Sweet Nightingale

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

Here is the latest: The Sweet Nightingale – April 2017

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 6, April 2017

Saoithe Paddy Daly & Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh

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


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


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

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

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


Howth-Sutton-Baldoyle 1916 Commemoration

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


Christmas Night

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


A Watery New Year!

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


Burns Nicht 2017

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Thank you again to everyone for your support.


Muhammad al-Hussaini

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


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












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

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

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






March of Many Weathers

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

Dublin Bay Prawn Festival

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





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

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


‘Mere Carriers of the Precious Urn’

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


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

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

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

  1. Cathal McConnell

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

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

  1. David Hammond

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

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

  1. Inishowen

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

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

  1. Eddie Butcher

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

  1. Clare

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

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

  1. Mullaghbawn/Forkhill

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Frank Harte

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

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

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

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

Mick Fowler

November-January, 2016/2017

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


Kathleen MacInnes, Paul Anderson, South Uist & Lochnagar

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

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


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

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

Gazing at Lochnagar

for Hector & Roderick Anderson


Glimpsed atween pine stand and iron byre,

residual snows chalk charcoal Lochnagar,

otherwise invisible in the wee hours pitch.

A blue hare melted into shadow, momentarily held

in the track, mesmerised by melodic fiddle tune,

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

howe, seeking a cure for fretful insomnia.


As the music faded on a soporific breeze,

rowan and juniper crept out from the night,

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

and an oystercatcher’s piping alarm betrayed

opportunist fox slithering through the darkness.

We stood, scenting early ling, bright vanilla whin,

watching the mountain come and go.


We had an intense, silent conversation –

music and weans, blackcock and weasel,

Scotland and Ireland, the moment’s significance,

pure and binding, a joyous gift to be savoured.

Turning back to the house, we could not resist

a last respect to the mountain and I asked for

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


Through shut eyes, I saw everything: your bowing

style, determined stance and powerful, gentle strength.

The black void paid its respects with a deep silence,

roosting crossbills ceasing their reassuring twitter,

Lochnagar disappearing to avoid any unnecessary

distraction, anything that would take from the tune.


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

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

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

Fiddle Bus Fower & Young Singer in Residence 2

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


Programme until September

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 September – Tom Finn and Comic Songs

Thank You

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

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





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

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


The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 5, November 2016

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

Programme for the Season

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

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

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

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

               Ní Chróinín

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

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

with Special Guests Siobhán Miller

and St Lawrence Howth

               Pipe Band

22 Fare Thee Weel Session in Howth Sea Angling Club

Jack Barron

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

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


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


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

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

One Voice ?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Songs of Water

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

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

 Chorus (after each verse):

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

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

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

‘Sing Now the Lusty Song of Fruit & Flowers’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betwixt & Between

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

Fiddle Bus 4

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

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

1916 in Howth, Sutton, Baldoyle

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

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

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

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

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

Mícheál Mac Donncha

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

James Connolly’s Under Which Flag? in Liberty Hall

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

Down By the Liffeyside – City Hall Lunchtime Lectures

– And the Ha’penny Bridge

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














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

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

On Inis Meáin – Poems From Mick Fowler

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

On Inis Meáin

 (for Fergus Russell)

I.   Stone Bramble

Passing abundant Oxeye daisy

– Leucanthemum Vulgare, Nóinín Mór –

On the roadside by Dún Fearbhaí

On Inis Meáin in Aran

A glint catches my eye – Stone Bramble,

With leaves like strawberry leaves

Sparkles in the sunshine

It’s ruby red sacks in rich clusters

Of juicy red fruits, ripening in late Summer

– Rubus Saxatilis, Sú na mBan Mín .

II.    Six-Spot Burnet

Crossing a grey-stone wall

At a stile on our walk

And on the stile I spy

A Six-Spot Burnet moth

Delicate, fragile, yet rugged beauty;

Minutes later

On a stone chair as we rest-

An Icumen Fly

With stick-like tail as a scorpions,

Fergus informs me,

Used for boring into trees.

And the tough Burren flora

   Weave aquiver in limestone pools

Dublin, November 2nd, 2015

III. Pyramidal Orchid

He had taught me the name

             Of the Moth on the stile

And also the part of the Fly

             Used for boring into a tree.

But as we tread his two small fields

             The site for his house on Inis Meain

Among the meadow to be kept untouched

             I spot an Orchid he had missed before

The Pyramidal Orchid

               Carmine purple in shadow

Anacamptis Pyramidalis

                 Magairlin na Stuaice.

Dublin, November 3rd, 2015

Buíochas Mór

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





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

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


Thank you for supporting the Howth Singing Circle

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



Saturday, 21 January

with Special Guests from Scotland,




The Sweet Nightingale June 2016


The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 4, May 2016


President Willie D.

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



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

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

New Version of HSC Logo

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



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

‘Twas in Sweet Senegal – Burns Nicht 2016

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

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

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


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

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

67The real stars of this and every Burns Nicht – yersels

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



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

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

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

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


Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh

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

9Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh, Stiofán Ó hAoláin agus Liam Ó Droma

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


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


A Forgotten Hero? Michael Davitt

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

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

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

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


Davitt & Maguire

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


 Pádraig Ó Conaill

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

Marbhna Phádraig

le Seán Ó Meara

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

Deis dúinn ‘slán leat’ a rá?

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

Ach deire ár scéil le céile sa saol seo

Idir cheol, bhéarsaíocht is craic,

Béaloideas Chiarraí gur mhian leat a roinnt linn;

Bhí an teach solais múchta gan fhios ag na báid

Nó fiu coinneall Nollag fágtha i bhfuinneoig

Chun tú a sheoladh thar teorainn an bháis;

Tá an Seanchaí imithe uainn,

An droighneán scratha ós na fréamhacha

Is na síoga, scaipthe go deo.

Crann beithe ina cholgsheasamh, ceann san aer

B’sin an Conalach grinnsúileach caoin;

Na cosa ag bogluascadh le port nó ríl

Srón iolarach árd an ghliaire spóirt,

Briathra á scaipeadh mar duilliúr fomhair

I gcanúint ceolmhar Deiscirt Chiarraí;

An bród a choimeád beo thú, a Phádraig,

Ach cá rabhamar, nach bhfaca lomadh na ngéag?

Bhíomar báite sa seanchas is draíocht an scéalaí!

Nuair a scríobh tú marbhna an Chláirínigh dhil

Ní raibh súil agat bheith á leanadh gan mboill

Tú fhéin is Jimmy Smyth i bhFlaitheas na nGael

Is bhúrmbeirt le céeile in ndichuimhne rainn.

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


Ruth Clinton, This Fearless Maid

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

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

12Ruth Edited

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

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

John Bentham


Kind Providence: New CD from Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne

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

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


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

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

John Bentham, Tigerfolk Traditional Folk Club, Long Eaton


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

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

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

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

14Councillor Dave O’Connor, Mayor of Fingal, launching Luke’s CD in Howth with Niamh Parsons and Ann Riordan

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

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

Mick Fowler


Phil Callery’s Challenge

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

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

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

Sunday Mornings in Carbery’s

do Chaitlín Bean UíCairbré

She lay last in the dark bar,

still commanding order,

spiriting invisible pints

as reward for silk-spun airs,

listening for godwits in the night,

wrens singing among stones.


Fiddlers came from

hardy country beyond Collon,

flutes from Cooley Fell and Termonfeckin,

songs floated down from Mullagbawn

and there was, somehow,

a Yellowbatter bouzouki:

Wally Murphy stirred himself

from under the clock

and Tom O’Sullivan effortlessly squeezed

a set of tunes lilted in every parish in Louth –

‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg agus Ruaille-Buaille’;

Cloistered harmonies tumbled down

from Sunday’s Gate and Fran McPhail led

two foolish youths in praise of fine ale,

holly berries and bonnie Irish maids:

it was any Sunday morning,

and every Sunday morning.


You sat besdie Darach Ó Catháin –

ag choinneáil ceol –

black and red the two of you,

a fluttering standard of language and lore.

Nic Jones berthed his creaking austral whaler,

huddled around that little pot stove,

you serving fresh penguin eggs as treat.

Out the hard, gangs of excited youngsters

madly peddled Usher’s sad treadles,

hide and chased, darting in and out

for more crisps, fizzy drinks

and hopes that sense might

strike their elder care.


We all passed this way,

string, reed and goatskin,

seán-nós and nasal crooner,

lost-head lovers and otherwise dull,

habitual couples, quiet corner hides

just listening with nodding beams,

and that fellah would always stand

to be constantly hit

by the inner half-door;

occasionally dogs borne of curiosity

dropped in and once a robin,

lost but soothed,

perched on high trying to figure

silver, cigarette-paper stalactites.


And here we pass again,

Gerry Cullen singing true

‘The Parting Glass’,

seeing your shroud as weft from

from our memories, times and faces,

melodic phrases and poetic mysteries,

each thread snagged some Sunday morning

but all woven on your secret loom

to a pattern

rich your own.

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






Phil Callery, the fiddle player and Bean UíCairbré’s

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

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

Francy Devine


Sea Shanties at the Prawn Festival

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

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



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



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

Fidil Bus a Trí

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

HSC Singers at Various Events

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



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


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


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







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




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


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

in all its various activities.



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



The Sweet Nightingale January 2016

The Sweet Nightingale

New Series, no 3 – January 2016

Happy New Year

no 1


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


This Fearless Maid

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


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


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

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


Martin Wyndham-Read


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

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


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

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


Shanties for Friends of Howth Maritime Museum

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


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

Passion For A Song

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

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

The Song and the Story

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

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

The Singer

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

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


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




Jane Turriff

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

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

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

‘Singin is ma life’-

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


on ‘Mill of Tifty’s Annie’-

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

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

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

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

‘The Singin’ of it’

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

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

Mick Fowler

Andrew Lammie

At Mill o’ Tifty lived a man,

In the neighbourhood of Fyvie:

And he had a lovely daughter fair

Was called bonny Annie.

Lord Fyvie had a trumpeter

And his name was Andrew Lammie,

And he had the art to win the heart

O’ Mill o’ Tifty’s Annie.

Her mother called her to the door,

‘Come here to me, my Annie.

Did e’er ye see a fairer man

Than the trumpeter o’ Fyvie?’

But at night when all were to their beds,

All slept full sound but Annie

For love oppressed her tender breast,

Thinking of Andrew Lammie.

For its love comes in at my bedside

And love lies down beside me;

Love has oppressed my tender breast

And love will waste my body.

It’s up and down in Tifty’s Glen

Where the burn runs clear and bonny,

I’ve often gang’d beneath my love

My ain dear Andrew Lammie.

He took himself to the hills so high

To the hilltops o’er Fyvie

And he blew his trumpet loud and shrill

’Twas heard at Mill o’Tifty.

‘My love I go tae Edinburgh town

And for a while must leave thee’

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

In the green kirk yard of Fyvie’.

But her father he struck her wondrous sore

And also did her mother

Her s sters also did her scorn

But woe be tae her brother.

Her brother struck her wondrous sore

With cruel strokes and many,

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

Aye the temple-stone o’Fyvie.

‘Oh mother dear go make my bed,

And lie my face tae Fyvie,

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

For the sake of Andrew Lammie.

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


St Lawrence Howth Pipe Band, East of Ireland Champions 2015


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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

Al Atkinson, 21 September, 2015


Francy on The Rolling Wave

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

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

Forthcoming Programme

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


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

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


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


4 FebruaryStiofán Ó hAoláin with Special Guest Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh


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

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


7 AprilNiamh Parsons with ‘Easter Snows’


28 April Malinky in Concert


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


2 June – Brian Doyle with theme to be announced


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


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

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

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

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







Sweet Nightingale September 2015



New Series, Number 2, October 2015

me and himself

De som vill sjunga alltid hitta en låt

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

Robert Kelly’s Wheel


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

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


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

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





Who Will Thrash the Corn Now?

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


Ann Riordan & the winner of the Harvest Basket Tony McGaley

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


Visit From Tiger, Poppy & Grand Union Folk Clubs

In April, Howth Singing Circle again hosted singers from the English East Midlands, representing the Tigerfolk Traditional Folk Club, Long Eaton, Derbyshire; Poppy Folk Club, Nottingham; and Grand Union Folk Club, Barrow-on-Soar, Leicestershire. For those interested, these clubs can be followed at http://tigerfolk.com; www.poppyfolkclub.co.uk; and http://guf.org.uk. In the Tigerfolk newsletter, Tatters, John Bentham recorded his reflections on their time in Ireland.

I know it is tempting fate but every time we go over to Ireland the weather is kind and so it was in April when a group of us went across for a cracker of a weekends singing.  Whilst waiting for the party to assemble on the Thursday evening, one or two were looking out from the hotel across the estuary at Malahide and you could have been in the South of France, it was stunningly beautiful in the early evening sunlight. We all felt it was a good omen (apart from those who were stranded at the airport back in England!).  Decisions were made and half the party set off for the sing and another car waited for the later arrivals.

That evening we were in the company of the Howth Singing Circle in their new venue, the Abbey Tavern.  Famed for recordings of Irish group and singers over many decades and now home to Burns Nicht celebrations, numerous concerts and the Singing Circle, we were welcomed with open arms by old friends and new acquaintances alike. When our second car arrived everyone got to know each other a little better as, sardine style, we all hotched up a bit and squeezed everyone in. Ably MC’d by Ann Riordan and assisted by one of our gang, the night was one of good honest singing with food and drink liberally dispensed with much mirth and merriment.  It was a credit to Ann that everyone who wanted to perform had the opportunity and as is the way of good nights the time to sing ‘The Parting Glass’ came round much too soon.

The intention of the visits is not just to enjoy the singing but also for people to have time to wander off and discover more about this area around Dublin Bay.  As it was Friday, O’Donoghue’s called a number of our party and thanks to Jerry O’Reilly not only did they enjoy listening but one or two were asked to play and sing.  Treasured memories of the weekend were amassing.  After a meal overlooking Howth Harbour, fine food to accompany stunning scenery, we ambled back to town for a ‘House Ceilidh’ courtesy of Ann Riordan and Francy Devine.  Amongst the diners were Niamh Mac Neela and Liam O’Connor who were shortly to be married but we weren’t there to celebrate the nuptials, we were there to listen to their music. Two young but very talented fiddlers who were a joy to listen to but not only that, the breadth of their knowledge was immense and how Liam could effortlessly swap from one style of fiddling to another to demonstrate a point was tremendous.  More singing between tunes and a supper of Leicestershire cheeses and ale meant, as is usual on these visits that we got up and went to bed on different days.

The sun was shining and inviting everyone to explore on Saturday and after a breakfast people dispersed to do their own thing until early evening when we would meet up for a bite to eat before going to a sing in Bray Singing Circle that is run by George Henderson.  After one or two nominated singers, it was a jump-in session and although not the sort of thing that some of our party were accustomed to it went pretty smoothly.  The advantage was that a theme could develop and be pursued round the room.  Again a packed room with food, drink, laughter and song to speed us on towards midnight, when George announced that the visiting party should finish the night.  No second invitation was needed and the ‘Feral Choir’ hit the floor running with big chorus songs enough to shake the plaster off the walls.  The hour long journey back to Malahide sped by as we all re-lived yet another night of warmth and fellowship through song.  In fact the journey went that fast that we hadn’t finished reliving the whole night so we adjourned to the bar to make sure that were able to do just that.

During the planning of this weekend it had been suggested that we might like to visit Glasnevin Cemetery on the Sunday morning.  Now this needed a bit of explaining but it all became clear when the list of graves we were to visit also came with the names of the singers and the songs they were to sing here it is:

  Occupier Grave Song Performer
1 Peader Kearney sd36 Sergeant William Bailey Niamh Parsons
2 Maud Gonne td24 Sez She Luke Cheevers
3 Big Jim Larkin td38 Roll Away the Stone Manus O’Riordan
4 Margaret Burke Sheridan xd16 Marble Halls Seán Ó hArcáin
5 Frank Ryan rd22 Viva La Quinta Brigada Fergus Whelan
6 John Keegan Casey nc7 Rising of the Moon Laurence Bond
7 Brendan Behan va21 Auld Triangle Fergus Russell
8 Jimmy O’Dea mf57 Biddy Mulligan Luke Cheevers
9 Harry O’Donovan ai 160.5 Daffodil Mulligan Niamh Parsons
10 Zozimus ag30 Finding Moses Máire Ní Chróinín
11 James Joyce xd6.5 Song at Twilight Seán Ó hArcáin
12 New Angels Round Tower The Soddin’ Ann Buckley
13 Charles Stewart Parnell plot Avondale Francy Devine
14 Charles Stewart Parnell plot Parnellites (Yeats) Manus O’Riordan
15 For deceased friends trees The Life of a Man Francy Devine

Some of the deceased will be known to you and some not and that is how it was with us, so it to Fergus Russell we must give thanks for researching and telling the history of each individual as we went round.  Included in their number were politicians, poets, music hall artists, singers, song-writers and political activists, a truly eclectic mix. But Fergus did have his reward, a conveniently placed pint of Guinness on the headstone of Brendan Behan that he consumed after singing ‘The Auld Triangle’.  A great many there were friends of Tom Crean who sadly left us recently and with the permission of his widow, Margaret, we paid our respects at his recently erected headstone, a poignant moment for many and Eugene McEldowney sang ‘The Holmfirth Anthem’.  We were just about done but there was one more grave to visit which was across the road in another part of the cemetery.  Jimmy Kelly led the way and on reaching the plot started to recount stories of his brother Luke and also to sing.  It was here that this most fascinating and memorable part of the weekend, for all of us, ended but not before the company joined in one or two farewell songs that were sung with much sincere feeling.  Fergus is a stalwart of An Góilín and it was to the Teachers’ Club, where that club is held, that we repaired for a farewell singing session.  Again, for some of our party on their first visit, it was an eye-opener to be in this elegant Georgian building on Parnell Square in the heart of Dublin. I don’t know if ably is the correct adjective to use of our MC, Luke Cheevers, perhaps I should say that Luke ran the session in his own inimitable way which was thoroughly entertaining! Such is the way of these things the time sped by and it was with fond farewells and promises of return visits and invitations to come over to England that we headed back to Malahide.  A quiet meal in the hotel on the Sunday evening and the inevitable but quieter sing rounded off yet another very, very memorable trip which re-affirmed old friendships, forged new ones and has us already starting  planning to welcome an Irish return visit.

A special heartfelt thank you to the Howth Singing Circle, Ann Riordan and Francy Devine for organising and co-ordinating everything over the weekend for without their hard graft the tour would not have been the resounding success it was.   We all raise a glass to you both

Our thanks to John & Sheila Bentham for organising their end of things and for this interesting report.


Bird Song Project

The Howth Singing Circle were ably represented at the Dublin Bird Song Project Concert at the National Library in Kildare Street by Eugene McEldowney and Niamh Parsons. Our own night in May, hosted by Anne & Niamh Parsons was a great night with innumerable references to avian creatures.


Eugene McEldowney singing in the National Library

Singing The Fishing

On Saturday, 18 July a goodly number gathered in the Sea Angling Club for our annual ‘Singing the Fishing’ session in aid of the Hospice and run, as usual, with the support of An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club. On the bridge for the afternoon were Brian Doyle and Máire Ní Chróinín and they steered the ship well through the welcoming and familiar waters of the Angling Club who, as ever, provided great hospitality and respectful service. Nearly forty people performed, with poets Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan adding their own, beautifully constructed verses to the occasion. Many made a great effort with the theme with Eddie Phillips – a man who can be relied upon to rise to the challenge of even the most obscure theme – leading off with ‘Away From the Roll of the Sea’. Laurence Bond paid homage to the legendary Sam Lerner fifty years after his death with ‘The Drowned Lover’; Gerry O’Connor sailed ‘South to Australia’; and Brian Doyle sang of ‘The Last of the Great Whales’. Jack Plunkett delivered a beautiful version of Archie Fisher’s ‘The Final Trawl’; Alan Woods – a welcome sight and sound – sang of ‘The Bold Fisherman’; Seán Ó hArcáin sang beautifully to the seals; and Tony Curtis did a grand job on ‘Lord Franklin’. For me, women’s voices impressed with some memorable renditions: Niamh Berry, ‘Lowlands of Holland’; Helen Diamond’s lovely version of the ‘The Sea Apprentice’; and Mary Murphy’s poignant presentation of ‘The Evelyn Marie’ which sank off Rathlin O’Byrne Island, Donegal in January, 1975. This was perhaps the song of the afternoon and fitting tribute to the six crew who lost their lives: Paddy Bonner, Roland Faughnan, Hughie Gallagher, Tom Ham, Johnny O’Donnell, and Joe O’Donnell.

All singers contributed to an afternoon of great quality: Aoife Caomhánach, Mick Caldwell, Fergus Carey, Luke Cheevers, Antoinette Daly, Mick Dunne, Barry Gleeson, Helen Lahert, Helen Lawlor, Willie Lawlor, Eugene McEldowney, Tony McGaley, Martina Nic Cearnaigh, Máire Ní Chróinín, Willie O’Connor, Stiofán Ó hAoláin, Ciarán Ó Maoléoin, Larry O’Toole, Angela Plunkett, Fergus Russell, and Maridhe Woods. We must not forget the listeners and special mention must be made of Mick and Maria Dunne’s three children who were an absolute credit to them and themselves, entertaining and delighting all.

We have forwarded the afternoon’s proceedings of €400 to St Francis Hospice, Raheny. Well done all concerned.

 Maire plusLuke

Brian Doyle, Máire Ní Chróinín & Luke Cheevers at Singing the Fishing







HSC Presents First World War Songs in National Museum

On 12 August, in a repeat of a presentation originally made for Dublin City Council in City Hall in 2014, the Howth Singing Circle – supported by singers from An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club – performed a programme of ‘Some Irish Songs & Poems of the First World War’. This presentation was done between performances of Anu Productions highly-acclaimed, all-action drama ‘Pals’. Contemporary songs from the Irish Worker and Workers’ Republic were augmented by Barry Gleeson singing Harry O’Donovan’s ‘Dublin Fusiliers’, Pete St John’s ‘Johnny McGory’ and Jack Judge’s ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’; Robert Kelly singing Cormac McConnell’s ‘A Silent Night (Christmas 1915)’ and Tom Smith’s ‘Blackbird of Slane’; Niamh Parsons singing Sam Starrett’s ‘John Condon’, and Fergus Russell singing ‘Because He Was Smarter Than Me’. Poems from Thomas Kettle, Francis Ledwidge, Winifred Letts, Katharine Tynan and W.B. Yeats were read by Anu Productions Bairbre Ní hAodha. Howth Singing Circlers will get an opportunity to see this show before the October monthly night in Howth.


WW1 group

Francy Devine, Niamh Parsons, Fergus Russell, Robert Kelly & Barry Gleeson at the National Museum of Ireland,

Collins Barracks (photograph, Paddy Daly)

Burns Nicht Brochures

A full set of our now celebrated Burns Nicht brochures, from 2009-2015, have been deposited in Howth Library’s Local History Section; the Irish Traditional Music Archive, Dublin; Linenhall Library, Belfast, which contains a large ‘Burns & Burnsania’ collection, www.linenhall.com/pages/burns-burnsania; Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen; and the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. The brochures have been critically acclaimed, not least for their gathering of information on Robert Burns and his, surprisingly many, Irish connections. Preparations for Howth Burns Nicht 2016 – when our Special Guests will be Dàimh – are well underway and if anyone would like to contribute articles or photographs for our brochure, please forward items to us.

Programme for Autumn-Winter 2015-2016


Note that all events are held on Thursdays in the Abbey Tavern

commencing at 9pm sharp unless otherwise stated.


3 September –   ‘Who Will Thrash the Corn Now? with Eugene McEldowney & Ann Riordan


1 October –    8pm, audio-visual presentation of ‘Songs & Poems of First World War’ with Francy

Devine, Luke Cheevers, Robert Kelly, Niamh Parsons, Ann Riordan & Fergus

Russell followed by singing session, ‘War & Peace’ from 9pm


15 October –    8pm Concert with Martyn Wyndham-Read & Gatehouse, tickets €10


5 November – presentation by Singer in Residence Ruth Clinton


19 NovemberDinner details to follow


10 December‘It Was the Holly …’ – Christmas Session with Special Guest Tim Dennehy


7 JanuaryLawrence Bond to lead night on theme to be announced


Saturday, 23 JanuaryBurns Nicht 2016 with Special Guests Dáimh, St Lawrence Howth Pipe

                                               Band & mony mair

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


4 FebruarySpecial Guest Aodhán Ó Ceallaigh


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

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



Micil Ned Quinn

The passing of Michael ‘Micil Ned’ Quinn on Sunday 31 May occasioned widespread grief among traditional musicians, singers and storytellers across Ireland and indeed around the world. Born in 1926 in the townland of Carricknagowna between Mullaghbawn and Belleek, South Armagh, Micil Ned was the eldest of John Ned and Alice Quinn‘s eight children. It was a musical house, noted throughout the district for tunes, songs, dancing and storytelling. John Ned had a great store of songs. Micil Ned began his working life as a hired farm worker and later worked for Newry Number Two Rural and the NI Housing Executive. With his wife Tessie (née Murchan) he moved to Mullaghbawn in 1966.

Micil Ned was ‘the lynchpin’ in the Ring of Gullion Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which he had helped found in 1975. He was also a founder of the Forkhill Singing Weekend and of the Stray Leaf Folk Club. He appeared to be known by every singer and musician in Ireland and walking with him up the main street in Miltown Malbay during the Willie Clancy Week was like accompanying the President as few passed him by without acknowledgement, warm greeting and exchange of tales. Progress to the intended destination could be slow but the delays memorable.

Micil Ned, with his son Miceál, was a guest of the Howth Singing Circle, as well as attending several others nights. He delighted audiences with songs and stories, the latter based on characters, events, phrases and sayings from his locality. Like the roads around Mullaghbawn, these stories seldom took a straight path to the point – although they always eventually got to their intended destination. This was story telling at its best. These tales were not book learned but evocations of Micil Ned’s youth, the rural culture of South Armagh and Down and North Louth. Audiences, of all ages, were spellbound and – no matter how many times they had heard the story before – left reeling with laughter. Few will ever butter their toast on the wrong side after receiving instruction from the master and, as to smuggling sausages from Dundalk to Newry, well the less said the better!

Micil Ned

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.


Al O’Donnell

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)


HSC Committee

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


Last 2 last 1 last 3last 4


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;

last 5 Last 6

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;

last 7 Last 8

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!



150331 The Sweet Nightingale 15


Newsletter of the Howth Singing Circle

April 2015

Sweet Nightingale

 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


Dinner Dance


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

 [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

[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]

Anyone wishing to obtain My Father Told Me can contact Francy – fdevine@eircom.net – or check out http://www.francydevine.bandcamp.com


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 howthsingingcircle@gmail.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 howthsingingcircle@gmail.com or fdevine@eircom.net.

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


September 2006

Sweet Nightingale 14[1]

October 2005


June 2004



4 thoughts on “Sweet Nightingale

  1. Pingback: Latest edition of Sweet Nightingale now available | Howth Singing Circle

  2. Pingback: Happy New Year – New ‘Sweet Nightingale’ Magazine | Howth Singing Circle

  3. Pingback: Buíochas Mór – Howth Singing Circle

  4. Pingback: New ‘Sweet Nightingale’ magazine available – Howth Singing Circle

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