Posts for Paddy’s Day 1
Christmas. New Years Day. Spring Solstice. Easter. Midsummer Day. First leaf fall. First fall of snow.
Way markers of the passing year. Each new feast chiming with all those that have gone before in the quickening parade of our lives.
And, if you are Irish, or of Irish stock, St Patrick’s Day.
On my twitter account (@thomhickey55 – sign up now if you’re not signed up already!) I describe myself, among other things, as, ‘Almost Irish’. That’s because though I was not born in Ireland both my parents and all my forebears were.
So, I unhesitatingly believe that whatever literary or rhetorical gifts I possess are drawn from a deep Celtic well. My mother told me a million stories and taught me how to tell them too. My Dad taught me how to listen to the important things that are always said in silences.
Stories and silences. Silences and stories. Of such things are true songs and poems made. By singers and poets who have listened, learned and dwelt in the silences surrounding the stories they offer up to us.
So, for the week that’s in it, I’m going to feature on The Immortal Jukebox some of the Irish singers, musicians and poets who have told the stories, sung the songs and made the poems that have touched my heart and lifted the spirits as the parade of my own life has passed by.
There are many stars in the firmament of Irish roots/traditional music and the nation has been particularly blessed by a generation of luminously talented women singers including Dolores Keane and Mary Black.
But, for me, the singer who has always shone the brightest and heartrendingly illuminated the miraculous combination of power, poetry, joy and tragedy contained within a really great song is Maura O’ Connell.
Some mysterious quality in her voice, which frequently brings me to tears, seems to bring out the truth that, ‘behind every beautiful thing there’s some kind of pain’. I can’t think of another singer who marries the story and the silence with such delicate grace as Maura O’Connell.
Her ability to find and reveal the beating heart of a song after searching within herself for the truest way to offer up its gifts, without histrionics or affectation, is achingly exemplified in, ‘When You and I Were Young Maggie’.
There is no grandstanding when Maura O’Connell sings. She once said that, ‘My intention was to just sing the song clearly. I just wanted to be there to serve the song, rather than to show off a particular vocal style’.
She seems to me to have perfected the art of sifting a song for the precious metal at its core. Through instinct and craft she finds the stillness and silence within a song. Then, with respect, discretion and measured emotion using all the resources of her vocal talent and personal presence; the very essence of her being – she sings. And we encounter a true artist.
Maura O’Connell knows that a true song though anchored in the time and culture of its creation will, if performed with a true heart and true art, live on into the future and speak to peoples never imagined by its author.
In W. B Yeats, ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ Maura found such a song. Though thousands of singers have sung this song it’s Maura O’Connell who sounds the deepest depths of Yeats’ incantatory cadences. Surrender, with gratitude, to the spell she and Yeats have cast.
Now a poem from a true inheritor of Yeats’ bardic role in the life of Ireland and the life of poetry, Seamus Heaney. The sudden manner of his death was a profound shock for Ireland and the world wide poetic community. Yet, while acknowledging our grief we draw sustenance from the poems which will surely continue to speak of the human condition down the ages as do the poems of Homer, Virgil and Yeats.
In his wonderfully vigorous poetry we are brought into imaginative contact with earthed lightning. And, sometimes we are guided to a realm that is usually just out of our vision, though always there.
A place where known and strange things pass right in front of us and the world is made anew. Seamus Heaney made poetry which caught our hearts off guard and blew them open.
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open
Dedicated to Peg Brosnan, Mikey Brosnan (RIP) and Kevin and Nora McElligott (RIP).
Thanks to Catherine Dunne for the haunting image