Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Russian Bear 's Dubh Linn Duairc Daor


I was in St. Petersburg, Russia for nine days recently and stayed at the Soul Kitchen Hostel on the banks of the river Moyka. St. Issac's Cathedral, and the famous Hermitage Museum (where the Russian Ark was filmed) were just down the road from me. My hostel was so welcoming and thoughtful in its facilities I felt compelled to write something about it. This impetus to put thought to pen doubled when I returned to the Liberties in Dublin and stayed in "Destiny Student Apartments," a place entirely lacking in that ethereal, hard to grasp, but ultimately simple substance called soul. The gulf in thought and quality between both these resting places was as large as the three thousand kilometres from here to there.

The Neva River, St. Petersburg
In Destiny there were warning signs everywhere-don't fall on this, watch the step here. Everything cost money-towels €3, luggage storage €5, checking out at noon €12. If that was my destiny as a student I'd look for the nearest warning strewn exit and launch myself out the door, not in search of compensation but rather to free myself and flee to foreign shores. By contrast, in the Soul Kitchen Hostel towels were free, luggage storage was free. The beautiful little darkened storage room had disco like light features that made the room (like the rest of the hostel) feel like a haven of peace. The only signs were telling you what opportunities and facilities were available in the hostel and city. Every morning there was free breakfast in the beautiful soulful kitchen (where incidentally a scene from the series "The Master and the Margarita" was filmed). That film is based on the book by Mikhail Bulgakov which I can heartily recommend, a viciously funny and wildly imaginative yarn. In the evening on the banks of the Moyka there was free dinner for those willing to lend a hand to the chefs making it. In Destiny I was afraid to ask what or where the coffee facilitates were for fear of having to cough up more cash.

A sign in Destiny
I think a-lot of this can be summed up by one thing, soul or absence of. The fob card for entry into the Soul Kitchen hostel was a heart, if you misplaced it you just made the sign of a heart by the cameras outside the hostel. Destiny's avatar, on the other hand, is the grey man above surrounded by danger and cost. Interestingly, before I left my lodgings in St. Petersburg I bought a postcard of a Russian bear holding his dear heart close to his soul. In a strange twist of fate when I arrived at Destiny Apartments there was a mural of a bear holding his two hands out to the world on the wall opposite, in sore need of a hug, some soul, or God forbid, love. 

When I left the liberties behind me I was determined, if not to feed my soul, to at least feed my belly in preparation for my return to the Kingdom. I found a lovely spot "Gerry's Coffee Shop" which filled me up rightly (and verily soothed my soul too) without leaving me destitute and devoid of cash. I can highly recommend the place to anyone looking for an Irish Breakfast and a homely, no nonsense café in the heart of Dublin. For the train journey home I picked up a coffee and a copy of The Phoenix magazine, which further illuminated the darker portions, while itemising the potions employed in the Irish stew, the dark but bubbling cauldron called Dublin. My brain was swimming in said stew as we tumbled through old Erin. Between the travesty of "Swing Gate," to the Irish Times claiming the Russian's were faking political correspondences to sow division and strife in the north, I rode with a heavy heart home through our rollicking republic. It was a relief when the train rolled into the kingdom, only to find I was just in time for the annual fourth of July parade in Killarney. Another wonder to behold on this long suffering isle.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Boys of The Basin Canal

The Basin Canal was a channel dug out of the New Orleans mud between 1831 and 1838, as many as 30,000 Irish were said to have died in its construction. As the line in this song of mine goes "who's knows how many did fall." "The Boys of the Basin Canal" will form part of the album "Hy Brasil, Songs of The Irish in Latin America." There is a strong Spanish influence in New Orleans's and it was run from Cuba by them from 1762 to 1803. In many ways it is as much a Caribbean city as a southern city. The Irish too played their part in its long history.




Crawfish Lacey and Mick O' Neill
sweated 'til it hid their tears.
Sinking in a swamp still they trudged on
as they dreamt of the old country.

I still see them now when I shut my eyes
as insects hum in the warm afternoon,
Etched in blood and grit and mud,
the boys of the basin canal.

Spailpíns all, we heard the call,
straight from the shipyards we came.
Hope sunk in a swamp, for a dollar a day,
who knows how many did fall?

Disease knocked us down as bosses scowled,
"a terrible loss of dollars today."
"what great bother if they die!" I hear them cry,
"there's more coming every day."

I'd had enough, though they wanted more,
they'd break you for gold, full shame.
So I took my pack and I never looked back,
and I walked on down the long road.

When I heard Lacey died I pitied O' Neill,
toiling aggrieved and alone,
against Gael and Gall like a beast he howled,
at the moon and the night and the sea.

When I reached the Bayou I sent the word,
"don't rage aggrieved and alone,"
"there's a trade to be had if you hit the road,
And come down to the Irish Bayou."

O' Neill made it out, threw his shovel down
he followed me down the quiet coast,
where fresh breezes blow and wild flowers grow,
Way down on the Irish bayou,

Though the day is long, on the rolling maine,
on the wide open plains of the sea.
no green fields of land, nor Arab sands,
could tempt me away, I am freed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Martha Connolly Orgill

I was recently in correspondence with Oliver Marshall, the author of "English, Irish and Irish-American Pioneer Settlers in 19th Century Brazil." I sent him on a song I wrote inspired by his meticulous research, it will appear on my new album "Hy Brasil, Songs of the Irish in Latin America."

For the purposes of the song, I focused on a chapter in Oliver's book that concerned the setup of an Irish colony in Santa Catarina province in Brazil, in a place called Príncipe Dom Pedro. It was here a much vaunted Irish settlement died a death, after a brief flowering. The song I wrote is called "Father George Montgomery" and tells the story of a priest who made it his life's work to resettle the dispossessed famine Irish in this region which he hoped would be more suitable to their religion, culture, and general well being. Unfortunately, Father Montgomery's efforts came to naught, soon after the first of his planned boats left the quay of Liverpool (with 300 colonists on board), he died. This left the colony's plans without their anchor, and the poor immigrants as my songs says, "bound down for Hy Brasil," afloat, on a sea of sharks. After being wracked by 3 years of mismanagement and government apathy, the colony of Príncipe Dom Pedro finally succumbed to floodwaters which drowned many of the remaining inhabitants and destroyed much of the infrastructure of the town.

One particularly harrowing detail uncovered by Oliver is a letter by Martha Connolly Orgill (one of the colonists) to her sister in Liverpool. Martha was one of the lucky ones who escaped the flood waters, only to encounter a worse fate in Rio.

Rio de Janeiro, 19th century

We had made arangements to start from Rio in an English steamer to New York on the 19 of January and had eavery thing ready only waiting for the time but the children had had the hooping cough about two weeks then and on the 13 broak out with the small pok. Poor little Mary commencen with convulshouns and was neaver out of them untill she died. She did not know eather of us all the wile. Their was no hope of Mary from the first but great ones of Joseph but poor little pet he died the first on the eavening of the 19th of January and our prettey little Mary on the morning of the 20th. They were both burred together in the same grave. Mary was 3 years 2 months Joseph 1 year and 4 months and My Dearest sisters I sincerley hope you will neaver have the trouble to goe through I havd to sit and watch my two prettey ones deaying together and did not know which to pay the most attention to or which would leave me first. I was that exhausted with sitting up for 7 days and 7 nights for you must know while life was in them I could not leave them. I had to lye down at last bye My Dear Marys side and close her sweet little eyes in Death. I can assure you it has been a very heavey blow to us both for in all our troubles she was a great comfort. She was so old fashioned she was just like an old woman. It was very hard after bringing them through all the trouble and to loos them at last.

Reading through Martha's letter is made all the more poignant by her phonetic spelling of many words, you can almost hear her voice reaching out of the mists of time.