LAUNCH OF BOOK OF LOCAL SONGS
A book of local songs collected around Derrynoose, Keady and Armagh over thirty years ago is due to be launched at the Navan Centre Armagh on Saturday 9 September at 5.00pm. The launch is one of the planned events during the three day Tommy Makem Festival of Song.
Because of the traditional Irish aversion to abstraction in confronting the mysteries of existence, traditional art forms, especially in song and music, have played a more dominant role here than in most other countries.
In the Irish mind set, these mysteries were not so much philosophised on as performed and celebrated, that their depth can only be danced out or piped out, recited out or sung out. This is a major reason why Ireland boasts one of the greatest bodies of folk music in the world, rivalled only by Russia .
The purpose of the song in all cultures is to create a particular access to the great emotions of life. A song, notably in the ballad form, puts a certain shape or mould on a particular experience, joy, loss, betrayal, return, hope, separation and so on, and makes the experience physically available for all time and for all people.
In the Irish mind set, straight accounts of the events of history are not sufficient, and the local bards are called on to put them into verse as the ultimate depth of the event.
Accordingly, the song writer, song collector and singer are a central part of Irish life more so than in most other cultures. They are the possessors of an inheritance of 2000 years; a soother of hardship, raiser of hope, healer of pain, bringer of joy, shaper of identity, bonder of the people, the keeper of the deep.
In this collection of local songs we find the page of history stirring into life, events long over and gone appearing again in the freshness that attended them when they happened. This collection, as all such collections, makes sure that the past is only ever dormant and sits waiting to be re discovered and re expressed.
SARAH MAKEM, SONG COLLECTOR
Tribute by David Hammond
Sarah Makem was born in Keady, Co Armagh in the year 1900. She was a singer all her life, an inheritor of a family tradition, a repository of over 400 songs, I suppose, that tells us about the events of ordinary people in this part of Ireland over the last four centuries. Her songs derive from the three elements that are strongest in Ulster - the Irish, the Scotch and the English, elements that account for a lot of our distress but, at the same time, provide a rich and fascinating backdrop to our lives.
Sarah Makem had tender love songs, desolate songs of parting, songs of occupation, long and beautiful ballads, small songs about local happenings that were rescued from the prosaic by their authentic detail and the enlivenment of her voice. She had a smile that lit up her countenance and the whole company. She was gentle and lively and like the best of her kind anywhere in Ireland, intelligent and well informed, a believer in tradition but never a slave to the merely conventional. You always felt the better for an evening in her company enriched by her warmth and a life giving energy. She had a reverence for the past, a kinship with those who had gone before, an awareness of how much the present is woven into the past. When you entered the house in Keady and met Sarah and Peter you knew that everything was there to be shared with you.
Singing came naturally to her, as easy as breathing. The voice was low in pitch, there was an assurance with the run of a line of poetry, she had the knack of telling a story, and something that is less easy to describe, she had a gift for lifting the voice in some kind of effortless way, some celebration.
Away back in the fifties, when everyone thought that her kind of music was old hat and, even worse, a low class culture, she aroused these islands every Sunday morning in a BBC radio programme. It was a series that lasted for several years, put together by men like Sean O'Boyle, Seamus Ennis, Peter Kennedy, and it was probably responsible for the rebirth of traditional music.
It was called ‘As I roved out' and it took its title from the song that Sarah sang to introduce each programme.
‘As I roved out on a May morning, on a May morning right early
I met my love upon the way, O Lord but she was early'
NEAL DORAN, CELEBRATED POET.
When Neal Doran died in 1937, a banner headline in an Irish American newspaper read, ‘Death of well known Irish Poet'. Doran, who was born in Listrakelt, Derrynoose in 1849 lived through times of hardship, emigration, political agitation and suppression. He survived the Great Hunger, was involved in the famous Tonagh Riots which involved bitter faction fighting between organised groups, Bogmen, Fenians and Peep O' Day boys. He attended Parnell's address on ‘Pay No Rent' on the Man O' War Hill along with several hundred others in 1890 and lived through the Civil War.
Big in stature and gentle in heart he had a tremendous facility for capturing a happening, sometimes significant and sometimes trivial and transforming it into verse. He has bequeathed to us a legacy of rich songs, carefully crafted and tastefully presented which give us an insight into the indomitable spirit of the people, the state of the nation, the defiance, devilment and the doggedness of local society in their ability to rise above adversity. His songs were perhaps the embodiment of his inner self, sensing the need to lift the spirits of people, his renditions were highly revered and much sought after. To this day, his songs are still centerpieces at various gatherings. They are fully respected and seen as a vital link with past generations. His songs conjure up all sorts of visual imagery and include riotous outpourings such as ‘The Wake in Lemgar'. His masterpiece ‘Lislanley Steam Mill' presents us with a most comprehensive account of the processing of flax, detailing the various occupations involved, from the ‘streiker' to the ‘scutcher' to the ‘tow shaker'. Inevitably there is a visitation to a local undercover alehouse and ‘Tossey's Hotel' is the place to be for ‘ruction, destruction, divarsion and divilment'. He composed over forty songs and without them, our knowledge of local history would be somewhat impoverished. It is time to restore these to the people so that they can continue to be celebrated with gusto.
‘ Lesser sung and unsung folk songs, singing out to be sung by on song folk singers and lesser singing folk.'
Included in the book are the following:
Everyone Does It But You
The Day I Let Her Wear The Britches
The Half a Crown
Hi Bob Ho Bob
The Hills of Mullyard
I Courted a Wee Girl
The Jolly Roving Tar
I'm As Good As They're Making Them Yet
The Keady Races
Johnson the Barber
The Mother of a Slave
The One Pound Two
The Palmerstown Fleas
My Love Is But a Sailor Bold
The Wake in Lemgar
On Wooden Stool
You Nationalists of Famed Armagh
The Armagh Rover
The Armagh Sporting Blade
What Would You Do Love?
The Coolatra Races