Ireland has been blessed with some extraordinary Singers.
Mary and Luke sing with natural authority.
Singing songs all their lives.
Silver songs of Freedom.
Songs for Ireland.
Louis MacNeice’s long autobiographical Poem, ‘Autumn Journal’ has had a prominent place on my shelves for more than 50 years now (I was a precocious Poetry devotee).
Today I feature two exquisite shorter poems which demonstrate his technical accomplishment and plangent imagination.
… I am not yet born; provide me With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.
And ain’t it the truth ….
It’s no go the merrygoround, it’s no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.
If you are Irish or know someone who is Irish or of Irish heritage (and that’s all of you!) please share these Hail St Patrick Posts as widely as possible.
I forgot that not only did I have a duty to celebrate the season of St Patrick here on The Jukebox I also had to celebrate in person and recover from those celebrations!
So, a little delayed, but I trust well worth the wait, the Official Immortal Jukebox St Patrick’s Day Post!
Now read on ….
All Hail St Patrick!
All Hail the Women of Ireland
Today we conclude our tribute to the intelligence, wisdom and beauty the Women of Ireland have brought to the arts of Song, Poetry and Painting.
Songs by Eleanor McEvoy (At the Mid Hour of Night & A Woman’s Heart) & AIlie (The Rocky Road to Dublin).
A Poetry Reading by Paula Meehan – ‘The Pattern’.
A Painting by Moyra Barry (1886-1960) : ‘Cinerria’
More years ago than I care to count seeking sanctuary from the crazed cacophony of life in London I frequented an out of the way social club whose clientele was largely comprised of Irish men and women who had emigrated to England in the late 40s/early 50s.
For an hour or two I would savour a pint or two of plain and drink in the rich accents and the rich conversation.
One of the habitues of the club, a whiskery Corkman, let’s call him Seamus, always greeted me by announcing, ‘You buy me a pint of porter and I’ll sing you one of Moore’s Melodies’.
My reply was always, ‘Done – let’s start with, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ and if the thirst is on you and the humour on me we won’t stop until we’ve sung, ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’, ‘The Harp’ and, ‘The Minstrel Boy’ before we leave.
I usually emerged spiritually refreshed if somewhat intoxicated from the porter and the romanticism of the melodies.
Thomas Moore was something of a 19th Century superstar in English and Irish society.
His, ‘Melodies’ lyrics set to established Irish tunes and melodies were much admired by Lord Byron and became songs that entered deep into the consciousness of generations.
As such, in modern Ireland, they came to be regarded, in certain chilly circles, as period pieces from the parlour best left to the tourists to enjoy.
A view I never had any time for.
So, I was delighted to learn that Eleanor McEvoy had recorded an album entirely devoted to Thomas Moore Songs, ‘The Thomas Moore Project’.
The distinguishing mark of Eleanor’s career, for me, was a wholly admirable creative restlessness which led her never to attempt to simply repeat earlier successes but rather to challenge herself to open up new artistic territory with every new record.
It seemed to me that her background; incorporating a music degree, a spell in the RTE Symphony Orchestra and a string of imaginative singer/songwriter albums made her an ideal candidate to present refreshed versions of songs from Moore’s great canon illuminating them brightly for new generations to enjoy.
And, praise be!, the, ‘Thomas Moore Project’ turned out to be an absolute triumph due to the endless care and consideration with which the songs were approached.
Original, imaginative arrangements combined with superb instrumental playing and heart-piercingly intimate vocals shook the dust off and revealed the ravishing beauty and sophisticated emotional acuity of Moore’s works.
Eleanor McEvoy’s take on, ‘At the Mid Hour of Night’ reanimates those, ‘past scenes of delight’ and is indeed rapture to hear.
‘At the mid hour of night when stars are weeping, I fly To the lonely vale we lov’d when life shone warm in thine eye; And I think that if spirits can steal from the region of air, To revisit past scenes of delight; thou wilt come to me there, And tell me our love is remember’d even in the sky.
Then I’ll sing the wild song, which once ’twas rapture to hear, When our voices, both mingling, breathed like one on the ear, And, as Echo far off thro’ the vale my sad orison rolls, I think, oh my love! ’tis thy voice from the kingdom of souls Faintly answering still the notes which once were so dear!’
Our Poetry Reading today comes from a former Ireland Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan.
She has a plenitude of poetic powers at her command.
Reading through her works it seems that no aspect of the struggle to live a human life in our times has escaped her poetic eye and ear.
There is tenderness and rage, grief and joy and empathy embedded in her poetry.
She is a Poet who believes in the enduring power of Poetry to affect the human heart.
Her Poems exemplify the truth that there is a never to be sounded mysterious energy and power in Poetry.
She has said that, ‘ …Poems tell stories but there are also poems that just give you a moment of vision or transcendence .. two lines, two lines can save a life, I believe it.’
In, ‘The Pattern’ Paula Meehan captures with truth and tenderness the gravitational power of the Mother/Daughter relationship.
Today’s painting is by Moyra Barry.
Her special gift was for flower paintings.
These works have a quality of engaged observation and radiance which forces the viewer to take a breath and really Look!
Now to a new star from Ireland.
Ailie (Blunnie) from County Leitrim.
Her debut album. ‘West to the Evening Sun’ was a confident and mature work showcasing a talent that was wholly of the Now while being in no way cut off from the rich and diverse heritage of Irish music.
Highly atmospheric production added to the poetic imagination of her songs ensured the album packed a real punch.
Here she gifts us an unforgettable and invigorating version of the Rocky Road to Dublin.
Ailie plays Piano, Bass and Electric Guitar as well as all the singing here.
Daragh Dukes’ production makes the whole thing gleam.
My, ‘Brand new pair of brogues’ did some high stepping to this one I can tell you!
I am going to conclude this tribute to Irish Women with a song by Eleanor McEvoy which has rightly become a modern standard, ‘A Woman’s Heart’.
I hope this series has made plain that there are some things only a Woman’s heart can know and that we should be grateful for that knowledge being passed on to us in Songs, Poems and Paintings.
There will never come a time when Eleanor will not be asked to sing this song and there will never come a time when it fails to move all the hearts of those who hear it.
All hail the Women of Ireland!
For Peg, Marguerite, Ann, Roisin, Hannah and Martha Brosnan, Irene, Geraldine and Nina Fitzpatrick, Maura Dee, Deirdre and Sinead Trant, Niamh & Aisling Blackburn and Patricia & Grace O’Sullivan.
She Moves Through The Fair is a Song that we will never get to the bottom of.
It contains details of everyday life and a mysterious, swirling, intermingling of the known and supernatural Worlds we all move within.
There are some sorrows, some griefs, that can only be borne through Song being too deep for common speech.
The common speech of hand clapping dealers striking bargains at the fair.
While we move, half-blind, through our lives the stars look down and the swans fly over the lake.
All the while the soft fluttering of moths fill the night and dew will glisten on the meadow.
While we bear our burden of loss and longing the wide world turns and turns oblivious.
All as we move through the fair.
Through the fair.
Mary Black’s singing embodies the humanity and the other worldliness of the song with glowing assurance.
Mary Black can flat out sing!
She Moves Through The Fair
I once had a sweetheart, I loved her right well
I loved her far better than my tongue can tell
Her parents did slight me for the want of guile
Adieu to all pleasure since I lost my dear
She went away from me and moved through the fair
Where hand-clapping dealers’ loud shouts rent the air
The sunlight around her did sparkle and play
Saying, “It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day”
When dew falls on meadows and moths fill the night
When glow from the greesach on half-froze, half-light
I’ll slip from my casement and I’ll run away
Then it will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day
I dreamed last night that my love came in
She came in so easy, her feet made no din
She came stepping up to me and this she did say
“It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day”
Eavan Boland’s Poetry is characterised by fierce intelligence and a determination to fearlessly examine the toxins of Ireland’s history as understood and experienced by a modern Irish Woman.
So, it is a Poetry which utters outrage, anger and bewildered frustration as well as ease and joy.
I sometimes feel as if her work has served to redraw the map of Irish Poetry – significantly expanding the imaginative territory and cutting a path for others to follow.
The Poem I have selected today is the work of a Major Poet.
Eavan Boland : Quarantine
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking — they were both walking — north.
She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.
In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:
Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.