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.