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:
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.
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’.
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:
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’.
You can watch the Prime Time programme or news item at
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Dancing the nicht awa at the 2020 Howth Burns Nicht
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’.
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
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)
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.
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’.
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
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.
MUI UNION CONTRIBUTION RATES
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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
– Workshop with Shona Donaldson, Abbey tavern, 11.30-1, €10
– Howth Burns Nicht 2019
Paul Anderson & Shona Donaldson Anderson
– Fare Thee Weel Session, Helen Lahert & Dave McCracken, Abbey
Tavern, 3-6, free
– Brenda Ní Ríordáin & Antoinette Daly, ‘Oiche Gaelach’, aoi speisialta
Éibhlis Ní Ríordáin
– Cathal Caulfield as Young Singer in Residence to present his Song Project
– Special Guest, Declan Hoey (Drogheda)
- ‘Songs for May Day’, Laurence Bond
– Helen Lahert
– ‘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
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, €
|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|
|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|
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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
New Series, no 8, March 2018
Howth Singing Circle Saoithe
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
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
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!
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.
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
- 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.
- 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’.
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.
- 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!’
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!
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.
- 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.
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
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
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
22 Fare Thee Weel Session in Howth Sea Angling Club
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;
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
Magairlin na Stuaice.
Dublin, November 3rd, 2015
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
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HOWTH BURNS NICHT 2017 –
Saturday, 21 January
with Special Guests from Scotland,
the SIOBHÁN MILLER BAND
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
New Series, no 3 – January 2016
Happy New Year
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.
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.
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.
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’.
It was recorded by Dick Gaughan in 1973, on the album ‘The Boys of the Lough’. 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’, 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 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). 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!
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.
7 January – Laurence Bond & Helen Lahert with ‘All The Flowers of the Forest’
Saturday, 23 January – ‘Twas 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 February– Stiofán 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 April – Niamh 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
Máire Ní Chróinín with Tim Dennehy and Christy Moore at the Martyn Wyndham-Read gig
 Dick Gaughan- on the 1st Boys of the Lough LP, Leader Records : Trailer LER 2086: 1973; now on CD LER CD 2082: 2004.
 ‘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.
 Jane Turriff: ‘Singin’ is Ma Life’: Springtime Records SPRCD 1038: 1995.
The SWEET NIGHTINGALE
New Series, Number 2, October 2015
‘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.
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:
|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.
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.
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 November – Dinner details to follow
10 December – ‘It Was the Holly …’ – Christmas Session with Special Guest Tim Dennehy
7 January – Lawrence Bond to lead night on theme to be announced
Saturday, 23 January – 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 February– 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
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!
Micil Ned Quinn
Micil Ned was always immaculately dressed, starch white shirt and tie, his hair brushed neatly back. As he rose, his eyes twinkling with an intoxicating mixture of divilment and joy, an air of expectation settled over whatever company he was performing to. And he was a true performer. He never disappointed with song or story or both. There was always a sense – and perhaps as he reached his eighties – an increasing sense, that what was being witnessed was unique. He dipped into the bran bucket of his repertoire and fetched out a handful of lore and legend, pathos and humour, recalling the characters and customs long gone and not to return. Fortunately, many videos and recordings of his songs and stories can be treasured on the Na Píobairí Uilleann – see http://pipers.ie/source/media/?mediaId=21648&galleryId=775 and http://pipers.ie/source/media/?mediaId=21651 – and ITMA sites – see ‘The Man That Shot the Dog’, http://www.itma.ie/inishowen/singer/mick-quinn
Micil Ned was predeceased by his wife Tessie. The Howth Singing Circle extends its deepest sympathies to his children Pauline Mulligan, John, Catherine Rice, Miceál and Fiona McVerry, his grandchildren, brothers Seán and Eamonn, sisters Nancy and Brigid, and his wider family. One of his favourite songs was ‘Craigie Hill’ and this short appreciation concludes with the lyrics of that song.
It being in the springtime and the small birds they were singing,
Down by yon shady harbour I carelessly did stray,
The thrushes they were warbling,
The violets they were charming
To view fond lovers talking, a while I did delay.
She said, ‘My dear don’t leave me all for another season,
Though fortune does be pleasing I ‘ll go along with you,
I ‘ll forsake friends and relations and bid this Irish nation,
And to the bonny Bann banks forever I ‘ll bid adieu’.
He said, ‘My dear don’t grieve or yet annoy my patience,
You know I love you dearly the more I’m going away,
I’m going to a foreign nation to purchase a plantation,
To comfort us hereafter all in Amerikay’.
‘Then after a short while a fortune does be pleasing,
T’will cause them for smile at our late going away,
We’ll be happy as Queen Victoria, all in her greatest glory,
We’ll be drinking wine and porter all in Amerikay’.
If you were in your bed lying and thinking on dying,
The sight of the lovely Bann banks, your sorrow you’d give o’er,
Or if were down one hour, down in yon shady bower,
Pleasure would surround you, you’d think on death no more.
Then fare you well, sweet Cragie Hills, where often times I’ve roved,
I never thought my childhood days I’d part you any more,
Now we’re sailing on the ocean for honour and promotion,
And the bonny boats are sailing, way down by Doorin shore.
The singer and musician Alistair ‘Al’ O’Donnell sadly passed away on 3 September in St Colman’s Hospital, Rathdrum, County Wicklow. His death was mourned by a deeply appreciative traditional music world. Alistair Noel O’Donnell was born on 8 December, 1943 to a Geordie father with Donegal roots and a mother from Dumfries, Scotland. The family migrated to Grantham, Lincolnshire from Harold’s Cross, Dublin, when Al was young. He studied at Nottingham College of Art where he became lifelong friends with another Al, the respected English folk singer Alan Atkinson. O’Donnell quickly became a widely-respected performer in the burgeoning clubs of the Folk Song Revival, uniquely marrying English, Scots and Irish material. He performed with Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, Martin Carthy, Ray and Archie Fisher, Humberside’s The Watersons and Belfast’s McPeake Family. He appeared at leading folk clubs – his home club ‘The Co-op’ in Nottingham – and festivals, becoming a highly-acclaimed and much-loved artists.
O’Donnell issued two now iconic LPs, both produced by Bill Leader. The first, Al O’Donnell (Leader Records, LER 2073, 1972), contained what were to become highly influential and oft imitated versions of some classic material: ‘Avondale’, ‘Streets of Derry’, ‘Lord Inchiquin’, ‘Larry’, ‘Maid on the Mountain’, ‘The Green Linnet’, ‘Ramble Away’, ‘Matt Hyland’, ‘Crooked Jack’, ‘Cuilin’, ‘Me Tune’, ‘James Connolly’ and ‘Ned of the Hill’. Al O’Donnell 2 came in 1978 (Transatlantic/Logo, LTRA 501) with more great renditions: ‘The Granemore Hare’, ‘Bonny Woodhall’, ‘Sliabh na mBan’, ‘The Connerys’, ‘An Bunnan Buídhe’, ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’, ‘Dónal Óg’, ‘Lord Abore & Mary Flynn’ and ‘The Madman’. O’Donnell’s interpretations became definitive and influenced subsequent treatments by acclaimed bands like Steeleye Span.
Returning to Ireland, O’Donnell’s family commitments saw him largely withdraw from performing as – from 1969-2003 – he worked as a graphic artist in RTÉ. As his family grew and time permitted, he returned to public performance and issued the double CD Ramble Away in 2008. This was a mixture of old and new material, some composed by himself: ‘Streets of Derry’, ‘One Morning in May’, ‘Raglan Road’, ‘Ramble Away’, ‘What Put the Blood?’, ‘Grey Funnel Line’, ‘Banks of Sicily’, ‘Wicklowmen of 98’, ‘Callin’ on Song’, ‘Sammy’s Bar’, ‘The Night Visiting Song’, ‘Avondale’, ‘Jock o Hazeldine’, ‘Bunnan Buí’, ‘Streets of Derry’, ‘Dónal Óg’, ‘Forgive Me Quick’, ‘Matt Hyland’, ‘James Connolly’, ‘Going to the West’, ‘The Night Visiting Song’, ‘Sammy’s Bar’ and ‘The Connery Brothers’. For those unfamiliar with his work, a trawl of YouTube is highly rewarding: see ‘Sammy’s Bar’, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhllhvfp46I
In tracking traditional singing, O’Donnell can be overlooked. The path tends to follow the Clancy Brothers and Dubliners, Luke Kelly and on to Christy Moore. O’Donnell was, however, a hugely influential contemporary of all these artists and forged extensive connections with Scots and English performers, collectors and enthusiasts. Few can claim not to have been influenced by O’Donnell’s guitar style, tuning and melodic interpretation. His ‘Avondale’ or Cyril Tawney’s anthems ‘Sammy’s Bar’ and ‘Grey Funnel Line’ are the versions first brought to mind. In 2010, O’Donnell joined the Dubliners on tour in Germany, a time when he made a number of well-received appearances in The Cobblestone.
Al O’Donnell was the Howth Singing Circle’s guest way back in the Pier House days. He proved a lasting friend, a constant encourager, a generous sharer of songs and their provenance, a performer who never disappointed. He was, in every sense, great company, kind and welcoming. He could be feisty when moved to complaint – usually over some social injustice or maltreatment of a fellow artist. His musical interests stretched well beyond traditional folk music and his compositions – like ‘Westmoreland Jane’ – merit a wider audience.
Al O’Donnell was a major figure in traditional singing and his loss is acutely felt. The Howth Singing Circle extends its sincere condolences to Al’s wife June and their children Ruán, Conor and Melissa and their extended families. Here’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line, Al.
Tom Crean, Al O’Donnell & Francy Devine in the Pier House (photograph Paddy Daly)
The HSC Committee is Lawrence Bond, Paddy Daly, Francy Devine, Brian Dunne, Gerry O’Connor, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan & Fergus Russell. Feel free to forward any suggestions or ideas you may have about improving our Club to any of the Committee or contact us through Facebook or website.
The Sweet Nightingale welcomes articles, reviews, images or other material from any Club members.
Memories of Fiddle Bus Twa
Top, l-r: Liam O’Connor with Pat McAndrew, son of the legendary fiddler Hector McAndrew; Paul Anderson; Fiddle Bus Piper Matt Milne; and Gerry O’Connor at Cambus O’ May;
middle, l-r, Mick O’Connor, John Kelly, Michael Tubridy, Iain Murray, James Littlejohn, Liam O’Connor & Paul Anderson at Scot Skinner’s grave, Aberdeen; Michael Tubridy, Séamus Glackin, Mick O’Connor and John Kelly at the memorial to The Tarland Minstrel, Peter Milne;
bottom, l-r, Breton dancing as Charlie Le Brun plays at concert in Hall, Tarland; and Shona & Paul Anderson welcoming us aboard Fiddle Bus Twa (Photographs Mick O’Connor & Francy Devine)
Fit a braw day wis had by aa!
The SWEET NIGHTINGALE
Newsletter of the Howth Singing Circle
Some years ago, the HSC produced an occasional newsletter, The Sweet Nightingale. The title was inspired by one of Brendan ‘Bull’ Moore’s favourites, his combination of two versions of ‘The Nightingale’. If HSC folk would like to see The Sweet Nightingale return – probably presented electronically and on the web page – please let us know and send in material – photographs, stories, reviews, notices – for consideration.
2014: Quite a Year
The Howth Singing Circle had quite a year in 2014. Our monthly sessions were:
January, Brian Doyle & Walter Kennedy, ‘New Beginnings’
February, Helen Lahert & Ann Riordan with guest Rosie Stewart
March, Tony Fitzpatrick & Brendan Kennedy, ‘The Rolling Wave’
April, Francy Devine & Theo Dorgan, ‘If Ever You Go’
May, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, ‘In the Merry Month of May’
June, Ruth Clinton & Alan Woods, ‘Her Women’s Hearts Ne’er Waver’
July, ‘Singing the Fishing’, the annual session in support of St Franis Hospice, Raheny
September, an Open Session led by Xxxx and Xxxx
October, ‘Liffey & Lagan’ a night hosted by Niamh Parsons to welcome Belfast Singing
November, Special Night with Ann Riordan introducing Alan McLeod’s video study of
Howth fishermen’s superstitions, Perils & Pearls, which featured Club regulars Jack
Daly & Willie O’Connor
December, Special Guest Len Graham
Burns Nicht 2014
Our Burns Nicht – hopefully entitles Seo an Latha – Noo is the Day [our hopes were dashed in Scotland’s September referendum] – was graced by the wonderful harpist Laoise Kelly and two beautiful singers from South Uist, the incomparable Kathleen MacInnes and Sineag MacIntyre. Many considered it the best Burns Nicht yet. Pipe Major Noel Kelly and the St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band added their usual colour, excitement and ‘something special’ as they piped the haggis in to be addressed by Morag Dunbar. Jerry O’Reilly conducted the dancing and John Kelly, Packie Doran, Bernie Murphy and Mick Mullen played great tunes, being unexpectedly joined by Mick & Liam O’Connor.
A couple of weeks later the ‘Gig For Figs’ was a memorable night. Damien Dempsey was superb, playing for well over an hour, his sheer physicality, essential truth and compelling voice winning a packed hall over. He was admirably supported by John Blake (guitar), Seán McKeon (pipes), Liam O’Connor (fiddle), Mick OConnor (flute); Niamh Parsons; Michael Howard; and singers from the floor, notably Antoinette Daly. As in Aqua and the Burns Nicht, Jimmy Good insured the sound was excellent.
Mickey McKenna Weekend, Trim
In March, the Club were well represented by Luke Cheevers, Mick Dunne, Siobhán Moore, Máire Ní Chróinín and Fergus Russell at the Mickey McKenna Weekend in Trim. We will be invited back. Mickey attended the very early sessions of the HSC in the Pier House and played regularly at many weekly Howth sessions.
The Fiddle Bus
In April, the Fiddle Bus proved to be an amazing day. We started by performing in the Sutton Methodist Church Singathon for St Francis Hospice, organised by Ian Maxwell, that raised over €3,500. Countless hours of rehearsal under Ann Riordan paid off and we have been invited back next year! Then the Fiddle Bus set out for Beck’s Dowlings in Cushenstown, Garristown where tribute was paid to the late Joe Ryan by his friend Jim McArdle from Drogheda and John Kellly. Paul Anderson, one of our special Scots guests, demonstrated the North-East fiddle style. And so it continued in Naul where Liam O’Connor and Rónán Galvin spoke of Séamus Ennis and the Centre fed us well. We finished in Yankee O’Connell’s on a magical and mystical Hill of Skryne where John McEvoy talked of the Sligo-Leitrim-Roscommon styles; Paul Bradley played a Highland, Donegal version of a Scots tune played by Paul Anderson; Rónán Galvin and Rab Cherry talked of the Donegal Fiddle Project. Ann Riordan organised the logistics of putting Paul Anderson’s idea into effect and the HSC is very grateful to John Kelly and Liam O’Connor who enticed so many fantastic musicians onto the Bus. Matt Milne piped us in and out every venue and deserves a special mention – but then so do all those who travelled, played, sang or listened, and contributed to a very memorable day. There will undoubtedly be another Fiddle Bus.
A wonderful finale in Yankee O’Connell’s, Skryne, with, l-r: John McEvoy, Deirdre Madden, Paddy Daly, Jacinta McEvoy, Joe Farrington,. Liam O’Connor, Rónán Galvin, Terry Brogan and Niamh MacNeela
Singer in Residence
The HSC appointed a Young Singer in Residence for 2014 – our own Ruth Clinton. We are very proud of Ruth as a singer and as part of the four-member Landless, whose recently released recording has been a wow. Ruth’s brief was to research three/four original songs which she has chosen to do under the general title of ‘Her Women’s Hearts Ne’er Waver’. Her chosen songs are written pre-1950, by or about women but with no romantic content. She sang two of them at the June session, providing detailed biographical information on the women who wrote them as well as the provenance and context of the songs.
After the summer, will be commencing some teaching of traditional songs to pupils in Scoil Mhuire. The intention is to introduce youngsters to singing as a pleasure and as something, hopefully, they can engage in throughout their lives. Everyone was most impressed by Ruth’s diligence and originality, not to mention her beautiful singing of her chosen songs.
Singing the Fishing, the Blessing of the Boats & City Hall
In addition to the usual ‘Singing the Fishing’ in July – those attending contributing most generously to the Hospice – Luke Cheevers, Tony Fitzpatrick, Barry Gleeson and Fergus Russell led shanties on the Pier in August for the Blessing of the Boats. In November, Howth regulars Luke Cheevers, Barry Gleeson, Robert Kelly and Niamh Parsons enchanted a backed Dublin Council Chamber in City Hall with Poems & Songs of World War One.
Barry Gleeson, Wiilie O’Connor, Tony Fitzpatrick & Barbara Moore at the Lives Lost at Sea Memorial; and Fergus Russell, Neil Vincent Strunks, Luke Cheevers, Barry, Willie, Tony, Helen Lahert, Barbara, Ann Riordan and Paddy Daly singing a rousing finale at the Blessing of the Boats
In November, our Dinner Dance, splendidly organised by Ann Riordan and Finola Young, featured our talented young guests Éoghan Ó Ceannabháin and Saileog Ní Cheannabháin. It was held in the King Sitric and, although slightly smaller than recently, there was some very fine singing to support the beautiful music. Has the Dinner Dance served its purpose? Would people like it to continue? Please make suggestions to us.
Saileog and Eoghan playing superbly and the speed of foot deceiving eye and camera – Paddy & Antoinette, Finola & Willie
Howth Singing Circle Finances
At each monthly meeting of the Howth Singing Circle, we ask for a voluntary contribution of €4. Where does your money go? Running the monthly programme and additional special events – like the Burns Nicht, Dinner Dance and Voice Squad/The Drole concert – is expensive. We have a minimum cost of room hire, although this now includes the sandwiches. Since September 2014, our income has been [including a balance carried over from last year] €12,488.52 – a figure that might surprise but is mostly explained by ticket sales for the Burns Nicht €3,300; Voice Squad night, €2,590; and charges for the Dinner Dance in the King Sitric, €1,085. The monthly income has been: September, €108; October, €157; November, €140; Decermber, €145; January, €135; February, €135; and March, €135.
Our expenditure has been €10,263.43. This included the Gaza Appeal, €1,786 which we accounted through the HSC; St Francis Hospice, €300; Abbey Tavern, €1,150 [mostly for the Burns Nicht]; King Sitric, €1,162; and sound hire, €350. The major item has been fees for guests of €4,050. There have been other charges for web maintenance, postage and stationery, bank and our Singer in Residence project.
We have always believed in explaining where your €4 goes to – along with the tickets you purchase for Burns Nicht and other special events. The HSC receives no funding from any source and no sponsorship and never has. Since our formation over thirteen years ago we have operated entirely from within our own resources.
Fergus Russell CD, Landless and Free
Landless and Free is an unaccompanied and much awaited song album by the popular Fergus Russell, a stalwart of An Góilín and HSC. While it does not contain some ‘audience favourites’, for example Bonny Light Horseman or Andy’s Gone for Cattle, he here presents new songs he has written, alongside old ‘lost on the page’ forgotten ones. In taking the ‘archaeologist’s route’ [his words] to these lost gems, he has meticulously researched in libraries and, duly resurrected, adapted them to known airs, or set to one of his own. For Fergus clearly feels old and new songs ‘forged in the smithy’ of researching, writing and adapting should in this case come first. So, his signature is all over this unusual recording in every sense.
And now for the songs: marital bliss or mayhem is catered for in Paudeen O’Rafferty and Fifty Shades; the ‘demon drink’ in The Rise of Porter, ‘Tis Whiskey I Adore, and The Glass of Whiskey; and Music Hall-type song, with suitable sing-along choruses, in Pat Rainey, Pretty Little Dear, Peter Grey, and the aforementioned Rise of Porter. There is real Dublin character in some of these – Rags Upon the Poddle and Larry Doolan also spring to mind, with Fergus’ good humour spiced with an acerbic wit. Indeed, these are reminiscent of the songs of Zozimus.
Is there a favourite or an outstanding choice? There are two of them here – The Dunghill Boy and Lord Landless, both much darker than those above. The former I felt was exceptional when sharing the ‘Wild Bees Nest Project’ of new ‘traditional’ song-writing with Fergus and other singers some years ago. It tells of the savage treatment meted out to a young man being sent for transportation to Australia. At six minutes it tests the mettle of any singer, but Fergus handles this with consummate ease. Lord Landless is strange and haunting, contains a riddle, and has attracted interest in singing circles both here and abroad.
To sum up, the research is exemplary, sourced from the Bodleian and Trinity libraries among others, along with the Irish Traditional Music Archive and National Library of Ireland facilities, and suitably cross-referenced. The sleeve notes contain all the lyrics- a welcome feature for singers to learn a whole new range of songs, some already coming into the Tradition. Background to the research is also given prior to each set of lyrics, and some beautiful illustrations accompany these notes. This is an important album. All in all, a deeply felt statement in song, powerfully delivered in a unique style.
[Mick Fowler is a well-known and highly respected singer and song writer, long associated with An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club. His carol ‘All Hail, All Hail’ has been adopted as the HSC Christmas carol.]
My Father Told Me
My Father Told Me is an album of song performed by Francy Devine, A capella in style, it has a variety of strings, drones and reed accompaniment that warms the vocals and accents the melodies with delicacy. Devine’s songs are a tableau of pre-employment agreements-trade unionism, when the most arduous and exploitative of work could be celebrated, as in Ewan MacColl’s My Old Man (‘In the stinking heat of the iron foundry, My old man was made’), and the employers were the enemy, deserving that striking workers ‘dared to fling a manly brick’ or ‘wreck a blackleg tram’. Colours are nailed to the mast, the Red Flag waved proudly in an era where austerity has people on the streets against excessive taxation.
Ireland, Scotland and England are didactic reference points as regards common struggle, with a sprinkle of solid ballads ibn both Scots and Irish styles. Geordie MacIntyre’s magnificent Gulabeinn set to a shruti box drone is a surprising, but apt, centrepiece to the album, a lament yes, but an uplifting tribute to the foundation work in the Scottish Traditional Music revival, celebrating the Scottish song collector and cultural activist Hamish Henderson.
Devine’s singing on the eighteen tracks is tremendous, his versions, care and articulation rendering what seems familiar quite unique. His established contribution to setting period lyrics (with Fergus Russell on the 1913 Lockout repertoire) stands to him on the wonderful Stand Like the Brave, and – in the Irish rather than the ‘International-Folk’ tradition – all songs are in the singer’s own accent, an exception being Banks O Reid Roses in Scots, his father’s tongue.
Sam Hall envelops a tremendous solidity with choral vocals and poignant bombarde, while Bonnie Wood Green has a most comprehensive backing on fiddle and guitar, powerfully lifting the song yet not interfering with Devine’s command, and effortless glottal line-ends. This piece references a Ballymena linen-mill, interpreting industrial employment as somewhat romantic on contrast to military life, the other option for nineteenth century males. So too does The Recruited Collier, albeit in lament style, both songs underlining the poles of working life in the empire-building century of expendable lives: physical hardship and death, the gap between coloured courageously by imagination and revolts, hope, love, song and music,.
This album is a terrific celebration of that space and of the art of the ballad.
[Fintan Vallely is a musician and writer on traditional music and editor of The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, imusic.ie. The review is re-published from Sound Post, the MUI Newsletter]
Website, Facebook & E Mail
All those interested in the HSC should note our new web page – https://howthsingingcircle.com/ Designed by Graham Dunne, it is managed by Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan. The webpage carries notice of events and much more besides, including the beginnings of the Howth Singing Circle Archive.
You can also follow HSC happenings our two Facebook pages which carry news of events and lots of photographs. If you wish to contact us our e-mail address is email@example.com
Let Us Know What You Think
The HSC is always interested in hearing from those of you who come on a regular basis. We appreciate constructive ideas as to how we can further improve and develop the Club, suggestions for guests, volunteers to run the nights or ideas for themes. You can contact or send material to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Your HSC Committee is Paddy Daly, Francy Devine, Brian Doyle, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Stiofáin Ó hAoláin, Niamh Parsons, Fergus Russell, and Ann Riordan.
Mick O’Connor, Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh, Bernie Murphy, Packie Doran, John Kelly & Mick Mullen in full swing; and our main guests Laoise Kelly, Sineag MacIntyre and Kathleen MacInnes at Burns Nicht 2014
Damien Dempsey storming The Gig For Figs – and Niamh Parsons, Francy Devine and Damien singing us out