireland and SIPTU, Fergus Russell; and the Howth Singing Circle Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Francy Devine, Brian Doyle, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan.

Spring-Summer Programme 2018

18 March – Sea Shanties at the Howth Prawn Festival with Gerry O’Connor & Fergus Russell

(Due to the snow on the day, the Sea Shanties session was cancelled but we would like to extend our thanks to Gerry O’Connor who put in so much work with the song sheet)

24 March – Sutton Methodist Church Singathon with visiting singers from England

25 March – Singing & Walking Tour on Dublin Quays – meet Liberty Hall @ 10.50

5 April – Special Night with Annie Reid (Stonehaven) and visiting Scots fiddle players

7/8 April – Fiddle Bus 5 to Antrim

 3 May – Tony Fitzpatrick & Brendan Kennedy, ‘Me Oul Flower’: Floral Songs

 7 June – Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, ‘Thugamar Féin an Samhraidh Linn’

 21 July – Singing the Fishing


 The Sweet Nightingale – April 2017

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 6, April 2017

Saoithe Paddy Daly & Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh

The splendid food at our Annual Dinner in The House was enjoyed by all, as were our Special Guests Maggie and Peter ‘The Racker’ Donnelly’. The Racker’s versification required no translation but deep digestion because he was prone to question all who paid the slightest attention to his every whim and verbal affectation. Leonard Cohen’s work was a prominent feature of a night of fine singing and music from Andy Burke – a man who has lost nothing of his sax appeal – and Graham Dunne, guitar.

Paddy Daly agus Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Saoithe Ciorcal Ceol Bheann Éadair

The highlight of the night was, however, the inauguration of Paddy Daly and Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh as Saoithe of the HSC. ‘Saoi’ is an ancient title of honour indicating ‘sage’ or ‘wise one’, an attribute respected and seen as resource for the clan. Walter Kennedy, speaking appropriately as gaeilge, recognised Diarmuid’s outstanding contribution, over many decades, to Irish language publishing and promotion; to traditional music, song and dance as performer, collector and researcher; to the Howth Peninsula Heritage Society and other community organisations; and, of course, to the HSC.   Niamh Parsons presented him with a glass ornament marking his award and Diarmuid, remarkably, was speechless.

Francy Devine reflected on the widespread affection in which Paddy Daly was held, a feeling based on his generosity of spirit and action in so many fields – Irish language, labour politics, progressive causes, trade unionism, assisting those in need at home and abroad, and traditional song and music. Paddy had recorded – visually and aurally – many occasions, his material finding home in the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Laurence Bond made the actual award to another recipient stuck for words.

Diarmuid and Paddy have attended the HSC since its first sessions and have contributed hugely to its success through their performances, organisation, enthusiasm and commitment. It is entirely appropriate that their contribution be acknowledged and it proved a popular gesture among those attending the dinner.

Howth-Sutton-Baldoyle 1916 Commemoration

The Howth Singing Circle was honoured to perform at the two musical events organised by the Howth-Sutton-Baldoyle 1916 Commemoration Committee. On the second occasion in November, Pearse’s ‘Oró Mo Bháidín’ and ‘Óró Sé Do Bheatha Abhaile’ were led by Walter Kennedy and Stiofán Ó hAoláin; Ann Riordan read Maebh Cavanagh’s ‘The Call to Arms’ and ‘Straining at the Leash’, and Brian Doyle read Eva Gore Booth’s ‘Comrades’ and W.B. Yeats’ ‘Three Songs to One Burden’ for Seán Connolly, ICA man and Abbey actor. Tom Finn sang ‘The Foggy Dew’ and Niamh Parsons ‘The Dying Rebel’. Helen Lahert, Brenda Ní Ríordáin, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Manus O’Riordan, and Finola Young added their voices to the chorale and ‘My Old Howth Gun’. The programme finished with St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band Pipe Major Noel Kelly playing ‘The Blackbird’ as part of his accompaniment of Francy Devine’s ‘Where O Where Is Our James Connolly?’ before piping us off the stage. Those months of rehearsals certainly paid off!

Christmas Night

Our Christmas night concluded with Mick Fowler leading us in his carol ‘All Hail! All Hail’ which we have adopted as the Club’s carol. A lively occasion, Mary McCarthy read Longfellow’s ‘Christmas Bells’ and Ann Riordan Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Advent’. Helen Lahert joined Woody Guthrie and the copper miners for their ill-fated ball; Laurence Bond went a –wassailing; Irene Bagnel wondered who was keeping her true love tonight; and Rosa Corcoran sang of ‘Sweet Dooley Gate’ from her home town of Drogheda. Stiofán Ó hAoláin wondered what happened to the Pecker Dunne; Gerry O’Connor finally bade farewell to Genoa; Tom Finn found midwinter decidedly bleak; and Kieran Wade sang of Yellow Knife and the midnight sun.  There were plenty of carols and a raffle with some prizes folk were pleased to take home. Our Three Song spot was Siobhán Moore who sang of 1842, Bull Moore’s ‘Mermaid’ and in honour of Leonard Cohen ‘Alexandra Leaving’. Led by Máire Ní Chróinín – who stuffed a few turkeys with gusto [makes a change from sage and onion – Ed] – and Fergus Russell, it was a great way to conclude the year, albeit with the sadness of Willie O’Connor’s departure so raw.

A Watery New Year!

Drogheda’s Irene Bagnell led a most enjoyable start to the New Year’s singing on the theme of ‘Songs of the Sea’ and how the singers held to the theme! Over thirty songs were sung or poems recited and nearly all were, to say the least, damp! John McGee confessed to falling in love with a tall ship; Úna Kane was hard to hear as she was ‘Far Away’; Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh recalled ‘The Wreck of the Gwendoline’; Mairidhe Woods invited us all to Yarmouth town; Philip O’Connor gave thanks ‘We’re Surrounded by Water’; Laurence Bond sang the praises of the ‘Anti-Gallican Privateer’; Brian Doyle drifted dreamily past Mingalay; Eddie Phillips regretted being ‘Away From the Roll of the Sea’ while his shipmate Walter Kennedy went sailing to the ‘Lowlands, Low’; and Siobhán Moore sang Sandy Denny’s ‘The Sea’. Nollaig na mBan was remembered in Tony McGaley’s humorous composition on the theme and Ann Riordan recited a moving piece about the ‘Last neolithic farm woman of the Céide Fields’. A highlight of the night were the performances from Liam Ó Droma’s two Moldovan friends, Viktor and Ilena. Victor’s Christmas song from Odessa, Georgia, came complete with backing track on his Iphone – now that might start a trend! As he sang, Ilena got folk up to dance and the smiles spread around the room. Irene conducted a pleasant night and sang ‘Bould Reilly’ to conclude proceedings.

Burns Nicht 2017

It is said every year but this year it was said more widely and repeatedly: it was the best ever. Our main guests – Siobhán Miller, Euan Burton and Aaron Jones – certainly captivated the audience with their stage presence, song selection and humour. Siobhán, in particular, stole hearts and received terrific attention throughout. Our ‘resident band’ – John Kelly (fiddle), Larry Egan (box) and Mick Mullen (guitar) – were also well received and provoked more folk to take to the floor than is usual.

Colm Keating’s wonderful photograph of Siobhán Miller captures the spirit and fun of Burns Nicht 2017

The night started with three who travel from England – John Bentham (Loughborough), Dave McCracken (Tarset, Northumbria) and Corinne Male (Ibstock, Leicestershire) and they set the bar high. Irene Bagnel (Drogheda) with ‘Live Not Where I Live’, our own Gerry O’Connor with ‘Isle o Hirta’ and Kathy Hobkirk (Hawick) followed by which time there was a strong sense of a special night unfolding. Next, four performed Scots pieces Tony Fitzpatrick, ‘The Band o Shearers’; Brian Doyle, ‘The Silver Tassie’; Mick Fowler, ‘Robert Burns & His Highland Mary’; and Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne, ‘The Slave’s Lament’. Morag Dunbar energetically and very theatrically addresses the haggis piped in by the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band. After the break, Pipe Major Noel Kelly accompanied Francy Devine with a version of Patrick Galvin’s ‘Where O Where is Our James Connolly?’ which generated terrific audience involvement. The Band, as ever, were thrilling.

The night recognised the role of Cumann na mBan with Sheila Bentham reciting Winifred Letts’ ‘The Connaught Rangers’ and Ann Riordan delivering Alice Milligan’s ‘The Home Coming’. Márie Ní Chróinín sang Brian O’Higgins’s ‘The Soldiers of Cumann na mBan’ and Éibhlís Ní Riordáin gave a spirited performance of Philip O’Neill’s [Sliabh Rua] ‘The Cumann na mBan’ that had the crowd cheering wildly. Finally, Ireland’s Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan read her own ‘Them Ducks Died for Ireland’ to conclude a high-quality section of the night. The night finished with Siobhán and her band enthralling and taking the mood from light-hearted to sombre, wistful to slapstick – yes you all remember ‘Cholesterol’! The night concluded with Siobhán and Francy singing ‘An Sae Will We Yet’, Fergus Russell leading the thunderous charge of ‘The Bonnie Light Horseman’; Siobhán linking the room in ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘The Parting Glass’.

Sunday’s Fare Thee Weel session was ably managed by Janet Weatherson and Gerry O’Connor with kazoos a-plenty. Colm Keating’s pictorial review of the 2016 Nicht was a highlight of the brochure.

Kathy Hobkirk and Janet Weatherston attempting to dishonour a defenceless Dave McCracken and Chris Boland on sound , an unsung worker of the Burns Nicht

Many are involved in organising the Burns Nicht and their hard work certainly paid dividends in 2017. We are open to constructive criticism, however, and anyone with suggestsons for ways of improving the night – 2018 will be its tenth year in the Abbey Tavern – please let us kno

Thank you again to everyone for your support.

Muhammad al-Hussaini

February HSC’s witnessed many guests, Kristin Borgehed from Sweden sang and ‘diddled’ [what we would know as lilting] and Joseph Devine, Francy’s nephew, and his Palestinian friends – particularly Qais – gave an inspired rendition of William Blake’s Jerusalem with an ironic Arabic translation. Many in a large crowd sang as gaeilge as did Fear an Tí Stiofán Ó hAoláin’s main guest Sheikh Imam Muhammad al-Hussaini, a Londoner of Iraqi origin who sang beautiful seán-nós. Doctor Johnson when observing a dog walking on its hind legs famously said, ‘What is remarkable is not that he does it badly but that he does it all!’ Well, Muhamad sings beautifully, impressing all with his intonation, timing and diction. Among the songs he sang were ‘Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile’, ‘Casadh an tSúgáin’ and ‘Caoineadh ma dTrí Mhuire’, Conamara echoing through them. In English, he sang ‘Easter Snows’, a piece ever associated with Séamus Ennis’ and ‘The Green Fields of Canada’. There was a sense of occasion about the evening and Muhammad was embraced by the crowd for his quality singing.

The following morning, Muhammad and Kristin were recorded by the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA). Our thanks to Rónán Galvin for arranging this and to Brian Doyle and his young interns for patiently recording songs, stories and explanations. On Saturday, Muhammad and Kristin travelled down to Cork for the Comórtas Bonn Óirr Seán Ó Riada, this year won by Éanna Ó Cróinín (píob) and Úna Ní Fhlannagáin (cruit) –


Muhammad al-Hussaini agus Stiofán Ó hAoláin and Ann Riordan, Muhammad, John Kelly and Kristin Borgehed at the Seán Ó Riada statue in Cúil Aodha

On the Sunday morning, Muhammad and Kristin attended Mass in Seipal Ghobnatan, Cúil Aodha where Peadar Ó Riada and Cór Chúil Aodha sang. After the service, Muhammad was asked to perform and the congregation to remain if they wished to listen. No one left early and, after discussion with Peadar, Muhammad delivered the ‘Surat Quraysh’ from Quran 106, an appropriate religious piece and one that, in its incantation, demonstrated the similarities between its rhythmic and tonal forms and seán-nós. Those present had a sense of history.

Joseph Devine, Hamza and Qais render Blake’s Jerusalam in English and Arabic, a magic momemnt

March of Many Weathers

Brian Doyle and Eddie Phillips battled the elements in March as ‘many weathers and many songs’ stormed around the Abbey. A relatively small gathering meant that most got two songs and Gerry O’Connor ‘Three in a Row’ – ‘Past Caring’, ‘Isles of Hirta’ and ‘Shining Down on Sennen’. Gerry sang beautifully. Aidan and Joyce O’Hara brought a whiff of prairie and new found lands on the night with ‘The Poor Little Girls of Ontario’ and ‘The Pink, The Lily & The Blooming Rose’. Laurence Bond delivered two powerful songs – ‘Freeborn Man’ to acknowledge the granting of ethnic status to our Traveller community and ‘The Ludlow Massacre’, two thoughtful highlights on the night. Eddie Phillips can’t stay off the booze; Úna Kane wandered from ‘Galway bay’ to the Zuider Zee; Tom Finn searched for ‘Lovers & Friends’; Mairidhe Woods bathed in the ‘Lakes of Ponchartrain’; and Robert Kelly sang of whales and wistful times he has spent, somewhat hopefully, in cafés!

Dublin Bay Prawn Festival

We owe a big thank you to those who travelled distances on a bad day of rain, delayed DARTs, traffic jams and over-crowding to sing shanties at the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival on Saturday, 18 March. We were unfortunately confined below decks to the Community Tent which was a shame for those who sang so lustily to the enjoyment of the local stall holders and others who were present. Surely, the performances deserved a bigger audience of the main stage and would have added to the maritime atmosphere the Festival aims at?

Captain Seán Dunne and his Cabin Boy Diarmaid Ó Cathasaigh with Tom Finn leading the press-ganged crew of Tony Fitzpatrick, Walter Kennedy, Brian Dunne, Máire Ní Chróinín, (an obscured) Tony McGaley, Eddie Phillips, (another obscured hand) Gerry O’Connor, Fergus Russell, Mick Dunne and Helen Lahert.

Those who crewed the HSC ship were Paddy Daly, Brian Doyle, Mick Dunne, Tom Finn, Tony Fitzpatrick, Walter Kennedy, Helen Lahert, Tony McGaley, Máire Ní Chróinín. Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Ann Riordan, and Fergus Russell. Star of the show was Seán Dunne, Mick’s son and bodhrán wizard – it was a great boost to see him up on deck with the oldies. Thank you, Seán.

‘Mere Carriers of the Precious Urn’

Mick Fowler’s Seven Influences – Phil Callery’s Challenge

This selection is a follow on to Francy Devine’s article in a previous Sweet Nightingale which was ‘a response to Phil Callery’s request to accept the ‘Seven Singer Challenge’ by referring to a selection of one’s influential singers ‘throughout your life, with some interesting stories on how they came your way’. At the end of which he invited others to share their influences and stories as above. My selection will not just list individuals, as in thinking on the subject matter in hand, I found it necessary to group some choices under a particular area. For example in referring to Corny McDaid, one has to include several other singers from the Inishowen Peninsula, who were of equal influence in one’s experience of meeting them and learning songs common to the area. So the heading in that instance will simply be the area in question, rather than one singer in particular.

Now for the choices! These of course may not be in an order of preference, as they just came to hand on a rough list, and were subsequently expanded within each. Note that I will list the songs from an individual at the end of each piece.

Mick Fowler with Gerry Cullen and in typical signing pose – Colm Keating’s photos from the ITMA – see http://www.itma.ie/goilin/singer/fowler_mick

  1. Cathal McConnell

Having said that, firstly I must refer to Cathal McConnell, as I have more songs from his singing than anybody else. An early learning experience (in traditional song) came from the first few LPs of the Boys of the Lough, in the early 1970s. Cathal was featured on these, but they were mainly instrumental, with only two songs on either side of the LP, as was the custom in those days. Nevertheless, four were learned quickly – ‘Shores of Lough Bran’, ‘Rambling Irishman’, ‘The Flower of Magherallyo’ and ‘Farewell Lovely Nancy’. These were some of the first sung when starting in the Góilín Singers’ Club, in 1984. Cathal is a renowned Flute player and Singer, from Bellinaleck, Fermanagh. He has been a member of the above group for thirty-eight years now, an original member of the group, and an original in every sense of the word! He is a great character; I have met him on a number of occasions over the years. From a lifetime touring professionally, mainly in the US, he is now seen more frequently in Ireland and teaches at the Willie Clancy Summer School. He resides in Edinburgh.

Songs : The above four plus- ‘I Drew my Ship into a Harbour’, ‘The Bloomin’ Bright Star of Belle Isle’, ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’, ‘Long Expectant Comes at Last’, ‘There’s the Day’, ‘A Last Farewell to Stirling-o’, ‘The West of Ireland’, and many more too numerous to mention.

  1. David Hammond

Songs listed are all from the LP The Singer’s House (regrettably never released on CD). Séamus Heaney provided wonderful sleeve notes and a poem of the LP Title, with the closing verse ‘When I came here first you were always singing / a hint of the clip of the pick / in your winnowing climb and attack. / Raise it again, man. We still believe what we hear(!)’. I have always loved to sing’ My Aunt Jane/ Fair Rosa’ (paired as they are on the LP) which Góilíners seemed to enjoy over the years. David Hammond had a lovely, clipped, Belfast accent in his singing; he also collected numerous songs around the North of Ireland. I also have got ‘The Hills above Drumquin’, which he sang on Arty McGlynn’s solo LP. All of these from him are truly beautiful songs, with great variety to boot. I learned them from the Boys of the Lough LPs/Cassettes and CDs. Cathal only recently recorded a solo CD – named appropriately – Long Expectant Comes at Last!

Songs:- ‘The Bonnie Earl of Moray’, ‘The Cruel Mother’, ‘The Giant’s Causeway Tram’, ‘Fan-a-Winnow/Green Gravel/Wee Falorie Man’, and ‘The Granemore Hare’.

  1. Inishowen

Inishowen just has to be here! Corny McDaid, Maggie Magee, Jimmy Houghton, Denis McDaid, Jimmy Grant; all these have sadly passed away, and all had huge repertoires, of mainly long ballads. And I nearly forgot him-Paddy Doherty still there and still singing! One considers oneself very lucky to have met them and shared so many sessions in the late 80s and early 90s. At the sessions in Buncrana, Jimmy Grant would be there first in his immaculate suit and cane; during the session if pleased with a song, he would exclaim ‘Good Singin’! There was great craic over the years with Jim McBride who single handedly gathered all together for a number of years and founded the Inishowen Singers Circle. Jim organised a visit I requested to meet Corny (McDaid) in his house one afternoon; those present were Jim McBride, Packie Manus Byrnes, John Waltham (Dorset) and I. I had a tape machine at the ready, but Corny started discussing the making of Poitin with John Waltham- an excellent singer, cereal farmer and expert on making triple vintage cider. Eventually Corny started up, and sang five songs about drink; but Corny did not take a drop himself! He sang a nice comic song that day, which my father had.

Songs:- ‘As I Roved Out (Corny), ‘The Bonny Green Tree’ (Maggie Magee), ‘Shamrock Shore’ (Denis McDaid), ‘A Lady in Her Father’s Garden’ (Jimmy Houghton) and many more.

  1. Eddie Butcher

The late Eddie Butcher from Magilligan, in County Derry is one of the most influential singers in the Northern tradition. My favourite song of all is ‘Alexander’ which came from him. While attending the Singers’ Workshop in the Willie Clancy Summer School (hereafter referred to as WCSS) Hugh Shields, who had extensively collected about 200 songs in the North Derry area, mostly from Eddie, was asked to sing after giving a talk; he then sang the above and so I got it- recorded from ‘the man who got it from the source’. The story of Hugh Shields’ collecting of Alexander is interesting. Eddie was brought down to Dublin to be recorded, and was taken on a drive to Glenmalure. When he saw that long, lonely valley he came out with the glorious eighth verse- ‘I will travel to Mount Hareb where Noah’s Ark does stand, / And then unto Mount Albereen, where Moses viewed the land’. They went back to Hugh’s house and recorded the whole song. When I sang it at the Paddy O’Brien Week in Nenagh, some years ago, Phil Brennan asked me where it was from. I said it was ‘from Eddie Butcher, who gave us ‘Adam in Paradise’, ‘Alexander’, and ‘As I Roved Out’’ and. realising what I had just said, followed with ‘And that’s just the ‘A’s!’

  1. Clare

Clare evokes Nora Clery/Tom Lenihan/Ollie Conway/ Peggy McMahon. For many years, I went down to ‘Mecca’, as the Willie Clancy Summer School was described as once. There I enjoyed the Singers’ Workshop in the early years, there wasn’t much instruction, just great talks two lecturers an hour each, and then a guest singer would come in and talk and sing about their traditional roots, and sing some songs. There I heard Tom Lenihan for the first time, a man of noble bearing, and a font of knowledge, and folklore, and songs second to none. A beautiful young blond teenager came in one year, and blew everybody away – yes, Mairéad Ní Mhaonigh was one of the singers. In recent years Brain Mullen from Derry would talk on the Northern tradition, and then Joseph Lee from UCD gives the talks on the Connemara Seán-nós tradition. In the evenings, after a feast of brilliant music in various pubs throughout Miltown Malbay, and singing sessions in a packed Marrinan’s from midday, all day we would go out to Carthy’s of Coor – with Nora Clery and Peggy McMahon – John Waltham , Terry Timmons, Big Jim Donoghue, and myself during the WCSS. Tom Munnelly greatly influenced me in seeking out long Child ballads, which have a strong influence on singers in Clare.

It is important to mention the Ennistymon Singing Festival here (sadly it is no longer with us). There were wonderful sessions in the tiny O’Haren’s pub, which would start around midday, and just go on till it reached a crescendo. The list of singers was a ‘who’s who’ of the best- for instance one Saturday afternoon Rosie Stewart, Róisín White and Eithne Ni Uallachain blasted out one after another, after another, till people reeled out exhausted! (Nick Ó Murchú has a recording of that electric afternoon- probably about 2001). I composed a song –‘Free the Renault 5’ – referring to an incident on an Ennistymon weekend, where a car fell into the river, and was rescued by a gang of singers on the Monday morning after breakfast!

  1. Mullaghbawn/Forkhill

Armagh sessions evoke Micil Ned (Mick) Quinn/Gerry O’Hanlon/Patricia Flynn/Brigid Murphy/John Kennedy/Maggie Murphy.   Like Ennistymon, the Slieve Gullion Singing Weekend is no longer with us, but what memories we have from both! (‘And by memories lifetimes are measured’ from ‘Lovers and Friends’ by Seán Mone). Mick Quinn, Gerry OHanlon and Patricia Flynn organised the weekend and a gang of us would head up the first weekend of October.

So to briefly recall some stories from many that came out of these weekends, I will focus on just two.

Firstly, Maggie Murphy, a remarkable woman: I heard her on an LP, a classic recording from the 1970s, of various Child ballads recorded by Peter Kennedy, and she was there named as ‘Maggie and Sarah Chambers’, two young sisters, singing a great version of ‘The Jolly Beggerman’, and I had the song from then. Many, many years later up in Mullaghbawn I heard this old woman in an Aran jumper starting up and I cocked my ear in disbelief – could this Maggie Murphy be the same woman? Indeed it was and a year or so later I got talking to her quietly and she told me a remarkable story. She had worked as a ‘Servant Girl’ (one of her songs!) on a farm when quite young; the treatment was primitive; she had to share a shed outside with the pigs where she slept, once a week ‘you got a proper meal of a Sunday’. She would not be paid for five and a half months; six months was the normal ‘hiring’ period, and one was entitled to leave after the five months – no time off till then. ‘It was very hard, very harsh’ Maggie said quietly. But she was still full of gusto and lively after such a harsh life.

Over many years, I had long friendships with Micil Ned Quinn, Gerry O’Hanlon and Patricia Flynn; of course Gerry and Mick are sadly no longer with us, and it is still a pleasure to meet Patricia and Jim Flynn occasionally. I am happy to have learned ‘Jamie Foyers’ at last this year, primarily in memory of Gerry O’Hanlon who used to sing it – in fact it was the only one I heard him sing, as he spent so much time looking after us when we came up!

On a Sunday morning after ‘the night before’, I looked out from the upstairs corridor – Gerry’s house was an old converted RUC barracks – at the glorious rolling green countryside of hillocks leading up to Slieve Gullion and said to Willie Collins – an old man over from Glasgow and a fine singer – that it was a ‘Patchwork Quilt’. Lovely memories, wonderful people.

  1. Frank Harte

Lots of us have memories of him, and of course the Frank Harte Festival continues his legacy. I remember first hearing him live in the Four Seasons pub of a Sunday; there were other sessions in the Stag’s Head on Sundays also, usually a lunchtime session. On a personal note, I recorded him singing in 1987, out in the GAA club in Mullaghbawn on the Sunday of my first visit to the the Slieve Gullion Weekend. The song was ‘The Silvery Tide’. About tenyears later in Corbett’s at Christchurch, during a lull in the singing I asked ‘Frank, will you sing ‘The Silvery Tide’?’ Quick as a flash Frank said, ‘Would you not sing it yourself, Mick?’ I was mortified, not having learnt it in all that time. Happily that has been rectified, and it was sung at the FHF in 2014!

Another pleasant memory to recall is of going into Claddagh records to buy the LP Daylight and a Candle End and who came in but Frank himself. As I had just bought it, he happily offered to sign it thus ‘To my very first customer and fellow singer- Frank Harte’. He subsequently referred to that at other signings!!

Song: ‘Sarah Jane’, ‘Kerryman’s Rambles’, ‘Maid from Cabra West’, ‘Silvery Tide’ and many, many more going right back to his Dublin Street Songs LPs.

Well, well, ‘Seven Influences’ completed!. And what of Drogheda and Enniskillen, with Mary Ann Carolan (‘Bold Doherty’) and Gabriel McArdle (‘Pat Reilly’) and Sarah Anne O’Neill (‘Reilly the Fisherman’) etc.,etc. And the great Pa Cassidy and ‘John Barber’ – another story, for another day. And Don’t get me started on The Press Gang and The Voice Squad!! Unfortunately it has to stop there. In conclusion, I can only refer to the above title – we are ‘merely carriers of the Precious Urn’ as in the court of the Pharoahs, carrying the precious metal of the treasury of songs still extant in the great Traditional canon.

Mick Fowler

November-January, 2016/2017

John Bentham presents HSC stalwart Eddie Phillips with his Fare Thee Weel Session prize and a packed room listen intently to Siobhán Miller, Euan Burton and Aaron Jones

Kathleen MacInnes, Paul Anderson, South Uist & Lochnagar

Francy Devine follows with the second response to Phil Callery’s ‘Seven Song Challenge’

I have long loved singing in Gaidhlìg, especially women’s voices. As I write this, Dolina MacLennan, Maighread Stiùbhart, Christine Primrose, Julie Fowlis and Karen Matheson all come into my head. Mind, I heard James Graham at a festival in Cullerlie, Aberdeenshire, and enjoyed his clean, pure style. It is predominantly the female voice that really appeals though. Perhaps the cadence of Gaidhlìg – and it is generally a beautiful sounding language – when sung by women is enhanced, I’m not sure. But, to listen to my third selection to answer Phil Callery’s challenge, I have to be in a seated position as the first things to go when I hear Kathleen Mac Innes’s voice are the knees. To my surprise, she started as actress and presenter – well in textiles and design if you want to be picky – before becoming known for her singing. She told me that one of her first appearances as singer was in 2000 at the Dublin Theatre Festival in a production of The Well. It was not long, however, before her unique voice won great and wide acclaim. I first encountered Kathleen MacInnes on programmes on BBC Alba, radio and snatches from Celtic Connections. My first hearing of her first CD – Òg-Mhadainn Shamhraidh – was memorable, an experience worth relating.

I spent a great day at Aboyne Highland Games, finishing with some songs and tunes in the Aberdeen Arms, Tarland, Paul Anderson the fiddler player’s local. It had been a long day: the re-establishment of the Fiddle Championship of which Paul was rightly proud; numerous Pipe Bands and a compelling pibroch competition; the huge International Gordon Highlanders Band that made formations and produced some stunning, proper Highland dancing; heavyweight contests of caber and weights; athletics; taut, tense and tortuous Tugs-o-War; and much more [I draw a discrete veil over the Scottish dancing, especially watching men dressed as leprechauns doing the ‘Oirish Jig’ [shudder]]. There was an atmosphere of neighbour and friend, upland farmer and woodsman, cousins and cousins umpteen times removed, herdsmen and shepherds, ploughmen and parlour maid, a sense of tradition and past, a timelessness that made the six hours or so we were among marquees and arenas, stalls and stands, flash by. Only when getting back to Paul and Shona’s house in Easttown did the tiredness hit. Their house sat on the rim of the Howe o Cromar, fields of heifer and peewit, curlew and ram, falling gently away to the lush, watery meadows that are the base of the Howe.

After a nightcap, Paul suggested a wee stroll to clear the head before sleep. We stepped out – accompanied by wee Dougal, his sagacious Border Terrier – to be blinded by the dark. The day’s intermittent rains had cleared and the night’s cool brought a freshness to our nostrils, a hint of honeysuckle, wild mint. Adjusting to the dark, the Howe’s hilly rim emerged, occasional cat’s eye echoes of cattle or sheep flashed when struck by the cottage’s long lights. In a pine stand, crossbills twittered a constant reassurance and a fox slid from visibility. Through the farmyard, cattle moved restlessly in the byre, the heat of their bodies striking our senses. Paul led me to the top of the botharín up to his house and asked that I stare out into the pitch without telling me for why. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, some unknown artist began to use moonlight to chalk the far majesty of Lochnagar, way down Strathdee, a moment that this poems attempts to recall.

Gazing at Lochnagar

for Hector & Roderick Anderson

Glimpsed atween pine stand and iron byre,

residual snows chalk charcoal Lochnagar,

otherwise invisible in the wee hours pitch.

A blue hare melted into shadow, momentarily held

in the track, mesmerised by melodic fiddle tune,

will-o’-the-wisp feathering across late summer

howe, seeking a cure for fretful insomnia.

As the music faded on a soporific breeze,

rowan and juniper crept out from the night,

a new calf’s hungry moan rolled up from Durnach,

and an oystercatcher’s piping alarm betrayed

opportunist fox slithering through the darkness.

We stood, scenting early ling, bright vanilla whin,

watching the mountain come and go.

We had an intense, silent conversation –

music and weans, blackcock and weasel,

Scotland and Ireland, the moment’s significance,

pure and binding, a joyous gift to be savoured.

Turning back to the house, we could not resist

a last respect to the mountain and I asked for

‘Niel Gow’s Lament For the Death of His Second Wife’.

Through shut eyes, I saw everything: your bowing

style, determined stance and powerful, gentle strength.

The black void paid its respects with a deep silence,

roosting crossbills ceasing their reassuring twitter,

Lochnagar disappearing to avoid any unnecessary

distraction, anything that would take from the tune.

We walked without talk back to the house. ‘Afore ye gae awa’, said Paul, ‘there’s som’at I’ll like ye tae hear’. With no great desire for anything other than my bed, I sat as he went to his player. The first item was a rough from his then forthcoming CD Home & Beauty. It was the late Jim Reid singing ‘By the Mountain Stream Where the Moorcocks Crow’, a re-mastered live recording made by Jim, Paul and others some years before in the Midleton Whiskey Centre and included on the CD in Jim’s memory. It was a moving, gentle arrangement, Jim’s watery voice giving masterly interpretation. When I played it to the Pipebag Maker Jackie Boyce driving across the bog behind his house – we were vainly attempting to hear his local corncrakes – he stopped the car, turned off the engine and sat with his eyes closed. Perfection. And so it was, Jim Reid’s voice superb.

‘There’s ain mair, Francy’, said Paul when I re-opened my own eyes. I did not want ‘ony mair’, I wanted to retain the echo of Jim Reid. Next, however, came Kathleen MacInnes singing ‘Ceud Fàilt’ air Gach Gleann’ from Òg-Mhadainn Shamhraidh. I was spellbound, stunned by the sheer class and beauty of the performance, the sensitivity and strength, the angst and affection, the knowing and the known. A day that had been perfect had, somehow, gone beyond perfection. It remains a favourite song, her catch and rise at the end of lines something that takes my heart each time. I am swirling with thoughts of father and grandmother, islands and Glasgow, sea-storm and breaker, machair and moor, tradition and essential humanity. This song and this voice are a connection back to something primitive, not in any simple sense, but in the most complex sense of that which is being lost, tossed away, unvalued. This time, when I opened the eyes, Paul was looking across the room, a smile of a man who knew he had given a gift so precious that it would be treasured. Indeed and it was, a jewel in life’s mundane seam. Thank you, Paul, and, of course, thank you, Kathleen.

There was nothing for it but to get Kathleen to Howth and she has appeared at our Burns Nicht – with fellow South Uist singer Sineag MacIntyre and harpist Laoise Kelly. Hearing her live matched expectations and her second CD, Cille Bhrìde, has added to her reputation. Like meeting Darach, however, that early morning in a dawn-break Cromar will long live in the memory for Paul, Jim and Kathleen singing ‘Ceud Fàilt’ air Gach Gleann’. Here it is to enjoy – though, be advised – take a wee seat first!

Fiddle Bus Fower & Young Singer in Residence 2

 Over thirty will be travelling to Ballater on Deeside from 21-23 April next to participate in Fiddle Bus Fower – we’ll bring you a report in the next Sweeet Nightingale. We also hope to bring you news of the appointment of our second Young Singer in Residence, an exciting new development.

Programme until September

Thursday, 6 April – From the Land of the Maple Leaf: Songs of Canada with Kieran Wade

Saturday 8 April – Sutton Methodist Church Singathon for St Francis Hospice

Friday-Sunday, 21-23 April – Fiddle Bus Fower, Deeside, Scotland

Thursday 4 May – Mna an Tí, Caoimhe Hogarty & Aoife Dermody

Thursday, 1 June – Niamh Parsons to lead an ‘Old Howth night’ with past regulars

Saturday, 16 July – Singing the Fishing with Fergus Russell & Mick Dunne

Thursday, 1 September – Tom Finn and Comic Songs

Thank You

We thank those who have contributed to this edition of the Sweet Nightingale – Mick Fowler and Colm Keating. As ever, we acknowledge the HSC Committee for their efforts on all our behalfs: Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Brain Doyle, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan and Fergus Russell.

We welcome reviews, comments, photographs – please forward anything to us for consideration in future editions.


For many years the Howth Singing Circle produced a magazine called The Sweet Nightingale, which included news, photos, stories etc.  We now have a new series.

Here is the latest:   the-sweet-nightingale-september-20165


The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 5, November 2016

This is the fifth of our new series of The Sweet Nightingale. Past issues can be accessed on the HSC website https://howthsingingcircle.com/ We welcome contributions from anyone and thank all those who have contributed to this and previous editions. It probably works best if you print off a copy. Please draw others attention to the newsletter, webpage and Facebook page.

Programme for the Season

As we start our seventeenth year of the Howth Singing Circle, here is the programme for the forthcoming period until the Burns Nicht.

3 November, Helen Lahert & Siobhán Moore, ‘Betwixt & Between’

17 November, Dinner in The House with Special Guest Peter ‘The Racker’ Donnelly

15 December – ‘Oh, Yes It Is!’ – A Night of Pantomime & Christmas Songs with Fergus Russell & Máire

               Ní Chróinín

5 January – Irene Bagenal & Éamon Thornton, ‘Songs of the Sea’

21 ‘An Gie’s a Hand o Thine’ – Burns Nicht

with Special Guests Siobhán Miller

and St Lawrence Howth

               Pipe Band

22 Fare Thee Weel Session in Howth Sea Angling Club

Jack Barron

In the early days of the Howth Singing Circle – and especially in the Pier House – two of the Club’s great favourites were Nan and Jack Barron. They both sang and, occasionally, Nan would play the accordion. They brought members of their family and, especially, their daughter Cathy, a fine singer in her own right. What they were most famous for, however, was Nan’s lovely versions of songs to which Jack would provide exquisite harmonies. When Nan and Jack were singing, every face in the room would be wreathed in smiles and they became a much-loved part of the Howth Singing Circle.

Sadly, Jack Barron passed away in October. Nan sang beautifully at the funeral and recalled the days of Nan, Jack and the Barronettes at Howth Singing Circle, represented on the day by John Griffin – another face from the early days – and Francy Devine. To Nan, Cathy and the Barron family, everyone at the Howth Singing Circle sends their sincere condolences and heartfelt thanks for all the joy and fun that Jack and Nan brought to us.



Jack with Nan working out their harmonies with Cathy looking on – photo Paddy Daly


Our opening balance in September 2015 was €2,980.82. During the year our outgoings were €13,586.34 and our income €11,667.90. This leaves a balance at the start of this year of €1,062.38. Our main outlay was on guests, €4,191.46 with an additional €1,039.78, mostly arising from the Burns Nicht. Our accounts also include the annual Dinner and Fiddle Bus a Trí which ran so successfully to Donegal in April. Publication of our Young Singer in Residence Ruth Clinton’s This Fearless Maid brought in €830 with additional monies outstanding. The year’s accounts include two donations of €400 to St Francis Hospice, Raheny arising from our annual Singing the Fishing Session in Sutton Methodist Church. The Martyn Wyndham Read concert ran at a surplus while the Malinky gig produced a disappointing turnout. We must acknowledge a number of private donations that greatly assisted the Club during the year.

So, that is where your €4 donations each month go. Hopefully you will appreciate that the Club gives great value for money. Last year, in addition to the Burns Nicht and other concerts, we had Tim Dennehy, Dónal Maguire, Maebh Meir and Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh as guests; ran the Fiddle Bus; contributed to the Singathon, Howth Maritime Museum event, Prawn Festival and Blessing of the Boats; held the Dinner; and published This Fearless Maid. We also maintained our website, Facebook page and published two editions of The Sweet Nightingale. If we are to maintain this range of activity, we need your continued support, your generous donations and your kind goodwill.

One Voice ?

In reviewing the year, the Howth Singing Circle Committee considered complaints from some Club members that ‘singers are not allowed sing on their own anymore’ or that ‘nights are turning into singalongs’. It has become practice common in many singing sessions that people free to join in, whether chorus or not, often loudly and in style, phrasing or even words and tune, different to the singer. Similarly, good or funny lines are taken off the singer. In extreme cases, singers are forced to sing their song at the pace and in the manner of the audience rather than be left deliver their own phrasing and style.

The Committee decided that, as when we first began seventeen years ago, audiences would be asked to respect the singer, listen to the singer’s version/interpretation and – as in choruses or when invited to join in by the singer – when singing along to do so in the manner of the singer, even if the singer’s version/pace/delivery is different to the audience member or to standard versions.

So, we ask that singers be let sing; that audiences listen to and respect the singer’s version of a song. Of course, singers are free to invite folk to sing along and chorus singing is encourage but, again, in both cases, it is the singer’s version of the song that is being accompanied.

Is this over-reaction? Is not joining in a way of expressing appreciation of the singer, solidarity with the sentiments of the song? Well, of course, it may be and there is no suggestion that ‘joining in’ is in anyway intended to anything other than that – to complement or compliment the singer. But surely the first requirement of ‘joining in’ is to listen to what is being sung and to respect that in the ‘joining in’.

The HSC Committee would like to hear what members think, although we have begun the new season by re-emphasising our original guidelines before each session

  • respect the singer;
  • refrain from accompanying unless invited to do so by the singer or in chorus;
  • if you do ‘join in’, sing the version, tune or words being sung at the pace and in the phrasing of the singer rather than another version of the song;
  • do not accompany instrumentally unless asked to do so when all of the previous points equally apply



Pádraig Cuthbert with his wonderful photographs and Laurence Bond presenting Ann Riordan with her winnings of the Harvest Basket.

Songs of Water

Paddy Daly and Tony Fitzpatrick led a lovely night to start the new season in September. There were many fine songs and fine renditions. Tony McGaley – complete with steel drums and maracas – held the record for the most mentions of ‘water’ with ‘Water Come To Me Eye’ while Kieran Wade took us along the ‘Banks of the Moy’ and the ‘Banks of Newfoundland’. Jack Plunkett gave us the beautiful ‘Jeanie C – I’ll Go to Sea No More’ and his own ‘Salt Water; Tina Walden gave a great version of ‘Sweet King Williamstown’ and Angela Murray was in fine style with ‘Sweet Thames Flow Softly’ and ‘All For Me Grog’. Peter ‘The Racker’ Donnelly provided three very varied recitations featured Yeats and Gogarty, swimming with or without the assistance of textiles, and a moving tribute to the Lifeboat service. Walter Kennedy warmed his hands on ‘The Little Pot Stove’ and concluding the night by sailing out of ‘Old Whitby Harbour’. Some twenty four folk sand and for everyone a highlight was our first ‘One Singer, Three Songs’ spot from Eugene McEldowney. He sang Rabbie Burns’s ‘Dainty Davie’, Richard Thompson’s dark ‘Poor Ditching Poor’ and The Watersons’ version of ‘The Jolly Ploughboy (The Khaki and the Blue)’, the version before Dominic Behan got his hands on it and – as a memory of the night, here are Eugene’s words

Well I once was a merry ploughboy,
I was a-ploughing in the fields all day,
Till a very funny thought came to my head
That I should roam away.
For I’m tired of my country life
Since the day that I was born
So I’ve gone and join the army
And I’m off tomorrow morn.

 Chorus (after each verse):

Hoorah for the Khaki and the Blue,
Helmets glittering in the sun,
Bayonets flash like lightning
To the beating of a military drum.
And no more will I go harvesting
Or gathering the golden corn,
‘Cause I got the good king’s shilling
And I’m off tomorrow morn

Well I’ll leave aside my pick and spade
And I’ll leave aside my plough,
And I’ll leave aside my old grey mare,
For no more I’ll need her now.
For there’s a little spot in England,
Up in the Yorkshire dales so high,
Where we mast the good king’s standard,
Saying, “We’ll conquer or we’ll die.”

But there’s one little thing I must tell you
About the girl I leave behind,
And I know she will prove true to me
And I’ll prove true in kind.
And if ever I return again
To my home in the country
I’ll take her to the church to wed
And a sergeant’s wife she’ll be

‘Sing Now the Lusty Song of Fruit & Flowers’

Laurence Bond & Ann Riordan led a lovely night in October with its title drawn from William Blake’s poem from 1783, ‘To Autumn’.

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

As requested, Club members brought a cornucopia of delights to fill a number of Harvest Baskets and, to mark Ivy Day and memories of Charles Stewart Parnell, Brain Doyle thoughtfully dressed each table in strands of ivy. A further treat was the exhibition of Pádraig Cuthbert’s wonderful photograph of Howth’s maritime and wildlife heritage. As all this was not enough, there was some mighty singing topped off by Tony Fitzpatrick’s excellent ‘One Singer, Three Songs’ spot.

Among the twenty-five singers, Brian Doyle, appropriately, began the night with ‘Avondale’ while Máire Ní Bhaoill begged us ‘Please Forget Me Not!’ Bernie Dermody travelled up from Portlaoise to sing ‘Sweet William, Thyme & Rose’, Martina Nic Cearnaigh mowed ‘Pat Murphy’s Meadow’ and Helen Lahert remembered ‘Jamie Foyers’. Stiofán Ó hAaoláin chan ‘Cuisle Mo Chroí’ agus Brenda Ní Ríordáin chan ‘Pléaráca na Ruarcach’, an chéad amhrán macalla de Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin. Laurence Bond reaped rushes, Antoinette Daly wondered where all the flowers had gone and Irene Bagnel chased ‘Heather Down the Moor’. Siobhán Moore charmed with ‘The Irish Girl’ and Larry O’Toole told of the heroic Mayfield men.

Tony Fitzpatrick’s spot was high class. He began with Liam Weldon’s ‘Dark Horse on the Wind’, then faced the perils of the ‘Greenland Whale Fishery’ before – it would have to be said, very lustily – concluding with ‘The Kerryman’s Rambles’. He chose three great songs and delivered them beautifully. Folk left feeling that had enjoyed a special night.

Betwixt & Between

Helen Lahert & Siobhán Moore led a night on which many showed great imagination in conjuring up songs that fitted what, at first, appeared an obscure theme. Tony McGaley, resplendent in ‘The Little Shirt Me Mother Made For Me’, and Brian Doyle, singing the classic ‘Unquiet Grave’, brought widely differing moods to the night. Tony Fitzpatrick – perhaps with a sense of what was to come across the Atlantic – sang ‘Save Vietnam from the Vietnamese while Maridhe Woods celebrated Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize with one of his many great songs. Mary McCarthy recited Joseph O’Connor’s ‘The All Souls Hotel’ to remind us of Féile na Samhna and Siobhán reflected on ‘The Nobleman’s Wedding’. Helen wondered what was keeping her now and Walter Kennedy couldn’t help wondering where he was bound! Gerry O’Connor’s fields lay silent; Andy Burke’s Kitty was trying to remember him; and Tom Finn thought today was the today. Antoinette Daly, Laurence Bond, John McGee, Aoife Caomhánach, Manus O’Riordan – a great re-work of Wilfred Owen, Joyce Mahon and Philip O’Connor were among the thirty-six items on the night.

Fiddle Bus 4

Fiddle Bus 4 will be based in the Deeside Inn, Ballater, Scotland from Thursday/Friday 20-21 April to Sunday 23 April, 2017. A Formal Concert will be held in the Burnett Arms, Banchory on the Friday to raise funds for the James Scott Skinner statue to be erected in the town. The Fiddle Bus itself will travel from Balleter south to Blair Castle and Dunkeld, our main interest the life and work of the great Scots fiddle player Niel Gow. An informal session in the Coilacriach Inn on the way back will be followed by dinner and session in the Deeside Inn.

Arrangements are finalised but anyone interested in travelling, please let us know as early as possible. Early booking of flights and accommodation is advised, not least to cut travel costs.

1916 in Howth, Sutton, Baldoyle

Philip O’Connor, Road to Independence – Howth, Sutton & Baldoyle Play Their Part, (Coiste Comórtha 1916 Binn Éadair, Cill Fhiontan, Baile Dúill, 2016),

As a young boy I would often be taken by my parents to visit a family friend – Fanny Cooney (née Harford) of Balglass, Howth. I was a little shy of her because she spoke to me in her fluent Irish and my school Irish was poor. But she was a very likeable old lady and as I got older I was intrigued by her as my father told me she had been ‘out’ during the Troubles in the 1920s. Fanny’s daughter Bernadette Cooney wrote a little about her but now the gaps have been filled in regarding this brave woman and many, many more women and men who played their part in the revolutionary years 1913-1923. Philip O’Connor’s book must rank as one of the finest and most important works of history published during the 1916 Centenary year. For people from Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle, or connected with the area, it is fascinating with its details of participants with familiar surnames from familiar places. For the general Irish history reader it gives a totally absorbing and very detailed picture of the years of turmoil in one local area. And all shades of political opinion, including the significant local Unionist voices, are covered.

Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle were uniquely positioned close to the capital city yet set in what was then predominantly rural North County Dublin. Their communities were destined to figure prominently in the dramatic events. Philip has rediscovered and retold the story of the farm labourers’ struggle in Baldoyle where there was an active branch of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) and a unit of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA). Baldoyle ICA Volunteer James McCormack was killed in the battle of Moore Street during Easter Week 1916.

The book is comprehensive on the entire period covered. I found especially interesting the chapter on the First World War. So-called ‘revisionist’ historians have often downplayed the extent to which recruitment to the British Army was resisted and how, after an initial surge, it declined, influenced both by the senseless slaughter in the imperialist conflagration and by political events at home as separatism grew in influence, with the growing realisation that the Irish people had been dragged into the war by the British government.

Frances Harford married Joseph Cooney, also a Republican, and was active in Cumann na mBan locally. I, and no doubt many others, owe to her our interest in the Irish language. To Fanny and her comrades locally and nationally we also owe the degree of freedom obtained and the inspiration to work for the full implementation of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Mícheál Mac Donncha

 Mícheál MacDonncha is Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor serving the Donmaghmede Ward

James Connolly’s Under Which Flag? in Liberty Hall

James Connolly’s play Under Which Flag? was performed in Liberty Hall on 15 October last. Originally played in March 1916, its lead actor Seán Connolly – no relation to James – led the Irish Citizen Army detachment to City Hall in Easter Week and was shot dead on the building’s dome. The play was directed by Kevin McGee and presented and produced by Bryan Murray with the cast of Steve Cash, Brendan Conroy, Steve Gunn, Donna Anita Nikolaisen and Frank O’Sullivan, together with Sabina Coyne-Higgins who was presented with Honorary Life Membership of Irish Actors’ Equity. A musical presentation followed with our own Francy Devine singing with Ciarán and Pádraig Óg Mac Aodhagáin [fiddle and pipes], Teresa O’Donnell [harp] and cast members. The rendition of Patrick Galvin’s ‘Where O Where Is Our James Connolly’ was very moving.

Down By the Liffeyside – City Hall Lunchtime Lectures

– And the Ha’penny Bridge

On the four Tuesdays in October, Howth Singing Circle’s Francy Devine arranged four lectures on ‘Traditional Music in Dublin’ together with Mary Clarke, Dublin City Archivist. The talks were: Liam O’Connor, ‘Fiddle Music in Dublin’; Terry Moylan, ‘Dublin’s Piping Tradition’; Seán Corcoran and Finbarr Boyle, ‘The Tradition Club, 1967-1989’; and Francy Devine & Jimmy Kelly, ‘A Voice Like No Other: Luke Kelly’. Each week a song was presented: Fergus Russell, ‘Rags Upon the Poddle’; Anne Buckley, ‘The Night Before Larry Was Stretched’; Aoife Dermody, ‘Dark Horse on the Wind’; and Dave O’Connor, ‘Hannah Healy the Pride of Howth’. HSC regular Councillor Larry O’Toole chaired one session and Lord Mayor Brendan Carr the last talk. The series was hailed as a great success and brought knowledge and understanding of traditional music in Dublin to a wide audience.




Seán, Tony and Éamonn crossing the Ha’penny Bridge in song

Tony Fitzpatrick, Éamonn Hunt and Seán Ó hEarcháin read and sang – to great acclaim – at the crowded launch of Michael English’s The Ha-penny Bridge, Dublin, published by Dublin City Council in association with Four Courts Press. Howth Singing Circle were asked to arrange the performers and the three lads’ splendid singing and reciting certainly added to the Circle’s reputation.

On Inis Meáin – Poems From Mick Fowler

Mick Fowler has sent The Sweet Nightingale three poems inspired by his stay on Inis Meain with Fergus Russell. The poems were written during Mick’s stay on 27 August, 2015 and then subsequently on 2-3 November.

On Inis Meáin

 (for Fergus Russell)

I.   Stone Bramble

Passing abundant Oxeye daisy

– Leucanthemum Vulgare, Nóinín Mór –

On the roadside by Dún Fearbhaí

On Inis Meáin in Aran

A glint catches my eye – Stone Bramble,

With leaves like strawberry leaves

Sparkles in the sunshine

It’s ruby red sacks in rich clusters

Of juicy red fruits, ripening in late Summer

– Rubus Saxatilis, Sú na mBan Mín .

II.    Six-Spot Burnet

Crossing a grey-stone wall

At a stile on our walk

And on the stile I spy

A Six-Spot Burnet moth

Delicate, fragile, yet rugged beauty;

Minutes later

On a stone chair as we rest-

An Icumen Fly

With stick-like tail as a scorpions,

Fergus informs me,

Used for boring into trees.

And the tough Burren flora

   Weave aquiver in limestone pools

Dublin, November 2nd, 2015

III. Pyramidal Orchid

He had taught me the name

             Of the Moth on the stile

And also the part of the Fly

             Used for boring into a tree.

But as we tread his two small fields

             The site for his house on Inis Meain

Among the meadow to be kept untouched

             I spot an Orchid he had missed before

The Pyramidal Orchid

               Carmine purple in shadow

Anacamptis Pyramidalis

                 Magairlin na Stuaice.

Dublin, November 3rd, 2015

Buíochas Mór

As ever, The Sweet Nightingale does not just appear. Thanks must be given to the Howth Singing Circle Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Brian Doyle, Stiofán ÓhAoláin, Diarmuid ÓCathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan and Fergus Russell; to Paddy Daly for photographs; to Niamh Parsons for uploading the newsletter to our website; and to Mick Fowler and Mícheál MacDonncha for their contributions.





Top: Siobhán Moore with ‘The Irish Girl’ and Jack Daly winning something he always wanted!

Bottom: part of the big crowd when The Night Before Larry Was Stretched came to the seaside and Nellie Weldon all set for Claremont Beach!

Thank you for supporting the Howth Singing Circle

We welcome all suggestions for ways of improving our events so feel free to give us your views


Saturday, 21 January

with Special Guests from Scotland,



The Sweet Nightingale June 2016


The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 4, May 2016

President Willie D.

At the April session – Niamh Parsons’ conducting ‘Easter Snows’ – the highlight was the inauguration of Willie O’Connor as the first Uachtaráin Ciorcal Ceoil Bheann Éadair in honour of his approaching ninetieth birthday and in appreciation of all he has contributed to the HSC over many years.



Laurence Bond, Gerry O’Connor, Niamh Parsons & Ann Riordan with President O’Connor

The night welcomed back Eugene McEldowney from his estates in Spain and he sang ‘Twas On One April Morning’ and the rousing ‘Young Banker’ to remind us of what we have been missing. Laurence Bond echoed the previous weekend’s Fiddle Bus by performing Johnny Doherty’s version of ‘Moorlough Mary’ and also went home with Paddy Tunney’s The Stone Fiddle, a prize offered by Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh to anyone who could name the four tunes he played on the harmonica. Other notable performances came from Tony Fitzpatrick, ‘The Banks of Newfoundland’; Drogheda’s Irene Bagenal, ‘The Isle of France’ and ‘The Two Constant Lovers’; Martina Nic Cearnaigh, ‘John Adair’; Eddie Phillips – in honour of our new President – ‘Away From the Roll of the Sea’; Liam Ó Droma, ‘Rodaí Mac Amhlaigh’; Úna Kane, ‘Galway to Graceland’; Robert Kelly with the haunting ‘Back in the Westport Way’; Walter Kennedy, harking back to Martyn Wyndham-Read, was tormented by ‘The Creaking of the Saddle’; and Tony McGaley’s wry reflections on the Decade of Centenaries, ‘The Fall of the Empire’. Over thirty songs were sung but the highlight, naturally, was President Willie with ‘My Kathleen’ and ‘Down By the Sally Gardens’. It was a lovely night and a fitting tribute to a lovely man.

New Version of HSC Logo

At the top of this edition of The Sweet Nightingale is a new version of our logo, designed by Richard Tobin of the Abbey Tavern and available to us for use. Our sincere thanks to Richard who did the re-work when designing the much sought-after light shades that adorned the tables at the Burns Nicht. They were in such demand that there were none left at the end of the night!



Dave McCracken, Ann Riordan, Sheila Bentham, Janet Weatherston and John Bentham support Billy Jolly and ‘The Old Balena’; and our fabulous Resident Band, Larry Egan, John Kelly and Michael Mullen

‘Twas in Sweet Senegal – Burns Nicht 2016

It is hard to gauge one Burns Nicht against another but general feedback suggests that many found the 2016 event to be up there among the best. The five women who contributed the Burns section set the bar very high. Anne Fitzpatrick recited ‘Tae a Moose’ and Ann Riordan ‘Address Tae the Woodlark’ while Angela Murray sang ‘Ye Banks & Braes o Bonnie Doon’ and Eibhlís Ní Riordáin ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, this latter one of the individual performances of the night. The section concluded with Graham Dunne and Niamh Parsons’ contributing ‘The Slave’s Lament’ – from which the night’s title ‘Twas in Sweet Senegal’ was taken – and a track from their newly pressed CD Kind Providence.

The first of two musical spots was provided by John Kelly (fiddle), Larry Egan (accordion) and Michael Mullen (guitar). It is regretted that many of the audience take this as a cue to talk as the quality of the tunes played was extremely high. At least many took the chance to dance – both waltzes and a set – as indication of their appreciation of perhaps the most under-valued element of the Howth Burns Nichts. At a quarter to ten came the undeniable highlight when Pipe Major Noel Kelly led in the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band. The room fills with swirling kilts, skirling pipes and birling senses. It is a spectacle that excites and raises everyone to their feet. The Band came in playing ‘Colin’s Castle’ and ‘Castle Danish’, their second set being ‘A Man’s a Man For A’ That’, ‘The Green Fields’ and ‘The Battle’s O’er’. After a wee break, Noel Kelly played the lament ‘Tommy Tully’s Air’ in memory of departed family and friends before a demonstration of drumming. Noel and Agnes Kelly played ‘The Inner Guard’, ‘Let Erin Remember’, ‘The Old Rustic Bridge’ and ‘Scotland the Brave’ with Robert Doyle and Tommy Clancy on side drums and John Carton on bass. The stars, however, were the young tenor drummers Amy Higgins and Jane, Laura and eight year old Eva Garbutt. It was a magical moment.

Morag Dunbar (Kirkcaldy & Edinburgh) addressed the haggis in stunning fashion and you can see and hear her do so at https://www.facebook.com/AbbeyTavernHowth/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf It is rare to hear a woman do the ‘Address’ and we are proud of Morag and grateful to her long-standing support of our event – together with her pal Janet Weatherston (Dalkeith) and friends. Tunes from Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh and songs from Frank Speirs (Glasgow & Portsoy), our own Willie O’Connor, Luke Cheevers and – as Gàidhlig – Stiofán Ó hAoláin completed the first half.


Ellen Macdonald singing with Murdoch Cameron (mandola), Angus McKenzie (whistle), Gabe McVarish (fiddle) and Ross Martin (guitar) – our very Special Guests, Dàimh

Three songs were chosen to commemorate the 1916 Rising: Lawrence Bond ‘My Old Howth Gun’, Catriona Crowe ‘The Foggy Dew’ and Fergus Russell ‘Where O Where is Our James Connolly’. This was a powerful element of the event, the atmosphere in the room a mixture of the sombre and the proud. It was in marked contrast to the unbridled joy that greeted the last set from our main guests Dàimh. Based in the West Highlands and Western Isles, the group consisted of Ross Martin (guitar), Murdoch Cameron (accordion and mandola), Angus McKenzie (bagpipes and whistle) and Gabe McVarish (fiddle), with vocals from Ellen Macdonald who charmed the audience from the outset. Ellen’s signing of ‘Gur e Mo Ghille le Dubh Dhonn’ was enchanting and you can gear it here https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B66bcHYiy3J4Z3pRbDBTUll0Vlk/view?pref=2&pli=1



The real stars of this and every Burns Nicht – yersels

The finale was begun by Dàimh slowly assembling a mighty crescendo with Angus leading off with elements of the celebrated pibroch ‘Lament for the Children’ which you can be thrilled by again here https://www.facebook.com/francis.devine.77 Perhaps few in attendance would have been familiar with Dàimh before the night but the consensus among folk leaving was that they had witnessed very special talents and the Howth Singing Circle is proud that it could support artists who have committed to much to their area and to gaelic culture. Other visitors impressed, however. Billy Jolly (Kirkwall, Orkney) led his crew – Dave McCracken, John & Sheila Bentham (Loughborough), Ann Riordan and Janet Weatherston – and thence the audience in his all action version of ‘The Old Balena’. Dave McCracken (Tarset, Northumbria) kicked off the singing finale with ‘Fare Thee Weel Regality’ with Fergus Russell leading the charge of ‘The Bonnie Light Horseman’. Kathy Hobkirk (Hawick) then took us through the swinging arms and folding arms of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to conclude a memorable four and half hours of non-stop entertainment of the highest quality.


Richard Tobin’s eye-catching design for Howth Burns Nicht 2016

In the Angling Club the following day, Niamh Parsons and Gerry O’Connor conducted the Fare Thee Weel Session. A little down in numbers, the quality of the singing was of the highest order with highlights from Tony Fitzpatrick, Seán Ó hÉaracháin, Kevin Shelly, Máire Ní Chróinín, Corinne Male (Ibstock, Leicestershire), and Majella Mullarkey. The friendship, good humour and joy in each other’s company epitomised what the Burns Nicht weekend has come to be.

Lastly, thanks must be extended to Richard Tobin, Allison O’Rourke & staff, Abbey Tavern; Gabriel & Peter in the Howth Sea Angling Club; Chris Boland for sound – which despite some technical difficulties beyond his control was excellent; Christy Hammond and CRM Design & Print; Finola Young for donating hampers to the raffle; Dave McCracken for unspoken generosity; John and Sheila Bentham for erecting the flags and banners and other behind the scenes work; Ricky Higgins for making the presentation haggis; Ann Riordan for the thankless task of handling ticket sales; our presenters Fergus Russell, Niamh Parsons and Gerry O’Connor; and all the other members of the Howth Singing Circle Committee Lawrence Bond, Paddy Daly, Brian Doyle, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Stiofán Ó h Aoláin and Niamh Parsons.

Most of all, of course, special thanks to all of you who attended the events and in other ways supported the Club inn all its endeavours.

Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh

San Abbey Tavern a bhíomar agus aoi speisialta  Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh  óna Déise againn. Thosaíomar ag 2130 mar as gnáth le roinnt amhránaí ón t-urlár.Bhí meascán maith ann idir amhráin ar an Sean-Nós agus na cinn Béarla, Léigh Seán Ó Meara dán iontach a scríobh sé féin in ómós do Phádraig Ó Connaill, fear a d’fhreastail HSC anois is arís agus a raibh ina fhear an tí uair nó dhó. Fuair sé bás go tobann um Nollaig.Go raibh dheis Dé ar a anam. Sula i bhfad bhí Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh ina sheasamh   i lár an t-úrlar ag tabhairt blaiseadh beag amhráin na Déise dúinn. Chas sé trí amhráin agus chuamar ar ais go dtí an t-urlár le haghaidh tuilleadh amhráin iontach idir Gaeilge agus Béarla óna sár amhránaí a tagann amach go Binn Éadair beagnach chuile mí.


Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh, Stiofán Ó hAoláin agus Liam Ó Droma

Ar ais arís go Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh agus chas sé ceithre amhráin dúinn, ceann a fuair mé óna mhathair deich mbliain ó shin ‘An Sciúirse’.Níor fuair mé deis chun é a fhoghlaim go dtí anois agus tá súil agam go mbeidh mé in ann é a chur ar mo ghlanmheabhair ceann de na laethanta seo. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir a tháinig amach agus Nár laga Dia sibh.                                      Stiofán Ó hAoláin

As a great memory of the night, you can see and hear Aodhán sing ‘An Sciúirse’ on Stiofán’s video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwfm_tSnFWI&feature=youtu.be

A Forgotten Hero? Michael Davitt

 One of the forgotten heroes of the Land War and national movement was Michael Davitt. He was the second of Martin and Catherine Davitt’s five children and born in Straide, County Mayo on 25 March, 1846, the height of the Great Famine. In 1850, the family were evicted and ended in the Workhouse. Fearing separation from her children, Catherine led the family to emigrate, eventually settling in Haslingden, Lancashire. From nine years old, Davitt worked in textile mills. On 8 May, 1857, his right arm was trapped in a cogwheel at Stellfoxe’s Victoria Mill, Baxenden, and it was amputated. He received no compensation but was sponsored by John Dean to receive an education, working in a Post Office from 1861 and learning to typeset and book-keep. Davitt also attended the Mechanics’ Institute, reading voraciously and discovering Ernest Jones, Chartism and other radical ideas.

In 1865, Davitt joined the Irish republican Brotherhood (IRB) becoming Organising Secretary for Northern England and Scotland. He was involved in the failed Chester Castle raid on 11 February 1867 and sentenced to fifteen tears penal servitude in Dartmoor. After years in solitary, he was granted a ‘ticket of leave’ on 19 December 1877, receiving a hero’s welcome in Ireland. Davitt became a member of the IRB Supreme Council, toured America and returned to Mayo in 1879 to lead the land agitation. At Irishtown on 20 April, the Land League was begun, formally being founded in Castlebar on 16 August. The Coercion Act led to much repression and Davitt was elected MP for County Meath but disqualified as he had been returned to prison where he developed his theory of land nationalisation.

Davitt founded and edited Labour World in September 1890 and initiated the Irish Democratic Labour Federation in Cork in 1891. He was elected to Westminster in North Meath, 1892; North East Cork, 1983; and South Mayo, 1895. He supported Home Rule and welcomed Keir Hardie’s new Labour Party. He resigned his seat over the Boer War but remained a highly influential thinker and writer. After the Labour Party successfully contested the 1906 General Election and held the balance of power, Davitt came to Dublin but died in Elphis Hospital on 30 May from blood poisoning, aged only sixty. He is buried in Straide where the Michael Davitt Museum is now housed.

Our guest on the night, Dónal Maguire, originally from Drogheda but long resident in Haslingden, illustrated Davitt’s life with images and songs from the times in an absorbing presentation. Among the songs Dónal sang were ‘An Druimfhionn Donn Dílis’, ‘Michael Murphy’, ‘Davit’s Lover’s Lament’ [‘The Banks of the Moy’], ‘Hold Your rent, Hold Your Harvest’, ‘Lord Leitrim’, ‘The Wife of the Bould Tenant Farmer’, ‘Erin’s Lament for her Davitt a Stór’, and ‘The Trial of John Twiss’. Maguire is a fine singer, studied and clear. The songs told their tale of a great man, one whose loss is scarce considered in the Decade of Centenaries.



Davitt & Maguire

The session opened out after the formal presentation and, among many songs of as high standard, Micheál Quinn maintained the theme with ‘The Manchester Martyrs’; Tony Fitzpatrick delivered emigrant letters from ‘Kilkelly, Ireland’; Angela Murray rekindled the textile mills with ‘The Jute Mill Song’; Tonyum McGaleyum sang a songeum most funnyum and the Real Gerry O’Reilly was equally amusing; Laurence Bond pined for his ‘Collier Laddie’; and Helen Lahert sang ‘This Land is Your Land’. Maguire, free from the constraints of Davitt, sang again, impressing all with his diction, timing, phrasing and range of song. It was a fine night and a great tribute to a Forgotten Hero.

 Pádraig Ó Conaill

Ár mbuíochas le Stiofán agus Liam Ó Droma haghaidh oíche amhránaíochta an- mhaith . Chomh maith leis sin le Seán Ó Meara as a dhán i gcuimhne ar Pádraig Ó Connáill , tá Bhinn Éadair rialta Ciorcal Amhránaíochta.

Marbhna Phádraig

le Seán Ó Meara

Conus a déarfainn, a Phádraig, nár lig gearrfhógra an bháis

Deis dúinn ‘slán leat’ a rá?

Meabhrach nach ‘slán’ nó fiu ‘goodbye’, a bhí ann

Ach deire ár scéil le céile sa saol seo

Idir cheol, bhéarsaíocht is craic,

Béaloideas Chiarraí gur mhian leat a roinnt linn;

Bhí an teach solais múchta gan fhios ag na báid

Nó fiu coinneall Nollag fágtha i bhfuinneoig

Chun tú a sheoladh thar teorainn an bháis;

Tá an Seanchaí imithe uainn,

An droighneán scratha ós na fréamhacha

Is na síoga, scaipthe go deo.

Crann beithe ina cholgsheasamh, ceann san aer

B’sin an Conalach grinnsúileach caoin;

Na cosa ag bogluascadh le port nó ríl

Srón iolarach árd an ghliaire spóirt,

Briathra á scaipeadh mar duilliúr fomhair

I gcanúint ceolmhar Deiscirt Chiarraí;

An bród a choimeád beo thú, a Phádraig,

Ach cá rabhamar, nach bhfaca lomadh na ngéag?

Bhíomar báite sa seanchas is draíocht an scéalaí!

Nuair a scríobh tú marbhna an Chláirínigh dhil

Ní raibh súil agat bheith á leanadh gan mboill

Tú fhéin is Jimmy Smyth i bhFlaitheas na nGael

Is bhúrmbeirt le céeile in ndichuimhne rainn.

Pádraig Ó Connaill as Baile na Sceilg, iar Fear an Tí, Clasach Cluainn Tarbh. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Ruth Clinton, This Fearless Maid

No two folk clubs, sing-arounds, open night sessions etc. are the same. ‘Well, we all know that’, you might say but what I’m getting at is the way they are run. Tigerfolk, for instance, is probably the only club that has two intervals and three halves. There are clubs that are just sings and do not have guests, others that just have guests. Some will pass a stick, a cap or some similar object round that is handed from performer to performer. Others will just let the night flow with people jumping in to entertain whilst you may go somewhere and you find that someone is nominated to play, sing or tell by the previous person. You will find clubs that have any number of associated activities like morris, mumming, social dancing and the like but here is one singing circle that has perhaps taken things a bit further.

The Howth Singing Circle not only has sings, guests, fund raising events for local charities, a dinner dance and a Burns Nicht but also a ‘Young Singer in Residence’. Ruth Clinton is currently in residence and is making a fine job of it too. A singer in the traditional style that belies her young years, she has won recognition not just locally but nationally and Ruth is no slouch when it comes instruments either. Her singing career has recently developed with the forming, along with three other women, of Landless who are achieving recognition in their own right. Not content with that Ruth has joined with others to open a young singers club in Dublin at the Cobblestones called The Night Before Larry Got Stretched. But there’s more because Howth Singing Circle asked Ruth to research songs on a theme of her choice and the very interesting book This Fearless Maid is the outcome.


Ruth Edited

To quote Ruth, ‘I decided to make things difficult: to find songs that feature a woman who is not defined by her relationship to a man. Specifically, this might be a song written by, about or from the perspective of a woman, which does not involve any romance. In addition, the song must have been written before 1950 and be in the English Language’. Straight forward then! The subject matter varies greatly from nationalism, working women, death, emigration, war and the super-natural and all the fourteen songs are from printed sources and come with brief but informative notes. Now, if it wasn’t for Ruth the majority of these would, in all probability, still be languishing in unopened tomes atop unfrequented shelves. So good on her for bringing them to our attention and for those looking for something a bit different, how’s about ‘The Female Duel’ or ‘The Witchcraft Murder’ based on a true story of a woman roasted alive in County Tipperary?

The book has been published by the Howth Singing Circle and does credit both to Ruth and themselves. It deserves the widest audience. And if HSC is looking for another project, maybe the next step would be a CD of Ruth singing the songs to promote This Fearless Maid.

John Bentham

Kind Providence: New CD from Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne

 Across all genres of music mention a performer, a tune or a song and very often associations are made. In the mind(s) of the person or people you are talking with a particular artist is synonymous with an air, a certain ballad etc. Now, if you mention Robert Burns’ ‘The Slave’s Lament’ the singer who immediately springs to my mind is Niamh Parsons. It was some eight years ago when Niamh and Graham were guests at Tigerfolk, Traditions at the Tiger as it was then, that I first heard them perform this wonderful song and it took my breath away, and do you know what, it still does. So I am absolutely delighted to hear it on Kind Providence.

May I suggest one of the best ways of listening to this fine CD? Pour yourself a decent measure of a single pot still whiskey and luxuriate in its complex flavours whilst being seduced by the singing of Niamh and the most subtle and understated of guitar accompaniment courtesy of Graham. Journeys either short or long wend their way through this recording from the epic disastrous retreat across Spain as described in ‘The Road to La Coruna’ to ‘Sweet Daffodil Mulligan’ although her trip to Pine Forest appears to have been very brief. We travel with lovers, sailors, soldiers, emigrants, patriots, slaves as well as Biddy Mulligan’s girl Daffodil (Don’t I just love her).


For all his background work Graham is rewarded with the chance to shine when he is given his head when playing ‘The Monaghan Jig’ which has extra tricky and twiddly bits that are studio based. As for a favourite track, well, ‘The Slave’s Lament’ is mine but there’s not much more than one of Niamh’s fag papers between any of the tracks for it is a joy from start to finish. And do you know what makes it better are the short, clear and concise notes that are easily read between sips from the glass that you have to hand.

With Kind Providence Niamh and Graham deserve to reach a wider audience and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

John Bentham, Tigerfolk Traditional Folk Club, Long Eaton

‘It’s Just Me Saggin’ Shelf’ by the Raytown Rambler

Charisma? – Yes, lots; Humour? – Yes, but I don’t know about those jokes; Character? – Loads of it. The fact that the late Mary Phelan produced eight one-hour programmes on Luke Cheevers for Dublin Radio South last year, says it all. So, what can I say in reviewing this CD , having spent many singing weekends in his great company over 30 years – whether journeying to Donegal, Armagh or Clare in ‘McGann-the-Van’s Hiace or O’Murchu’s Jolly Jalopy? ‘The man”, as Róisín Gaffney said, ‘is a treasure’. So, to review a recording of his would not reflect properly a singing performance by him. One has to experience him in a ‘live’ situation at a session- pure entertainment, often acting out the participants in the story of the song. Comparisons to Mick Quinn would not be out of place.

Now to review the songs: ten of these are humorous, showing Luke’s preference for one of life’s essential elements- to have ‘a bit of gas!’ His regular rendition of ‘Purty Molly Brannigan’ is here replaced by James Joyce’s parody of the same, titled ‘Buxom Molly Bloom’. His wide-ranging reading material includes The Odyssey and The Iliad, and the former is reflected by the inclusion of Robin Laing’s composition Ulysses, preceded by Simon Armitage’s poem on the same. An admirable trait is to compose an additional verse which enhances a song, for example, a popular one that may be too short. That said, the number with added verses is a surprise, five in all: Innisfaddie’s Annie, Miss Mousie’s Ball, Fall Down Billy O’Shea, The Country I’m leaving Behind and Sargeant William Bailey.

A high regard for songwriters is evident, as ten are included, from the little-known Frank McCrory (The Treacherous Waves of Lough Muck) to the famed Peadar Kearney (Sargeant William Bailey), the latter song being topical in showing the anti-recruitment movement in Ireland during the Great War and the Easter Rising. Brendan Phelan’s wonderful ‘Paddy’s Walk to China’ is here, a salute to the great Louth composer John Shiel’s version of The Cuckoo’s Nest, and lastly Hugh McWilliams’ Peace in Erin- a subject dear to Luke’s heart.


Councillor Dave O’Connor, Mayor of Fingal, launching Luke’s CD in Howth with Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan

Luke’s style of singing is purely traditional, all-encompassing in its choices; from the haunting Radcliffe Highway to the music hall number Nice Little Jenny from Ballinasloe. This CD represents but a few morsels of the Pure Drop that inimitable Luke possesses – he has hundreds of songs and recitations. We   just need to hear more recordings from him. (Somewhere I hear choruses of ‘Hear! Hear!’ ringing around the country)

Alas! A minor design quibble- no name or title is on the side of the cd copy.When filed away, it could be difficult to find, especially if you have a full Saggin Shelf!

Mick Fowler

Phil Callery’s Challenge

Phil Callery recently said he would like me ‘to accept the seven singer challenge by posting your selection of influential singers through your life. With some interesting stories on how they came your way’. I responded to his challenge on Facebook and a few folk have suggested I reproduce some of the entries in The Sweet Nightingale.

And what more appropriate way to begin than with Phil himself? His CD From the Edge of Memory remains a classic. Before I met Phil, I had encountered ‘The Boys’ – Gerry Cullen, Fran McPhail and Brian Leahy – on many great Sunday morning’s in Bean Uí Chairbré’s pub in Drogheda. These sessions from 12.30 to, supposedly, 2, were crowded with musicians, singers and listeners. Residents included Tom O’Sullivan on piano accordion who played Irish and Scots music with a discernible dash of the Champs-Elysées; Wally Murphy on banjo and singing his own, often highly amusing songs; Liz and Jim McArdle, she having a wonderful, haunting voice and he with multi instruments; Seán Corcoran and Desi Wilkinson – now most familiar as two thirds of Cran; and the serendipity of whoever might drop in. The stars, the turn that got instant order, were ‘The Boys’. I had never before heard such harmonic singing and, in the confines of the dark, smoky pub, the voices swaddled you with joy. Sadly, Brian died a very young man and Phil joined Fran and Gerry in what became The Voice Squad, everyone’s favourite singing group. Their ‘O The Holly’ has become an essential part of all our Christmases so they are now indelibly woven into the very cultural fabric of contemporary Ireland: some achievement. For me, Fran McPhail has a most unusual but iconic voice, towering high, seemingly not going to make the notes but always taking them comfortable like some sonic steeplechaser literally flying Beecher’s Brook. Fran is a compelling artist, wonderfully funny on occasion, but a serious candidate for this list of seven. Today, I hear more of Gerry Cullen, song for song, in my view, currently the best singer in English on the island. Gerry always ‘hits the spot’, has great phrasing and timing, and a wonderful song selection, regularly drawing from Drogheda and Louth writers and tradition bearers like Shields and Mary Ann Carolan.

So, before turning to Phil, I offer a memory of those Sunday mornings, the beginnings of my musical upbringing in Ireland.

Sunday Mornings in Carbery’s

do Chaitlín Bean UíCairbré

She lay last in the dark bar,

still commanding order,

spiriting invisible pints

as reward for silk-spun airs,

listening for godwits in the night,

wrens singing among stones.

Fiddlers came from

hardy country beyond Collon,

flutes from Cooley Fell and Termonfeckin,

songs floated down from Mullagbawn

and there was, somehow,

a Yellowbatter bouzouki:

Wally Murphy stirred himself

from under the clock

and Tom O’Sullivan effortlessly squeezed

a set of tunes lilted in every parish in Louth –

‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg agus Ruaille-Buaille’;

Cloistered harmonies tumbled down

from Sunday’s Gate and Fran McPhail led

two foolish youths in praise of fine ale,

holly berries and bonnie Irish maids:

it was any Sunday morning,

and every Sunday morning.

You sat besdie Darach Ó Catháin –

ag choinneáil ceol –

black and red the two of you,

a fluttering standard of language and lore.

Nic Jones berthed his creaking austral whaler,

huddled around that little pot stove,

you serving fresh penguin eggs as treat.

Out the hard, gangs of excited youngsters

madly peddled Usher’s sad treadles,

hide and chased, darting in and out

for more crisps, fizzy drinks

and hopes that sense might

strike their elder care.

We all passed this way,

string, reed and goatskin,

seán-nós and nasal crooner,

lost-head lovers and otherwise dull,

habitual couples, quiet corner hides

just listening with nodding beams,

and that fellah would always stand

to be constantly hit

by the inner half-door;

occasionally dogs borne of curiosity

dropped in and once a robin,

lost but soothed,

perched on high trying to figure

silver, cigarette-paper stalactites.

And here we pass again,

Gerry Cullen singing true

‘The Parting Glass’,

seeing your shroud as weft from

from our memories, times and faces,

melodic phrases and poetic mysteries,

each thread snagged some Sunday morning

but all woven on your secret loom

to a pattern

rich your own.

I still attend regular singing sessions in Drogheda, today’s treats being Gerry, the Branigan Brothers, Pat and Stuart Carolan, Gilly Cullen, Pat from the fields round Ferbane, Noel Bailey – when he isn’t firing cannons, and many more. I surely owe Drogheda much in musical terms, its core my friendship with Éamon Thornton.



Phil Callery, the fiddle player and Bean UíCairbré’s

I have utter respect for Phil Callery as singer and musician; organiser of ‘The Singers’ Club’ in 1970, forerunner to so many others since like our own Howth Singers’ Circle; as source and inspiration for songs and their provenance; and as gentle and engaging company, especially when reminiscing about singers, songs and song significances. ‘The Edge of Memory’ came out in 1999 with Phil and The Long Wave Band: Níall Ó Callanáin, bouzouki; Kevin Murphy, cello; Colm McCaughey, fiddle; Jimmy Faulkner, guitar; and Belinda Morris, oboe and sax. Phil’s daughters Sarah and Rosa added vocals. The CD blew everyone away with its power and gentle sensitivity, Phil’s vocal range and interpretations of songs, its laying down of what would become ‘definitive versions’ of songs. I have two copies – one in the house and one in the car, compliment enough. The song I have chosen is ‘The Bonnie Blue Eyed Lassie’ and here you can see him too. I remember singing it – very poorly in comparison to this – in the Pier House one night at the request of a couple and an old woman who was clearly the woman’s mother. ‘Did you know ‘The Bonnie Blue Eyed Lassie’’, they asked. I attempted the song and opened the eyes to find the most beautiful, tearful smile from the old woman, her blue, blue eyes filled with emotion.

I rightly told her, when she tried to thank me, ‘No, it’s Phil Callery you need to be thanking!’ So, thank you, Phil.

Francy Devine

Sea Shanties at the Prawn Festival

On Friday afternoon, 18 March, a brave crew faced very cold winds to sing shanties and maritime songs at the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival, Howth. In addition to tunes from Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, singers included Áine Bean Uí Chathasaigh, Walter Kennedy, Ciarán Ó Maoiléoin, and Finola Young. Gerry O’Connor led ‘Old Whitby Harbour’ and Tony Fitzpatrick steered a great course for ‘The Greeland Whale Fisheries’ aboard ‘The Old Balena’. Bhí againn dhá amhrán i nGaeilge – StiofánÓ hAolain with ‘Óró Sé do Bheatha Abhaile’ and Seán Ó hEaracháin who had crossed the Chops of Dublin Bay to be with us with ‘Óró Mo Bháidín’. A rousing final got the onlookers singing along as Luke Cheevers fell down with ‘Billy O’Shea’ and Fergus Russell charged forward with the Club anthem ‘The Bonnie Lighthorsemen’. It was great to see so many supporters stood off for’ad and singing away. The crew was, alas, press ganged by some wanton brigands and held captive in The Waterside and forced sing some more and consume most unpleasant libations against their will.

Our thanks to all who came and sang or listened – a great turn out on a chilly Friday afternoon but a performance that had brought much favourable comment.



Looking across the deck as the crew sing away: Tony Fitzpatrick in the Captain’s lounge afterwards.



The shanty crew, l-r: Áine Bean Uí Chathsaigh, Finola Young, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, SeánÓ hEaracháin, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, Siobhán Moore, Francy Devine, Ciarán Ó Maoiléoin,Tony Fitzpatrick, Luke Cheevers, Gerry O’Connor, Walter Kennedy & Fergus Russell.

Fidil Bus a Trí

The third Fiddle Bus – this time to Glenties via Omagh – was a triumph. From the American Folkpark, Omagh to the songs and tunes on the way home, the music was superb, singing great and company joyous. A longer account will come later but for now it is is enough to pay thanks to those who made it such a great weekend. Richard Hurst and staff at the Ulster American Folk Park were terrific hosts



Rónán Galvin leading the way home and Fiddle Bus members at the Doherty family grave at Baile na Finne

and the tunes from Loïc Denis, Ciarán Mac Aodhagáin, Liam O’Connor, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and Michael Mullen and emigration song from Tony Fitzpatrick a delight in the evocative atmosphere of a tall ship quayside. Sinéad Boyle and staff at the Highlands Hotel looked after us very well – as did the various B+B owners who catered for some. The staff in O’Neill’s, Letterbarrow and the Seven Arches, Laghy – especially Geraldine whose Guinness stew was extremely tasty – were generous hosts. Special thanks must go to Jimmy and Peter Campbell, Danny Meehan and Eddie O’Gara for sharing their special talents with us and to the other local musicians who came along and played.

We must thank everyone who made the trip – especially Paul Bradley and Ger Fitzgerald who travelled up from a festival in Carlow after performing – and those who supported the Bus in other ways. The two that travelled the farthest were the Breton pipers Loïc Denis and Patricia Riou who came over from Lanester near Lorient. As with other Fiddle Bus events, the weekend had short presentations from Liam O’Connor, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh, Rónán Galvin and Rab Cherry – the latter’s illustrated [visually and aurally] talk on tin fiddles gripping everyone. The film footage of John Doherty [and Pete Seeger] preceded a visit to his family grave in Báile na Finne, a hauntingly beautiful spot where the birds undoubtedly took the prize for the weekend’s best singers.



Liam O’Connor, Himmy Campbell, Mick O’Connor, Peter Campbell; Gearóid Ó Cathaláin, Michael Mullen, John Kelly and local whistle player.

Special thanks, of course, must go to those who organised everything. Musically, we were indebted to John Kelly, Liam O’Connor and, especially to Rab Cherry and Rónán Galvin with the informal support of Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí whose website www.cairdeasnabhfidileiri.com/index.html is well worth a visit. Their local knowledge and the respect in which they are held by local people were an invaluable asset to us. O’Connor’s Coaches Howth and Anchor Tours’ driver Gavin Arrowsmith drove us safely to all destinations even those up boreens only a crow could get up! Gavin became an integral part of the group and enjoyed every minute of the trip. Ann Riordan smoothly managed administration, bookings and general duties. Most thanks must go to each and every one on the Bus for making the whole two days such a pleasure.

Fiddle Bus 4 will be on the weekend after Easter next year, 21-23 April 2017. There are suggestions that it be in Brittany and indications of interest are welcome. As with Scotland, a number of events around the Bus day will be organised.

HSC Singers at Various Events

HSC singers were featured in Terry Moylan and Francy Devine’s illustrated programme of songs and poems of 1916 – variously titled ‘In Squadrons Passed Me By …’ and ‘The World Did Gaze …’ Performances were delivered on Easter Monday as part of RTÉ’s Reflecting the Rising and on the last Tuesday in April in City Hall as part of Dublin City Council’s lunchtime lecture programme on Dublin and the 1916 Rising. Drawn from Terry Moylan’s new superb book, The Indignant Muse: Poetry & Songs of the Irish Revolution, 1887-1926, (Lilliput Press), those performing were Anne Buckley, Jerry O’Reilly, Ann Riordan and Fergus Russell, as well as Terry and Francy. The presentation – in a re-worked form – will feature on the closing Saturday of this year’s Willie Clancy School in Miltown Malbay. With Luke Cheevers, Francy also performed in City Hall for the Royal Dublin Fusilers Association commemoration of the Hullach Gas Attack and Luke and Tony Fitzpatrick had sung at City Council’s commemoration of the blowing up of Nelson’s Pillar – an event held in Pearse Street Library in March. On all occasions, singers performed to acclaim and the HSC’s reputation was enhanced.


Award-winning Scots band Malinky were our guests at a concert in the Abbey on 28 April. Superbly supported by Maitiú Ó Casaide (pipes), Ciarán Mac Aodhagáin (fiddle) and Joey Doyle (keyboard, flute, guitar and vocals), Malinky received a very enthusiastic reception from [from the Club’s point of view, a disappointing] crowd of seventy. Few regulars were seen and their non-attendance raises questions for the Committee about choice and timing of events. All that said, the musical quality was of the highest standard and the finale truly roused the room. Highlights were undoubtedly Fiona Hunter’s stunning version of the Child ballad ‘My Son David – there was a terrific feel in the audience as the song’s gravity and the beauty of the arrangement struck them – and Steve Byrne’s rendition of Violet Jacob’s ‘The Wild Geese’, also known as ‘The Norland Wind’.

Malinky went on to play The Cobblestone and Duncairn Arts Centre, Belfast, again to warm receptions, although nowhere else matched the cheers and whoops in Howth. The Howth event was managed on the night by Ann Riordan and Brian Doyle with assistance from Laurence Bond and Amy Riordan for the raffle. Particular thanks must be given to Finola Young for providing accommodation for band members and the mountain of scones and blueberry muffins they went home with. Thanks must also be given to Chris Boland on sound and Abbey Tavern proprietor Richard Tobin who generously fed the artists and generally offered support to the event.

We must also thank those who attended the event so enthusiastically and for their generous comments afterwards. Many had not previously attended HSC events and a good few took the trouble to comment favourably on the quality of the music and singing by text, e-mail and message.



Ciarán MacAodhagáin, Maitiú Ó Casaide and Malinky – Mark Dunlop, Fiona Hunter, Steve Byrne,


As ever, The Sweet Nightingale does not simply appear. We thank John Bentham (Tigerfolk, Long Eaton); Mick Fowler; Helen Lahert; Seán O’Meara; Richard Tobin (Abbey Tavern); and your Committee – Laurence Bond, Paddy Daly, Brian Doyle, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Gerry O’Connor, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan and Fergus Russell.

And we thank each of you for supporting the Howth Singing Circle

in all its various activities.


Fergus Russell, Ann Riordan, Anne Buckley and Jerry O’Reilly at the finale of their presentation of 1916 songs and poems in City Hall on 26 April


The Sweet Nightingale January 2016

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 3 – January 2016

Happy New Year

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Gcéad dul síos, is féidir linn ar mian leo an tsíocháin gach duine agus sláinte do 2016! Thank you all for your suport during 2015, a terrific year full of great nights, marvellous concerts, performances in the National Museum, churches and piers, and, of course, The Fiddle Bus!

This Fearless Maid

Our Young Singer in Residence Ruth Clinton concluded her residency in great style in November when Belfast singer, collector and musicologist Jane Cassidy launched This Fearless Maid. Ruth collected fourteen songs that ‘feature a woman who is not defined by her relationship to a man’. This ‘might be a song written by, about, or from the perspective of a woman, which does not involve any romance’. All the songs were written or sung prior to 1950 and are listed under various themes: ‘Nationalism’, ‘Women at Work’, ‘Witchcraft’ and ‘Lullaby’. Ruth supplies substantial notes to the songs and biographical details on the song writers – some well-known like Meabh Caomhánach [Maeve Cavanagh MacDowell), Charlotte Despard, Winifred Letts, Fanny Parnell or Katherine Tynan, and others who have become obscure like Helena Blackwood (Lady Dufferin), Rose Kavanagh, Mary C.F. Munster, Mary Jane O’Donovan Rossa, Dora Sigerson or Ella Young.

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 Jane Cassidy launches This Fearless Maid and Ruth enjoys signing a few

On the night, Jane Cassidy appropriately sang ‘The Snuff Box Song’, a song drawn from the Linen industry and a version of events better known in ‘Oh, Do You Know Her or Do Ye Not?’ or ‘The Doffing Mistress’. Its final verse captures its essence: ‘And when the work is good again, / I’m in a better temper, / Bring out your box; we’ll have some snuff, / For I’m the girl who’ll venture’. Ruth sang Mrs Munster’s ‘Lament of the Irish Mother’: ‘The harebell is missing your step on the mountain, / The sweetbriar droops from the hand that it loved’. With fiddler player, Cormac Mac Diarmada, Ruth sang a beautiful arrangement of the lullaby ‘Heezh-ba’, collected in the Sam Henry Collection from Mrs Brownlow, Ballylaggan, Cloyfin, Coleraine, illustrating that this collection, like all song collections, is there to be sung, to be interpreted, to fly off the page. Ann Riordan concludes This Fearless Maid with a tribute to Ruth, outlining her various achievement as artist, singer and performer, and expressing the Howth Singing Circle’s pride in her residency. She has set the bar high for whoever might follow her as a Singer in Residence for the Club.

Many young singers and musicians attended to make the night a bumper one with terrific singing and great craic: Dara Yeates drove a tunnel so well through the London clay, you’d think he was from Fanad or Gaoth Dobhair; Aoife Dermody gave a beautiful rendition of ‘O’Kelly’s Courtship’; Sinéad Lynch took Peggy Seeger’s advice to ‘Don’t Get Married’; Cillian’s ‘Hewin Days’ were through; John Flynn was regal; and Sandy, no doubt, has ‘Sweet Little Apple Cheeks’. Meabh Meir was a welcome return and sang ‘A Poor Loom Weaver’ and with Ruth and Sinéad sang the song they took their collective name from, ‘Landless’. Of the regulars, new Grandpa Tony McGaley discovered that he was, in fact, ‘Me Own Grandpa’; Helen Lahert proved to be a constant lover; Eugene McEldowney was courted by a blackbird; and Robert Kelly told the story of how Jack Judge penned ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. Other notable songs were Barry Gleeson, Katie Collins of North Strand’, Laurence Bond, ‘The Boys of Mullaghbawn’, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, ‘A Bhean Adaí Thall’; Eddie Phillips, ‘Pull on the Rope – Same Old Fisherman’ [does anyone show more attention to themes than the inventive Mr Phillips?]; Deirdre Madden opened a vegetable stall; Angela Murray let him go without the slightest tarry; and Jack & Angela Plunkett championed ‘Union Maids’. There were nearly forty items and all of a high standard! Maurice Leyden, ‘Lovely Young Kate of Glenkeen’ and Jane Cassidy, ‘The Wager’, brought Belfast Singing Circle voices and added to a night that belonged to Ruth Clinton.

Martin Wyndham-Read

A standing ovation at the end of any performance is heartening in equal measure for artist and organiser. The audience’s spontaneous rise to their feet indicated that those privileged to attend the Gatehouse and Martyn Wyndham-Read concert had enjoyed a presentation of quality singing and songs, music and story, and great stage presence. From the Howth Singing Circle’s perspective, Gerry O’Connor’s enthusiasm to bring Martyn over was met by many – when tickets were being offered – with ‘Martyn who?’ Incredibly, for an artist of international acclaim, this was Wyndham-Read’s Irish debut. Recently formed, Gatehouse were also little known but their line-up guaranteed indicate the topmost quality. And so it proved.


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Gatehouse and Martyn Wyndham-Read play ‘Claudy Banks’ and John Wynne, Ann Riordan, Diarmuid Cathasaigh, Niamh Parsons, Martyn, Fergus Russell and Walter Kennedy climax a great night with ‘The Parting Glass’

Gatehouse opened each half with engaging sets that displayed their individual and collective skills. Gatehouse are John McEvoy, fiddle; John Wynne, flute and whistles – not to mention a charming and engaging stage manner; Jacinta McEvoy, guitar and concertina; and Rachel Garvey, vocals. Their music displayed much of their Roscommon/Sligo/Leitrim roots and appeared effortlessly smooth. Rachel’s ‘The Merry Ploughman’ and ‘Over the Mountain’ charmed with a highlight being ‘Easter Snow’ (‘Sneachta Cásca’), Christy Moore’s tribute to Séamus Ennis, the tune being a favourite of the Fingal piper, Wynne’s haunting whistle accompaniment echoic of the great man. Hard to pick from the many great sets but favourites were Packie Duignan’s versions of ‘The Frost is All Over’ and ‘The Mouse in the Cupboard’ and, from Donegal, ‘The Greencastle Medley’. The band set an extremely high bar.

Martyn Wyndham-Read displayed all his stage craft in leading the audience through story and song, song and story. Highlights included ‘Claudy Banks’, Martyn being joined by Gatehouse, the impromptu nature of the piece masked by the sheer class of the resultant arrangement. The night was compered by Gerry O’Connor and Ann Riordan. The Club were represented by Gerry, Niamh Parsons and, in a surprise guest spot, Christy Moore. As to assessing the night, well, that standing ovation is all that needs to be said.

Shanties for Friends of Howth Maritime Museum

On Saturday, 13 November, the HSC concluded an afternoon devoted to lectures and exhibitions of material relating to the sinking of the Tayleur off Lambay as a fund-raising event for the proposed Howth Maritime Museum. A large audience crammed the Abbey Tavern and our crew led the following shanties and sea-related songs: Tony Fitzpatrick, ‘Greenland Whale Fishery’ and ‘The Old Balena’; Brian Doyle, ‘Bound for South Australia’; Siobhán Moore, ‘The Mermaid’; Gerry O’Connor, ‘Whitby Harbour’, and, as a rousing finale, Luke Cheevers, ‘Fall Down Billy O’Shea’ and Fergus Russell, ‘The Grey Funnel Line’. For the audience, an obvious highlight was Seán Ó hEaracháin leading Paul Kelly’s ‘The John Tayleur’. Other up on deck in all weathers were Ann Riordan, Finola Young and Eddie Phillips. The presentation drew wide praise from an audience that were not, perhaps, regular listeners to traditional singers.


Francy Devine, Niamh Parsons, Fergus Russell, Robert Kelly & Barry Gleeson at National Museum, Collins Barracks presentation of ‘Songs & Poems of the First World War’ in association with Anu Productions play ‘Pals’

Passion For A Song

A Classic Scots Ballad – ‘Andrew Lammie’ as sung by Jane Turriff

It is a pleasure to continue what is now a tradition in The Sweet Nightingale (SN), and choose a song, not as a favourite, but in this case because it still has a fascination for me after thirty years, based on the background story as much as the beauty of the song itself. As Eugene McEldowney said (SN March 2004) ‘it’s like being asked to choose between your children – an impossible task’(!) in picking favourites. But to write about a song or songs to me requires that the approach is different, The choice should be dictated by what one knows or more likely has discovered by accident over time about the ballads, and to share with others one’s experience of the song, and its background. Ultimately, the hope is that enough interest is created here for singers to go and acquire the song as a result. Of course, as you all know, the first experience is a simple love of a song on an initial hearing of it – at a session, or on a recording – rather than reading of it, then later if not too lazy (like me) comes the urge to learn, and then sing it.

The Song and the Story

The title is ‘Andrew Lammie’, but is also well known as ‘Mill of Tifty’s Annie’, or ‘The Trumpeter of Fyvie’ (see photos of the mill and the trumpeter at Fyvie castle), listed as number 233 in the Child Collection (Francis J. Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads). It seems to have been a very common ballad at one time as other versions are to be found in the main Scottish Collections under the other titles above. For example, Gavin Grieg collected over 12 variants, publishing them in his Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads.

The ‘Ballad of Andrew Lammie’ is based on a true story – though travellers often refer to a ballad as ‘true’ when they believed it to be so, even if it was oftentimes just a myth carried forward by oral tradition through the centuries. Basically it tells of the tragic story of ‘bonny’ Annie who lived at the Mill in Tifty, at Fyvie, then fell in love with Andrew Lammie, much to the disapproval of all of her family, and meets a grisly end at the hands of her brother. The great collector Hamish Henderson recalls being ‘convoyed across the country’ (the lawland leas of Fyvie’) to be shown the actual whereabouts of the ruined mill itself, half hidden by foliage and undergrowth. One of the photos here shows the singer Jane Turriff visiting the location of the song she loved so well all her singing life. Annie’s flat gravestone is nearby dated at 1673, and as Hamish said ‘this makes the story both real and unreal for us, as the lives of the forgotten villagers whose gravestones surround hers there in Fyvie’.

The Singer

It was recorded by Dick Gaughan in 1973, on the album ‘The Boys of the Lough’[1]. This was the initial album of the group of the same, titled after the opening track on the record, and also the only time Dick Gaughan recorded with the ‘Boys’. This was the first time I heard the song sung. I was attracted to it by the superb rendition, with Dick’s characteristic, strong, deep voice.

But three years later I came upon a remarkable LP ‘The Muckle Sangs’,[2] which was a compilation recorded from the great ballad singers in Scotland by Hamish Henderson and others from the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh. To list just three of each of the singers/songs gives an indication of the quality of the LP: Sheila MacGregor, Jeannie Robertson, Lizzie Higgins, along with The Gypsy Laddie, The Twa Brothers, The Jew’s Daughter, etc., etc. In a wonderful two LP set with a large 24 page booklet, the last track on side 4 contained but a glimpse of what would be found later. Andrew Lammie was the song, with just four verses by Jane Turriff, and then the full recording of Sheila MacGregor’s version. But I thought at the time those four verses were superbly sung, carrying a deep-welled emotion, not often heard in traditional singing.



Jane Turriff and our own Mick Fowler, composer of the HSC’s carol, ‘All Hail! All Hail!’

Jane Turriff

Jane was known as one of Scotland’s legendary traditional singers. Born in Aberdeen, she was one of the famous Aberdeenshire Stewards, but she had a strong strain of Irish traveller stock- her maternal grandmother was a Maguire from Ireland, and her uncle the famous Davy Stewart travelled and sang extensively there.

In 1995, I was passing through Edinburgh on my way to Aviemore in the Central Highlands, when I got my hands on a treasure- ‘Singin’ is Ma Life’, Jane Turriff’s own album devoted entirely to ‘her unique voice’ (after 40 years of ‘compilation’ contributions).[3] The CD had luckily just been released. Tom McKean comments in the introduction ‘Listening … I am constantly stunned by her artistry, her quality of tone and the gut-wrenching emotion she packs into her songs’.

Again there were excellent sleeve notes, with quotes from Jane and her comments on each of the songs, as well as the background to her long and difficult life (She was crippled by an injury at four years of age, and used crutches for the rest of her life). To just give two quoted examples, one on her approach to singing in general and then more specifically to the ballad itself- titled ‘Mill of Tifty’s Annie’ on this CD – with no apologies for giving the scots dialect used here (!):

‘Singin is ma life’-

‘Ay, singin’s ma life. My mother an aa, it wis her life an aa and ma dad was musical. It’s a happy body that likes singin and music..’it’s a happy person tha’ sings ..’now in the mornin’ when I’m makin ma tea, I’ll be singin’ ma grans songs, and ma ma’s songs. I’ve no time for folk tha’ dinna like singin’ She would wish her sisters and brothers out of the house, so she could get singing-’An it wis on ma mind the whole day, I can’t get singin!’

on ‘Mill of Tifty’s Annie’-

Her husband’s blind mother (a fine singer herself) used to call to Annie passing at 12 years of age-‘ “Come in a minute, and gie me thon song now, give me Tifty’s Annie”.

An I had tae sing (TA) to her. That was her favourite song’.

(when she had finished singing it for the recording)- “Beautiful, isn’t it now?” “Oh, I love tae pit in the feelin’” “That’s the way tae sing- I’m away in a dream about it.” (see the photo of Jane singing, and visiting the mill at Tifty).

Jane sang a shortened version of the song on the recording, all of seventeen verses, lasting 9 ½ minutes. She in fact knew 52 (yes, fifty two!) verses of the song!

‘The Singin’ of it’

I have not heard the song sung in Ireland once in the thirty-four years since hearing it by Dick Gaughan on that first LP of the Boys of the Lough. Having got past the gestation, and osmosis stage in acquiring a song (!), I ‘threw it out’, as they say, in the Góilín Club three weeks ago. I attach below the lyrics used – eleven verses only, for modern audiences- and singers! – based mostly on the great ‘shape’ Sheila MacGregor put on the lyrics, but including a lot of Jane Turriff’s ‘curves’ as she calls them in the actual singing of it; in other words Dick Gaughan’s version I found to be a little unemotional though superbly delivered , after I had been bowled over by listening to the fragment on the Muckle Sangs, let alone Jane’s full version on ‘Singin is Ma Life’. Though in saying that, I accept that ballads are normally sung ‘unemotional’ and ‘straight’.

I thank the Howth Singing Circle, and especially Francy Devine for this opportunity to put down some thoughts on a Ballad that has fascinated me for a long time, as I have never before attempted to articulate the feelings, and had a chance to share something like this on paper with my good band of fellow singers. Now that I ‘have’ it, I hope I can give it a try in Howth soon!

Mick Fowler

Andrew Lammie

At Mill o’ Tifty lived a man,

In the neighbourhood of Fyvie:

And he had a lovely daughter fair

Was called bonny Annie.

Lord Fyvie had a trumpeter

And his name was Andrew Lammie,

And he had the art to win the heart

O’ Mill o’ Tifty’s Annie.

Her mother called her to the door,

‘Come here to me, my Annie.

Did e’er ye see a fairer man

Than the trumpeter o’ Fyvie?’

But at night when all were to their beds,

All slept full sound but Annie

For love oppressed her tender breast,

Thinking of Andrew Lammie.

For its love comes in at my bedside

And love lies down beside me;

Love has oppressed my tender breast

And love will waste my body.

It’s up and down in Tifty’s Glen

Where the burn runs clear and bonny,

I’ve often gang’d beneath my love

My ain dear Andrew Lammie.

He took himself to the hills so high

To the hilltops o’er Fyvie

And he blew his trumpet loud and shrill

’Twas heard at Mill o’Tifty.

‘My love I go tae Edinburgh town

And for a while must leave thee’

‘Och, but I’ll be dead afore ye come back

In the green kirk yard of Fyvie’.

But her father he struck her wondrous sore

And also did her mother

Her s sters also did her scorn

But woe be tae her brother.

Her brother struck her wondrous sore

With cruel strokes and many,

And he broke her back o’er the temple-stone,

Aye the temple-stone o’Fyvie.

‘Oh mother dear go make my bed,

And lie my face tae Fyvie,

There I will lie and it’s there I’ll die,

For the sake of Andrew Lammie.

Note: Mick Fowler originally submitted this piece some years ago when The Sweet Nightingale ceased. We are delighted to be able to bring his reflections on a great ballad now . We welcome other contributions from anyone who has ‘A Passion For a Song – eds)


St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band, East of Ireland Champions 2015

Alistair ‘Al’ O’Donnell, 8 December, 1943-3 September, 2015

This tribute to the late O’Donnell by his old friend and music companion Al Atkinson first appeared in Tatters, The Newsletter of Tigerfolk, www.tigerfolk.com, October 2015 and is reproduced with their permission

I first met Al O’Donnell, or Alistair as we knew him then, 53 years ago in September 1962 when I started as a full time student at Nottingham College of Art. We were introduced by Roger Norman, a full –time student who I knew from my evening class visits to the College. Roger, a very accomplished guitarist, was one of the leading lights of the College’s thriving folk scene. To this day I have an absolutely vivid mental picture of my first sight of Al – sitting cross legged on top of a plan chest in the Graphic Design studio while tuning a long neck banjo. So this was what graphic design was all about!

I remember a short, ginger-haired man wearing a corduroy jacket of approximately the same hue. He had a broad welcoming smile and a welcoming handshake and we took to each other from the first. Autumn 1962 brought one of the crucial events of the early days of the English Folk Song Revival with the arrival in our city of the Centre 42 ‘roadshow’. This trades union sponsored cultural mission came to visit Nottingham along with five other towns and cities bringing a programme of musical, literary and theatrical events, all of a strong left wing nature. Along with the plays, poetry readings and theatrical events there was a very impressive folk element with Ewan MacColl and Bert Lloyd heading the bill on a concert in the functions room of the main Co-op store on Parliament Street. In those days there was a very small cadre of professional folk singers most of whom appeared on that concert. It was there that I first heard the singing of Louis Killen and Bob Davenport as well as witnessing the singing debut of Annie Briggs whose studies at the Art College lasted all of four days before she joined the Centre 42 bandwagon.


‘Hard at our studies’ with Roger Norman, Al Atkinson & Al O’Donnell, Nottingham College of Art c1964

Al and I, along with most of the local singers, were signed up as mercenaries to support the full time stars which is how we came to find ourselves supporting Ray Fisher at her gig in the Red Cow, Leicester, another Centre 42 base. This was my debut as a paid singer with a fee of ten shillings, worth about six pints in those days. Alistair was already doing solo gigs for money and was a very accomplished performer, very much admired for his beautiful voice and for his expert playing of the banjo. In those days Nottingham’s chief venue for folk music was the Co-op Folk Workshop held in the Co-operative Arts Centre on Heathcote Street. The club dated from the late 1950s and had been started by a group of enthusiasts amongst whom Spike Woods, another art college veteran, was probably the most notable. The classic format of a folk club evening (ie, resident singers, floor singers and visiting guest) had already evolved. Al, Roger and myself were amongst the residents along with Gil Harper, a fine singer of unaccompanied Scottish ballads, Quentin Hood with his guitar and repertoire of mainly English songs and Gabriel Lavelle who specialised in hearty renditions of Irish material. I suppose the ‘wild card’ was the amazing Tromping Dave Turner who made a valuable contribution with his versions of American songs and, increasingly, his home grown repertoire of surreal ‘decompositions’. We had a glorious couple of years of this regime along with parties, visits to neighbouring folk clubs and regular concerts in the art college students’ union room, organised by Al, Roger and myself and usually in aid of Oxfam. On one occasion our pals Andy Irvine and Annie Briggs turned up as unpaid guest artistes to help us out. In those days anything seemed possible.

In the summer of 1964 Al, having completed his studies, headed back to his native Dublin (his years spent in Grantham and Nottingham having been due to his parents’ employment over here.) Back in Ireland Al quickly established himself as a very popular singer much in demand for club and concert appearances. He also increasingly made a name for himself on the London folk scene along with all the other emerging talents in that most exciting and vibrant era. Al was frequently invited to sing at the Edinburgh Festival, his friendship with Archie Fisher dating from those years. He also undertook tours of Ireland as well as round the English club scene, played in New York and also on the continent. It was whilst touring in Germany with his friend Luke Kelly that the pair of them managed to get themselves arrested for snapping tourist photos in East Berlin. Al even had a spell as one of Sweeney’s Men but came to realise that the life of a full-time touring musician was not for him. By then Al was married to June and had a regular job as a graphic designer and stage carpenter at Raidió Teilifís Éireann, a job which well occupied his time but also gave the chance of occasional performances on the television. He was very proud of his prestige billings on the festivals at Lisdoonvarna, a showcase for the whole range of Irish folk talent, as well as being a featured artist at the Ballysadare festivals. I caught his performances many times, mainly around the favourite Dublin venues such as Slattery’s and the Abbey Tavern at Howth. Post-retirement Al was able to concentrate more on his singing career and even managed to tour Germany twice as a member of the Dubliners.

Al was always a family man and it has been a great privilege for me, over the years, to have been able to visit Al and June and to watch their family grow up. It was marvellous seeing Al and June’s obvious pride in their children Ruán, Conor and Melissa, and their joy as the grandchildren arrived. My overriding impression of Al is of a man who was the most positive and optimistic person that I’ve ever met. I don’t mean a kind of blind optimism because he was always a thoughtful man and a man who was well informed and with an inquiring mind. Al had a basic decency and an understanding of how things should be done. His positive attitude to life was apparent in the way that he dealt with his health problems over recent years and his courage and his refusal to contemplate self-pity were a great credit to him. He was a loyal friend, always with a readiness to appreciate and encourage and with a genuine interest in other people and their lives. I shall always remember Al for his humour, his ready smile and, of course, for his music which gave delight to so many people. So many friends who have known Al over the years will have their own memories of the man and will feel it a privilege to have known him.

Al Atkinson, 21 September, 2015

Francy on The Rolling Wave

On Sunday 29 November, Ellen Cranitch featured Francy Devine on ‘The Rolling Wave’. The hour long programme featured stories, reminiscence and recordings and can be heard at http://www.rte.ie/radio1/the-rolling-wave/programmes/2015/1129/750107-the-rolling-wave-sunday-29-november-2015/?clipid=2043923 The Howth Singing Circle received a high profile in the broadcast, as did ‘Tommy Swan’s Dog’! Central to the show was the CD ‘My Father Told Me’ that Francy made with Steve Byrne & Friends.

Another radio series that Francy was associated with during the year is strongly recommended to all singers, ‘Vocal Chords’ an Athena Productions production for RTÉ Lyric FM. Presented by Iarla Ó Lionáird the five part series can be heard at http://vocalchords.ie/episodes/ The series essentially grew from the long-term collaboration between Iarla and Peter Gabriel and the episodes deal with 1. The Noise Before Meaning and The Sounds Before Singing; 2. Singing Our Way Home; 3. The Stories We Tell; 4. Better Together; and 5. The Global Voice. It is a provocative series that makes the listener think, consider their own attitudes to and performance of singing and it is global in terms of its coverage of vocal styles, traditions and occasions. Well worth setting time aside to listen to.

Forthcoming Programme

7 JanuaryLaurence Bond & Helen Lahert with ‘All The Flowers of the Forest’

Saturday, 23 JanuaryTwas in Sweet Senegal’, Burns Nicht 2016

with Special Guests Dáimh, St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band & mony mair

Sunday, 24 January – 3-6, Fare Thee Weel Session, Sea Angling Club

4 FebruaryStiofán Ó hAoláin with Special Guest Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh

3 March – 8pm, illustrated presentation from Dónal Maguire on the ‘Songs of Michael Davitt’

followed by singing session, ‘Songs From the Land’ from 9pm

7 AprilNiamh Parsons with ‘Easter Snows’

28 April Malinky in Concert

12 May – A Special night when The Night Before Larry Come to the Seaside

2 June – Brian Doyle with theme to be announced

Saturday 16 July – Singing the Fishing – annual fundraiser for St Francis Hospice, Sea Angling Club, 3-6

16 10

16 11

Máire Ní Chróinín with Tim Dennehy and Christy Moore at the Martyn Wyndham-Read gig

[1] Dick Gaughan- on the 1st Boys of the Lough LP, Leader Records : Trailer LER 2086: 1973; now on CD LER CD 2082: 2004.

[2] ‘Scottish Traditions 5 -The Muckle Sangs’ (meaning Big Ballads) : LP issued 1975, by the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh; contains Jane Turriff on Side 4, Track 5; excellent Classic Scots Ballads selection.

[3] Jane Turriff: ‘Singin’ is Ma Life’: Springtime Records SPRCD 1038: 1995.

Sweet Nightingale September 2015


New Series, Number 2, October 2015

me and himself

De som vill sjunga alltid hitta en låt

‘Those who wish to sing always find a song’ (Swedish proverb)

Robert Kelly’s Wheel


The Howth Singing Circle was founded in the autumn of 2001 to maintain the memory of Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore, Howth fisherman and singer who provided much rich entertainment over many years in the town and in seaports around our coast. After his friends gathered one evening to sing in his honour in The Red Herring, such was the enjoyment that the idea of a monthly session followed. We first met in the back room of the Pier House, a crowded, very smoky and often quite noisy – but much-loved – venue. Few in 2001 imagined that we would still be flourishing and entering our fifteenth season.

Over those fifteen years, many people contribute to the Howth Singing Circle in many different ways. The most conspicuous are those who sing or play but there are many other vital ingredients to the HSC that can go unnoticed: various administrative and organisational tasks; arranging furniture and remembering the banner and the box; and, perhaps most important of all, coming along to listen to and enjoy the performances. Robert Kelly’s songs and singing have long been a delight. His style and song selection are unique and thoroughly loved by all at the Club. His songs can be poignant, quirky, highly amusing, stunningly beautiful – even his impersonations of horses and other livestock are a joy. He has, however, contributed something very special and very permanent, a hand-crafted ship’s wheel – fashioned from mahogany, teak, oak and pine – that displays all his skills of cabinet making and carpentry.

Along with our banner – made by Liz Reilly of Naul – Robert Kelly’s wooden wheel is something we are all very proud of. We are grateful to Robert for the time he gave to conceive, design and construct the final, impressive product. It graces any occasion and reflects the joy he has both taken from and provided to the HSC.

scot 1


Burns Nicht standard bearers: Northumbria’s Dave McCracken agus Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh (Beann Éadair agus Lú)

Who Will Thrash the Corn Now?

Well, Ann Riordan and Eugene McEldowney led a great starting night for the Sixteenth Season of the HSC. The standard of the singing and song and recitation choices was high with the Harvest Songs element well to the fore. Graham Dunne set the bar high with two sets of tunes at the beginning of each half, his ‘When First to This Country’ being truly exquisite. Notable songs among the thirty singers, for these ears at least, were Eugene’s Copper Family ‘Young Brethren’; Tony Fitzpatrick, ‘The Kerryman’s Ramble to Tipperary’ with his own concertina accompaniment; Joe Gallagher, ‘The Slave’s Lament’, Angela Murray, ‘A Spailpín a Rún’; Gerry O’Connor, ‘With the Harrow & Plough’; Aoife Caomhánach, ‘When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall’; and Ciarán Ó Maoiléoin, ‘Sweet Ennistymon’. It was great to hear strong, fresh voices: Marie Smith, ‘Mantle So Green’; Nora Shovlin, ‘The Hills Above Drumquin’; and Paul Byrne, ‘In the Town of Listowel’. A highlight of the night was the Harvest Basket which overflowed thanks to the generosity of those who brought items to put into it. Indeed, it allowed for a number of lovely prizes in the now traditional, free Howth Singing Circle raffle. The winner was the Travelling Librarian himself, Tony McGaley and here he is below with his bounty.


Ann Riordan & the winner of the Harvest Basket Tony McGaley

The Sweet Nightingale would welcome anyone who would review our events. Such reviews were a great feature of the early newsletters. If the standard of singing and song is as high as it was on the September night, then reviewing will be an easy task. Well done to all concerned and thanks to Ann & Eugene for leading a splendid night.

Visit From Tiger, Poppy & Grand Union Folk Clubs

In April, Howth Singing Circle again hosted singers from the English East Midlands, representing the Tigerfolk Traditional Folk Club, Long Eaton, Derbyshire; Poppy Folk Club, Nottingham; and Grand Union Folk Club, Barrow-on-Soar, Leicestershire. For those interested, these clubs can be followed at http://tigerfolk.com; www.poppyfolkclub.co.uk; and http://guf.org.uk. In the Tigerfolk newsletter, Tatters, John Bentham recorded his reflections on their time in Ireland.

I know it is tempting fate but every time we go over to Ireland the weather is kind and so it was in April when a group of us went across for a cracker of a weekends singing.  Whilst waiting for the party to assemble on the Thursday evening, one or two were looking out from the hotel across the estuary at Malahide and you could have been in the South of France, it was stunningly beautiful in the early evening sunlight. We all felt it was a good omen (apart from those who were stranded at the airport back in England!).  Decisions were made and half the party set off for the sing and another car waited for the later arrivals.

That evening we were in the company of the Howth Singing Circle in their new venue, the Abbey Tavern.  Famed for recordings of Irish group and singers over many decades and now home to Burns Nicht celebrations, numerous concerts and the Singing Circle, we were welcomed with open arms by old friends and new acquaintances alike. When our second car arrived everyone got to know each other a little better as, sardine style, we all hotched up a bit and squeezed everyone in. Ably MC’d by Ann Riordan and assisted by one of our gang, the night was one of good honest singing with food and drink liberally dispensed with much mirth and merriment.  It was a credit to Ann that everyone who wanted to perform had the opportunity and as is the way of good nights the time to sing ‘The Parting Glass’ came round much too soon.

The intention of the visits is not just to enjoy the singing but also for people to have time to wander off and discover more about this area around Dublin Bay.  As it was Friday, O’Donoghue’s called a number of our party and thanks to Jerry O’Reilly not only did they enjoy listening but one or two were asked to play and sing.  Treasured memories of the weekend were amassing.  After a meal overlooking Howth Harbour, fine food to accompany stunning scenery, we ambled back to town for a ‘House Ceilidh’ courtesy of Ann Riordan and Francy Devine.  Amongst the diners were Niamh Mac Neela and Liam O’Connor who were shortly to be married but we weren’t there to celebrate the nuptials, we were there to listen to their music. Two young but very talented fiddlers who were a joy to listen to but not only that, the breadth of their knowledge was immense and how Liam could effortlessly swap from one style of fiddling to another to demonstrate a point was tremendous.  More singing between tunes and a supper of Leicestershire cheeses and ale meant, as is usual on these visits that we got up and went to bed on different days.

The sun was shining and inviting everyone to explore on Saturday and after a breakfast people dispersed to do their own thing until early evening when we would meet up for a bite to eat before going to a sing in Bray Singing Circle that is run by George Henderson.  After one or two nominated singers, it was a jump-in session and although not the sort of thing that some of our party were accustomed to it went pretty smoothly.  The advantage was that a theme could develop and be pursued round the room.  Again a packed room with food, drink, laughter and song to speed us on towards midnight, when George announced that the visiting party should finish the night.  No second invitation was needed and the ‘Feral Choir’ hit the floor running with big chorus songs enough to shake the plaster off the walls.  The hour long journey back to Malahide sped by as we all re-lived yet another night of warmth and fellowship through song.  In fact the journey went that fast that we hadn’t finished reliving the whole night so we adjourned to the bar to make sure that were able to do just that.

During the planning of this weekend it had been suggested that we might like to visit Glasnevin Cemetery on the Sunday morning.  Now this needed a bit of explaining but it all became clear when the list of graves we were to visit also came with the names of the singers and the songs they were to sing here it is:

  Occupier Grave Song Performer
1 Peader Kearney sd36 Sergeant William Bailey Niamh Parsons
2 Maud Gonne td24 Sez She Luke Cheevers
3 Big Jim Larkin td38 Roll Away the Stone Manus O’Riordan
4 Margaret Burke Sheridan xd16 Marble Halls Seán Ó hArcáin
5 Frank Ryan rd22 Viva La Quinta Brigada Fergus Whelan
6 John Keegan Casey nc7 Rising of the Moon Laurence Bond
7 Brendan Behan va21 Auld Triangle Fergus Russell
8 Jimmy O’Dea mf57 Biddy Mulligan Luke Cheevers
9 Harry O’Donovan ai 160.5 Daffodil Mulligan Niamh Parsons
10 Zozimus ag30 Finding Moses Máire Ní Chróinín
11 James Joyce xd6.5 Song at Twilight Seán Ó hArcáin
12 New Angels Round Tower   The Soddin’ Ann Buckley
13 Charles Stewart Parnell plot Avondale Francy Devine
14 Charles Stewart Parnell plot Parnellites (Yeats) Manus O’Riordan
15 For deceased friends trees The Life of a Man Francy Devine

Some of the deceased will be known to you and some not and that is how it was with us, so it to Fergus Russell we must give thanks for researching and telling the history of each individual as we went round.  Included in their number were politicians, poets, music hall artists, singers, song-writers and political activists, a truly eclectic mix. But Fergus did have his reward, a conveniently placed pint of Guinness on the headstone of Brendan Behan that he consumed after singing ‘The Auld Triangle’.  A great many there were friends of Tom Crean who sadly left us recently and with the permission of his widow, Margaret, we paid our respects at his recently erected headstone, a poignant moment for many and Eugene McEldowney sang ‘The Holmfirth Anthem’.  We were just about done but there was one more grave to visit which was across the road in another part of the cemetery.  Jimmy Kelly led the way and on reaching the plot started to recount stories of his brother Luke and also to sing.  It was here that this most fascinating and memorable part of the weekend, for all of us, ended but not before the company joined in one or two farewell songs that were sung with much sincere feeling.  Fergus is a stalwart of An Góilín and it was to the Teachers’ Club, where that club is held, that we repaired for a farewell singing session.  Again, for some of our party on their first visit, it was an eye-opener to be in this elegant Georgian building on Parnell Square in the heart of Dublin. I don’t know if ably is the correct adjective to use of our MC, Luke Cheevers, perhaps I should say that Luke ran the session in his own inimitable way which was thoroughly entertaining! Such is the way of these things the time sped by and it was with fond farewells and promises of return visits and invitations to come over to England that we headed back to Malahide.  A quiet meal in the hotel on the Sunday evening and the inevitable but quieter sing rounded off yet another very, very memorable trip which re-affirmed old friendships, forged new ones and has us already starting  planning to welcome an Irish return visit.

A special heartfelt thank you to the Howth Singing Circle, Ann Riordan and Francy Devine for organising and co-ordinating everything over the weekend for without their hard graft the tour would not have been the resounding success it was.   We all raise a glass to you both

Our thanks to John & Sheila Bentham for organising their end of things and for this interesting report.

Bird Song Project

The Howth Singing Circle were ably represented at the Dublin Bird Song Project Concert at the National Library in Kildare Street by Eugene McEldowney and Niamh Parsons. Our own night in May, hosted by Anne & Niamh Parsons was a great night with innumerable references to avian creatures.


Eugene McEldowney singing in the National Library

Singing The Fishing

On Saturday, 18 July a goodly number gathered in the Sea Angling Club for our annual ‘Singing the Fishing’ session in aid of the Hospice and run, as usual, with the support of An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club. On the bridge for the afternoon were Brian Doyle and Máire Ní Chróinín and they steered the ship well through the welcoming and familiar waters of the Angling Club who, as ever, provided great hospitality and respectful service. Nearly forty people performed, with poets Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan adding their own, beautifully constructed verses to the occasion. Many made a great effort with the theme with Eddie Phillips – a man who can be relied upon to rise to the challenge of even the most obscure theme – leading off with ‘Away From the Roll of the Sea’. Laurence Bond paid homage to the legendary Sam Lerner fifty years after his death with ‘The Drowned Lover’; Gerry O’Connor sailed ‘South to Australia’; and Brian Doyle sang of ‘The Last of the Great Whales’. Jack Plunkett delivered a beautiful version of Archie Fisher’s ‘The Final Trawl’; Alan Woods – a welcome sight and sound – sang of ‘The Bold Fisherman’; Seán Ó hArcáin sang beautifully to the seals; and Tony Curtis did a grand job on ‘Lord Franklin’. For me, women’s voices impressed with some memorable renditions: Niamh Berry, ‘Lowlands of Holland’; Helen Diamond’s lovely version of the ‘The Sea Apprentice’; and Mary Murphy’s poignant presentation of ‘The Evelyn Marie’ which sank off Rathlin O’Byrne Island, Donegal in January, 1975. This was perhaps the song of the afternoon and fitting tribute to the six crew who lost their lives: Paddy Bonner, Roland Faughnan, Hughie Gallagher, Tom Ham, Johnny O’Donnell, and Joe O’Donnell.

All singers contributed to an afternoon of great quality: Aoife Caomhánach, Mick Caldwell, Fergus Carey, Luke Cheevers, Antoinette Daly, Mick Dunne, Barry Gleeson, Helen Lahert, Helen Lawlor, Willie Lawlor, Eugene McEldowney, Tony McGaley, Martina Nic Cearnaigh, Máire Ní Chróinín, Willie O’Connor, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, Ciarán Ó Maoléoin, Larry O’Toole, Angela Plunkett, Fergus Russell, and Maridhe Woods. We must not forget the listeners and special mention must be made of Mick and Maria Dunne’s three children who were an absolute credit to them and themselves, entertaining and delighting all.

We have forwarded the afternoon’s proceedings of €400 to St Francis Hospice, Raheny. Well done all concerned.

Maire plus


Brian Doyle, Máire Ní Chróinín & Luke Cheevers at Singing the Fishing

HSC Presents First World War Songs in National Museum

On 12 August, in a repeat of a presentation originally made for Dublin City Council in City Hall in 2014, the Howth Singing Circle – supported by singers from An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club – performed a programme of ‘Some Irish Songs & Poems of the First World War’. This presentation was done between performances of Anu Productions highly-acclaimed, all-action drama ‘Pals’. Contemporary songs from the Irish Worker and Workers’ Republic were augmented by Barry Gleeson singing Harry O’Donovan’s ‘Dublin Fusiliers’, Pete St John’s ‘Johnny McGory’ and Jack Judge’s ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’; Robert Kelly singing Cormac McConnell’s ‘A Silent Night (Christmas 1915)’ and Tom Smith’s ‘Blackbird of Slane’; Niamh Parsons singing Sam Starrett’s ‘John Condon’, and Fergus Russell singing ‘Because He Was Smarter Than Me’. Poems from Thomas Kettle, Francis Ledwidge, Winifred Letts, Katharine Tynan and W.B. Yeats were read by Anu Productions Bairbre Ní hAodha. Howth Singing Circlers will get an opportunity to see this show before the October monthly night in Howth.

WW1 group

Francy Devine, Niamh Parsons, Fergus Russell, Robert Kelly & Barry Gleeson at the National Museum of Ireland,

Collins Barracks (photograph, Paddy Daly)

Burns Nicht Brochures

A full set of our now celebrated Burns Nicht brochures, from 2009-2015, have been deposited in Howth Library’s Local History Section; the Irish Traditional Music Archive, Dublin; Linenhall Library, Belfast, which contains a large ‘Burns & Burnsania’ collection, www.linenhall.com/pages/burns-burnsania; Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen; and the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. The brochures have been critically acclaimed, not least for their gathering of information on Robert Burns and his, surprisingly many, Irish connections. Preparations for Howth Burns Nicht 2016 – when our Special Guests will be Dàimh – are well underway and if anyone would like to contribute articles or photographs for our brochure, please forward items to us.

Programme for Autumn-Winter 2015-2016

Note that all events are held on Thursdays in the Abbey Tavern

commencing at 9pm sharp unless otherwise stated.

3 September –   ‘Who Will Thrash the Corn Now? with Eugene McEldowney & Ann Riordan

1 October –    8pm, audio-visual presentation of ‘Songs & Poems of First World War’ with Francy

Devine, Luke Cheevers, Robert Kelly, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan & Fergus

Russell followed by singing session, ‘War & Peace’ from 9pm

15 October –    8pm Concert with Martyn Wyndham-Read & Gatehouse, tickets €10

5 November – presentation by Singer in Residence Ruth Clinton

19 NovemberDinner details to follow

10 December‘It Was the Holly …’ – Christmas Session with Special Guest Tim Dennehy

7 JanuaryLawrence Bond to lead night on theme to be announced

Saturday, 23 JanuaryBurns Nicht 2016 with Special Guests Dáimh, St Lawrence Howth Pipe

                                               Band & mony mair

Sunday, 24 January – 3-6, Fare Thee Weel Session, Sea Angling Club

4 FebruarySpecial Guest Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh

3 March – 8pm, illustrated presentation from Dónal Maguire on the ‘Songs of Michael Davitt’

followed by singing session, ‘Songs From the Land’ from 9pm

Micil Ned Quinn

The passing of Michael ‘Micil Ned’ Quinn on Sunday 31 May occasioned widespread grief among traditional musicians, singers and storytellers across Ireland and indeed around the world. Born in 1926 in the townland of Carricknagowna between Mullaghbawn and Belleek, South Armagh, Micil Ned was the eldest of John Ned and Alice Quinn‘s eight children. It was a musical house, noted throughout the district for tunes, songs, dancing and storytelling. John Ned had a great store of songs. Micil Ned began his working life as a hired farm worker and later worked for Newry Number Two Rural and the NI Housing Executive. With his wife Tessie (née Murchan) he moved to Mullaghbawn in 1966.

Micil Ned was ‘the lynchpin’ in the Ring of Gullion Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which he had helped found in 1975. He was also a founder of the Forkhill Singing Weekend and of the Stray Leaf Folk Club. He appeared to be known by every singer and musician in Ireland and walking with him up the main street in Miltown Malbay during the Willie Clancy Week was like accompanying the President as few passed him by without acknowledgement, warm greeting and exchange of tales. Progress to the intended destination could be slow but the delays memorable.

Micil Ned, with his son Miceál, was a guest of the Howth Singing Circle, as well as attending several others nights. He delighted audiences with songs and stories, the latter based on characters, events, phrases and sayings from his locality. Like the roads around Mullaghbawn, these stories seldom took a straight path to the point – although they always eventually got to their intended destination. This was story telling at its best. These tales were not book learned but evocations of Micil Ned’s youth, the rural culture of South Armagh and Down and North Louth. Audiences, of all ages, were spellbound and – no matter how many times they had heard the story before – left reeling with laughter. Few will ever butter their toast on the wrong side after receiving instruction from the master and, as to smuggling sausages from Dundalk to Newry, well the less said the better!