Saturday, May 16, 2020

Wine Dark Sea, In Wild Profusion, Creamh na Coille

Wild garlic season is just finishing up in Ireland, and as a farewell to Erin's green shore it blossoms profusely in white flowerings throughout the land. Thanks to this wonderful plant I've eaten a-lot of beautiful wild garlic pesto and wild garlic soup the last couple of months, as well as going on some lovely walks in the woods! On one of said walks, I made this music video for "The Wine Dark Sea," an extra track from "Hy Brasil, Songs of the Irish in Latin America." I've released the song as a pay as you please single on Bandcamp.

Wild garlic (creamh in Irish) has been known for its curative properties for millennia. In Ireland it was known particularly for treatment of fevers. Creamh has illustrious and wildly expansive Indo-European roots. In Russian it is called ceremsa, krémuon in Greek, In old Irish it was crem and in middle Irish crim. It was used as a flavouring for butter in Gaelic times and every year there was a garlic festival. This part of the year was called Crimmess (Crim feis) meaning, literally, garlic festival. The word is found in place-names across the country, for example, Achadh Creamhchoille (Aghacramphill) in Fermanagh, Gleann Creamha (Glencrew) in Tyrone, and Inis Creamha on Loch Coirb in Galway. Wild garlic is associated with bitterness too, and the 17th century harper, Tadgh Rua Ó Conchuair, described a fellow musician's bad playing as like seirbhe an creamha "the bitterness of wild garlic."

Faghairt caorthainn ar a chrobh,
'na ladhraibh do leagh an creamh,
sás marbh do mhosgladh a huaigh
cosgradh cruiadh na n-arm n-amh.

A fiery tempered blade in his talons
As claws fumbling with wild garlic
A terror ensnared on his tomb
awful mangling, butchering raw his weapon

Another interesting aside regarding garlic comes in what was called "Garlic Sunday." Garland's are associated with festivals in general in the English tradition, and according to the book "The Festival of Lughnasa" the English settlers in Ireland brought this term to Ireland and the Irish in turn translated it to "Garlic Sunday." The Irish language festival on this day (the last Sunday of July) was Domhnach Crom Dubh. Cruach Dubh (Crom Dubh) was the pre-Christian fertility God of Ireland who continued to be celebrated (often unbeknownst to the worshippers/merrymakers) until the modern era. In Lahinch in County Clare it was a religious festival and general mad melee until at least the 1920's. Loch Uachtar in Cavan also had a similar festival that died out too in the early 20th century. The book the "The Festival of Lughnasa" says "the gathering there was very large and people came to it from long distances if the day was fine."

Garlic was found in Egyptian tombs dating from the 18th century B.C. and wild garlic adorns the lifestyle supplements of our daily papers in our own era each season, here is a recipe I made my own from one such publication. I read that wild garlic can be substituted or supplemented with nettle, another fine local ingredient to try out.

Wild Garlic Pesto

100 g fresh wild garlic leaves
30 g pine nuts
200 ml rapeseed oil
30 g grated, parmigiano-reggiano
20g Gubeen Cheese (or Coolea Cheese or mature Desmond)
black pepper and sea salt


Díolaim Luibheanna
Nicholas Williams

Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture
edited by J. P. Mallory, Douglas Q. Adams

Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200
By Daibhí O Croinín

Acta Orientalia, A Eurasian Etymology Sarmysak (Vol 55, 2002)
María Magdolna Tartár 

The Festival of Lughnasa
Máire MacNeill

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Na San Patricios

This is the third music video from "Hy Brasil, Songs of the Irish in Latin America." I shot it on my ramblings through Mexico this winter. The locations on film are-Oaxaca, Chiapas, Mexico City & Monterrey. As well as filming iconic scenery, I shot sites associated with the San Patricio Battalion (one of which I had visited on a previous expedition, during the filming of Saol John Riley). Saol John Riley was broadcast on TG4 (the Irish language T.V. station) back in 2010. It was an interesting feeling to be travelling 10 years later to the same location, I must say, thinking back on those days of yore, it feels like I was a different person way back then. Time changes everything!

Na San Patricios is in Irish, I've put Spanish subtitles with this video, hoping to disseminate it in the Latin American world. I also hope to sing a Spanish version of the song, more on that soon in another cartoon. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

From a Country of Clouds

The only instrumental track on 'Hy Brasil, Songs of the Irish in Latin America' is 'Country of Clouds.' It is an illusory piece that I have been tinkering with for many's the year, the meat of it only appeared over the last twelve months, but the bones were rattling around my noggin with a decade. For me, Country of Clouds is first and foremost some music that I imagined, but, in another way, it tells of the integration of the Irish into the Spanish and Latin-American world. It pays homage to those who were subsumed and also in another less quantifiable way alludes to those native peoples who integrated those large colonising forces in Mexico and survived the Spanish conquest. Country of Clouds could also be construed as Ireland, which has been plundered too by these same colonial conquests. Much like the interplay of clouds it is impossible to unravel and the forces at play continue to collide and interweave today.

While in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico (coincidentally, with a book called 'Invention of Clouds' in hand) I began forming the idea for these nebulous ramblings! For many years I've been singing the song 'Canción Mixteca,' a Mexican ballad, popularised by Ry Cooder and the film 'Paris, Texas' in the English speaking world. Heres a translation of the lyrics from Spanish.

 "How far I am from the land where I was born, immense nostalgia invades my thoughts, oh to see me so alone and crestfallen, like a leaf gone with the wind, I could cry, I would die of grief. Country of Sun, I breathe to see you, now so far from me, I live without light, without love." 

While I sing this song, I've been singing along with it the Irish ballad "Love is Teasing" (which I learned from my father). Though it seems unrelated, it somehow evokes a similar sadness as 'Canción Mixteca.' 'Love is Teasing' begins-

'I left my father, I left my mother, I left my friends and relations too, I left all my brave companions, I left them all for to follow you.'

In Oaxaca, I learned of the Mixtec people from whom 'Canción Mixteca' gets its name. This ethnic group are spread from Puebla to those Mixtecos de la costa in Oaxaca and Guerrero. Mixtec means 'people of the clouds.' Having spent a few busy weeks in Oaxaca, I set off for the coast. Our bus weaved on and up the mountains over San Gabriel, Mixtepec, to finally trundle down to Puerto Escondido, our final destination, nestled cosily by the Pacific ocean. Mixtepec means 'hill of clouds' and that hill is hundreds of metres higher than our own lofty Carrantouhil, which certainly will never be reached by bus!

The footage for the music video to 'Country of Clouds' was taken at various parades and celebrations-one in Mexico City (at the 'Day of the Dead'), another in Bocarient, Spain (at Moros y Cristianos) and finally at 'White Nights' in the imperial city of St. Petersburg, Russia. In one last nod at trying to draw something concrete from clouds, one of my favourite novels 'Cloud Atlas' (by west Cork based English author, David Mitchell) is a beautiful paean to all these collisions of seemingly unrelated forces!

What grand tapestry is God weaving? We have no idea, only that it has poignancy, beauty and horror, often equal measure. All these elusive strands weave in and out of one another, their significance cannot be grasped, and the threads though common and interlaced, finally disperse and find another form.