Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Rodney's Glory & The Plight of Eoghan Ruadh

Rodney's Glory was written by the Irish poet Eoghan Ruadh Ó Súilleabháin, its melody finds its origin in, "The Princess Royal" which was written by the harper Turlough O'Carolan. Eoghan Ruadh used the air for this ballad he wrote in praise of one Admiral George Rodney. The melody, having been first written in the early 18th century, became popular in England after it was coopted by William Shield for his opera "The Arethusa," which had a similar patriotic warlike British theme to Eoghan's song. This is where Eoghan, most likely, found his inspiration for Rodney's Glory. Thanks to Patricio Sullivan (charango), Manuel Momobertoni (bandoneón) and Ezequiel Dutil (double bass) for joining me on this recording.

In 1882, not long after been sequestered and press ganged into the British Navy, Eoghan found himself down in the belly of a whale, that whale being the warship, HMS Formidable. 

"ó teagmhas féin le tréimse i nglasibh céim d'fhúig dearbh dubhach mé"

"by chance a while in bondage, that has left me feeble and bereft"

The English used this practice of press ganging or kidnapping men to fight in their wars throughout the 18th century. This is how Eoghan Rua "An Bhéal Bhinn" (of the sweet mouth) ended up serving against his will in a British naval ship. While in chains, he pours out this song for Rodney, hoping the Admiral will relieve the poor sailor of his sorry post. Down in the belly of the beast Eoghan witnessed first hand the horror and wonder of the Battle of Saintes. 

Give ear ye British hearts of gold 
That e'er disdain to be controlled 
Good news to you I will unfold 
Tis of brave Rodney's glory 
Who always bore a noble heart 
And from his colors ne'er would start 
But always took his country's part 
Against each foe who would to oppose
 Or blast the bloom of England's rose 
So now observe my story. 

'Twas in the year of eighty two 
The Frenchmen know full well 'tis true 
Brave Rodney did their fleet subdue 
Not far from Old Fort Royal 
‘Twas early by the morning’s light 
the proud De Grasse appeared in sight 
And thought brave Rodney to affright 
With colours spread at each mast head 
And pendants too both white and red 
A signal for an engagement. 

Then Rodney he gave the command 
That each man should at his station stand 
And for the sake of old England 
We'd show them British valour 
 we the British flag displayed 
No tortures could our hearts invade 
Both sides began to cannonade 
Their mighty shot we valued not 
we plied our Irish pills so hot 
Which put them in confusion. 

This caused the Frenchmen to combine 
And draw their shipping in a line 
To sink our fleet was their design 
But in this they were far mistaken 
Broadside for broadside we let fly 
‘Til they in hundreds bleeding did lie 
The seas were all of crimson dye 
Full deep we stood in human blood 
Surrounded by a scarlet flood 
still we fought on courageous. 

So loud the cannons that the roar 
echoed round the Indian shore 
Both ships and rigging suffered sore 
We kept such constant firing 
Guns did fire and smoke did rise 
And clouds of sulfur veiled the skies 
Which filled De Grasse with wild surprise 
Both Rodney's guns and Paddy's sons 
Make echos shake where e'er they come 
They fear no French nor Spaniards.

From morning’s dawn to fall of night 
We did maintain this bloody fight 
And being still regardless of their might 
We fought like Irish heroes 
While on the deck did bleeding lie 
Many of our men in agony 
We resolved to conquer or to die 
To gain this glorious victory 
And would sooner suffer to sink or die 
Than offer to surrender. 

So well our quarters we maintained 
Five captured ships we have obtained 
And thousands of their men were slain 
During this hot engagement 
Our British metal flew like hail 
Until at last the French turned tail 
Drew in their colours and set sail 
In deep distress as you may guess 
And when they got in readiness 
They sailed down to Fort Royal. 

So may prosperity attend 
Brave Rodney and his Irishmen 
may he never want a friend 
While he shall reign commander 
Success to our Irish officers 
Seamen bold and jolly tars 
Who like the darling sons of Mars 
Take delight in the fight 
And vindicate old England’s right 
And die for Erin’s Glory.

For me, the interest in this ballad, besides its sweet wordplay, lies in its historical context. Propaganda is central to its heart, it shows the power of song in all its ugly glory. Although Eoghan lived as a vagabond and fought as a lowly sailor, he also spoke and wrote Irish, Greek, English, and Latin. He was an iconic and highly educated poet of Munster, yet for the English he was only fit to fire their guns. 

"Both paddies sons and Rodney's guns

make echoes shake where ere they come,

they fear no French nor Spaniard"

Even in our own day the melody is still quite common for traditional Irish dances, but no one sings its lyrics due to its proudly British bent. In the decades following the battle, the song became quite well-known in England, but every mention of Irish or 'paddies' was quietly removed from its verses. It wasn't enough that the song itself is a piece of British propaganda, there is too a foreboding rumble in this silencing of the Irish voice that would summon a scream in the 1840's and then cloak the country in great silence after. I previously delved into this theme of one culture precariously living in another's world in this post "The Irish Ark, Still Afloat." There in I tried to grapple through the sorry slow demise of Irish culture, at least regarding its expression in Gaelic terms over the past centuries. It really was a downward, every spiraling, tumble right up to the famine of 1845-48. Rodney's Glory is a great example of the overarching power of Britain over Ireland, a bold ballad of propaganda and pomp. Unlike the musing and masterful aisling's Eoghan was known for, Rodney's Glory is still a powerfully well written song, that echoes the sad state to which these Irish Gaelic poets were reduced to; rhyming in a language not theirs, fighting for kings not theirs, floundering in the vessel of their enemy. For the Irish of Munster, Eoghan Ruadh was an icon, a genius, for the English he was just another sorry sailor for their warships. 

I'm releasing this song on the 2nd of August with a poem of Eoghan Rua's translated into Spanish, "En Inglaterra de los Tesoros" (I Sacscaibh na Séad). Replete with piano and sound effects, the poem was recorded as a sort of radio play by  myself and Argentine storyteller Gabriela Verónica Troiano. I've called the EP "Lejos de mi Patria" (far from my homeland) those being the first lines of that poem. In a few weeks I've a concert coming up for the "Instituto Browniano" in the house of the founder of the Argentine Navy, William Brown, and I've made a little card that those that come to the gig can download this EP from. The idea is the give Spanish speakers a little window onto the tumultuous land of Gaelic Ireland in the late 18th century. A whole culture living precariously inside another's world.

I Sacsaibh na séad i gcéin óm dhúchais, in England of the treasures far from my homeland

fé barra na gcraobh cois céid na stiúr-bhairc in the shade of the masts of the mighty ships

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Waveleaplights - A Page of Finnegans Wake Set to Music

For the past few weeks I've been immersed in the wild world of James Joyce's sprawling novel Finnegans Wake. I just released an EP, "Waveleaplights," that took the lyrics of one page of the book, setting it to music of my own devising. Also included in the EP is "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly" which also appears in the novel. The project was conceived at the behest of the Waywords and Meansigns project, which since 2014 has been setting "The Wake" to music.

In true age of internet style, over the weekend I watched Mary Ellen Bute's film adaptation of the book while binging on various articles and media about, among other things, the tragic life of Lucia Joyce (sunny Jim's daughter). Thats herself below on the cover art of the EP. 

Though I've delved in and out of the book many times over the years this past little while I feel I've been truly baptized in the wide world of water, wave and want that is the wake. After setting one page of the mighty tome to music, the myth of Finagin is ringing loud in my ears. Not least of these echos, is the fact the book was released 85 years ago last Saturday the 4th of May. 

My one paginsound that rolls to the mighty island that is the "Waywords and Meansigns" project is page 571, wherein such gems of words as 

These brilling waveleaplights! Please say me how sing you them.  

Yes, they shall have brought us to the water trysting, by hedjes of maiden ferm, then here in another place is their chapelofeases, sold for song, of which you have thought my praise too much my price. O ma ma! Yes, sad one of Ziod? Sell me, my soul dear!

This Thursday I'm having a free online listening party of Waveleaplights. If there is any poor soul still reading this blog in 2024 ye are more than welcome to join me at 8pm GMT on the link on the image above! Hope to ear ye dere! Lend me yer earwickers!

UPDATE. Here's the Waveleaplights music video, filmed in Campo del Cielo, Chaco. 

beir bua,