Songs - the Soundtrack of our Lives.
Last Monday night I watched a programme on R.T.E. profiling one of my favourite singers, Dolores Keane. Dolores comes from a great tradition of singers as her aunts, Rita and Sarah have been nationally known for their unique style as is her brother Sean Keane. Dolores is, or I suppose was now, a fine singer with a very distinctive voice. She was brought up by her aunts in Caherlestrane near Headford in County Galway. In her home, music and song were a constant backdrop. “The door was never closed or the fire was never raked” as she relayed it. She joined one of the country’s finest traditional groups, De Dannan in 1975 for a couple of years. She met John Faulkner and they lived in London for a time, married and returned to live in a cottage near her aunts and extended family. Dolores re-joined De Dannan in ’85 with Mary Black and they had a great decade of success.
In 1989 Dolores sang a fine and important song, written by her husband, titled ‘Lion in a Cage’ on the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. It became a rallying anthem with a chorus line of ‘Mandela will be Free’, which he was in February 1990. Amongst her other great songs was a particular version of ‘Galway Bay’, ‘Caledonia’ and ‘Sonny’ with Mary Black and Nancy Griffith who referred to her as ‘The voice of Ireland’.
Dolores with Eleanor McEvoy, Mary Black, Maura O’Connell and Sharon Shannon released the ground –breaking album ‘A Woman’s Heart’ in the summer of 1992 which sold 750, 000 copies.
However difficulties ensued and led to a troubled decline in her powers. In the documentary she spoke with candour of her problems brought on by her alcohol addiction including marriage break-up. It brought her to a place where as she relayed "It wasn’t that I didn’t care no more it was that I couldn’t care, to throw away my life and talent was almost an insult to the memories of the people who had gone before me". Eventually she sought help for her addiction in Hope House. Her subsequent and current challenge is with breast cancer. Through the film she referred to ‘the gift’ and ‘the tradition’ in her ‘vera’ distinctive Galway accent. In her prime Dolores was powerful and unique voice and in her recordings has left us a fine legacy. It is always sad to see decline in these gifted people.
Boyle of course has a great tradition of singers and I look forward to John Spillane’s song on Johnny Reilly which will be one of the fruits of his trip to Boyle last week. I am told by someone who would know these things that it is a very good song. Johnny Reilly lived in Boyle in the sixties and was a repository of some very good traditional songs. Christy Moore adopted a number of these songs such as ‘The Well Below the Valley’ and ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’. Christy returns for a concert in Boyle in June supported by The Grehan Sisters, great friends to Johnny Reilly. It is interesting that one Christy’s own songs, ‘Lisdoonvarna’ was included in a secondary school poetry anthology a few years ago. Two famous poems became popular songs later, Kavanagh’s ‘Raglan Road’ and Yeats’s ‘Salley Gardens’.
While I have heard many good Boyle singers a singer-composer is a different level and Donie O’Connor has composed many lovely and thoughtful songs. Musician Bernard Flaherty is another fine singers especially when in full flight with ‘Mary and the Soldier’. Then there are the Gaffneys as Liz O’Dowd said once; ‘I mightn’t know much about Irish music but I love those Gaffneys singing'. Then of course there is Kevin Flynn and his wife Mary Flaherty which brings me to her mam Tess Flaherty and the ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’. One could go on of course and maybe I will some other time.
Let the Games Begin:
The Roscommon GAA fraternity begin their traditional pilgrimage on Sunday next when we go to see their senior team play Leitrim in the first round of the championship. The U 21 defeat has left Roscommon supporters a bit nervous and their expectations are now more muted. The word from Leitrim is that they are not the force or threat they can be. On the basis that Roscommon have had a good spring, winning the Division Three League coupled with the achievement of the U 21s’ in getting to the All-Ireland again, I expect the Roscommon side to have a decent win on Sunday.
Tragedy of the Streets:
Tragedies once seemed a rare occurrence just like funerals were when one was young. One’s heart goes out to a number of families this week. The Dolan parents, Joe and Rosie of Carrick-on-Shannon spoke powerfully about the tragic loss of their son Andrew in an act of gratuitous violence in Mullingar after a social outing in December 2011. They questioned the reasons why these incidents occur on such a regular basis and they called for people to support the Organ Donor Card campaign as student colleagues have done with a wrist band ‘Be a Hero Be a Donor’.
Famine and Tragedy:
A major National Famine Commemoration 2014 of the Irish Famine of the 1840's took place in Strokestown last week. We rightly remember this tragic historical event of one hundred and sixty seven or so years ago. In our supposed enlightened world of today tragic events continue as with the abduction of the schoolchildren in Nigeria. The greatest tragic event of our time has been the Rwandan Genocide from April to July of 1994, just twenty years ago. Between 500,000 and 1 million people were killed in that slaughter. While Rwanda has calmed and is trying to cope with their tragedy it has now spilled over to a country we know little about - the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While we can be sure that a Famine like 1847 would not happen again, could a tragedy on the scale of Rwanda happen again in Africa after just twenty years as the outside world looks on?