"An Cailín Rua"
An Cailín Rua talks of a man who is smitten by a red-haired girl. He travels around all of Ireland with her, spending lots of money on butter, on ribbons, and on shoes for her. Then, in the last verse, we find out that she leaves him for a shop-boy in the west of Ireland. Maybe because he could get her a discount!
And so here you can hear two versions of this lovely little song. Above is a very 1990s - and very cool - version by Aoife Ní Fhearraigh.
The other, below, is an infamous interpretation by Skara Brae, which was first recorded in 1971. Skara Brae is considered to be the first Irish traditional group to add homophonic harmonies in to single-line Irish melodies. Quite the reputation.
"And the Healing Has Begun: A Musical Journey Towards Peace in Northern Ireland" by Katrin Pietzonka
I just bought a book called “And the Healing Has Begun: A Musical Journey Towards Peace in Northern Ireland” by Katrin Pietzonka. I’ve just started reading it and I’m looking forward to picking up some insights into Ulster songs from this perspective.
From 24th to 27th June 2015, Dónal will facilitate the 3rd Anúna International Summer School in Dublin, Ireland.
The four days of the School, which takes place in Dublin, Ireland, will involve interaction and performance under the supervision of composer Michael McGlynn and members of Anúna.
In February 2015, Dónal travelled to the USA as a member of Anúna, together with composer Michael McGlynn and sean-nós singer Éabha McMahon, to present at the world-famous American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. At the event, he spoke about the Donegal sean-nós song, Coinleach Glás an Fhomhair.
In an infamous version of the song by Clannad, Moya Brennan sings only the first three verses (find the lyrics below). You can hear Dónal's live performance at ACDA - singing the first two verses only - by clicking here. Enjoy!
I first sang this song about ten years ago with Cór na nÓg Caisleán Ruairí under the direction of Siubhán Ó'Dubháin. That group of young people taught me so much about singing. With the incredible, natural voices of everyone involved - all boys and girls local to Rostrevor, County Down - I was surrounded by talent and (more importantly) a total love for music-making. We toured to Wales, Malta and Spain together and I had some of the most rewarding musical experiences of my young life with these singers. Siubhán's boundless creative energy taught us so much and I am still reaping the benefits.
Coinleach Glás an Fhomair is a traditional song from County Donegal, sung in the Irish language. A young man sings of a girl he once saw "on the green-stubble fields of Autumn". He paints a picture of her rosy cheeks and little feet as he remembers her that day, and wishes that they could be together.
In the second verse, the narrator expresses his jealousy of others who may share his interest in the same girl. The mention of the King of Spain sets the song, in my opinion, in the 18th century - around the time of the "Flight of the Wild Geese".
After the Williamite victory over the Jacobite rebellion at the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July 1690, the Jacobite leader, King James, returned to France. The rebellion had sought to bring about the return of the Scottish Stuarts, from James II to his grandson Prince Charles Edwards (aka. Bonny Prince Charlie, ‘The Young Pretender’), to the throne of England. In 1691, the Irish Jacobite army departed Ireland’s shores for France, as had been agreed in The Treaty of Limerick in what became known as the “Flight of the Wild Geese”. Until 1730, thousands of so-called “Wild Geese” soldiers left Ireland to fight in continental armies (mainly in France and Spain), marking the demise of the Jacobite movement in Ireland.
Thus, perhaps from Spain, the narrator looks back to Gweebarra, which places the song in the Gaeltacht region of western Donegal. The metaphor of a swan is introduced in the third and fourth verses. Often in sean nós songs, imagery of the landscape, animals and other natural elements is employed to signify human emotions. For instance, the cuckoo or the blackbird have been used in many songs to symbolise profound sorrow. In this song, the swan can be seen to illustrate the purity of the lovers' relationship. This is perhaps because they have never actually kissed.
In the final, heartbreaking verse, the narrator hears that the young woman is set to marry. He pleads with her. Perhaps the first time he saw her was the previous Autumn, one year before. He promises that he will love her, and urges her to reciprocate. We are told that she wrote to him about her love for him - "go rabh a croí istigh i lár mo chléibh" (her heart is in his chest), so there is a sadness when we learn that she will marry another young man, which is compounded by the fact that he probably heard this devastating news in the form of gossip.
The song leaves us wondering the circumstances of the woman's new marriage. Just as the narrator is left to wonder for himself.
In Ireland, the land has come to be defined by stories. Mythology, folklore, literature and song often seep into a place-name or a community's psyche. The stories and songs written today have the same impact and still actively influence and define the local culture.
Dónal grew up at the mouth of Carlingford Lough, where his hometown of Warrenpoint overlooks the Mourne mountains to the north and the Cooleys to the south. Inevitably, the mythology of the Fairy Glen, Cloch Mór and local giant Finn McCool accompanied his childhood.
Coming from a family of musicians and composers, Dónal studied piano and flute from a young age but focused mostly on classical and traditional singing. He trained with Siubhán Ó Dubháin and joined several local and regional choirs through his teenage years, attaining his Diploma in Vocal Studies at the age of 18.
He went on to read Law at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge and the Irish Centre of Human Rights, and has volunteered with charities and community organisations across Ireland and Britain and at the United Nations in Geneva. Travelling has granted him an insight to various cultures over the past decade; Dónal has studied or worked in England, Spain, Ecuador, Bolivia, Switzerland, and all over Ireland. All of these places have their own unique stories.
Artists can contribute to the cultural life of a place by bringing it to life in an image, a song or a tale. In this way, the community can tell the story it wants to be told. Music - and particularly song - is a direct means of accessing the ideas and emotions of a place. Storytelling through music brings people together, and it's often said that a song can transport an audience. The song transcends time like no other artistic medium because the singer brings the song to life each and every time it is sung. The audience is taken into the world of the song and listens to the voice of the original singer. It is not a creation - it is not a fake world. This is another world, where time is suspended and the song takes over.
This connection of the song to the community is integral to Dónal's work. With a background in legal research and musical education, he combines his experience to manage arts projects, tutor young singers across Ireland, and perform internationally as a singer. Read more about his various musical projects.