Danny Kyle was a Scottish folk singer who campaigned for the revival of traditional Scottish music. He passed away in 1998 and there is now a stage dedicated to him at Celtic Connections. Celtic Connections is one of the biggest trad festivals in the world. The Danny Kyle Open Stage invites applications from emerging acts. Luckily, TRÚ was accepted to play a slot at the festival.
After our gig, we met a film-maker called Michael working as MANNA Visuals. He told us a story. He said a few years ago, he died. He went to two places. One place you'd want to go; the other, you'd never want to go there. He asked us if he could film a few us playing on the streets of Glasgow. So we met him the morning after and he came up with this beautifully shot video of "The County Down".
We had sailed over on the Stena Line and arrived to Glasgow by coach. The first thing we did was to make our way into the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall just in time for an interview on Celtic Music Radio. You can listen here from 53mins.
Then we headed downstairs to the Danny Kyle Open Stage for a soundcheck. Thanks to a few lads from Tyrone now living in Glasgow, we managed to muster up a guitar amp and a floor tom, to complete our bare ensemble. We don’t need much of a set-up anyway...
On our way back to the venue after a coffee in a local pub, Zach got a phonecall from the MC, Liz Clark:
“Where are yis?” in her thick Glaswegian accent.
“Two minutes away,” came the calm reply of a man who knows he still has plenty of time before we’re due to be onstage.
“Oh good,” says she, “cuz you’re on next!”
Right enough, when we walked into the hall, the stage was empty and we were up. A hasty costume change later (replacing the ferry t-shirt with a crumpled rucksack t-shirt), we were standing in front of a full house getting stuck into our first tune – Newry Boat Song.
After that, we played Dúlamán, an original called Cailín Bán, Ay Waukin O, and finished with The County Down by Tommy Sands. The audience was great and we got loads of feedback. You can hear our set at this link:
What a city. What a festival. Here’s hoping we’ll be back again soon!
Tommy Sands told me that Danny Kyle visited County Down a few times. He came particularly for the Fiddlers Green International Folk Festival in Rostrevor. Tommy mentioned that Danny Kyle’s ashes are scattered in the meadow of Kilbroney Park. Hard to believe, but that spot is beautiful; the view out on Carlingford Lough, with the Mournes behind and the Fairy Glen at the foot of the meadow.
A peaceful place to rest.
In the final weekend of January, a team of producers and composers travelled from Tokyo to Dublin. It was a bitterly cold weekend and fierce winds whipped the Ringsend Road on Dublin’s southside. On Saturday morning, Windmill Lane Recording Studios heats up as the staff sets up equipment for a session on the top floor. The Japanese crew prepares to record the soundtrack of Nintendo’s Xenogears. One by one, singers from ANÚNA arrive.
ANÚNA performed in Tokyo in February 2017. It was a collaborative production between Noh theatre artists and ANÚNA’s musical director Michael McGlynn. Based on a W.B. Yeats play published in 1918 entitled “The Hawk’s Well”, the 2017 Tokyo production was a Japanese adaptation entitled Takahime (The Hawk Princess). Featuring twelve singers and three Noh instrumental players, the production’s soundtrack was created as an interactive composition by Michael McGlynn, using the individual voices of ANÚNA, traditional Noh percussionists, a Noh flautist, and a cast of Noh actors.
I was one of those twelve ANÚNA voices, and Takahime was the most amazing artistic experience of my life.
In the afterglow of this hugely successful show, we went into Sony Studios in Tokyo to record for Nintendo’s Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The game was released on the new Nintendo Switch device in November 2018 and the track on which my voice was featured – “Shadow of the Lowlands” – already has over 100,000 views.
Last weekend, ANÚNA went back into studio for more soundtrack work – this time for Xenogears 20th anniversary. It was a privilege to record again as a soloist on some Xenogears classics. ANÚNA will perform a series of Japanese concerts in April 2018 for Nintendo, and I cannot wait to sing with the orchestral arrangements.
The music of composer Yasunori Mitsuda is really beautiful, and Michael McGlynn’s ANÚNA is a unique instrument. It’s been a really great project for us and I look forward to seeing what develops along the path.
This year, I am returning to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival (NIHRF) with VOCALISM. In December 2015, we hosted an event showcasing the cultural diversity of Belfast in an attempt to appreciate the cultural identities at play in Northern Ireland.
In an event titled, "Songs of the People", traditional and folk songs of this island were performed alongside less traditional musical forms. These included hip-hop and rap delivered by an 18 year-old artist of Afro-Caribbean heritage. We also had a performance of Chinese opera and a fusion of Bangladeshi guitar, Indian table drumming and a Derry fiddler. Over the evening, Donegal sean nós singer Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde performed songs from his latest album Sona do Cheird.
On Friday 18 November, I sang at the launch of the 2016 NIHRF, which took place in Belfast's Black Box in the Cathedral Quarter. I talked about the "Songs of the People" workshop series and the showcase event that takes place on Human Rights Day - 10 December 2016. It is the final official event of the Festival, and should be a great way to close a week of human rights discussions.
Building on last year's "Songs of the People" theme, the workshop series will facilitate music-making in the community and will focus particularly on songwriting. The goal is to use music as a tool for self-expression and to actively engage and participate in cultural life. The law on 'cultural rights' specifically mentions engagement in cultural activities as important to democratic citizenship. Art and other cultural practices express so much about us and it is imperative that we appreciate it, facilitate it, and celebrate it together.
This year, the workshops are a collaboration between my own VOCALISM and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC). Zara Porter will represent the NIHRC as we travel to community organisations in Belfast on 4 December 2016. You can find out more on the NIHRF website by clicking here.
While our culture prides itself on ancient stories and songs, much of the communal oral tradition has been neglected today in favour of an online network that we are continuously co-creating together with a ‘global community’ of internet users.
There is something anachronistic about listening, undistracted and quiet, to a song being performed live in a room. Indeed, a formal concert is becoming quite an old-fashioned way of enjoying music. It is a ritual, protected by tradition and by imagined boundaries and customs. These rules protect the music and preserve the performance space. Performers and venues must adapt to the habits of the audience, but then again, venues and performers can choose to some degree who the attract – using publicity shots and branding to weed out the people who might just spoil the show by talking or filming throughout.
In Ireland, the traditional seisiún amhráin is a pretty out-dated scenario. Maybe it always was. However, to enjoy music and literature with nothing but the human voice is as ancient as communication itself.
It is rare for young people anywhere in Ireland to gather in a technology-free zone, absent of sound systems, televisions, or mobile phones. Therefore, there is one series of non-verbal symbols that connects all of us online: binary code. As we hack a complex combination of 0s and 1s on a daily basis, we might be excused for claiming we have mastered another, new language; one that our ancestors could fathom only as science fiction. For all the complicated mathematical systems humans have conjured, binary code has broadened the horizons of modern technology.
Against this background, anyone who participates in a traditional song session is deciding to participate in something old, absent of binary code. It could perhaps be described as primitive. It is a conscious, or subconscious, act of preservation of an ancient form of art. Maybe it could even be seen as a political act.
While driving to Malahide (where I work at Fingal Academy of Music) today, I came across Heed Fm. I didn’t understand what it was at first. I heard a candid conversation between two people, the apparent interviewee sounded like a young man in his early 20s. It was very raw, unedited, long silences, swear words. This was daytime radio.
I looked it up online: “Heed FM is a twenty-eight-day anonymous sound portrait created through one-to-one and group conversations in Dublin with people aged 18–25 and from all backgrounds.” The project is committed to creating an authentic representational portrait of a generation residing in the Greater Dublin Area. Heed FM worked with over 100 subjects, which it calls “contributors”, from all backgrounds – some are users of social services and organisations in the fields of homelessness, mental health, and addiction.
The project said: “it is important to have an accurate portrayal of how this demographic normally communicates, beyond the limited way it is currently represented through mainstream media”. Minimal editing was employed to record “the most genuine possible representation of the conversations”.
One of the questions that was raised to this young man was about his Irishness. He had moved to work in New Zealand, and he was asked how he felt about being away from Dublin and about his identity as an emigrant. It was interesting that he felt that there was nothing unique about the idea of Irishness. With the majority of media consumed by young people (arguably by anyone under the age of 50) coming from the United States of America, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that we are more influenced by American culture than by Irish culture. The vast majority of Irish citizens are presented with USA politics much more often than they may read an article about domestic policy drawn up in the Dáil.
Regarding the ridiculous Presidential race taking place in the USA this year, it is a curious time to be an English-speaker. Along with Australians, New Zealanders, Britons and Canadians, Irish people are expected to engage with the democratic process of a foreign country as if it were its own. Is that not strange? Do USA politicians exercise more power of Irish citizens than their own TDs? It is clear that power is a clear and apparent indicator of capital – whether it be political, economic, cultural or social.
Tonight, I attended a workshop in sean nós singing. We sang a song called Éamonn an Chnoic. According to the sources most readily available through Google, the song describes a man called Éamonn Ó Riain (c.1670-c.1724). He was apparently considered to be the ‘Robin Hood’ of east Limerick and west Tipperary. He was sent to France to study in pursuit of the priesthood, but instead he returned and fought for the Williamite forces. Following the confiscation of Irish catholic land in the Act of Settlement 1652 after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, many dispossessed catholic landowners took to the forests and hills of rural Ireland to wage war against the British Crown forces. They were known as “raparees”.
Storytelling – whether through song or otherwise – is a reflection of a community’s shared myths and heritage. Is there anything separating the stories, the myths, the cultures of young Americans compared to young Irish people? Of course there is.
However, the storytelling tradition in Ireland is obscured to a frightening degree by the contemporary media. The cultural appreciation of Irish literature and art is weak compared to American cultural self-appreciation. The USA is a source of wealth. Within a capitalist system, producers/creators of services or products are drawn towards wealth. So it is more economically viable to indulge in American cultural practices. Ireland has hardly any indigenous cultural capital; very little that can translate into money anyway. Ireland’s successful industries today are largely imported. The industries that remain intact and successful to some extent are inevitably exported – especially cultural products. And to where are they exported? Largely to Irish America.
If it is possible to remove the modern concept of capital from our judgment – replacing a 21st century value system with another, more traditional one – maybe it is possible to appreciate the Irish culture at a higher level. Listening to Irish voices through a project such as Heed FM might be a way for us to access ourselves, rather than tuning into foreign accents, speaking about familiar but foreign concerns. It is no surprise that the accents of young Irish people are homogenising. It is no wonder at all.
Tonight, Eithne Ní Chatháin sang Éamonn an Chnoic to a small room of listeners. Yes, there was a transaction (we paid for the class). But was there something else happening? Another transaction? Maybe Eithne’s form of storytelling – an sean nós (the old way) – arguably one of the only ‘indigenous’ art forms still active on this island – just maybe it is preserving something invaluable.
If we could view our own cultural practices in this way, as something timeless, something priceless, then we could develop an appreciation of our heritage that straddles the old and the new. Without this, money talks. And only the valuable remains in a capitalist world. And it looks like that’s where we’re headed.
Written by Michael George Crawford from Warrenpoint. First published by V. G. Havern [Warrenpoint] and printed by Outlook Press [Rathfriland] in “Legendary Stories of The Carlingford Lough District (1913)”
Adapted by Dónal Kearney (2016)
North of the Clonallon Road in Warrenpoint rises the Hill of Jenny Black. It is named after an infamous old witch who dwelt there in the days when the dark arts held sway, when certain women were suspected of being in league with the demon. They were thought to have the evil eye and conjured spells to the injury of humankind. Every accident that happened was the suspected actions of a witch.
To the credit of the people of Ireland, it must be said that they took no part in the cruel torturing and murdering of persons suspected of witchcraft, which disgraces nearly every country in Ireland to this day. There was a statute passed by the British in Ireland against witchcraft. It wasn’t until the Witchcraft Laws were repealed by King George II that the ancient dames breathed freely once more after the long reign of terror and persecution against them. One might ask: where are they all now?
Jenny Black resided at the top of Clonallon Hill and she was held in the greatest terror by those believers in the dark arts.
She was generally seen sitting in her cabin at the wheel, spinning and weaving diabolical spells and charms in the usual manner of witches. Her black cat would blink at the fire in the grate, in the usual manner of black cats. It is said that her cat would talk to Jenny Black in front of visitors, until they fainted or fled with fright.
At this time, the hills of Clonallon were covered with dense woods, believed to be inhabited by evil spirits, devils, hobgoblins. The local folk would give these woods a wide berth after dark. Jenny Black was long noted for playing tricks upon nocturnal wanderers; she appeared in frightful shapes and would swoop down on them to tear or jostle them about the road.
One dark night, two farmers were returning from the town with their horses and carts. When they met the hill, Jenny was just alighting off her broomstick. The horses were not acquainted with Jenny’s particular form of travel – they bolted and galloped wildly back down the steep hill. At the bottom of the hill, the horses collided and sent their owners flying off the carts, headfirst to the ground. The horses, wild with fear, then trampled the men and killed them where they lay.
On another occasion, the witches fair and devils gay were enjoying an evening’s entertainment in the wicked woods of Clonallon when they were disturbed by a farmer of the name O’Hare. Slightly under the influence of the uisce bheatha, and spirited by his indulgences, O’Hare boldly faced Jenny’s assembled guests. He was not in the least bit cowed by their numbers and horrible appearance. Stepping unsteadily forward, he challenged the whole condemned lot to fight him. Looking around and smiling at each other, the beasts fell upon him with teeth and nails, tore at this flesh and beat him over the head with their limbs.
Jenny Black, cleverly manoeuvring the broomstick, swept down from the air like a hawk, lifted him out of the woods and sailed through the skies towards the lough. Halfway to Carlingford, Jenny dropped the unfortunately O’Hare far into the dark waters below, where he sank and remained below the surface. The farmer O’Hare’s sad fate kept local folk from meddling in the devil’s business any more. They spoke of Jenny Black in a more respectful manner after that.
One night, a couple of teenagers went out hunting started a hare on the witch’s hill. Their dogs gave chase to the hare, which ran round the hill, doubling and twisting back on its own tracks. The youths noticed that the dogs were not too anxious to get in close on the seeming hare, and they became suspicious of the animal. They called the dogs off – at that moment, the hare turned into the withered and naked old witch known as Jenny Black.
The dogs yelped with fright and the boys were petrified. The witch then cast a spell on them, led them into a chamber in the hill, which was filled with people older than the witch herself. They lured the young fellows round a cauldron that was swirling wildly. The others were throwing strange herbs into the seething pot, and the boys knew instantly that they were in the presence of witches and wizards.
Jenny Black then forced the boys into a dance, their partners being two of the ugliest witches of the company (which was saying a lot!). For hours they were trapped in that mad whirl. The sweat rolled off them, their heads were light and dizzy with the crazing dancing. They minds swam and their bodies ached, but still they were compelled to jig. They realised that the hags were dancing them to death, revelling in the energy of their souls, dripping them dry through the medium of dance.
When they were near their last gasp, one of the lads remembered he had a small witch-hazel stick in his pocket. Witch-hazel was said to possess the power to resist the spells of witches, if properly used. So he dipped into his pocket as subtly as he could – he made it part of his manic dance – and he touched his partner’s hand with the witch-hazel. With an awful shriek, she disappeared. He quickly danced around the room before the crowd could fathom what was happening and touched the rest of them with. Right enough, they all vanished and the boys escaped. However, their dogs had sadly become the party’s feast.
She often wandered the fields of Warrenpoint as a hare. She milked the poor farmers’ cows before the people were up in the morning – a common deviance of witches. On Hallows Eve, the witch and her evil companions concocted their strongest spells for the year ahead. To thwart her designs, the planters carried lighted candles through Clonallon’s woods, from eleven to midnight (the principal time of their operation). If the lights burned steady and clear, the people would triumph over the witches in the year ahead. However, if the light blew out while they were in the woods, the locals would be subjected to the witch’s power for the ensuing year.
Eventually, the local folk burned Jenny Black at the stake. Since then, the woods of Clonallon were consumed by a purifying fire. Her old home was destroyed and the forested site of her evil deeds were levelled.
To this day, there are some who believe that Jenny Black still haunts her hill in the form of a white hare.
As gentle mists roll out the bay,
Like velvet lies Clonallon grey,
Jenny sang a haunting tune and
set her sights by the spotlight of the moon.
The women of the town,
they owe old Jenny more than they can know.
They men are leading timid lives
For on their antics she does not look light.
Upon the lough, a silhouette
Upon the lough, so cold and wet
And so they talk – “We’ll get her yet!”
And so they talk upon the lough.
Hunted like a witch from Hell
- before she died, she weaved a spell;
Clapped her palms and screamed until
the curse was cast on Jenny Black’s Hill.
To this day, she roams the fields;
An old, white hare – Away she steals!
That name still lingers on our ears
despite the passing of the years.