Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Famine Queen




Come gather round people what ‘er your persuasion,
be it pirate, a pauper a prince or a thief.
I'll tell how my mind lept in wild consternation,
to hear of Elizabeth’s visit, and Victoria's adoration,
Oh the feats and travails of the Famine Queen!

One evening of late into Killarney I strayed,
Hearing men in high places all highly esteemed,
Pouring out their libations, clamouring forth their heaped praises,
gladly queuing in columns they rallied in oration
for the Mighty Monarchs of England and the Famine Queen.

They sent out the word to Elizabeth doting
To grace us all with her presence so calm and serene.
Like in Killarney of old with the Bold Victoria,
Unfurl your banners for stern commemoration
Of the feats and travails of the Famine Queen.

Ladies petticoat’s, plumes in all style and variety,
Soldiers marched of all rank and station replete.
Never was seen a vision of such pomp and piety
When the butcher's apron hung from each pole and station,
And waved on heaving throngs by O' Donnchú’s keep.

Up went new constructions in style and precision,
Her regal self we regaled all the while.
Paupers and peasants were ne’r seen so industrious,
Such loyal respect and royal dedication,
Resound bugles bursting for the Famine Queen.

Her coaches and retinue with ladies in waiting
All dazzling, all dappled by lakes so serene -
They peeked into valleys then up mountains so glorious
Ladies ne’r viewed them before of such high station,
Oh the feats and travails of the Famine Queen!

No let’s not have starving ghosts haunt our praises
Let Gods castigation quell our scurrilous pride.
A lazy insolent race, so seditious,
Sir Trevelyan was right, shure he received commendations
From the bold Victoria the Famine Queen.

No lets not hear tell of her paltry contribution
To starving men through the country in dire need replete.
Drink a health to Elizabeth's visit,
Let us toast merrily Victoria's high station,
Oh the feats and travails of the Famine Queen!

In the year of Eighteen Hundred and Forty Eight
Victoria was in Dublin, crowds submissed at her feet,
Banquets and praise were lavished for the visit,
Elizabeth now graces us for commemoration,
resound bugles bursting for the Famine Queen.

The Ottoman King in his regal seat,
Ten thousand pounds he promised for famine relief,
"One thousand will do," Victoria instructed.
They tried to turn back his boats at Drogheda in contention,
Oh the feats and travails of the Famine Queen!

The Choctaw nation gave forth lavish contribution
Sixteen years after their own Trail of Tears.
Let us all now sing out their praises.
Ring out resound in stark oration,
And damn the accursed Famine Queen.

Now for songs of a nations wrongs,
Starving labour once a groan, now a true voice,
Ring out resound in stark oration,
Ours was no tempest of distant location
But a hell of lightening under the Famine Queen’s sea.

Lord Tennyson of Victoria was much in her favour,
He praised her to the heights of our own lovely reeks.
As he wove in loom of rhymes and of reasons,
From the west gloom and shadow then conflagration
Famine raged its like ne’r before seen.

Let Elizabeth come and commemorate the Famine
Up in Mayo each year crowds gather with grief.
Men came representing many nations
Opening the national famine commemoration,
Not one from the home of the Famine Queen.


I wrote this song in 2010 when I heard that the town council of Killarney were inviting Queen Elizabeth to celebrate and commemorate the visit of Queen Victoria 150 odd years earlier. Firstly, though I wouldn't be for her visiting, I wouldn't be against it either, under different circumstances. But to have Queen Elizabeth come to celebrate the visit of a monarch who presided over the death of a people, I can not countenance. No matter that Victoria was a figure head, she was a figure head and symbol of a whole era. At any-rate the visit to Killarney never came to pass, though Elizabeth was paraded around Dublin and Cork. I wrote this blogpost at the time.

To reserve a copy of the vinyl of "Where Splendour Falls" send an e-mail to info@charlieobrien.net

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ochón A Mhuire Bhúidh




lyrics of the song-from the poetry book that accompanies the vinyl of "Where Splendour Falls"*

Óchón a Mhuire Bhúidh was written by the last chieftain of the McCarthy Clan-Domhnall MacCarthaigh Mór. The piece is a lament that pleads to the Virgin Mary to save him from his wife who has him tormented and destroyed by, among other things, her beauty. I put the melody to the words. That air appears in a book about Killarney that I’ve forgotten the name of. The melody/lament was overheard by an English tourist in the 1850’s as he followed a funeral up Bóthairín na Marbh in Aghadoe. I scribbled it down when reading the book, I think it fits hand in glove with Domhnall's words. Here is a link to a past post concerning Domhnall and Óchón a Mhuire Bhúidh.

I once had a dream, years before I knew of the poem or the King. In the dream I was walking down by the Deenagh River.  I saw a man dressed as an Earl sitting on a riverside seat. The Earl was lamenting the fact that he was dressed like an English Prince. He said he was once a gaelic poet called féileacán oíche. Now, féileacán oíche, is the Irish for a moth. The moment he spoke the words-féilecán oíche-the dream turned into a vision of a moth right in front of my eyes. Music lifted, a lament rose up, and the moth shot down-skirting along the surface of the water. Domhnall was known as “An Chéad Iarla” (the first Earl)-though you would rue the day if you were unfortunate enough to call him by that title. He took the unfortunate moniker under the English policy of surrender and regrant. Maybe what is to be taken form all this is...

ní h-uasal na íseal ach thuas seal agus thíos seal

If you were to translate that it would be something like-“Life isn’t a matter of lower class or higher class, but up for a while and down for a while.”

Heres a rough translation of the poem. If anyone else feels like doing a proper job on it, please do.

Oh mother Mary hear my lament,
Hand maiden of God –
I gave the love of my soul to a woman
Who killed me.

So be it, powerful mary,
Like the will of the tide
I died directly,
Mother of God.

I gave the love of my soul to a woman,
But God,
I never told her
she destroyed me.

The love of her white breasts and beautiful way,
Like a pale lily.
Her braided ribbons of hair falling like a vision,
She is a heavy weight.

The love of her beautiful crystalline way,
Like a rose that never sinned,
And her two hands,
that beckoned me on,

Her smooth white healthy body,
Took my mind from me,
Seven thousand sweetnesses
in the sound of her and her voice,
I’m an ill man from her,

I follow in lamentation,
A sad, sorrowful, poor man,
It’s a pity a crowd isn’t
piling rocks on my grave.

Its sad I have no Brothers praying over me-
Saying psalms,
As I came, sweet Mary,
To be a dead person.

The song of her mouth, sweet like a rose
Perfumed like incense,
That has me at the edge of death,
And for what reason?

Beautiful girl that has my very essence,
Even my body,
By right and by law,
I should pay the death ‘eric.’

Save me, it is you can,
Her limbs are without fault,
Save me with the 'conversation of our bodies,'
Hear my lament.

To reserve a copy of the vinyl of "Where Splendour Falls" (the record is being printed as we speak) send an e-mail to info@charlieobrien.net

Paul Dooley is the harpist on this track. I'm very lucky to have him collaborating with me on this and Do Threascair An Saol. Thanks a million to YoYo Park too, who is the piano player on Ochón A Mhuire Bhúidh. I'm singing, playing the bass and tinkering on the other various electronic sounds.

*The engraving of the lady in corner is of an Irish noble woman from the 16th century. It appears in the book "An Dunaire, Poems of The Dispossessed."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Killarney Echo



The Killarney Echo is the sound that resounds off the mountains and lakes of Killarney when you fling music or noise at them. Whatever auditory projections are thrown-bounce off the lakes and jump back into the ears of those who seek "the echo." It was an obligatory part of the tour of Killarney throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The echo is most famously described in Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Splendour Falls." Given that "Where Splendour Falls" is the name of my newest musical endeavor, I was delighted to accompany my good friend Séan Looney to the Eagle's Nest-in search of strange reverberations. So it was that, myself and select bunch of rovers determined to search for that elusive sound. Billy Kemp was to record this audio, but clattered his leg and recording gear on rocky outcrops and was put out of action. Still, David Lynch, our resident trumpeter, marched on and "set the wild echos flying" (with trumpet and french horn) across The Long Range- that narrow band of water that runs by The Eagle's nest, Killarney. But we first went through tomes, before we roamed in glens!


David Lynch, Séan Looney and Billy O' Kemp
Séan Looney, gentlemen, scholar and Killarney native, has two books in his possession that mention the echo. The first extract below, is from "Illustrations of the Scenery of Killarney and the Surrounding Country" (1807) by Isaac Weld Esq. M.R.I.A.

The Eagles and their Nest 


The Eagle's Nest is represented in the engraving, as it appears from the opposite bank, about one hundred yards higher up the stream: being seen as it were in profile, the range of mountains of which it forms a part are concealed. The river flows from the left, winds round the cliff, and loses itself behind the dark rocks on the right; and in the distance appears a gloomy vale one of those ill-fated spots,


Which, circled round with a gigantic heap 
Of mountains, never felt, nor ever hopes 
To feel, the genial influence of the sun.


It is scarcely in the power of language to convey an adequate idea of the extraordinary effect of the echoes under this cliff, whether they repeat the dulcet notes of music, or the loud discordant report of a cannon. Enchantment here appears to have resumed her reign, and those who listen are lost in amazement and delight.

To enjoy the echoes to the utmost advantage, it is necessary that a number of musicians should be placed on the banks of the river, about fifty yards below the base of the cliff: while the auditors, excluded from their view, seat themselves on the opposite bank, at some distance above the cliff, behind a small rocky projection. Were a stranger conducted hither ignorant of this arrangement, and unprepared by any previous description for the illusory effect of the echo, I am persuaded he would be unable to form a tolerable conjecture, as to the source of the sounds, or the number of the instruments. The primary notes are quite lost; whilst those which are reverberated meet the ear increased in strength, in brilliancy, and in sweetness. Sometimes it might be supposed that multitudes of musicians, playing upon instruments formed for more than mortal use, were concealed in the caverns of the rock; or behind the trees on different parts of the cliff; at others, when a light breeze favours the delusion, it seems as if they were hovering in the air. At intervals treble sounds of flutes and clarionets, 

In sweet vibrations thrilling o'er the skies,

are alone heard; and then again, after a short suspension,

The clanging horns swell their sweet winding notes, 
. . . . . and load the trembling air 
With various melody.

But notwithstanding the occasional swell and predominance of certain instruments, the measure of the melody is not impaired, nor do the notes come confusedly to the ear: the air which is played should, however, be very slow, and the harmony simple, affording a frequent repetition of perfect chords.

When the music has subsided, whilst every auditor still remains in a state of breathless admiration, it is usual to discharge a cannon from the promontory opposite to the cliff, which never fails to startle, and to stun the ear, ill prepared as it must be for the shock, after dwelling upon the sweet melody which has preceded it. The report of the gun produces a discordant crash, as if the whole pile of rocks were rent asunder; and the succeeding echoes resemble a tremendous peal of thunder. During a favourable state of the atmosphere, upon which much depends, twelve reverberations, and sometimes more, may be distinctly counted; and what appears extraordinary, after the sound has been totally lost, it occasionally revives, becomes louder and louder for a few seconds, and then again dies away. 

Now seems it far and now anear,
Now meets, and now eludes the ear;
Now seems some mountain's side to sweep, 
Now dies away in valley deep.




This second extract appears in Beautiful Ireland, Killarney, by Mary Gorges (pub. 1912). So it seems the echo is reverberating through at least its third century in print....and perhaps with these digital ramblings a fourth!

David's French Horn, Eagle's Nest, Killarney

Here the eagles still have their nest, for nature has secured them from the hand of man. It is a very majestic rock, thickly clothed with evergreens nearly to the summit, where, however, heath and a few scattered shrubs hide the nest, and show the great outline, the rugged mass, in stern sublimity. Here the Killarney Echo is best heard.

Perhaps among the many writers who have tried to describe the effect produced by this echo, Mrs. Hall gives the most vivid impression. She says: "The bugler first played a single note; it was caught up and repeated loudly; softly again loudly; again softly, and then as if by a hundred instruments rolling around and above the mountains, and dying softly away. Then a few notes were blown, a multitude of voices replied, sometimes pausing, then mingling in a strain of sublime grandeur and delicate sweetness. Then came the firing of a cannon, when every mountain around seemed instinct with angry life, and replied n voices of thunder, the sound being multiplied a thousandfold, first a terrific growl, then a fearful crash, both caught up and returned by the surrounding hills, while those nearest became silent, awaiting the oncoming of those that were distant, then dropping to a gentle lull, as if the winds only created them, then breaking forth again into a combined and terrific roar."


This won't be our first venture with the Killarney Echo, rather it was a reconnaissance to get us acquainted with its territory-preparing us for further sallys into that "deadly breach" between the Eagle's Nest and Torc Mountain!

Friday, October 14, 2016

I gCeart Lár do Ghrá



Ní haon ionadh, amhrán grá atá i gceist anso.  Strangely, I had no muse in particular when I wrote this (or maybe a few!), but it has now come to be associated in my mind with a friend who passed away. The lute riff in the chorus was written by him.

I gCeart Lár do Ghrá

Nuair a bhíonn an lá thart,
Mothaím do ghrá i gceart.
I gceart lár do ghrá

Cuireann tú mé go doimhin ar strae
Caillte is spionta ar feadh gach aon lá
i gceart lár do ghrá

Le titim na hoiche,
De ló istóiche
Anois is chóiche

a quick English translation...

Right in The Centre Of Your Love

When the day is over 
I rightly sense you love
Right in the centre of your love

You deeply send me astray
Lost and spent each day 

With the fall of night 
night and day 
now and forever 

This is the second last track on the vinyl of Where Splendour Falls. I'm on guitars and Spanish lute. Ursula Scott is singing backing vocals. I was lucky to have Neil O' Loghlen playing bass on this track, he plays with the beautiful, boundary breaking trad. septet-Ensemble Eriú.

The digital download of "Where Splendour Falls" has an extra track.

To reserve a copy of the vinyl send an e-mail to info@charlieobrien.net
The record is being printed as we speak.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Do Threascair An Saol



Here is another track from Where Splendour Falls. You can buy the album on digital download here (vinyl to come). The words of this song are an 18th century Irish poem by Donnacha Dall Ó Laoighaire. I don't know much about the man, I could be wrong, but I'm guessing he is from Cork. His words tell the story of the power struggle for control of Ireland-the demise of the Gaelic and the emergence of English as the cultural force that controls the country. I came up with the melody for the song which nods a head to the old air Slán Le MáighSlán Le Máigh is about leaving behind a place replete with beauty-leaving its land, poetry, beautiful women, its art, stories and soldiers. Do Threascair an Saol  is a more cutting, but none the less beautiful version of a similar story...

This is an English translation from the book "An Dunaire, Poems Of The Dispossessed." The Irish words I sing are below it.

The world laid low, and the wind blew-like a dust-
Alexander, Caesar, and all their followers.
Tara is grass; and look how it stands with Troy. 
And even the English - maybe they might die.

Loss of our learning brought darkness, 
weakness and woe on me and mine, 
amid these unrighteous hordes.
Oafs have entered the places of the poets 
and taken the light of the schools from everyone.

You who indulge in drink, in meat on Fridays,
and all the pleasures from table to the blissful bed,
if the promise of Heavenly glory applies to you
then much has the Capuchin Order been misled.

Strange is the cause, and the kind, of my suffering;
My reason adrift from my will, my will from good sense.
My will cannot grasp the defects that are clear to my reason,
and even when it does it reasons the way that it wills.

Last night as I lay in my bed, enfeebled and faint,
I uttered (unthinking a while) complaints to Christ
that he handed the lime-fields of Flann, every one, to the stranger
while the Gael was laid low and ceaselessly robbed and tormented.

They were gentle, alms-giving and friendly in their time,
their bishops, their Monks and their clergy melodious at prayer...
If it's true that their sins fell upon them and turned them to wolves
-show me, O Christ, a snug Saxon who didn't mangle thy law!


Carrigogunnell Castle, Limerick, 1860's
Do threascair an saol is shéid an ghaoth mar smál 
Alastrann, Caesar, 's an méid sin a bhí 'na bpáirt;
tá an Teamhair 'na féar, is féach an Traoi mar tá,
is na Sasanaigh féin do b'fhéidir go bhfaighidís bás!

Uireasa oidis bheir dorchadas tlás is ceas
Ar thuilleadh agus ormsa I bhfogas don táin nár cheart,
Mar do ritheadar bodaigh I mbrogaibh na dáimhe isteach
Is do bhaineadar solas na scoile de chách ar fad.

A lucht chleachtas an phóit go mór is feoil Aoine,
‘s gach iomlat spóirt ó bhord go leaba aoibhinn,
flaitheas na Glóire más dóigh gur gealladh díbhse,
mealladh go mór iad ord na gCaipisíneach.

Is iongnadh an toisc ‘s an cor ‘na bhfuilim i bpéin –
Mo thuiscint óm thoil, ‘s mo thoil ag druidim óm chéill,
Ní tuigtear dom thoil gach locht dom thuiscint is léir,
‘s má tuigtear, ní léi ach toil a tuisceana féin.

Araoir im leaba is mé atuirseach tréith im luí,
do bhíos trí ainbhios sealad ag éad le Críost,
thug cíos gach fearainn do Ghaillaibh in aolghort Fhlainn
agus Gaoil dá leagadh, dá gcreachadh is dá gcéasadh shíor.

Do bhíodar tamall go carthanach déirceach caoin,
Ba bhinn a manaigh, a n-easpaig ‘s a gcléir ag guí;
Más fíor gur peaca thit artha rinn faolchoin díobh,
A Chríost, cé an Sacsanach seascair nár réab do dhlí?

Donncha Dall Ó Laoghaire (fl. 1720)

I'm accompanied by Paul Dooley on harp on this track. Paul's cd "Music from the Robert ap Huw Manuscript Volume I" is one of the most tangible and beautiful of examples that we have of what Irish music must have sounded like when Gaelic law and culture were i réim. As far as I can gather, even though the cd is Welsh music, the Irish, Scots, and Welsh all played the same music in this era (12th to 17th century), with Ireland being the motherland of that style of Harp playing.

The lyrics of the song are attributed to Donnacha Dall Ó Laoghaire in the poetry anthology "An Duanaire." There is some confusion as to whether this attribution is correct. I've read an article in the Irish Times which gives the author of the poem as Eoghan Rua. I heard a radio programme in which Liam Neeson read the poem and attributed it to Eoghan Rua too. I first read a verse of the poem in this blog called Sedulia's Quotations. It is attributed to Eoghan Rua there too. Buy An Duanaire (arranged by Séan Ó Tuama,  translated by Thomas Kinsella), have a read, it gives Donncha Dall as the author! Who is the penman, God knows, but my money is on Donncha!