Concert Programme
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1. The Cuckoo - Mary McPartlan
2. Cousins - Brian O’ Rourke
3. Bill’s Gander - Tim Lyons
4. The Bluebirds - Anne Skelton
5. Cuaichín Ghleann Néifin - Johnny Mháirtín Learaí Mac Donnchadha
6. The Corncrake among the Whinny Knowes - Martin Ryan
7. Ladybird - Mary McPartlan
8. An Bunnán Buidhe - Johnny Mháirtín Learaí Mac Donnchadha (as Gaeilge)
9. An Bunnán Buidhe (The Yellow Bittern) - Tim Lyons (in English)
10. The Irish Girl - Anne Skelton
11. The Magpie - Martin Ryan
12. The Upside Down Blackbird - Brian O’ Rourke


Concert Notes:
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The Cuckoo – Mary McPartlan
My version is directly from the singing of Jean Ritchie from the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky.
It is a traditional folk song descended from an old folk ballad with many different versions - even in the Appalachians - and it has been covered by hundreds of great names in the folk music world; Rory Gallagher, Dylan, Martin Simpson, Everely Brothers, Joan Baez, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Doc Watson and many more. The styles and lyrics differ from each interpretation and my version is arranged by the jazz pianist Bertha Hope from New York and myself.

Cousins – Brian O Rourke
I wrote this song myself. It was inspired by a couple of  details I heard about in the lives of the last two inhabitants of Island Eddy, near Kinvara. When they leave, the island is left to the rabbits, the crows and the seagulls.

Bill’s Gander – Tim Lyons
A humourous song from the borders of Cork and Kerry learned from the singing of the late Willie Clancy of Milltown Malbay, Co Clare. This song follows the ancient Gaelic style of vowel rhyming.

The Bluebirds – Anne Skelton
I firrst heard my father sing this song, which he got from local man Tom Tighe, about twenty years ago. He only had two verses so I went in search of the rest of the song and found it with a lady called Nancy Gibbons from Louisburg. It is very similar to a song called The Sweetest Sweetheart, written by a New York man John Brown, which appeared in a publication of the Herald Statesman, Yonkers in November, 1932 (courtesy of John Moulden!) so I guess it ‘came over from Amerikay’!

Cuaichín Ghleann Néifin - Johnny Mháirtín Learaí Mac Donnchadha
This is a love song, and an emigration song. The man describes his lover, who lives at the foot of the Nephin Mountain in County Mayo, as 'cuacín' - or 'little cuckoo'.

The Corncrake among the Whinny Knowes – Martin Ryan
One of the more unusual forms of ‘birdwatching’ is done in total darkness! The male corncrake makes its harsh, unmusical call at night as a warning to other males to keep away. In the 1970’s and early ‘80’s, when I lived in Athlone, I worked on a project where we surveyed the bird by driving, at night, along the boreens that edge the river, checking for calling birds. A striking feature of the project was the affection and nostalgia which the local people held for the bird – there was never any problem getting access to land or directions to some isolated location… The only problem was getting held up while the farmer told you all his corncrake stories!

 Ladybird – Mary McPartlan
Though the ladybird is a little bug with wings, the fact that it flies and is called Ladybird, meets my reasoning for including it in this programme! The chorus is a universal children’s rhyme and the body of verses are written by Ted Edwards, a folk singer from North Yorkshire, who wrote and sang this song in the early 1950’s. It focuses on the industrial revolution in England and particularly in Yorkshire, post second world war, at a time when women had to work in linen mills and other factories while the men in the family had to take work away from home. This often left the children alone after school;  these children were sometimes known as the ‘latchkey’ children.

An Bunnán Buídhe - Johnny Mháirtín Learaí Mac Donnchadha
This song was written in the 18th century by the Ulster poet, Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna (1690-1756). It seems that the poet went walking one wintry day near his home by the shores of Lough Mac an Áon. 
He came upon a yellow bittern lying frozen on the icy lake, and Gunn, identifying with the creature, suspected that the death was brought about because the bird could not drink from the iced-over water. The poem is in the form of a lament for the bird who died of thirst, but is also a tongue in cheek defence by the poet of his own drinking habit. In addition to the conventional end-rhyme, it uses internal rhyme, a technique characteristic of Gaelic poetry of the era.
An Bunnán Buídhe (The Yellow Bittern) – Tim Lyons
This is a translation into English of Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna’s poem An Bunnán Buidhe, learned from the singing of Joe Heaney. The bittern, as a nesting bird, died out about 1850. It’s song apparently was a booming call emitted from reed beds near lake shores. The song has been translated by Thomas McDonagh, Thomas Kinsella, Andrew Doey, James Stephens and Seamus Heaney as well as Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin who performed her version in the Leinster Bird Song Project earlier this May.

The Irish Girl – Anne Skelton
There are many versions of this song, most of which were collected in England and Scotland going back to 1790. My version is from a lady from Maine, New England called Lissa Schneckenburger who found it in a collection of traditional ballads from Phillips Barry (1880-1937) called The Maine Woods Songster. I like this version because unlike most others, it has a nice lively chorus!

The Magpie - Martin Ryan
I first heard this song, about thirty years ago, sung by a man called Eddie Doyle, at the Góilín Singers Club in Dublin. He had heard it ‘somewhere in the North of England’ a few years previously but had no idea of its origins. Composed of fragments of magpie folklore from Britain and Ireland and fitted to a haunting, hypnotic tune, it sounds ancient, but was in fact written probably in the 1960’s by an English singer called Dave Dodds. He did a fine job!

The song is originally Scottish but has always been well-known in the North of Ireland. There’s a version in the wonderful book Songs do Thunder by Paddy Tunney, two of whose children are involved in the Bird Song Project.
 
The Upside Down Blackbird – Brian O’ Rourke
This song was penned by Fergus Linehan, after seeing Lelia Doolan hanging upside down from a bar while rehearsing for a pantomime I got it from May O’ Connor in Sligo in 1990 or 1991.


About the Singers:
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Video Documentation of Concert
Recorded and Produced by Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert

All images/design by Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert unless otherwise stated.

The Connaught Concert

St Nicholas Collegiate Church, Lombard Street, Galway City.

Saturday 23rd of May 2015

Anne Skelton

Anne, a native of Bekan, Co. Mayo and married to Galway flute player Joe Skelton, has been living in Galway for thirty years. Her father, John Kelly was a singer and step dancer and her mother Mary Murray was also a singer. Anne has recordings of all her father’s songs and sings most of them and is also a big fan of the Northern singing tradition. Anne has given workshops and/or guest appearances at various singing/traditional music festivals throughout the country such as Feile Chois Cuain, Louisburgh, Corofin Tradfest, Tulla Trad Fest, Willie Clancy Summer School etc. and has also given guest appearances at various singing circle gatherings over the years.


Mary Mc Partlan

Mary is the Traditional Artist in Residence at the Centre for Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway. She teaches Theatre History and Practice and the History of Irish Traditional Arts. She is also the Creative Director of the hugely successful Arts in Action programme at NUI Galway. Mary’s albums include the critically acclaimed  The Holland Handkerchief and Petticoat Loose. Unquestionably rooted in the traditional, Mary Mc Partlan’s distinctively evocative voice, combined with a strong sense of her own musical personality, allows her to move easily between styles, ranging from traditional to new and original work. A new CD is in research for 2015/2016 to include a tribute to the legendary singer and writer Jean Ritchie from the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky.

Martin Ryan

Born in Dublin, Martin now lives in Kinvara where he is involved in the very active Kinvara Singers Circle. As a teenager, his main musical interest was in jazz and blues – but he happily switched to traditional music and song when he moved to Athlone where he spent all his working life. A frequent participant at traditional singing festivals and sessions around Ireland, he has a wide knowledge of the tradition and has made significant contributions to such online projects as The Mudcat Café which has helped give an international audience a deeper appreciation of Irish song. While based in the midlands, he also became an active birdwatcher contributing to several projects based on the Shannon callows (the flood plain of the river between Athlone and Portumna)  - so he has a foot in both camps of the Birdsong Project!


Tim Lyons

Cork born Tim Lyons developed his interest in song in England in the fifties. Moving to Dublin in the sixties he came under the influence of the greats of sean-nós traditional song and began singing himself. Three years later he was traveling all over England singing in folk clubs. Moving back to Clare again from London in the seventies he began writing songs himself on topical subjects, and toured with De Danann in the late seventies. In the late eighties he hooked up with Fintan Vallely and toured further and recorded two albums of their own inventions: Knock, Knock, Knock in 1991 and Big Guns and Hairy Drums. In 2014 he recorded an album of traditional song with his brother John entitled Easy and Bold. Tim now lives in Galway.

Brian O Rourke

I did not a serious interest in the song tradition til I was in my thirties (c 1980). My first enthusiasm was for the Irish Language songs and the associated sean nós singing styles. In 1985 and 1990 I published two anthologies – books and cassettes of Gaelic songs and translations (Blas Meala and Pale Rainbow). I eventually acquired affection for the English language tradition and in 1988 I began to write my own ‘jocoserious’ songs. This lead to When I Grow Up (1992), later reissued on CD as Chantal du Champignon. Since this first collection I have sporadically written more and hope to launch another CD this year.


Johnny Mhairtín

Learaí Mac Donnachadha

From Carna in Western Connemara, Johnny Mháirtín Learaí upholds a long tradition of singing passed down to him from such talented neighbours as Seán 'ac Dhonncha and Seosamh ÓhÉanaí, and is one of the sweetest, most natural sean-nós singers of our time. Johnny has performed at countless singing festivals and events nationally and internationally, and has recorded a CD Contae Mhuigheo which includes songs such as Contae Mhuigheo, Tá na Páipéir á Saighneáil and My Own Dear Native Land. Johnny was awarded the Corn Uí Riada, the premier sean nós singing competition at Oireachtas na Gaeilge, in 1985. He has made numerous appearances on radio and television including Comhrá on TG4.

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