Monday, December 5, 2016

Óglaigh Chill Airne

There was a book launch this evening in Gaelscoil Faithleann-an Irish speaking primary school in Killarney. The book "Óglaigh Chill Airne" by Tomás B O' Luanaigh concerns the setup of the Kerry branch of the Irish Volunteers, their involvement in the 1916 rising, and the subsequent interment of some of their members in the prison camp of Frongoch in Wales. Cheannaigh mé cóip, táimse ag tnú go mór leis an leabhair a léamh! 
the author himself an tAthair Tomás B O' Luanaigh

Just glancing through the book many gems appear, such as this short poem written by one of the internees at Frongoch, he recalls his participation in the rising in Dublin-

A thought immediately after surrender in Moore St.

Doomed to strive for all things 
to achieve none,
All attacking, nothing gaining,
Battles without fruit,
Laurels without triumph,
Fame without success.

Denis Daly,
Main St. 

Frongoch Internment Camp, 
1st Nov. 1916

An Gal Gréine at Gaelscoil Faithleann

The book also tells how An Seabhac (the hawk) Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha on friday the 28th of November 1913 gave an Irish class as he usually did for Conradh na Gaeilge in Killarney. What made this class different was the enlistment of fifty members into the Irish Volunteers during the lessons. An Dún, where the meeting occurred, was an old disused Methodist Church that, incidentally, was situated right next to the apartment where I live here on High Street! This new branch of the volunteers was only the second in the country and many members went on to fight in the 1916 rising in Dublin.

New Street, Killarney, Irish Volunteers, 1914
In July 1914, the Oireachtas occurred in Killarney. It was on this November in Killarney too! 
During the 1914 festivities, 2500 members of the Irish Volunteers marched through the town with rifles and in full military regalia. The Royal Irish Constabulary who looked on were, needless to say, worried. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Marine Mambí

This is the song that started off the "A Captain Unafraid" trip. I got my inspiration for the ditty after reading this article Marine Mambí by José Quintana in 2010. 

It was a wonderful feeling to be sitting in José's back garden five years later after completing the Cuban portion of the filming. If I do look a bit wrecked thats cause I was, a couple of days later I went into anaphylactic shock in Toronto airport. Thankfully the medics were on call and I returned to my plucky self a few weeks later, after a short dose of steroids! The mind is strong yet the body wains.

Ciego De Ávila, Cuba, 2015
Photo by Pat Hartnett

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

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

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 tenfold 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 centuries. 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 Eagle's 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
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! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

An Bóithrín Caol

An Bóthirín Caol is the "narrow little road" that was once the spine of Killarney town. In my mind, it is a conduit between cultures-the road you travel to get there. The tune is also maybe a bit like my own version of the Beach Boys "Let's go away for a while." A musical stroll in my head-wandering like Patrick Kavanagh who was once "lost in the oriental streets of thought" at a Monaghan fair.

The lanes of Killarney were once teeming with life, that's where the population lived. The people of the lanes were moved to more commodious, comfortable and modern housing in the 1950's. The people being poor and it being the first social housing, they were relocated to a hill just outside of town, derogatorily they named it "hungry hill." My mother grew up there, and the house is still owned by the family.

An Bóthirín Caol was the last lane in the town where Irish was spoken as a native language. In the 1840's, on an evening stroll, William Thackary (the English novelist) remarked that the lanes of Killarney were as exotic as any of the "casbahs of the orient." He found them warrenous and wonderful, teeming with trade, trades, all manner of people-women replete with colourful shawls, children galore. Irish would have been the lingua franca, which surely added to his otherworldly ramble too.

It is impossible to grasp or even describe the changes that the town has undergone, instead, I painted a musical wave that might wash over the listener and take them away for a while on some "breeze of the orient."

The guitar was recorded in a room in Atlanta, Georgia. The guitar itself was made in the 1950's in Granada, Spain. I got a loan of it from Chicago native, Steve Seaberg. It once accompanied blues legend J.B. Lenoir! Heres a video of that from the 1960's (Steve is the guy on the left, the guitar makes its appearance starting at 1:40).

As a first time visitor to Ireland, an English lady said to me at a gig last week "It has been strange travelling in Ireland, I wonder, am I in a foreign country?" Then asking me directly and inquisitively she said "am I abroad?" The lady had just apologised for speaking simple English to me, for a little while she instinctively thought my English might be rough! Granted now, I was playing "foreign" Irish music and was sporting a fanciful fedora. So, she can be forgiven, it seems people are still getting carried away on those breezes of the orient!

The Casbahs of Cork!
Neil O' Loghlen is playing double bass on this track, his part was recorded in Killarney. He plays with Ensemble Eriú. The violin is played by Larissa O' Grady. The cello is played by Grace McCarthy. I'm playing the guitar and making the other various sounds. You can purchase the album on digital download here. 

To reserve a copy of the vinyl send an e-mail to

Thursday, September 22, 2016

First Track, Second side

This is the opening track on the flip side of "Where Splendour Falls." Though the lyrics pass through a few filters (one being, they were written by a Frenchman in the 15th century, another being, they were translated into English) I feel their pull very much. They speak of belonging, longing, losing, winning. What are winning when we gain the world and remain alone? Wolves, sheep, cultures, vultures, one cowering, the other devouring, one nodding the other bowing. A man on the side of the road, a scattered remnant, those ar an t-imeall. From the outside, looking in, face pressed against the glass. What can ye see, ye kings of the wild? "A road, a mile of kingdom, I am king of banks and stones and every blooming thing."

In my own country I am in a far-off land,

I am strong but have no force or power.

I win all yet remain a loser
At break of day I say goodnight,

When I lie down I have a great fear of falling.

I die of thirst beside the fountain
I never work, oh but how I labour!
I laugh in tears and hope in despair,
I'm sure of nothing but whats uncertain,
I'm hot as fire shivering in the flames.

I posted this track a few months back. It's been on the go with a few years. 
You can download the album here

I was delighted to have Neil O' Loughlin playing bass on this track. He plays with Ensemble Eriú.

Monday, September 19, 2016

When Cherry Trees Bloom

This song is very much set in Killarney. The Deenagh is a river that runs near that town. I was told that it once ran up New Street, but no more. Cherry Tree Road is by Killarney House, its trees have been cut down, but they will rise again, we are told! Ross Island wood is accessible from the mainland, in fact, you wouldn't know you were on an island traversing it. The song (to me) is about the loss of two separate people, it weaves in and out of those sorrows as it goes along. Lost on an ox-bow lake, stranded on that strange shore.

I went down where cherry trees bloom
and Killarney house it stands,
I dwelt on days that have gone away 
though contented I oft' times am,
those halcyon days, swept away,
as the Deenagh's waters ran.

Come we'll go as blossoms bloom 
to the past's fair distant lands,
in the month of may, in sport and play, 
soon down our soft tears ran,
splendour fall down, echoes resound
as the lark in the clear air sang.

Follow me down rolling silver streams
memory's last flowing strand,
rods, dies, nets cast, set adrift alas,
no fish, nor sailor's sight of land,
Our bright birds flown I'm left to roam 
the Deenagh's murky banks.

Wild rivers run to ox-bow lakes, 
where not a skimmed stone does sound,
then the call of a lark, clear and stark 
as a bugle o'er mountains resounds,
a syphoned dam's bone dry land
memories may gorse fires run.

I went down to Ross Island wood 
when the sky was full of stars,
thoughts set ablaze as they surely stray
to memories distant one,
sanguine summers, fashioned silken covers
now ripped and torn in shards.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Bell

This song is sung to music-an ode to that muse. Through thick and thin, bog and bone, water and stone. The crash and the bang, the bell, the vessels it finds itself in. Ag maireachtaint leis, ag canadh i gcroí lár stoirm. Singing in a storm, grasping at straws blown to the wind. Singing as you are blown away, "Jimmy Joe, winds will blow, carry you onward."

When I wake I feel like a whisper,
murmuring in a cold, cold cell.
Overhead a storm spreads its dark wings
embracing all it spits then yells.

What can you hear when the wind blows?
Can you touch love with your eyes?
What can you see when you’re blinded,
Blinded by the heights of the sky.

What can we see with the same eyes?
I was born on a dream called the world.
Sometimes when I sleep I catch answers,
that slip away, we ride on, waves unfurl.

When I wake I feel like a whisper,
murmuring in a cold, cold cell.
Overhead a storm spreads its dark wings,
embracing all it spits then yells.

Murmuring in a cold, cold corner,
murmuring in a cold, cold cell.
Out on windswept streets leafs* stray as music
Weaving waifs wander as spells.

Then tolls the bell.

* I'm singing leafs rather than leaves, I'm thinking its a colloquial thing. Never thought about it too much until I recorded the song. Maybe it's a residue of bad grammar from when Irish was our first language. 

You can buy the album on digital download here (vinyl release to come) -

Rheidun Shlesinger plays the harp on this track, Ursula Scott is singing backing vocals, Neil O'Loghlen is on the bass, myself is on the guitars and singing. Rheidun brought out a beautiful cd recently with Paul De Grae called "Resonance." Neil plays with Ensemble Eriú

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Angling The Stars

On one of many sojourns in Spain I was 6 months in the mountains of Granada. One night, waking from a strange dream, I walked onto the balcony which was right by my room. I was carried outside by the full moon's rays. The moonlight bounced brightly off the Sierra Nevada and illuminated the whole scene in a strange glow. For a moment, I was still sleeping, wondering where the sun had gone and what planet was I on, why was it so bright? What were all those strange jewels in the sky? "It must be morning, why does the day look so odd yet ethereal?" "how can a night be so bright and beautiful?"

Contemporary engraving of 'The Alhambra' from the time of Washington Irving (from the book 'Tales Of The Alhambra')

I'm currently reading Washington Irvine's book "Tales of The Alhambra." It has put me drifting off on my own moonlit (some bright, some gloomy) memories. Irvine's tome is a diary of sorts from his time in the Alhambra of Granada in Andalusia, Spain. He lived there for a while in the late 1820's. The book intertwines myth and history like manys a good tale. It also has some very lovely and strange asides, like this one...  

"I have often observed that the more proudly a mansion has been tenanted in the day of its prosperity, the humbler are its inhabitants in the day of its decline and that the palace of the king commonly ends in being the nestling-place of the beggar. Though I am inclined at times to fancy that a gleam of the golden age still lingers around the ragged community. They possess nothing, they do nothing, they care for nothing. Yet, though apparently idle all the week, they are as observant of all holidays and saints' days as the most laborious artisan."

Or taking it further, as we say in Irish "níl huasal na íseal ach thuas seal is thíos seal," (Life is not a matter of upper class nor lower class, but up for a while and down for a while).

"Sometimes I have issued forth at midnight, when everything was quiet, and have wandered over the whole building. Who can do justice to a moonlight night in such a climate and in such a place! The temperature of an Andalusian midnight in summer is perfectly ethereal. We seem lifted up into a purer atmosphere; there is a serenity of soul, a buoyancy of spirits, an elasticity of frame that renders mere existence enjoyment."

"Before concluding these remarks, I must mention one of the amusements of the place, which has particularly struck me. I had repeatedly observed a long lean fellow perched on the top of one of the towers, manoeuvring two or three fishing rods, as though he was angling for the stars. I was for some time perplexed by the evolutions of the aerial fisherman and my perplexity increased on observing others employed in the manner on different parts of the battlements and bastions; it was not until I consulted Mateo Jiménez that I solved the mystery. It seems that the pure and airy situation of this fortress has rendered it, like the castle of Macbeth, a prolific breeding place for swallows and martlets who sport about its towers in myriads with the holiday glee of urchins just let loose from school. To entrap these birds in their giddy circling, with hooks baited with flies, is one of the favourite amusements of the ragged sons of the Alhambra, who, with the good for nothing ingenuity of arrant idlers, have thus invented the art of angling in the sky."

engraving of Granada from the book

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Where Splendour Falls

The splendour falls on castle walls 
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on field hill or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Myself and an old friend were often found drinking, and inevitably, singing around Killarney town. One night, after many drinks were imbibed, I sang out some forgotten tune. My compadre was taken by the melody, the next day he proceeded to put it to the words of Tennyson's poem "Where Splendour Falls." On our next meeting, and many since, he sang this song "The Splendour Falls." He told me he got the melody from me, but it is unlike any melody I ever sang... I've been singing it myself ever since!

The poem was written while Tennyson was on a visit to Killarney, Ireland. I think it forms part of an opera called "The Princess." I heard an absolutely beautiful choral version of the song one time, it was, needless to say, a very different beast to my own version.

You can buy a digital download of my album "Where Splendour Falls" here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

This Used to Be Somewhere

This used to be somewhere, now it crumbles and decays
like Babylon of by gone days.
The birds they lift and fly away, they soar to heaven
past swerve of shore and bend of bay,
everything you thought, everything you say,
past Babylon of bygone days.

This used to be somewhere, now the gardens overgrown
Molly dear isn’t coming home.
Thoughts arise in a cloud, they disperse to the wind,
A flock of birds dreamed aloud,
Don’t you know that stranger in the crowd,
It's you its you, every breath every sound.

This used to be somewhere, now it crumbles and decays
Like Babylon of bygone days.

This song encapsulates a lot of what the album is about, that being, remnants and shards, what is left behind. The sounds are collected smithereens, pieced together to fashion something delicate from destruction. Like a child playing in a fireplace after the fire has gone out. The fourth line "past swerve of shore and bend of bay" is ripped from the beginning of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.

Bréanainn Begley is playing the bass on this track. I'm tinkering on the other various instruments and sounds.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Eileen Aroon

Here's the first of the "Where Splendour Falls" blogposts. You can buy the album on digital download and vinyl here. 

The song Eileen Aroon is one I've been attached to for many the year. The song itself, has been around for at least half a millennium. The version I sing here is from the early 19th century, it was composed/adapted by Gerald Griffin. 


When like the dawning day Eileen Aroon
Love sends its early rays Eileen Aroon
What makes the dawning glow, changeless through joy or woe?
Only the constant know, Eileen Aroon

I know a valley fair, Eileen Aroon
I know a cottage there, Eileen Aroon
Deep in that valley's shade I know a tender maid
Flow'r of the hazel glade, Eileen Aroon

Who in the song so sweet, Eileen Aroon
Who in the dance so fleet, Eileen Aroon
Dear were her charms to me, dearer her laughter free
Dearest her constancy, Eileen Aroon

Were she no longer true, Eileen Aroon
What would her lover do, Eileen Aroon?
Fly with a broken chain, far o'er the boundless main
Never to love again, Eileen Aroon

Youth must in time decay, Eileen Aroon
Beauty must fade away, Eileen Aroon
Castles are sacked in war, chieftains are scattered far
Truth is a fixed star, Eileen Aroon.

Gerald Griffin (1803-1840)

Below are some ramblings I wrote with the song in my mind. I will revisit those rambling to mould something more concrete in the coming years. For now, have a read of those unedited wanderings while you listen to the song! 

Aghadoe, Killarney
The land itself made us, fashioned like the curves of rock, stubborn as stubble, the bristle of fur like gorse, eroded stone smooth. Sweet as a song echoing down centuries, a stone thrown by copper mines, a bugle blown on the broad, bright lake brings us back. Once you were a person but now you're a song, a melody straying, wandering, never back to the beginning but always on. There is a woman, eyes closed. A vessel filled with intent-she pours her heart into song.

A young harper in his hut recites the lineage of his clan as his master listens in the darkness. When they finish their study the master sings a song recently heard from a harper who came from the north. As he listens he drifts off into the melody, into reverie. The harper thinks "from darkness must come light." He imagines a bright may morning, the wind is high and it blows up a fresh gust that runs up from rolling planes. Maigh Ealla, flood plane of the swans, a palace of possibilities. We are what we want to be, like the bee covered in fur for pollen with it's million of eyes for seeing. The master, as the last note sounds, smiles. The hut is dark, the masters eyes are closed, for music is sweetest in the dark.

Now, close your eyes, remember the curve of the hill, smooth as a breast over looking lakes. Many women wouldn't climb the fence into that field to follow me to the brow of the hill, but you lept over it and I showed you more than those lovely lakes.

In a strange city, recently arrived. This town is a young mans game too many hills. Men walk into pubs never to walk out again, except for a puff of smoke, then gone in up in a flame, in a flash, shrines are built in their honour next to the frayed edges of their pension books. Their pictures and walking sticks on yellowing walls decay.

John begins to warble again from his pleasant cushioned corner, “Were you no longer true, what would I do.” "Jesus John," she says. "Why do you always wake me from my dreaming?" “Your like a bird in a gilded cage, what good is gold to you when it is your chains, shackled to the wall in golden manacles, I, me, meself and I, I'm like a crow on a wire king of the town. This is my time in the sun, and I'll sit on this fence 'til I'm kicked off."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Those Brave Few

Given it's the centenary of the 1916 rising, what we leave behind has been something that has been on my mind the last year. At the end of April I made my way to a commemoration of the failed landed of 20000 German rifles at Banna Strand near Tralee.

Could Roger Casement, alone, hiding in the dunes from the police, ever have imagined what was to come in 100 years? In some ways, of course he did, that is the point, he dreamt, he imagined, and a sizeable proportion of the population dreamt his dream along with him. In his own native Ulster he got 50000 protestants to sign a republican response to the infamous "Solemn League and Covenant."

Bound For Banna, 1916

Casement's legacy was embroiled in a war of propaganda after he died. "The most dangerous man in the Empire" was too important not to crush entirely. They planned that his memory would be tarnished and darkened so as to make his legacy irrelevant. Even when he was alive, you get the sense that he was fighting against inexorable forces, something that resonates throughout Irish Republican literature. From the covert voyage of the Catalpa, to John Mitchel bound in chains for Van Dieman's Land, From the Fenian Rising in Kerry, to the 1916 rising in Dublin itself, we sometimes forget, these were the brave few. Though many sympathised, few "heard the call."

At the Official State Commemoration at Banna, standing there on the thronged strand, the sense of bringing dreams into reality was overpowering. There were thousands on the beach for the ceremony-the aircorps flew by,  the army marched on, the tricolour waved and Banna Strand was sung. 100 years ago, there was one man on a beach hiding from police.

 "1916 Commemoration, Banna Strand"
The Black diaries were purported to have been written by Casement while in Brazil and the Congo. In amongst his musings on Empire and use and abuse of humans as resources, scattered here and there, are details of homosexual escapades and fantasies.

In 1999 Bertie Ahern (just before he ushered in the era where the tiger ruled supreme) accepted the British findings, which ruled the diaries were legitimate and not forged. I think it is important to remember-the I.R.A. were still bombing England in the 1990's. Whatever British finding were to be doled out to the public, as ever, these would be mightily coloured towards protecting the interests and safety of the Union and its remaining Irish colony in the north.

It is possible the diaries were legitimate, but it seems much too convenient. In some ways, it doesn't now matter, given we live in more enlightened times, its neither here nor there whether he was gay. But that isn't the point, if his diaries were forged by British Intelligence, that is information that should be known to the public. This article here in the Dublin Review of Books, makes a great case for the diaries being forgeries.

Moving forward to 2016, what was heartwarming was the Irish President's response to the current state of Roger Casement's legacy. In his speech on Banna Strand, without condemning and naming the diaries outright, Micheal D Higgins condemned the propaganda (including the diaries) that led to the execution.

"The trial was outrageous for its imperilling of an adequate defence by the circulation of material that would strike a populist note and blacken the defendant in an extra-judicial attempt at undermining the international campaign for clemency."

Trying to come out from under the shadow of Empire is a mighty task. Casement tried to recruit an Irish Brigade from the very many Irish born, British P.O.W.'s in Germany. Only managing to recruit less than 100 soldiers, he was fiercely disappointed. Sometimes I think the image of the Irish Rebel is really a misnomer. The Irish are not generally of rebellious character, so that those few that are, are a virulent crop.

And what is it I mean by all this? I suppose I'm trying to tell myself, and anyone else who might listen, as Anaïs Nin once said "Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together."

Banna Strand, April, 2016

On a more personal note, my great-grandfather, Paddy Casey, was a founding member of the labour party in Kerry. On the subject of memory and commemoration, back in May there was a ceremony and mass for him in the town park in Tralee. Incidentally, he was denounced from the pulpit for being a communist in his own lifetime. So, it was pleasing to see the clergy promote his legacy somewhat, in our own time. A part of that legacy was that he secured the town park for the people of Tralee. He made it his raison d'être, he didn't stop until that dream became a reality. As I walked through the park with my mother I thought on the power of choice and action. My mother was raised for much of her childhood by Paddy. Paddy, because of his dedication to having a town park for the people of Tralee, had a major impact on the things after he died. People now enjoy the park as a public amenity every day of the week. In a world where he hadn't endevoured to secure the park for the people, we wouldn't have been there on that day so many decades later. Myself and my mother would never have walked through the park's verdant splendour. There were little stalls selling all manner of food and goods (the 800th anniversary of Tralee was concurrent with the small ceremony for my great-grandfather). The rain was bucketing down during the mass but we were dry under a beautiful tent-open on all sides onto the lush green.

My mother Aileen with a portrait of her grandfather Paddy Casey
back row, 5th from left, Paddy Casey, standing over James Connolly!

The park is now redolent with Paddy's memory, indeed, its wouldn't be there atall, only that Paddy "brought his dreams into play with action."

Lets keep in mind "the brave few," whether that be Paddy Casey, trying to wrestle control of the park, or casement on a Lonely Strand! In a year of commemoration and memory, would we were as bold as they!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Power Of Song, The Trackless Wild

Lately, I've been musing about the power of song. Song, in some ways, is like prayer, in that, it often seems no-one is listening, but the declarations and incantations can bring us to some unlikely, far flung, sometimes beautiful destinations. Though I'm not one for prayer, I do sing. And it is important to wish, to envisage, to sing, to remember. In my own case, whether it was myself or the songs that took me to those "wild places" I guess I'll never know, a combination of both I suppose.

Buckley's Bar, 2013
For the last few years I've been singing out two songs collected by Edmundo Murray in the Pampa's of Argentina. Edmundo is a founding member of SILAS or the Society for Irish Latin-American Studies. The songs were written in the 1870's by men born in Ireland, living on the Pampa's plains. They were put into print in a local paper ("El Monitor De La Campaña") at that time. It is there they survived to be picked up by Edmundo in recent years. Edmundo had the words, it was easy to breathe melody back into the lyrics. The first lyric tells us it is an Argentinian version of the famous air "The Home I left Behind." The second song, "The Pampa's Fairest Child," fits hand in glove with the air "The Mountains of Pomeroy." I've sung both all around the pubs of Kerry, in bars in Tompkins Square, New York and even out in Cuba. I've sung them beautifully, badly, when no-one was listening and when you could hear a pin drop. I've sung them drunk, sober, merry and sad.

"The Pampa's Favourite Child" details a courtship between a local woman and an Irishman. The song begins "Its not from home this fair ones come, though handsome is her mein." The other song "At E'r As Oer The Trackless Wild," concerns an older Irishman who has spent most of his adult life on the rolling Pampas of Argentina. He looks back with great fondness on "The Home I Left behind." Could that man imagine that his song would be woven into the fabric of new life in a new century through Edmundo collecting the words and my own incantations of the original writer's wistful and beautiful muse?


The Trackless Wild

At e’er as oer the trackless wild my saino* bounds along
My thoughts are of a pleasant land and of a gladsome throng
Of scenes no southern sun can scorch in memories verdant plains
Though bronzed may be the tenement where-in such fancy reigns

And as I reach that distant mount my thoughts come back again
And place before my longing eyes the children of the plains
Whose merry laughs recall the days of innocence and joy e’er
Cares and blighted hopes of youth could sweets of life destroy.

Yet little weep I for them both, my God steed and I
Are sailing o'er the Pampa plain beneath his care on high
And every bound my saino takes rewards a weary strife
And makes me gay and happy in this wilderness of life.

So hail La Plata! though by birth an exile from your shore
Adopted land both wild and grand and I’ll try to love you more
For freedom unadorned hold, last my roving mind
And help me scarce lament the land and home I left behind.

*Saino is a type of horse popular in Argentina.

Once I wrote a song about the San Patricio Battalion, I sung away to myself in English in an empty room in Glenbeigh, Ireland. I found myself singing that same song 10 years later in Irish, to an old Mexican lady in Vera Cruz. Edmundo Murray mentions the song in an article he wrote about Irish music in Latin America entitled "Una Poca De Gracia." I am well aware of the transformative power of song. Songs travel, and men travel with them. Sometimes people listen, sometimes they don't. That song led to me presenting a documentary about John Riley, the leader of the San Patricios. Just last night, I sang another song, "Johnny Dynamite Marine Mambí," to a guy from San Diego. The song was sung while people chatted, oblivious, all around, I had one listener, as far as I'm aware. I've sung that same song to Johnny's great-grandaughters in Arkansas, I've sung it to drunks, loved ones, enemies, amigos and deaf men. I've changed the words numerous times, to try and catch up with my own learnings on the man called "Dynamite John." That particular song and story took me all over the U.S. Cuba and Ireland in pursuit of the bright ghost of a wily mariner. In that way, song is like prayer-we may change the words, the place, the voice, but once it is sung at all, that is what matters.

Here is the last of the Argentinian songs "The Pampa's Fairest Child." It would be great if people would take the two Argentinian songs themselves and start singing them, they have had a hiatus of almost 150 years. Also, it would be mighty if this blogpost started some thought or discourse on the words. The first verse of "The Trackless Wild," in particular, sparks off some wildly beautiful images in my mind!

The Pampa's Fairest Child
By J. J. M.*

It's not from home this fair one's come
Tho' handsome is her mien
She's a fair lass none can surpass
Born on the Pampa's Plains.
My wishes keen have always been
And they still hold out unfailed
to love this dame unknown to fame
The Pampa's Fairest Child.

When I saw her today with her smile so gay
Cupid did me enchain
Perchance ere long if fortunes strong
Her affections I might gain
Her looks do show she's handsome O!
She leaves one all beguiled
Her winning glance I met by chance
The Pampa's Fairest Child.

'Tis natural for me living free
Among the gaucho tribe
To be carried away by a maid so gay
Whose beauty I can't describe.
Some people say I'm led astray
And harbour thoughts too wild
In loving one and others none
The Pampa's Fairest Child.

* 'El Monitor de la Campaña' N° 40
(Capilla del Señor, 25 March 1872)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Snows Of Yesteryear

It's "Bikefest" again in Killarney, it seems to be circling around me, or I've been circling around it, like a bird around a motorbike. I've no bother with the bikes, but about as much interest in them as a bird. I did get a provisional bike license at one point, but those plans came to naught. I once had visions of myself hurdling along the wild atlantic way, but they dissipated like the snows of yesteryear.

It was Bikefest weekend five years ago when I first hummed the melody to "In My Own Country." If I remember correctly, I was waiting for a friend who was ensconced in the dole office. The song will be on the album "Where Splendour Falls," which is going to print as we speak. Dispensing with Cds, I'm having 250 vinyl records of it printed. "In My Own County" is the first track on the second side...

In my own country I am in a far off land,
I am strong but have no force or power,
I win all yet remain a loser.
At break of day I say goodnight,
When I lie down I have great fear of falling.

I die of thirst beside the fountain,
I never work, Oh but how I labour.
I laugh in tears and hope in despair,
I'm sure of nothing, but what's uncertain,
I'm hot as fire shivering in the flames.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Whirlwind Spanish Tour

A blast from the past (in the form of musician Paul Gomez) came and transplanted me to the mountains and valleys of Spain. From El Molar to Alcobendas and from Madrid to San Sebastián de los Reyes we marched a merry way-bringing music from Erin's green shore to arid Spanish planes. We ran the gamut of venues: from caves nestled cosily into mountains, to tents on the sides of motorways in the urban sprawl of Madrid.

Live in "The Cave Of The Wolf!" John Meskel, Myself, and Paul Gomez
Bullfighting and a religious procession were also part of the bargain, though thankfully we didn't have to play music at either! España Cañi is a term that is probably translated best as "Folkloric Spain" and that is certainly what was experienced in the course of our travels.

La Taberna Marinera

Bullfighting, El Molar
The bullfighting is something I'm unlikely to forget anytime soon. I was between two minds as to whether I should go at-all, but in the end I gritted my teeth and said "if I've never experienced it I can't really have a proper opinion of it." After attending the saturday afternoon bullfight on the outskirts of El Molar, I can honestly say bullfighting is not for me, and neither do I think it is something that should still be practiced in 21st century Spain. After seeing the fifth bull butchered I'd had enough and we made a quick exit. To see each bull's stomach muscles repeatedly clench after it was pierced by the pica (like any humans would) was a hard sight to behold. I was told the particular bullfight I was witnessing was decidedly amateur-the bullfighters were student matadors, so hadn't the same skill to cleanly kill the bull as those of more experience would have had. Amateur or not, "the bulls" of "bullfighting" are cruelly killed in a strange and slow pageantry. A band play in the middle of it all- the trumpets burst and the drums roll, sounding the poor animal's long death knell.

 La Ermita de Nuestra Señora del Remolino

On the last day of our visit I followed the statue of "The Virgin Of The Whirlwind" as she made a small tour of the environs around the church she calls home. The statue was brought from "La Ermita de Nuestra Señora del Remolino" in procession around the vicinity, before being moved to another location further up in the mountains.  This occurred in May just before the heat of summer, through a lush and still verdant Spanish valley. Lola, whose grandson was one of the pole-bearers, was my guide. In the evening sun we slowly strolled along as the Virgin completed her small tour. The whole community was camped and parked wherever they could find a space. People took the day to relax, eat and drink, some then followed the procession around the valley. Later that evening, Lola recounted some of the history of La Virgin Del Remolino to me again...