Friday, December 14, 2012

Irish Advent Calendar in Irish (Gaeilge) and English (Bearla)

There is an online Irish Advent Calendar here:

Story behind this Irish Advent Calendar:

Thanks mostly to my wife, we have enjoyed reading an Advent Calendar every year leading up to Christmas.

Several years ago I got the idea to make an Advent Calendar in Irish. Like normal, I did not do anything with the idea.

Yet, I didn't forget the idea.

A year later, maybe more, I mentioned my idea to Pastor Jim and I think to my own pastor, Pastor Karyl. Later, Pastor Karyl, gave me an Advent Calendar that is basically like a trifold card.  I think it's the one that has a baby angel with halo and wings, standing by one lamb and holding another lamb, on the cover. Inside there are conifers behind a scene of animals and cute kids surrounding the baby Jesus in a manger.  There are little doors with animals or sprigs of holly on the doors.  The doors are numbered 1 to 24 and under each opened paper door is a little more of the story in words. Yah, it's very much on the cute side.

How un-tech, eh? A story that unfolds (pun intended) day by day for almost a month.

You might not get the idea until you see the little ones really enjoy opening the doors by number. Hey, at a certain age this is a big achievement! 

I hope to reach that age again.

This September, I started to translate the calendar's phrases and I wrote my version of the Irish right on the card next to each door.

This created some high emotion when my wife thought I was marking up our family Advent Calendar. Hopefully the two calendars are the same, or I owe my wife a new Advent Calendar . . . in English.

Still I knew my translations were pitiful.

Roslyn, Nancy and Jonathan from my online Irish class agreed to help me correct my translations.  I thank them for all their thoughts and hard work.

At about the time the group translation was about to kick off, the thought occurred to me that I wanted to have the English version and Irish version displayed day by day. If I posted or put this Advent Calendar out there, I'd be infringing on the copyright for the version written in English.

I went on a personal crash course on the Advent story, reading different versions of the New Testament Bible and other writings on the Internet.  All this so I could write an original version in English of Advent for use as a calendar.

I learned that the donkey, which everyone is certain is in the story, that Mary rode on from Nazareth to Bethlehem, is not mentioned in the Bible.  Most scholars and others think it makes sense given Mary's advanced stage of pregnancy and the distance, but it's unstated in the Bible.

I also learned there is no inn keeper mentioned.  The statement in the Bible is that there was no room at the inn.  And the Greek word for "inn" might mean "guest room in the back." Some people think that Joseph's whole family was back home for the census, like a government imposed family reunion, and Joseph and Mary came late, so they got to sleep in the room where animals also slept. Either way, Jesus was wrapped and placed in a manger, right?

Speaking of the census, there was a problem with the Greek word for census as it could be translated as "tax."  That and a Jewish scholar thought the purpose of the census was so that a tax could be levied.  A fair number of versions of the Bible say Joseph was going to be Bethlehem to be taxed, don't you know, while most scholars today agree the trip was for a census. 

I feel bad about, that for space reasons and presumably to keep the story devoid of downers and violence, the Advent story in these calendars generally avoids the side plots with Elizabeth bearing John the Baptist and King Herod having all the children in Bethlehem killed.  Still, the good part is that as an adult, that leaves those parts to be discovered and to enrich appreciation of all the characters and the story.

Ideas that have been proferred to me or have occurred to me:

1. The Facebook version could have art along with the story. Vicki gave a couple of images of her artwork to use. Thanks Vicki!

2. Frieda said cloth Advent Calendars used to be made in the Pawling Avenue Methodist Church in Troy, New York, USA.  She suggested there could be an Irish Advent Calendar wall hanging.  It would have 24 pockets and the script for each day would be put on small papers tucked in one per pocket. The design would be open to interpretation, but with some fine sewing, the result should be pretty and suit the purpose.

3. Make this calendar an instrument of peace and reconciliation among the Irish by making the daily messages in three languages: English, Irish (Gaeilge), and Scottish Gaelic. I think the inclusion of all three languages would be very symbolic of the peace that is possible if all the sides of the Irish conflict cooperate. Anyone know of someone fluent in Scottish Gaelic who could help with this project?

4. My dream would be to sell these Irish Advent Calendars, whether on paper or made of cloth, and donate the proceeds to peace makers in Ireland.

5. A bigger dream would be to make Advent Calendar's in multiple languages whereever there are conflicts between different cultures around the world to spread the feeling of peace.

So much for my Irish Advent Calendar saga.  If you have an idea of how to spread the Irish Advent Calendar or Advent Calendars elsewhere, leave a comment to this blog, or contact me at shamrockroad(at symbol here) .

Let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas or a merry whatever holiday you celebrate to praise or respect God.

Rod / Ruairí

Irish Advent Calendar

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Quarter Million Signatures Provides New Clues on Pre-Great Hunger Ireland

Deb and I went to the Victorian Stroll in Troy this past Sunday.  We went to the Greens Show at the Rensselaer County Historical Society which is put on by the Van Rensselaer Garden Club. At the entrance, the Troy Irish Genealogy Society had a table.

That got me thinking about this article I saw on Irish Central News about a petition in the form of a scroll which was signed by thousands of Irish in approximately 1841.

Over 250,000 signatures cover 652 sheets of paper that were glued to a linen cloth.

Those signing were in support of English Lord Morpeth, George Howard, the chief secretary of Ireland, in 1841. He belonged to the Whig party and he opposed religious discrimination.

Morpeth's family kept the scroll for almost 170 years in the basement of Castle Howard, Yorkshire, England.

Many of the signatures seem to be grouped by region, so researchers of particular families might be given clues of where to look once some of the more well known names are used to orient which regions tend to be signed where.

Reportedly, the scroll itself will start a tour from National University of Ireland at Maynooth beginning in February through Farmleigh house in Dublin, Derrynane in Kerry, Kilkenny, Clonmel and Belfast. is digitizing it.

Maybe someday I'll find a relative signed the scroll.

Will you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Surprising Poll on Languages

The Belfast Telegraph did a poll via telephone in Northern Ireland. One of the questions pertained to whether government documents should be in Irish and Ulster-Scots in addition to English. The results on this question of language were surprising.

Over half (53 percent) recommended a language other than English be included and more than a third (35 percent) recommended all three languages. When combined with those with no opinion, almost three quarters (74 percent) desire or would accept the production of government documents in multiple languages.  Or put another way, only a little over a quarter (26 percent) recommended English only production of government documents.

Historically, language has gotten caught up with the cultural and political traditions in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish language is usually associated with the Republican movement and the Ulster-Scots language is usually associated with the Loyalist movement. However, these associations may be more of a cultural coincidence given the low numbers of speakers of either tongue. Evidence indicates around ten percent of the population of Northern Ireland have some knowledge of Irish and only two percent can speak Ulster-Scots.

Given the number of speakers is lower than the support for native languages, the support for the native cultural tongues must be magnanimous support by non-speakers for those who do so speak.  Considering the tax dollars undoubtedly involved in producing documents in multiple languages, and that virtually all speakers of native tongues are equally fluent in English, this support is surprising.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What's a Wattle Bridge or Causeway?

If you cruise around the Republic of Ireland's newest “M” roads, you'll see the name of Dublin in Irish: Baile Átha Cliath.

Baile stands for “town” and this word in the name is an understatement considering Dublin is the island's largest city.

But what do the other two words stand for?

Átha means “ford” which is a low point in a stream often used for crossing by people or livestock.

Cliath means “hurdle” or “wattle.”

The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology relates:

The usual Irish language name for the city, Baile Átha Cliath [Irish, settlement/town of the hurdle ford], denotes the narrowest point on the Liffey, forded in pre-Norse times by the road between Tara and Wicklow, near the Wood Quay area, west of the modern commercial centre. It was a ‘hurdle ford’ because of a causeway built of woven wicker, boughs, or hurdles. The ford was known by different names in Irish tradition, including Áth Liag Mairgene [Ford of Margenn's Sling Stone], after the killer of Dub(h).

A hurdle, besides being a barrier over which racers must leap, is a portable panel usually of wattled withes and stakes used especially for enclosing land or livestock.

A wattle is a fabrication of poles interwoven with slender branches, reeds, or withes used formerly in building.

A withe is a slender flexible branch or twig, more particularly one used as a band or line.

Here is my personal speculation without any research beyond the above:

I visualize branches bundled together in a manner similar to a sheaf of corn stalks or wheat stems, but larger diameter stems. Probably they used material held in a manner similar to thatched roofs. I'm speculating, but willow is a common brush size plant that grows along stream banks and many have straight stems. If sheaves of willow were laid down with the mass of stems parallel to the current, they would be permeable to the flowing water.

If the sheaves were laid down thick enough to create the necessary height, it would create a structure looking like a permeable dam.

Then more tightly bound stems or reeds could be woven into tight mats and laid on the top. These might support feet and hooves, although it would seem the relatively high loads would tend to wear out the mats and allow penetration. Soil or sod might be supported by the top layer, especially if the top layer was formed tight and if it was above the water. The soil would tend to prolong the life of the mats or stems and would keep the hooves and legs of livestock from penetrating the wattle.

Larger diameter wood could be used atop the wattle to make for firmer footing. Corduroy roads of tree trunk diameter pieces have been laid down around the world to make soft, wet soil passable.

This must have been a civil engineering structure of great utility at the time and was laudable for being made of sustainable materials. Also, it appears to be appropriately scaled in that everything in it can be accomplished by humans working with relatively primitive tools. Willows and other branches can be cut. Reeds can be cut. All these materials can be collected and transported. Tying materials exist and can be manipulated by human hands. Sheaves can be made light enough to be transported and placed by a few workers.

Something fun, at least for me, is that I found a brief note about the investigation of an old wattle.

The source is: Oxford Journals, Life Sciences, Annals of Botany, Volume os-45, Issue 1, Pp. 207-210 dated 1931. The title is, “Note on some plant remains from an old causeway in essex.” The wattle layer in the causeway found in the Thames estuary in Southchurch, Essex, England was made up of hawthorn, alder, and willow branches. The causeway was determined to have been built in 800 to 500 BC. The branches were approximately 2 ½ inches or 6 centimeters in diameter and smaller. The wattle layers were approximately 6 to 8 inches or 15 to 20 centimeters thick and were separated by about 12 inch or 30 centimeter thick layers of soil. From one to five wattle and soil layers existed. The branches in the wattles were perpendicular to the length of the causeway.

At the top of the wattle layers was a layer consisting of oak saplings approximately 4 to 5 inches or 10 to 13 centimeters in diameter placed approximately 16 inches or 41 centimeters apart placed parallel with the length of the causeway. These saplings were embedded in and overlain by black mud.

I had some ideas that really were used, apparently.

I'd love to see one of these wattle bridges built and tested. Maybe some Dublin folk would like to demonstrate the basis for the Irish name of their "town"- Baile Átha Cliath.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Northern Irish Company Pioneers Wind & Biogas Cargo Ships

The Irish have been seafarers for thousands of years. How else did people get to the island after the last ice age?

A company in Larne, Co.Antrim, Northern Ireland called B9 Shipping Ltd. is taking a step back and a step sideways in propulsion which may revolutionize the industry.

They are developing a cargo vessel that will be powered by wind and bio-gas methane.

The ship will have deployable and retractable sails without rope rigging. These sails will serve as the primary means of propulsion. Each individual sail is rectangular and can be controlled electronically from the bridge to respond to changing wind direction. The sails will rotate around the mast. They can be stowed when there is no wind or the wind is not favorable.

When wind isn't suitable for propulsion, methane from food waste will power a Rolls Royce engine to thrust the ship's movements. This will be particularly handy in docking, too.

The bunker fuel used to power most ships in open water has risen in cost 600 percent in the last 10 years. And in the near shore environment, low sulfur fuel, which is even more expensive than bunker fuel, must be used in North America.

If this mating of wind and bio-gas technologies works, it could both reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and save shipping companies much money.

You might enjoy their blog:

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Mother, Medicine, and Love

Sometimes the unexpected connections formed in travel are so great.

While on the Volunteers In Mission trip to Northern Ireland, I was sitting in the dining room of our hotel typing on a laptop computer. It was my turn to write the daily blog for our Volunteer In Mission group. Mike, one of our leaders, was patiently waiting for me to finish so he could add the pictures.

I wanted to relate how Father Gerry Reynolds had told us he was affected by the visit of "the Queen" to Ireland, as were many others in Ireland. I wasn't sure of the best way to refer to her highness: the Queen of England, the Queen of Britain, or some other phrase. I looked around the room and, besides a few Americans, I saw a few other people present who might be Northern Irish. So I asked in a loud voice, but addressing no one in particular, how I should refer to the Queen. That late at night, the dining room is informal and the guests largely set the mood and ground rules.

A young woman who was sitting by herself spoke up and said in an Irish accent that the Queen's prime post was Queen of England, although she was Queen of all the parts of Britain and the United Kingdom. After I explained why I asked, she teased me by saying I could refer to the Queen as Queen Lizzie. I laughed, but declined, as I didn't want the Queen to think I was a rude American.

The next morning, the young woman came in for breakfast when a few of our group had already been there for awhile. I invited her to join us and during introductions learned her name was Colleen. She told us she was staying at the hotel after having donated one of her kidneys to her 9 year old son almost three weeks earlier. Colleen said her boy was doing great and that the three week recovery time was probably more for her than for him. She said the lack of an adequate kidney in him had held back his health and vigor. He is small for his age and couldn't run as fast as other's his age. Now that he had a full capacity kidney, the nurses say he is all over the place.

The leaders of our group asked Colleen to join us in our morning devotions. One person brings a devotional or thoughts to share with the group, we pray, and we learn our plans for the day from our leaders.

As it happened it was my turn to give the devotional, which due to my lack of attentiveness to the schedule, caught me by surprise. Thankfully, during our bus ride to the Giants Causeway I had done the preparation I needed. I had been reading the Jewish Annotated New Testament which includes both Jewish and scholarly reactions to the New Testament. One chapter discusses the concept of "neighbor" in the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself". I asked questions about when Jesus was asked "who is my neighbor?" and how he answered with the story of the beaten man on the side of the road saved by a good Samaritan. We also talked about how Jesus said to love your enemies.

After the devotion, the prayer and administrative parts were all done, Colleen was asked if she enjoyed being with us for all that took place. She said she did and she said she thought the devotion teaching of how we are all neighbors in this world, no matter whether we live near or far apart, was meant for her.

Colleen told us her younger son had deficient kidneys too and her husband had donated his kidney to him.

Despite all she's been through, she was cheerful and hopeful.

Collen shared the rest of the mornings with us at our devotionals.

On the final morning we could share in that place, she said she knew her father would greet her, as he has in recent years, with, "Colleen, what denomination are you now?" He says that because as she's gone through these experiences with her son's, she has always reached out and asked for prayer from any group who would pray for her sons. She herself is Catholic but she's had her son's prayed for by multiple denominations. She said no matter how tradition and secondary beliefs have divided us, we're all praying to the same God.

Later that day she went to pick up her son and take him home. She had one more surprise for us – she saw us as the taxi was rolling down the road and she had the driver stop to come over to us at the Forthspring Community Center. In the front parking lot, we meet her oldest son and seeing him with the energy from his new kidney was such a joy!


You can read more about organ donation in Ireland and elsewhere here:

Transplant NI Team , Belfast City Hospital

Strange Boat Donor Foundation , Bothúna, Spiddal, Co. Galway

UK The National Kidney Federation , The Point, Coach Road, Shireoaks, Worksop, Notts S81 8BW

National Kidney Foundation , 30 East 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016

Kidney Health Australia , ABN 37 008 464 426

European Kidney Patients’ Federation (CEAPIR) , Vienna, Austria

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thoughts of an American on the Walls in Belfast

Thoughts on "the wall" in Belfast by an American:

For those who don't already know, there are walls in Belfast and other Northern Irish cities and towns.

The Interface Walls demarcate the separated housing of the Protestant-Unionist- Loyalist community from the Catholic-Republican-Nationalist community.  The walls grew out of the barriers of debris that were established during the height of the Troubles in 1969 when both sides wanted to keep those from the other side who were bent on violence from entering their communities. These debris walls were originally reinforced by barb wire by the British military units which came into Northern Ireland. The government calls them Peace Walls to emphasize the security the walls impose.

The walls vary in size and construction material. They are all substantial and do block movement. The tallest ones prevent bottles, stones, etc. from being thrown over.

These walls cut off many streets that formerly were complete. There are large metal gates at certain larger streets which are sometimes open during the day and closed at night.  There are other streets where there are both large metal gates and narrower pedestrian gates.  Most days the pedestrian gates are open to foot traffic, but have restricted and crooked paths through the openings which prevent motorcycles and scooters from speeding through so those devices cannot be used for quick getaways from assassinations or other violence.

The large metal gates at certain locations can be opened for parades which celebrate victories of one community over the other, in battles centuries ago.

Where there isn't a physical wall such as out in the rural areas, there are invisible but clearly known lines between the communities.

Approximately 1,300 families or individuals were forced to move in Belfast in 2009 because of threats, intimidation, and violence for living too close or within an area where one side or the other thought they shouldn't live.

Rather than walls being taken down over the decades, more walls were constructed until as late as 2010. Politicians used wall construction to garner good will and votes from the community they support.

Both communities have community safety as their prime concern, but there are empty properties on the Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist side in Belfast and every property is occupied in the Catholic-Republican-Nationalist side.  Many from the Catholic-Republican-Nationalist community are on wait lists for housing.

Some residents we spoke with said many residents don't feel the walls are necessary except during the marching season.  Tensions escalate during marching season, and people feel the walls prevent gangs of one community or the other from venturing into the opposite community bent on intimidation or violence, especially at night.

Our Volunteers In Mission group experienced the aggravating side of the gates and walls when we stayed past 9 PM at a Protestant church. visiting after a service.  The gate we wanted to use to get back to our hotel, which essentially is in a Catholic area, was closed and we had to walk to another gate which was still open.

At the session about the five decades affected by the Troubles, we were told about a family that owned a house which was on the interface early in the development of the walls. They used to let their friends from the opposite community through the "wall" by having them pass through the house. So there have always been those who understood the separation of communities was unnatural.

Thinking about all the aspects of the walls, from the perspecitive of an American and as a practical person with an idealistic bent, it has been easy for me to focus on how the walls need to be removed as part of the reconciliation process.  Still, the walls are also a manifestation of the deeper problems.

One of the youth workers at the Forthspring Community Center said something which put my attitude and the entire problem in a new perspective. He said, "If we could magically remove the physical walls in the city, it likely wouldn't solve anything, until the walls in peoples hearts are dissolved."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

East Durham Irish Festival, Memorial Day, 2012

East Durham Irish Festival, Memorial Day 2012

Tom McGoldrick, Festival Director of the East Durham Irish Festival, wants everyone to know the East Durham Irish Fesitival is May 26th and 27th, 2012.

Groups include:

Barley Juice from Philadelphia

Searson from Canada

The Fenians from California

Hair of the Dog from Albany, Shilelagh Law

The Canny Brothers

Jamesons Revenge from NYC

Andy Cooney Band from East Durham

Kitty Kelly Band from East Durham

Kilrush from East Durham

Brothers Flynn from East Durham

St. James Gate

along with Pipe Bands

and Irish Step Dancing Schools

Advance tickets are available @ $12 in advance (plus $1 handling charge per ticket up to $3), a $4.00 saving, by calling 518-634-2286 (credit card sales acceptable) or send your check to East Durham Irish Festival, Box 189, East Durham, NY 12423.

Avanced sale two day tickets are available for $22.  This is $10 less than the total of same day gate entrance fees of $16 per day. No Service fees with purchase of  passports.
One venue is a large pavillion and the other is a tent, so rain isn't a problem. And yah wouldn't think it would be for the Irish, right?!

Free Camping will be available. Show up at the Festival Grounds and Parking attendees will direct you to campsites.

The Children's area "Land of the Leprechauns" will be back bigger than ever. A great variety of food Food and Vendors will be available.


Location: East Durham, New York

Time & Date: May - Saturday the 26th - Sunday the 27th

Festival Schedule

Festival Web Site with More Information

More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Terry Kane

- Len Graham

- Mary Staunton

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)

- Bernadette Nic Gabhann

- Aoife Clancy

- Matt and Shannon Heaton

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Over the Pond

I am returning to Belfast to learn from and help those in Belfast overcome and put into perspective generations of conflict. This is my second trip to Belfast with a Volunteer In Mission group.

Several of the people going today were on the trip two years ago, so I look forward to catching up with my friends. The "new" volunteers have interesting and committed lives, too, so I look forward to getting to know them and working with them.

Traveling starts out with concerns, from grand to mundane.

I hope this isn't too much information, but my packing has evolved. My friend Dave told me years ago to put a change of clothes in a plastic bag for each day. I haven't done that exactly, but I have packed most things in clear plastic bags. Our leaders Mike and Pat pointed out packing in plastic bags, especially with zip closures, makes the potential search and repack at the airport go well, with less chance of things getting lost or torn by the bag zipper, and helps keep stuff cleaner with regard to the counter where a million bags are dumped and repacked every week. If I like dealing with the bags at the other end, I'll air the bags out and save them for next time. It should save on pawing through my entire bag to find a clean item, right? Just have to find the right bag.

An odd worry is the accents. My "ear" for the language takes a bit to kick in, and I'm pretty good with unfamiliar accents. I'm talking about English being spoken, not Irish or Gaelic. There is that saying about Britain and America being divided by a common tongue. I was going to ascribe that as a quote, but it turns out the saying can't actually be ascribed to anyone in that exact form. Still, the American accents and the Northern Irish accent are quite different. The accent there is heavily influenced by Scottish to my mind.

I am wondering how they are getting on with reconciliation. The Great Recession is worse in Europe than in the US at this point. There are a lot of low income people in Belfast and I wonder if the cutbacks in spending on social aid and charitable donations are fanning the fires of resentment and pain. Soon, I'll hear.

Don't forget to check out the Volunteer In Mission group blog at:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Photos of Erik Schnackenberg On Exhibit


Erik Schnackenberg spoke tonight at the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, New York about the pictures he took in the 1960s in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

He worked on Madison Avenue in New York City and every so often went to the world's trouble spots to get an adrenalin rush and to see if his pictures could bring the reality out to the world.

The British soldiers were in the streets when he got there. The British soldiers were initially welcomed by the Catholics and Protestants because they were supposed to be stay between the groups and create peace. Unfortunately, the British bonded with the Protestants, as the soldiers and commanders were Protestants and believed Ireland should be in union with the British government.

The British used film, before computers were commonplace, to document who was where. If a person showed up a lot in many shots, they'd go "snatch" that person for questioning.

The soldiers didn't like Erik taking pictures because the IRA and such had taken pictures of soldiers, then used the picture to ID a soldier dressed in civilian clothes at a pub for attack. So often in Erik's pictures a soldier is taking a picture of Erik taking a picture!

You really should go see the exhibit, but two pictures stand out in my mind:

1) a picture of a 16 year old boy being led down the street for questioning: He'd been following the soldiers too closely, so the soldiers turned on him and arrested him. To be fair, some of the soldiers were only a little older than the boy and soldiers had been attacked by boys before. But in this picture the soldiers are carrying guns with live ammo, surrounding and leading this kid down the street, and a mom with two small girls is walking past them coming toward the camera. The mom and even the girls are looking straight ahead, minding their own business, so to speak. That's what every individual in that society learned to do in public - not get involved.

This reminded me how Pat, one of the leaders of our mission trips saw a change in Belfast in 2009 and another in 2010.

In 2009, nine years after the Easter Peace Accords, people on the street started responding when she said, "Hello!" when she was passing them on the street. Prior to that, her greetings were not responded to. The passersby would stare straight ahead and not answer.

In 2010, we all noticed children were being allowed to walk home from school. Pat told us, in prior years, parents would always come to the school in their cars to pick the children up. They didn't feel the streets were safe for children.

2) a picture of a shopkeeper removing a picture of a Saint from a storefront strewn with shattered glass: the Royal Ulster Constabulary (local police of that time) had let Protestant youths smash the storefront and ransack the place, while the RUC laughed. The shopkeeper came to his store to rescue what he could.

Another interesting thing was what the first "murals" looked like. They were walls with crude paintings of symbols for one side or the other. Sometimes the two side would paint over each other's graffiti in succession.

Erik's pictures were sometimes in the New York Times back in the day. He took a lot of risks getting them. Without them, I don't know how we would imagine what went on.

Call (518) 427-1916 for hours and go see them yourself at the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, New York, USA.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Titanic and the Irish

When I was in Ireland in 2010, there was a T-shirt for sale in the trinket shops in Belfast that said, "The Titanic: Built by the Irish, but Sunk by the English" or others that said, "Titanic – she was alright when she left us.”

Of course, such joking is only possible 100 years from the event and after all the survivors have died. The relationship of the Irish with the Titanic is more complicated than Brit bashing humor.

There are stories galore.

Addergoole in North Mayo had 14 of its residents on the maiden voyage of the Titanic and 11 of those perished. They started an annual bell ringing ceremony to commemorate that tragic loss of their brethren.

Annie McGowan, only 15 years of age at the time, was one of the few third class passengers to survive. Despite the loss of 11 of her fellow emigrants from Addergoole, and though without funds on arrival in New York, she survived and settled in Chicago. Her story is amazing.

When I was in Belfast in 2010, someone pointed out the tall yellow cranes with the initials "H & W" on them down at the docks. I was told the initials stood for Harland and Wolff. Although they didn't literally hold the Titanic until its launch, as they were constructed subsequently, they are in approximately the same area. I was also told the pair of gantry cranes were known as "Samson and Goliath," names which were derived from the bible, of course, and showed the colorful streak of the Irish. They were were constructed in 1974 and 1969 respectively. The residents of Belfast have grown attached to them and protested their proposed removal in recent times.

Also, in 2010 people were saying some sort of exhibition was already under construction which would serve as a museum to the ill fated ship.

The Titanic Visitor Center was completed in time for the centenary and it appears to be quite something, which you can learn about here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Interview with Terry Kane

Terry Kane, one of the two performers in the Jameson Sisters, graced us with the following interview on the final Saturday of Catskill Irish Arts Week 2011:

How did you get started in Irish singing?

All of my great-grandparents came from the west coast of Ireland, mostly from Co. Clare ... one from Kerry, and one from Cork. They were all very much into the music. When they came over here, they worked and saved enough money to buy farms in upstate New York.

Which part of upstate?

I lived near Corning in a little town called Addison.

My father's family is from Corning.

My mother would probably say, “Shame on you!” to me - “You don't know the Aldriches?”

We would visit my relatives in Corning and close friends in Angelica.

One of my relatives just got married near there. It is beautiful, angelic even!

(We share a laugh!)

So your family settled in that area.

They were farmers basically and brought a lot of their family over here. Most of them worked in the tanneries and other factories. They all lived on the same hill and would get together. One of my great grandfathers built a dance stage in a glade of woods. They would come, play, and dance there.

As farmers, they would work hard all day, but during the night, they'd get together and socialize.

They were pretty well known for their dancing. They were asked to do Irish dancing at square dances, which were very popular in the wider community.

Did you get to experience the place in the glade?

My cousins own the farm now and we played softball next to the glade as kids but there was no stage left. The dancing was passed from my great-grandfather to my grandfather. My grandfather taught my mom her siblings a little bit but he wound up having a tree fall on his leg. He was not able to dance after that. There was a lot of talk of dance. I heard this dancing is what my grandfather used to do. Unfortunately, it wasn't physically passed on. The music, storytelling, and singing kept going. The family is all big into dancing, but more into swing dancing or American tap dancing. Once the Irish dancing faded, nobody could teach us as we were out in the middle of nowhere.

Did you learn musical instruments when you were young?

We learned how to play piano and band instruments but that was more a classical association, with school. Folk music was big at that time when I was growing up in the '60s. I have a big family. I am the youngest out of eleven. My older brothers and sisters were already adults when I was born. One of my brothers had gone to Paris, France to study to be a French teacher. He managed to scoot over to Dublin and got hooked on a lot of rebel songs and also singing the folk style ballads with the guitar. He came home and shared all that music with us. The younger half of the family got more exposure to Irish music than most of the older half. My brother, Pat, was inspired to take up the fiddle and start playing. I wound up getting the mandolin and guitar. So the music all came back to us. Now twice a year the whole family gets together. There are enough musicians in the family to play for céilí dances and we can get at least 4 sets dancing. After that we usually stay up till the early morning singing.

Then the singing? You grew up singing in English?

Yes, there was very little Gaelic speaking in my family. All of my family that came from Ireland, my great grandparents, spoke in Irish at that time. My great grandfather had actually been to England dancing. He was a really good dancer so he had already traveled around performing. He had learned to speak English a little better than the rest of my relatives. They spoke English by that time on the west coast of Ireland but even that was in heavy brogue. They called my great grandfather Yankee Jim, because he was the only one the English speakers could understand.

How did you get introduced to singing in Irish and sean nós singing?

I liked the style of it and the sound of it. I listened to a lot people who did singing in English, like Dolores Keane and people like that who were singing in a more traditional style back in the '60s and '70s. I had an opportunity to be inspired by them. I loved the ornamentation. Still, I didn't want to sing in Irish until I could speak it. When I got to Philadelphia, I found a lot of people there from Donegal and lots of places in Ireland. There was a strong Donegal influence and they still speak Irish in Donegal. There's classes to be had, and ways to be exposed to the language. I've been learning it for twelve years. My Irish isn't great yet, but at least if they interview me on the radio, I'd be able to talk to them. I'd probably sound like Sabatini or someone like that. When Gabriela Sabatini was first interviewed in English for her great tennis skills, having come from Argentina, her English skills were not so smooth.”

I remember that, “I – like – to – play – very – much.”

(Terry laughs and says, “Yah!”)

But getting back to singing, I get to ask you a somewhat unique question to an American. What is your favorite Irish song in English and what is your favorite Irish song in Irish?

Usually my favorite song kinda changes as I learn new songs. They aren't static things. Right now I'm singing this song “Ar Mo Ghabháil ‘na Chuain Domh.” It's a story about a fair haired priest that decided to get married. He leaves the monastery to go off, but then the girl decided to leave him. After that he became a soldier of fortune on the continent. He saw and experienced all these things, came back to Ireland, and wrote a book. He put this song in the book, with other poetry. It's an interesting story. The title of the book is An Caisideach Bán, which translates to the Fair Haired Cassidy.

In English, I like “The May in Morning Dew.” A lot of artists have performed or recorded it. Maybe it's Dolores Keane's version of it – it still plays in my head. Usually I don't try to memorize a song just as it's performed by an artist, but that one by her is so memorable to me...

Can you learn multiple versions of the same song?

Everyone has their own way that their brain works well. Some people remember lots of versions of a song. Some people can connect across songs. Last night at the singing session they were singing different songs from memory that feature the words, “Oh, really ...” Some people can pick a song to sing because of hearing another song by an earlier singer. They have these minds that can think across the songs they know to stay within a theme. So to answer your question, I try to find multiple versions of a song, I learn the best one or mix a few versions to get one that I like then as I sing the song over years my own style of ornamentation creeps in. I do remember the best versions I heard of most songs which were usually by Seosamh Ó hÉanaí, Sean ‘ac Dhonncha, Áine Meenaghan, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.

How long have you been coming to the Catskill Irish Arts Week?

I have been coming for many, many years, but I wasn’t here for the first one.

During one of the early years, my brother-in-law, Joe Burke got asked to fill in for a performer who couldn't make it. Joe was kind of a quiet unassuming kind of guy. He didn't feel like he could teach students because he had never learned how to teach. I'm a music teacher so he asked me if I would come up and sit in to field all those questions he didn't really have answers for because he wasn't trained on music theory. My presence calmed him down and helped him overcome his nervousness because he knew I was there to answer the questions more formal training required. Joe was a terrific singer and most of the students just wanted to listen to the way he sang and ask for song recommendations. I only had to answer a few questions about vocal warm-ups and ornamentation.

I do something like that at the Banjo Burke Festival. I sit in with Aine Meenaghan a lot. When those questions come up about music notation or theory I chime in and answer them. It works very nicely. She knows what the music should sound like and how best to teach Irish singing. She is a fluent speaker who grew up in Connemara and has many songs memorized.

So you've been going to the Banjo Burke Festival since it started?

Yes, I've been performing for them since the beginning. They give me a place to stay, I donate my time doing performances with different bands I've been in. It's a nice thing to donate to, Parkinson's Research, and traditional music together. Sometimes the Banjo Burke Memorial Fund gives a scholarship to someone to attend this Catskills Irish Arts Week. And they do things to support people entering the study of Irish Traditional Music.

What did you think of THIS Catskill Irish Arts Week?

I had a really good time. The weather was so gorgeous. I couldn't actually come for the beginning of it because I was working. But as soon as I got off, we headed up here. I think it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit or very close to it when we left Philadelphia. I was worried about getting by New York City because I was driving through that area near 5 o'clock. We did get up here in time for the evening concert. That was our goal. When I stepped out of the van it was miraculously as cool as we could ask for. It's been bright and sunny during the day and cool at night, cool enough for a sleeping bag or extra blanket.

Do you know Roslyn Blyn-LaDrew? She's in Philadelphia.

Absolutely. She's a brilliant teacher.

I take lessons with her over Skype.

She is just a wealth of information. Sweet personality, she sings, and she writes poetry in Irish. It's great to hear original songs in the Irish language.

Where do you see yourself going in the next few years with your Irish Singing?

Without a doubt, I'll be at this year's Banjo Burke Festival. It's Columbus Day weekend. I'll be up with the harpist, Ellen Tepper. We call ourselves The Jameson Sisters. It's nice having the harp for Irish songs. For people who haven't ever heard Irish before, they can be a little lost when they can't understand the words in Irish. Sometimes there are 5 or 10 verses in these songs. The musicality can be different, the ornamentation, the tones. At least with the harp there is music there that they can listen to and connect.

I see myself studying Irish a lot more. I love speaking with more people in Irish.

Do you see yourself going to Ireland soon?

I never seem to have enough money. Maybe it's because I spend too much money buying Gaelic books?

(We laugh together).

Actually, I will be going to Ireland next year. My brother takes tours to Ireland 3 or 4 times a year. He has got some big trip going where he needs to take two buses, so I'm signed up to be the entertainment on the other bus. He sings to the people on the bus as they are going from one place to another. It's something different for this tour.

Now I've got to try to one up him. I've got to make my bus better than his bus (Terry laughs).

Any last thoughts?

They bring a lot of great artists here for Catskill Irish Arts Week. Everyone should come and enjoy the talent!


Click here to go to Terry Kane's Web site


More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Len Graham

- Mary Staunton

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)

- Bernadette Nic Gabhann

- Aoife Clancy

- Matt and Shannon Heaton

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

St. Patrick's Day And Irish Events in the Capital District of New York

There is a calendar of Irish entertainment and cultural events on the right hand side of this blog.

However, to make sure the Irish events are publicized in the Capital District of New York, I bring you this page. Keep checking back this month! (If you have an event, tell me through shamrockroad (at thingie) gmail (dot) com.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!

Wed, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00 pm

Irish Genealogy Session with Lisa Dougherty!!

Irish American Heritage Museum, 991 Broadway, Albany, NY 12204

(518) 432-6598

March 22

Gaelic Storm

Gaelic Storm plays high-energy, foot-stomping, rock-tinged Celtic music. The quintet brings influences from rock, bluegrass, Jamaican, African and Middle Eastern music that may surprise those expecting traditional Celtic music and have been described as a "whirlwind ruckus" by the Village Voice.
8 PM


Michael Flatley's LORD OF THE DANCE

Wed, March 28, 7:30pm – 10:00pm

Palace Theater, Albany, NY, USA

Described by the New York Post as "fascinating, rewarding and above all, entertaining," and by the Los Angeles Times as "a showpiece extravaganza," Lord of the Dance is a mesmerizing blend of traditional and modern Celtic music and dance. The story is based upon mythical Irish folklore as Don Dorcha, Lord of Darkness, challenges the ethereal lord of light, the Lord of the Dance. Battle lines are drawn, passions ignite and a love story fueled by the dramatic leaps and turns of dancers' bodies begins to build against a backdrop of Celtic rhythm. The action is played out over 21 scenes on a grand scale of precision dancing, dramatic music, colorful costumes and state-of-the-art staging and lighting.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Interview with Len Graham

I had the pleasure of interviewing the famous Irish singer and song historian, Len Graham during Catskill Irish Arts Week 2011:

How did you get started in music and singing?

I was born in a small village called Glenarm, which is in the Glens of Antrim up in the northeast of Ireland. My mother used to say I was singing before I could talk. She said she actually sung songs to me in the womb. I have no other recollections but of singing, singing, and more singing when I was young. My father was working in Glasgow during the war years (years of World War II) and he tried to get my mother to come over to Glasgow because he had acquired employment, which was hard enough to get in Ireland even during the war years. There wasn't an awful lot of work going but she wouldn't leave Glenarm. So I ended up spending an awful lot of time with my mother and grandmother. Both were what you would call compulsive singers so there was a lot of singing.

What age were you when you started in competitions?

I started singing very early and I started competing very early as well. Not that I was pushed by my parents to do that, it was more by my own desire. I probably was about ten years old around 1954 when my school entered me for a singing festival in Belfast. Then I started competing in the fleadh cheoils, which are festivals of traditional music. I was more into my teens at that stage, probably I was 18 or 19 when I started competing at the fleadhs. First of all the Ulster Fleadhs in counties Monaghan and Cavan and then the All-Irelands – Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. I retired from that in 1971 when I won the All-Ireland Senior sean-nós singing in English, as I decided I didn't want to do that anymore.

How early in your career did you meet Joe Holmes?

When I was young I sometimes sang in duet with my mother, not in harmony but in unison, and then I started singing solo a lot. There was an organization around then called the Antrim and Derry Fiddlers Association which started in 1953. They had some of the same members that started up Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in 1951. They would have some singing in between the wall to wall instrumental pieces, which was mostly fiddle playing. There are a lot of fiddle players in Antrim. They soon started calling me up for a song at these gatherings and it was at one of these nights at Dunminning near Ballymena in Co. Antrim in 1963 that this fiddler came over to me and asked for a song I'd sung, which I had learned from my grandmother. He asked me for the words of the song and he turned out to be Joe Holmes.

Photograph at Right: Len Graham and Joe Holmes performing at Féile na Bóinne, Drogheda, Co. Louth, 1976.

Joe and I formed a friendship, not just a musical friendship, but a great close friendship which ended when he died in 1978. We had fifteen years of singing songs together and going all around Ireland. I took Joe around to see singers and musicians all over Ireland. Dennis Murphy,from Sliabh Luachra, Co. Kerry, the Keanes who were sean- nós singers in Co. Galway, the Dohertys up in Co. Donegal and many more.

How much have you performed in the United States?

I was over to the United States in 1976 for the first time when I was sponsored by the Irish American Cultural Institute. The Smithsonian wanted Joe and I over for one of the US Bicentennial Celebrations the same year, but Joe was in his seventies by then and didn't feel like taking on the trans-Atlantic journey. On that first US Tour which lasted for nearly four weeks, I think I did twenty-one lectures/recitals in twenty-four days, so I couldn't think of coming back again at that time. But I have been coming over to the US since 1976 for different festivals and events, such as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Catskills Irish Arts Week, Milwaukee Irish Fest and various universities and events. I haven't visited all the states, but I've seen a lot of them.

So you grew up singing songs in English? Did you hear much Irish spoken when you were young?

The Glens of Antrim was what you could call a Gaeltacht “the day before yesterday.” The Irish language had died out recently. Irish is still spoken, but most of the Irish speakers have gone to the Donegal Gaeltacht to learn Ulster Irish. Irish had been spoken recently in the Glens of Antrim and my mother heard native Antrim Irish spoken back in the early part of the twentieth century. The last native Irish speaker in that area died in the 1960s. A man called MacAuley from the nearby glen of Glenann, and when he died there was an obituary saying he was the last Antrim native speaker of Irish and that was I believe in 1964. There are a lot of Irish speakers in the North of Ireland and there has been a big revival in the language in recent times with a big demand for Irish medium schools. But to this day the closest Gaeltacht to the Glens of Antrim are the Western Isles of Scotland and at their closest point the distance is only twelve miles. Scots Gaelic is just a different dialect of what was all one language.

The roads into the Glens of Antrim weren't built until the time of the famine in the mid nineteenth century and they were built as famine relief schemes. Before that it was much easier to go to Scotland than it was to go to Ballymena or Belfast as crossing the mountains over rocky roads was difficult whilst all you had to do was jump on a boat on a good day and you'd be over in Scotland in no time at all. I used to love the Lammas Fair in Ballycastle in North Antrim. It's gotten quite commercial now, but every August the boats would come from Rathlin Island and some of the Western Isles of Scotland and there would be music, singing, selling of animals, and all sorts of fun which went on for several days. That's a fair that's been going on for centuries and there’s another old fair in Co.Kerry called the Puck Fair and that's been going on for years and years as well.

What is your favorite song to sing?

Some of those early songs I learned from family and neighbors have a special place- like The Murlough Shore which came from my grandmother. The Keanes, Sarah and Rita, the aunts of Dolores when I first met them in the 1960s sang another version of this song called – The Moorlough Shore, which they got from a 78 rpm gramophone record made in New York by Joe Maguire from Co. Fermanagh in the 1930s. It's a different version from what I sing. Dolores Keane was the first singer in De Dannan and on their first band album Dolores sang – The Rambling Irishman which she got from me. I in turn got a fragment of the song in the 1960s from Joe Holmes from Killyrammer, Co. Antrim and managed to track down another three verses from the daughter of the man that Joe had heard sing it from in the early years of the last century.

For years I searched all over Ireland and beyond for more verses of the song and then a version with extra verses turned up in the Ozark Highlands under the title of – New York Bay. The collector was Max Hunter and he collected the song from Bertha Lauderdale in 1961 and Max transcribed – Lough Erne as Lauairen, but it is without a doubt the same song. More recently a three stanza fragment turned up in the parish records of St. Patrick’s Church, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania and here the song is attributed to Jerry Monaghan who left Ireland in 1790.

You've done a lot of research on songs. What experiences have you had with that?

Yes, it's been a fascination of mine, all my life. It's been a total fascination and I've been interested in the history of songs and singers as long as I remember. It gives me no end of pleasure when I come across a fragment of a song in the song tradition over here in Ireland, to begin a search in all the archives and libraries here and beyond to try and fill in the gaps and return it to the traditional music community.

I recall Joe Holmes again singing me another tantalizing fragment of a Co. Down song – My Love Nell and then coming across it on a nineteenth century song sheet in the Library of Congress. There are numerous examples – versions and more versions. A song taught in the local primary school in Mullaghbawn, Co. Armagh in the 1930s – Kitty Finnegan from Carrickadreen turned up on a nineteenth century New York broadside ballad and in this case the words were very similar to the Irish one, but the young lady in the US version is from Abington Green (Georgia) instead of Carrickadreen.

My Uncle, my mother's brother, was also a singer. My father, my mother, they were all musicians and singers. There was a fiddler in the family and a hammer dulcimer player. Yes, there was a famous relation of ours called John Rea, who made many BBC Radio programs and recordings for a Topic Records in London. His mother and my grandmother were full cousins. He was a tremendous hammer dulcimer player and he was born the same year as my mother in 1915. She remembered going around to his home as a wee girl as he lived just around the corner from us in Glenarm. She told me that he would be standing on an upturned butter box and the dulcimer balanced on two matching boxes on the kitchen table when he was no more than six or seven. So from the time he was in his teens he was broadcasting on the local radio from way back in the 1930s. He had music for dances and performed regularly with his father, who was a champion fiddler at concerts and dances all over the north of Ireland. Yes indeed, a lot of outstanding musicians came out of the Glens of Antrim.

My Uncle Willie presented me, when I was in my teens, with a shoe box full of songs he'd collected. He'd taken them down from family and neighbors and he'd taken the trouble to collect a series that had been published in a local newspaper, the Northern Constitution, and the collector was a man called Sam Henry. He published a song every week between 1923 and 1939. A good number of these were in the shoe box. He must have cut them out every week. There were some gaps. Then I heard in my late teens that Sam Henry had bequeathed two scrap books to the Central Library in Belfast and to the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. I went to the Belfast collection and made copies, and filled in the gaps. There were songs that weren't in the Sam Henry collection that my uncle had collected. All together there were a lot of songs, a huge collection, over 800 songs. The University of Georgia Press in Athens, Ga., in 1990 published the whole collection. It's been out of print and they were fetching big money on the Internet. I’m told it's been recently reissued. It is called - Songs of the People, by Sam Henry, edited by Lani Herrmann. She did a wonderful job in giving lots of information, sources, and where other versions are to be found, etc.

Tell us about your book, please!

I brought a book out recently called – Here I Am Amongst You on Joe Holmes (1906-78). It was something I intended to do for years and I finally got a publisher after taking the manuscript around to numerous publishers here in Ireland. So I was delighted when the highly regarded Four Courts Press in Dublin published it in 2010. (See: ) I launched it at the Milwaukee Irish Fest in 2010 and at the Catskills Irish Arts Week along with a talk in 2011. I tried to follow the standard set by Lani Herrmann, by not just bringing out a memoir, but also to show where these songs could be found and discuss other versions, particularly the versions found in collections in the U.S.

What's been the role of those in the United States in keeping the songs going?

People were coming over from Ireland to North America for centuries and were arriving long before the famine in the mid nineteenth century. They left their DNA in the way of songs in the Appalachian Mountains, the Ozark Highlands, up in Canada and other parts. I tried to show how they are all connected. I actually was able to find more verses of songs in North America sometimes to what I had collected in Ireland. Yes, sometimes fuller versions of ‘old country’ songs turned up in the Appalachians, the Ozarks and other locations. Some of them came over here in the eighteenth century with some of the early settlers and they stayed largely unchanged and were handed down from generation to generation and were like time capsules when discovered.

There was a wonderful letter by the famous English folksong collector called Cecil Sharp. He did a lot of work in England and then he went over to the Appalachians in the early years of the twentieth century. He had filled books with ‘old country’ folksongs, much better and fuller versions than he had collected in England. In 1917 he wrote to Russell Smith at Knoxville, Tennessee after he had just returned from the mountains, joyful over a fruitful folksong collecting trip – “These missionaries with their schools! I’d like to build a wall around these mountains and let the mountain people alone. The only distinctive culture in America is here. These people live. They sustain themselves on the meanest food. They are not interested in eating, but they have time to sing ballads.”

What's your most recent CD?

I made my first solo album (LP) for Topic Records of London in 1975 and since then I have featured on many recordings – solo and in collaboration with other singers, musicians, poets and storytellers. My most recent recordings are two CDs brought out in 2010 called - Over the Hills and Far Away and another one called – Here I Am Amongst You, which is a companion sampler for the Joe Holmes book. I wanted to bring out recordings with the book, but the publisher wasn't interested in handling CDs. I hope at some stage to get the whole Len Graham Song Collection up on the Internet and make it accessible to everybody. So stay tuned!

Len Graham and Brían Ó hAirt are competing for a KickStarter grant at: In Two Minds: Irish singing collaboration w/Len Graham/

Len Graham has a web site at:

More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Mary Staunton

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)

- Bernadette Nic Gabhann

- Aoife Clancy

- Matt and Shannon Heaton

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mary Staunton Interview at Catskill Irish Arts Week 2011

During Catskill Irish Arts Week 2011, Mary Staunton spoke with us about singing and more. Her singing has been described as low on flash but as beatiful as a lark.
Question: When did you start singing?

Mary Staunton: I suppose it was when I was a young child; probably I was six or seven. My grandmother used to sing her songs at home to us. My neighbor was a great friend of my dad's. They played fiddle together. Dad used to sing a lot of songs for us as well, when we were young. There was always music and singing in the house.

Question: Did you grow up with the Irish language?

Mary Staunton: Yes, my grandmother spoke Irish to us at home. I grew up in a Gaelic speaking area or Gaeltacht. All of school was in Irish right up to 18 year olds. We sang Irish songs and English songs all the time. We played music as well, and the singing and music went hand in hand. When I was young I probably played more music than I sang. As I got older, singing took over more.

Question: What part of Ireland did you grow up in?

Mary Staunton: A place called Tourmakeady (Tuar Mhic Éadaigh in Irish). It's a small little village between the mountain and the lake – Lake Mask. It's in southwest Mayo, almost in Galway. It's about 15 miles from Westport Town.

Question: When you were a teenager, did you start doing stage performances?

Mary Staunton: When I was thirteen, we were playing sessions around Mayo. We'd play in the local bars around home, especially in summer. We'd play for seisún. We'd play for dancers. We did years of that. It was good fun, though. All my family played. My brother plays bouzouki and my sister plays fiddle and whistle. So we always played and the craic was always there! Performing was part of life.

Question: Do you remember how you learned to memorize songs?

Mary Staunton: That was just part of the art. We learned by ear and we memorized since we were kids. It was part of the thing we did. You get very quick and very used to it as you get older, especially when you start young. We heard a lot of tunes and we learned them by ear.

Question: What is your favorite song to sing?

Mary Staunton: The one I got from my grandmother, “The Green Fields of Mayo.” I love it because it's about home, it's from her, and it's very personal. It's a sacred song to me, like my family is.

Question: Have you enjoyed Catskill Irish Arts Week? Is it your first time at Catskill Irish Arts Week?

Mary Staunton: Yes, I enjoyed it very much. I heard about it for years and lots of my friends have been here, but it's my first time coming here. I had a great time. I met lovely people. There is a great atmosphere here. There is so much music going on and it's impossible to hear it all as it's so extensive. It's fantastic. Everyone is so welcoming and nice. I had a great time.

Question: How did you hear about Catskill Irish Arts Week before you came?

Mary Staunton: I heard about it through other people who've been here down through the years. I know the musicians and singers in Ireland who have come here. Anyone who has been here always speaks very highly of it. They've all said they had a great time.

Question: Were your students attentive this week?

Mary Staunton: Yes, and they were all lovely people. Some of them were teenagers. One of them had learned two songs in Irish and one hymn. She sings at a mass every year. It was great to hear her singing in the Irish language. One woman spent three months learning one song “as Gaeilge” (from or in Irish language). She broke down all the songs phonetically. It must have taken her so long to work it out! It was amazing to hear that.

Question: What's been the most surprising thing this week?

Mary Staunton: I admire the way Paul has put it all together. It’s a maze of timing for all the concerts, workshops, and all the various classes. The week is a huge thing to undertake. He does amazing work. The whole jigsaw of the time table - how he does it is great.

Question: Are you staying for a bit in the States after this week?

Mary Staunton: I am going back into New York City to be with friends for a few days. I haven't seen them in years. That will be wonderful!

Question: What CDs do you have out?

Mary Staunton: I just recorded a new CD last year called “Circle of Friends.” I launched it last August as my second CD. My first CD was 12 years prior in 1998. It took me a long time to get into the mood to do the next one, but I got lots of help from various friends. A friend of mine Alec Fin produced it with me. He's a circuit barrister and my neighbor. It was an easy recording to do as I had the help of my many friends on it.

My earlier CD is called “Bright Early Mornings” but that was done so many years ago. It's a mixture of songs and tunes including a few duets. There are a lot of Mayo tunes on it that are nice to preserve.

Question: How did you come to have a duet with John Prine on your Circle of Friends CD?

Mary Staunton: I’ve known John Prine for twenty years. He has a holiday home in Kinvar and we play tunes there together. Also, Sharon Shannon invited us to a duet of John’s own composition on the Diamond Mountain Sessions CD. His composition is entitled, “Love, Love, Love.” When we were recording that, he offered to do a duet with me the next time I recorded a CD.

Question: How did you pick the song to do as a duet?

Mary Staunton: John and I both liked “Boots of Spanish Leather” by Bob Dylan. We liked the idea of doing a male/female call and response. When you look at the song, you see Dylan wrote it in that style, but of course he didn’t use a duet of voices. He recorded himself singing both the man and woman’s parts. John and I decided it would be fun to record it as a duet.

I heard Bob Dylan play Boots of Spanish Leather in Galway once. His version was amazing.

So that’s it. Maybe Bob will hear this track someday? I hope he likes it. It was a privilege for me.


Mary Staunton Website

More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)
- Bernadette Nic Gabhann
- Aoife Clancy
- Matt and Shannon Heaton

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Letter to Ireland

A Letter to Ireland

the world doesn't know
of the divisions in Belfast,

of your walls
of concrete and brick,
ribbed thick metal and razor wire,
anti-climb paint on tri-prong picket tops,

of your black, solid-steel gates
closed fast every night
holding in hearts
as much as holding out assassins,

of barriers assaulted
by rocks, stones, and broken concrete shards,
by bottles of gasoline
with flaming rag fuses
flung by garbage bag slings,
of any garbage handy,
even a scuffed filthy mannequin
flung over to a church yard
as an incongruous missile of hate.

The world doesn't know
of the centuries old fight,
where even language and names
are not spared,
where Derry/Londonderry,
that proud old town
has come to be called,

Outsiders don't know
of the invisible interfaces
which snake across the land
immutably dividing
in otherwise suburban and rural
quaint countryside.

When will your walls fall?
Will they chip away
in the wind and rain?
Will the graffiti covered blankness
be knocked down
by celebrating crowds?
Will the demarcations outlast
their physical selves?

How many generations
of your children will grow up
stunted by misunderstanding and fear?
When will no one care
the religious and cultural affiliation
of their neighbors?

When will you hear
the whispering of the dead
to let love drive out hate?

Copyright 2012
Rodney L. Aldrich