Saturday, January 30, 2021

Hy Brasil, The Land of The Blest (live)


On the ocean that hollows the rocks where ye dwell,
A shadowy land has appeared, as they tell;
Some thought it a region of sunshine and rest,
And they called it Hy-Brasil, the land of the blest;

From year unto year, on the ocean’s blue rim,
This beautiful spectre shone lovely and dim;
Golden clouds curtained the deep where it lay,
And it looked like an Eden, away, far away!

A peasant who heard of this wonderful tale,
On a breeze of the Orient loosened his sail;
From Ara, the holy, he turned to the west,
For though Ara was holy, Hy-Brasil was blest.

He heard not the voices that called from the shore,
He heard not the rising wind’s menacing roar;
Home, kindred, and safety he left on that day,
And he sped to Hy-Brasil, away, far away!

Morn’ rose on the deep, and that shadowy isle
Though the faint rim of distance reflected its smile;
Noon burned on the wave, and that shadowy shore,
Seemed lovelier and distant, and faint as before;

Lone evening came down on the wanderer’s track,
To Ara again he looked timidly back;
Far on the verge of the ocean it lay,
And the land of the blest was away, far away!

Rash dreamer, return! on ye winds of the main,
Bear him back to Ara again.
Rash fool! for a vision of fanciful bliss,
To barter thy calm life of labour and peace.

The warning of reason was spoken in vain;
He never came back to Ara again!
Morn’ rose on the deep, amidst tempest and spray,
And he died on the ocean, away, far away!

This song was written by Gerald Griffin in 1830, where he titled it O'Brazil. Gerald is most famously known for a novel he wrote called "The Collegians," which in turn inspired a play, "The Colleen Bawn," and in turn inspired the opera, "The Lily of Killarney." "The Land of the Blest" is dedicated to the people of Milltown. I came across that dedication (and a couple of verses I haven't seen anywhere else) in a beautiful biography of Gerald's written by his brother. Heres those omitted verses, it seems they were rejigged majorly for the version that went on to be sung popularly since. The verses below are a bit preachy, I wonder did Gerald make those changes to come? Or maybe he changed his original verses and these new ones never took off. The video above is the first instalment of live versions of the songs from "Hy Brasil, Songs of the Irish in Latin America."

Friday, January 22, 2021

Macalla Chill Áirne

"Macalla Chill Áirne" is a recreation of the Victorian tour of Killarney's lakes using the phenomenon of "The Killarney Echo" as a spine to hang the rest of the meat of the film on. In March of last year I applied for a grant for this short film from the Kerry County Council. I had no luck with the grant but resolved to get the project off the ground by hook or by crook. The summer was spent preparing the crew of twenty two for two days filming in early autumn on the lakes of Killarney.

The premise of "Macalla Chill Áirne" goes like this-there are six people aboard a boat, two boatmen speak Irish, two women English, two more or less mute musicians are also aboard. One of the boatmen's brothers is on the run from the police, one of the ladies has lost her wedding ring. On the surface, the film is a recreation of the Victorian visitor's trip through Killarney's lakes. Digging deeper, the film concerns the clash of Irish and English cultures. In a way, its like two galaxies colliding, they swirl around each other, don't even communicate until they become one (its thought that star systems are largely unaffected by Galactic collisions!). The film echoes some of the colonial experience, how the colonised are forced to live in two worlds, many times forsaking their own culture for the supplanted one, how the coloniser is seldom wont to engage with the native culture.

Looking at Ireland in the present, Irish people are infinitely more aware of British culture and happenings that British people are of Irish culture. When it comes to anything Gaelic, for most English it may as well be (to take that galactic references a step further) Klingon or Martian culture-a dim fairyland of fantasy.  On film the two cultures don't interact-the two boat men have their language and preoccupations, the two ladies theirs, and never the twain should meet. The musicians are like a conduit between the cultures, they herald out the old and in the new, they ape the customs of the colonial cohorts while sounding an Irish lament. The lament doesn't last long 'til it is (as the poet Eoghan Rua said) "blasted by the bloom of England's Rose." The roar of a cannon signals the end of music. The cataclysm of the great famine is echoed at throughout the short film. Though it isn't immediately obviously, our foresight as the audience of this future calamity hangs heavy on the proceedings. The film is set in 1837, a few short years before Ireland will be changed utterly.

Seán Ó Garbhí played the part of the older boatman Diarmuid, Séamus Barra Ó Súilleabháin played the lead role of Partlán. Seán is a powerful sean nós singer, Séamus is rap-poet that is as much at home in the tradition of 18th century Gaelic poets like Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin as modern slam and rap poetry. In the image above we see Partlán converses with Diarmuid as "The Eagle's Nest" mountain looms in the distance.

The music used for the echo was an arrangement I wrote (for French horn and trumpet) of this beautiful caoineadh (Irish lament).  I went into a-lot of the historical detail of the echo in this previous blogpost. These descriptions of the echo at the cliffs of the Eagle's Nest use large dollops of hyperbole.  A cannon was fired in times pasts, it was set off after the final echoes of music subsided to rupture the silence with heart pumping sound. The following extract detailing that cannon fire is from an 1834 "Guide to Killarney and Glengariff" by George Newenham Wright.

"It is from this sublime and stupendous rock the sound is returned in so miraculous a manner, that it is considered one of the most singular phenomena in existence. A small hillock on the opposite side of the river, usually called the "Station for Audience," is used as the resting place of a paterara, which is carried in the boat from Killarney: the gunner is placed on one side of the hillock and the auditor on the other, and upon the discharge of the piece, a roaring is heard in the bosom of the opposite mountain, like a peal of thunder, or the discharge of a train of artillery, and this echo is multiplied a number of times, after which it gradually fades away like the rolling of distant thunder. The exact residence of the eagle may be distinguished by a black mark near the vertex of the rock, and the noble inhabitant is frequently seen soaring above the heads of passengers on the river, and directing their admiring gaze towards his inaccessible retreat. The sound of a musical instrument produces reverberations of quite a different character from that of the musket or small cannon. The only instrument that can be procured at Killarney is a bugle, which is peculiarly appropriate for the production of echoes."

The image above is of Sean Looney (co-producer) on one of our many expeditions to the Eagle's Nest in search of its echos. Macalla Chill Áirne will be released in the summer of 2021.