Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Music We've been Playing in Class

Album Title - Artist - Style
Irish Rebel Songs - The Battering Ram - group vocals
The Parting Tide - Nightnoise - Celtic new age, some artists from the Bothy Band
The Golden Dawn - Loretto Reid & Brian Taheny - excellent tin whistle
The Man that I Am - Sean Keane - solo vocalist
Here Among Strangers - Siucra - US-based Celtic ensemble
The Best of Altan - Altan - Donegal-base ensemble, hot fiddle, great Gaelic vocals
Riverdance, Music from the Show - Bill Whelan - featuring various artists
Best of the Bothy Band - The Bothy Band - groundbreaking ensemble trad band, with great vocals
The Chieftains 8 -The Chieftains - the first and the best Irish trad ensemble
The Long Black Veil - The Chieftains
Live From Dublin - The Chieftains
Live - Celtic Thunder - boy band, great vocals lush arrangements
The Back Door - Cherish the Ladies - my favorite group US based - all women - all very talented, group flute and whistle work
Threads of Time - Cherish the Ladies
This is the Day - Christy Moore - traveling balladeer, singer, song writer
Irish Blessings - Dennis Doyle - your humble instructor, US based traveling bard specialises in pieces by Carolan and Celtic Spirituality
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem - classic Irish vocal ensemble, heard on the Ed Sullivan show, most of the music from the collection of Sarah Makem
Deanta Live - Deanta - ensemble out of Donegal, excellent instrumentallists
Wild Blue - Eileen Ivers - one of the top Irish America fiddlers, versatile,exciting, worked with Mick Moloney, Cherish the Ladies and Riverdance, now does world music
Immigrant Soul - Eileen Ivers
Watermark - Enya - related to the Clannad ensemble, then took traditional Gaelic song into a new age direction
Shepherd Moons - Enya
Ancient Rite - Eoin Duignan - excellent flute and tin whistle from the Dingle area
Half Moon Bay - Gerry O'Beirne - excellent soulful guitar player and vocalist, also produces others, worked with Patrick Street
Blath Gach Geag da dTig - Lillis O Laoire - sean nos singer works in Limerick
Great Songs of Ireland and Scotland - Men of Worth - Scoth-Irish ensemble US based
Far From the Shamrock Shore - Mick Moloney - classic trad vocalist, banjo player, now college professor from Limerick but working in Philadelphia, expert on early Irish-American ballads
The Best of the Pogues - The Pogues - ultimate Irish punk experience
Bonny Bunch of Rose - Seamus Ennis - classic trad vocalist
The Brendan Voyage - Shaun Davey - lush arrangments for the uillean pipes
Harmonic Motion - Slide - jazzy, upbeat instrumentals with original songs
For Love and Laughter - Solas - classic upbeat instruments with top musicians from Ireland
The Ultimate Collection - Clannad - Gaelic songs and instrumentals from Donegal, some Carolan
Flight of Green Linnet - Various Artists - sampler from the Green Linnet Label
The Lark in the Morning - Various Artists
Noirin Ni Riain - Noirin Ni Riain - Gregorian Chant through a sean nos and Celtic filter
From My Tradition - Seosamh O hEanai (Joe Heaney) - Classic Sean Nos from a Connamara native who lived in the USA

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writer Mary Pat Kelly Visits our Class

Mary Pat Kelly's most recent book is a fictionalized account of her family's emmigration from Ireland to Chicago during the Potato Famine.

More about the author and her book.

Irish Famine or Starving?

In this world of ours, there is no lack of examples of “Man’s Inhumanity to Man”. My ancestors emigrated from Ireland to escape a sad history of poverty, disease and death. Our holocaust was the great Irish Famine, which was responsible for removing over 20% of the population from either starvation or forced immigration. Ireland’s population has never rebounded to its pre-famine days.

In Ireland, they called it “An Gorta Mor”, the“Great Hunger”. In the late 1840’s, Ireland suffered a series of famines due to the loss of their potato crop. The potatoes were attacked by a fungus from America turning the potatoes into inedible poisonous mush.

While the fungal infection was a natural disaster and impossible to combat, events in Ireland many years before the famine, the mindset and the behavior of the English government made this disaster much, much worse and led to the deaths of about 1.5 million people, the emigration of another 1.5 million and about another million unaccounted for.

The roots of this disaster actually started over 2 hundred years earlier. In the late 16th century, English forces put down a rebellion of Irish nobility. This defeat at the Battle of Kinsale lead to the exile of these Irish leaders. The English government confiscated their lands and protestant settlers from Scotland (loyal to the English) were “planted” on the land (like the way that the English later “colonized” the new world). This set the pattern for how England dealt with trouble from Ireland throughout the following centuries. Ireland, because of its proximity to England, would always have a role in internal English politics and had to be considered in English foreign policy. The Irish supported the Catholic King James II over the English parliament’s protestant choice, William of Orange. When James was defeated, Ireland was punished by even more confiscation of land, plantations of outside groups and a series of brutal “penal laws”, denying native Irish Catholics nearly all civil liberties and property. By the start of the 18th century most of the land in Ireland was held by outside Scottish or English settlers, English soldiers (who received land in pay for their service), land speculators and absentee landlords who lived in England, who used Ireland simply as a source of income.

As for the property that remained in Catholic native Irish hands, the penal laws required that their land should be divided equally between the children upon the death of the owner. This resulted in smaller and smaller parcels of land being passed on from generation to generation.

By far, though, most of the Irish were left landless, as tenant farmers. They raised what little food they could on small squalid plots, barely feeding their families and burdened with paying rent for the privilege.

The most unfortunate people, though, were the spalpeens or day laborers, working other peoples rented land for bare sustenance.

Into this mix, came the potato plant, introduced from the new world reportedly by Sir Walter Raleigh a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. The good thing about the potato was that it is a nutritious food, together with milk and butter, provided most vitamins that a family would need. The diet was filling, if not balanced and the Irish learned to make a lot of different dishes from the potato. It was easy to grow and it didn’t take much space to grow. With land at a premium and small parcels the rule, and rents high, you might just barely be able to feed your family with a patch of ground about the size of 2 classrooms. If you raise a pig on the side from the scraps, you could use that to pay the annual rent to the landlord. You could expect 2 crops a year, one in late spring and then one in the fall. The fall crop was the largest and it would have to be big enough to keep a family fed through the cold winter months. The disadvantage of the potato was that it is a delicate crop, the victim of several types of disease, easily damaged by bad weather, and subject to frequent failures. They used only one species of potatoes, called "lumpers" which had all the problems of a monoculture. Potatoes wouldn’t keep also. You couldn’t store potatoes year to year, like you could corn or other grains.

We know now about the danger of relying on a single delicate crop, but at the time it seemed like a blessing. Despite the extreme poverty of the Irish people, the potato provided a decent diet for the first time in many years. With the introduction of a relatively nutritious food, and the relative peace in the early 1800’s, infant mortality improved, and the Irish population boomed to over 8 million people. (Now it is about 4.5 million).

The first word about any trouble with the potato came in spring 1845 when there was news of a “potato blight” in the United States. There was fear that it would cross the ocean when there were reports of a similar blight in Belgium and on the Isle of Wight off England. Soon, reports from all over Ireland mentioned signs of distress with the potato. At first, government officials thought that the problem was local and exaggerated, especially since most potatoes appeared okay when first taken out of the ground. But after a few days of storage became piles of black putrid decaying mush. We know now that the disease was spread by airborne spores, which would attack wet spots on the potato leaves and skin and rapidly destroy a family’s entire annual supply in a few days.

As the year moved on, it became apparent that the failure of the crop was nearly universal in Ireland and that there was going to be general starvation if something wasn’t done. The Prime Minister at the time was Sir Robert Peel. He was no friend to the Irish, but was an efficient and capable statesman, and concluded that the Irish diet had to be supplemented by grain, but this was complicated to do. Corn was an important staple in the English economy, protected by high tariffs. If the government were to buy large quantities of corn in England, it would drive up the price for English consumers; on the other hand, certain tariff laws would need to be repealed if he were to bring in grain from somewhere else. This was not popular with English farmers, who relied on the protectionist tariffs to keep their profits regular. His efforts to repeal the “Corn Laws” nearly got him removed from office, but they were repealed and he was able to order a quantity of maize or “Indian corn” from the United States. They believed that the maize might not interfere so much with the English corn market, since there was already a market for it. Unfortunately, he would have needed to order at least 30 times the amount he bought to cover the need in Ireland.

Peel and his Secretary of the treasury, a man by the name of Charles Trevelyan believed in a philosophy of economics called laissez faire, a belief in government non-interference in private enterprise, commerce. Property rights also trumped all other rights. Peel and Trevelyan planned to use the corn not to feed the Irish directly, but to balance out the market and to force the price of corn low in Ireland so that it might be purchased by the Irish and sold by English vendors. The market, thus adjusted would make sure everyone was taken care of.

The problem with this plan, hatched in London, was that it bore no resemblance to the reality in Ireland, especially in those remote areas in the west of Ireland where the famine was the worst. Ireland had been degraded and so mistreated by England, that parts of the country couldn’t access markets and weren’t even using currency, as they were in a barter economy (trading a pig for rent, for example). There was no way for Ireland to reasonably respond to market forces. Things that made perfect sense in England would not work in Ireland. Furthermore, the English officials were morally opposed to simply give away the grain to starving people; no, they had to work for currency to be used to purchase the grain by doing make-work road building or workhouse projects. Since roads weren’t suppose to give any undue advantage to any particular landowner, crazy roads to nowhere were built, still to be seen today in Ireland.

Furthermore, some of the funding for the program was supposed to come from local landlords, most of which were in bad straights themselves. The most ironic thing about this period of time was that, while people were starving, Ireland was producing enough food to feed itself, but the English landlords had to export food out of the country to meet their own debts and expenses. Food production actually rose during the famine years.

The Indian corn also proved to be another problem. It was harder than regular English corn and required an extra milling to make flour. Once again the places that were struck the most with the crop failure, had relied mostly on the potato, so they didn’t have the infrastructure to even grind the grain. Once people had the grain, they couldn’t grind it finely enough to put it to use. Eating poorly ground grain caused dysentery in people already weak from hunger. The harbors near those places weren’t large enough to accommodate the ships carrying the grain.

Soon all depots for food distribution, workhouses and other accommodations for starving people were overwhelmed.

At about this time, there was a change in government in London. Because of the unpopularity of the repeal of the corn tariff in England, Peel was removed as prime minister and replaced by Lord John Russell. Russell came into power in time for the second annual total failure of the potato crop in 1846. Russell, however, was even more committed to a laissez faire than was Peel. He advocated no additional help for Ireland. Trevelyan, remaining as Treasury secretary believed that famine was brought on by God and that the Irish should simply deal with it themselves. They both believed that market forces and free trade would solve the problem. Instead, we started to see the first massive numbers deaths from starvation in October of ’46.

At first, most deaths came from wasting diseases due to malnutrition: typhus, relapsing fever, dysentery from eating badly prepared corn, seaweed, simply any plant or animal available, scurvy and dropsy. At the peak of the famine in 1847, many deaths were from outright starvation. They still refer to that year as “Black ‘47”.

Tenant farmers, held back as long that they could from eating their livestock. They needed to use that livestock, (possibly a pig) to barter for their rent. As bad as these thatched huts were, wet, cold, dirt floors, one room, smoky, the livestock living with the family, it was particularly horrible to be evicted from these shabby homes and all your belongings put out on the road. The process of eviction happened to thousands of families during this period; people were reduced to living in ditches, starving, no shelter, and no work. Your old cottage was “tumbled” i.e. intentionally destroyed and the roof torn off by the landlord’s agent and the sheriff. The rights of property were absolute, so the landlord could evict you with little notice and for no reason, if they wished, even if you could pay the rent. Some landlords “shoveled- out” i.e. paid for passage oversees for entire groups of tenants on boats bound for the new world called coffin ships. Many landlords took advantage of the famine to clear their land of all tenants to open up the land for grazing cattle or sheep. This was the Marketplace responding to the emergency.

With the government doing little, outside groups responded to the famine. The Quakers set up soup kitchens. There were donations from England, more from overseas from Irish Americans, the Ottoman Empire, and even American Indians. Some religious groups offered soup to people who converted to their particular sect. People scorned those who “took the soup” and changed their religion. They called them the “soupers”…

People were desperate to get out; laws prevented easy emigration to England after the first years of the famine. After a while, none of the ports in North America wanted to take the ships full of sick and dying people. Immigration to Canada was originally easier and cheaper than to the USA because ships bearing timber from Canada could return to North America with hopeless Irish. Canada had their own problem with quarantine centers with ships full of sick people. A small island in the St.Lawrence Seaway called Grosse Isle was the site of over 11 thousand deaths due to ship-born wasting diseases and starvation, because Canadian authorities could not allow them to land in nearby Quebec City.

It was in 1849 when my great-great grandparents, Francis and Ann Doyle brought their children Margaret, Thomas and Patrick from County Wicklow through the port of Cork to America through the port of Baltimore, Maryland. Patrick was my great grandfather. They ended up in Williamstown, PA, north of Harrisburg, where Francis worked in the coalmines. They had 5 more children in the new world before Francis died at age 49.

The famine changed Ireland forever. Besides losing an estimated 25% of the population, entire districts were cleared of people. The famine cut the heart out of the Irish language, Gaelic, as most of the victims were Gaelic speakers. English continues to be the dominant language of Ireland despite government efforts to keep Gaelic alive. Religious expression became much more strict and puritanical and Victorian. Pregnancy outside of marriage could be an economic disaster. People delayed marriage later and later, until the parents died and the oldest son inherited the farm. You ended up with many marriages consisting of late middle age (rather old men) men and very young women. Emigration became a fact of life for all the rest of the children in a typical Irish family, as there were few prospects for them at home. Those who did emigrate formed a ready-made group of people who really hated the English, who knew that Ireland, which was supposed to be part of the United Kingdom, i.e. an important part of the England state, had been abandoned and mistreated grievously. The Irish concluded that there was no way England could be trusted again to support Irish interests unless forced to. Soon, the Irish Republican Brotherhood was started in New York, which lead to more rebellion in Ireland and eventual home rule and separation from England in early the next century. Some have said that bitterness from these oppressive events led Ireland to sit out World War II as a neutral state while England was under attack from Germany.
I’ll end now with a few verses from an old song about the famine:

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
Micheal they are taking you away
For you stole Trevelyn's corn
So the young might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.

Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Turlough O'Carolan 1670-1738

Toirdhealbhach O'Cearbhallain

'Wider than the heavens is my fame...I am the best as regards the power of my fingers...nobody will ever be found to match me..."

'Ludicrous tales delighted him..."
Charles O'Connor

"Est homo qui potest bibere"
(He is a man who is able to drink!)
Jonathan Swift

In Ireland about 300 years ago, there lived a harpist, singer and composer by the name of Turlough 'O Carolan. He was born in West Meath around 1670. When he was eighteen, he caught small pox, a disease which was usually fatal at the time. His life was spared, but he was left permanently blind. Turlough's blindness, in a way, was a blessing because it awakened in him a hidden gift for music. A local noble woman by the name of Mary Fitzgerald McDermott Rowe saw to it that he was trained in the Irish harp, gave him a horse and guide and sent him on his way.

At first, he was not considered a great musician. (The ancient bards were supposed to have started their training when they were still young children and Carolan didn't start until he was an adult.) One of his first patrons, a Squire Reynolds, suggested that he try his hand at composition. His first work, "Si Beag, Si Mor", resulted from this suggestion. After he finished the composition, his fame was spread throughout all of Ireland and he started his career.

The way Carolan made his living, was to travel from big house to big house, from castle to castle, entertaining the households and the friends of some of the most famous and wealthy people of Ireland at the time. Often, as a special favor, he would write a tune in honor of the man of the house, or his wife or daughter. He called these tunes "Planxties". He was very successful and people would often delay weddings and funerals until he could be present to play the appropriate tune.

When Carolan was a very young man, before his blindness, he met and fell in love with a young woman named Bridget Cruise. Bridget was part of a noble family and Carolan's family was of skilled laborers, so a match could never be made. And even though he went on to live a very successful life, he never forgot Bridget and wrote 3 planxties in her honor. He met her again near the end of his life, when he was on his way to a religious retreat in County Donegal. He happened to touch a woman's hand and instantly recognized that it was hers.

Carolan was also famous for his love of drink, especially Irish whiskey. He wrote a tune in honor of whiskey. As he was dying, he called for one last cup of his favorite brew. His dying words were said to be "the drink and I have been friends for so long, it would be a pity for me to leave without one last kiss." And he died.


•1601 Battle of Kinsale marks the beginning of the end of Gaelic independence.
•1607 Flight of the Earls.
•1670 Carolan born near Nobber in County Meath.
•1684 His father John Carolan and family move west to County Leitrim.
•1688 Blinded by smallpox.
•1690 Battle of the Boyne, July 1.
•1692 He starts his public life as a traveling harper.
•1695 Introduction of the Penal Laws.
•1720 He marries Mary Maguire. She was a "young lady". He was 50. They had seven children; one boy and six girls. They lived in Mohill, County Leitrim.
•1733 Mary passes away.
•1738 Carolan passes away on March 25 (Saturday) at 68 years of age at the MacDermott Roe Estate, "Alderford" in County Roscommon and is buried with much ceremony in the church yard of Kilronan.

As a man he was:
-conscious of his position, convivial, high spirited, a serious drinker, irascible, proud, a teacher, a lover of ludicrous tales, a quick wit, a composer for Gael and Gall, a clever versifier, a skilled satirist, a flirt, and a liturgical musician.

His poetry was:
-secondary to the music, mostly in Irish, dignified and polished, described men and respectable women and their ancestry, hospitality and kindness (traditional court themes), had a cheerful and "carpe diem" attitude, is characterized by internal consonant and vowel rhyme and assonance of stressed vowels.

His poetry
translations by Dennis Doyle

Ode to Whiskey

A h- uisci chroidhe na n-anamann!
Leagan tú ar la'r me',
Bim gan chéill, gan aithne,
'Sé an t-eachrann do b'fhearr liom.
Bíonn mo chóta stracaighthe,
Agus caillim leat mo charabhat,
Is bíodh a ndéarnais maith leat,
Acht teangmhaigh liom amárach!

O Whiskey, heart of my soul!

You always knock me down.
I'm without sense, I don't know where I am!
You'd think that I'd take the warning.

My coat is all torn up and
I lost my cravat because of you.
But let all you've done be forgiven,
So long as you meet me again tomorrow!

Miss Featherston (Carolan's Devotion)

Originally in English:

On a fair Sunday morning devoted to be
Attentive to a sermon that was ordered for me,
I met a fresh rose on the road by decree,
And though Mass was my notion, my devotion was she

Welcome, fare Lily, white and red,
Welcome was every word that we said,
Welcome bright angel of noble degree.

I wish you would love and that I were with thee,
(I pray don't frown at me with mouth or eye.)
So I told the fair maiden with heart full of glee,
Though Mass was my notion, my devotion was she.

Planxty Fanny Power (Mrs. Trench)

(Bean an Trinsigh)

Is mian liom labhairt ar óig-mhaol shuairc.
Is uaisle geanúla gnaol agus cáil,
Do bhios insa mbaile tá ag cuan Loch Riabhach
Táim buioch nar casadh mé laimh léi.

Is aerach is tréitheach an mhaighdean bhreá scafánta
Grá chroí na héireann an péarla deas galanta
ïOlaidh go tréan is ná déanaigi failli,
Faoi thuairim Fainí nion Dáibhi.

Siúd í an eala tá ag taobh a' chuain
Na sluaite fear dul in éag dá grá
'S í Faini deas geanúll na ndlaoi is na ndual
Fuar bua go minic le haille.

Nár fhága mé an saol ó go mbi mé go ceannasach
A' damhsa go h'aerach is mé ar do bhainis sé
Fógraim an té sin a d'iarrfadh aon spré leat,
A phéarla leanbh na mbán ghlac.

I wish to speak of a gracious young lady,
A loveable lady of beauty and reputation,
Who lives in the town near the bay of Loch Riabhach.
I'm thankful that I had the chance to meet her.

She's lively, airy, - a cultured fine maiden,
The love of all Ireland and a nice cultured pearl.
O drink up now and don't be slack!
To Fanny, the daughter of David.

She is the swan at the edge of the bay,
Crowds of men are dying for her love.
She's nice gentle Fanny of locks and braids,
Who often gets the prize for beauty.

May I not leave this world, if I may be so bold,
Unless I can first cheerfully dance at your wedding feast.
I challenge the one who would ever ask a dowry for you,
O Pearl-Child of white hands.

pictures here of O'Carolan sites

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mo Ghile Mear - A Jacobite Song

Sé mo laoch mo Ghile Mear
‘Sé mo Chaesar, Ghile Mear,
Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin
Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear.

He's my champion my Gallant Darling, he's my Caesar, a Gallant Darling, I've found neither rest nor fortune since my Gallant Darling went far away.

Bímse buan ar buairt gach ló,
Ag caoi go cruaidh ‘s ag tuar na ndeór
Mar scaoileadh uaim an buachaill beó
‘S ná ríomhtar tuairisc uaidh, mo bhrón.

Every day I'm constantly enduring grief,weeping bitterly and shedding tears,because my lively lad has left me and no news is told of him - alas (my sorrow!).

Ni haoibhinn cuach ba suairc ar ndeoin
Taid fiorchaoin uasal ar uaithne sport,
Taid saoite suaite i mhuairt 's i mbron
O scaoileadh uainn an buachaill beo.

The cuckoo sings not pleasantly at noon, the gentry do not enjoy their sport, the wise and learned are in sorrow and mourning, Since he went away from me, my lively boy

writen by the 18th century poet Sean Clarach MacDomhnail. It is one of many Irish Jacobite songs written in honour of Prince Charles Stewart, who was known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie".