"Dear Danny I'm Taking The Pen In My Hand……."
Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life; its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life." --Joseph Conrad.
It has been said that Ireland has controlled its population growth by three measures: celibacy, late marriages, and emigration. The first two were facts of life but not featured much in song.
Emigration, on the other hand, provided a fertile field for the ballad-writer. Peggy Sweeney's latest DVD "The Emigrant's Letter" draws from a rich harvest of emigration songs.
Homeland In Mayo: Singer/songwriter, Patsy McEvoy from Blessington, Co.Wicklow, has been, for many years, moved and inspired by the ruined cabins and "famine fields" of rural Ireland. This near obsession has culminated in a sad and moving ballad. The air was composed by Brian Kilcawley.
The Emigrant's Letter: "Defend us from the inspiration of the moment" just doesn't hold water. While Percy French was working as an entertainer on a Cruise-ship he heard one passenger say to another, "They're cuttin' the corn in Creeslough today". He immediately took up his pen to write, "Dear Danny I'm taking the pen in my hand……"
Freemantle Bay: This song, written by Bill Bomer, tells the story of how, when under the oppressor, a man who stole a trifle to save his family from death by starvation could be banished to the other side of the world.
Dear Old Wexford Town: Historic Wexford commemorated in this ballad by Father Kavanagh who died in 1918. In it the subject wonders if he will ever be accepted back in the place that he loves.
Famine Years: Octogenarian song-writer Dan Keane can write about any subject from a fresh and original angle.
This song (air by Brian Burke) is an example. Written in 1995 it won the New Ballad competition at the All-Ireland Fleadh Ceol in 1996. And who was singing it?…….You've guessed….Peggy Sweeney. Like most of Dan's songs "Famine Years" ends on a note of optimism:
It's hard indeed dear Motherland
Your anger to restrain
But we've survived those many years
And hope has bloomed again.
And to that hope, Oh! holy land
Be evermore resigned,
For the love of God is greater
Than the hate of all mankind.
My Dear Native Town Town of Dunmore: This song was composed by singer, broadcaster raconteur and former Garda John Duggan.
Mayo man, John, has penned such favourites a "The Roads of Kildare", The Old Threshing Mill" and "I Fell in Love With Claremorris", as well as a collection of monologues including "Old Ignatius" and "The Greatest Game of All".
On The Banks Of The Foyle: A reminder that lovely Derry is indeed on "Irish soil".
Goodbye Johnny Dear: "Write a letter now and then and send her all you can". A refrain often uttered at a railway station or port when the pain at the departure of an offspring was juxtaposed by the concern for the welfare of " the helpless ones at home". Written by Johnny Patterson ("The Rambler from Clare"); a man better known for his comic songs.
The Kerry Coast: You didn't think she would record an album and leave out the Kingdom, did you?
Sliabh Gallion Braes: Another man tells the story of how because of rents and rates and taxes which he could no longer pay he was forced to flee from the land that he loved.
Skibbereen: Hunger, eviction and oppression could not break the Irish.
"…..Father dear the day will come when in answer to the call
Each Irishman with feelings stern will rally one and all……. "
The Rose of Mooncoin: This Kilkenny anthem has been recorded many times, but not like this.
Spancil Hill: No matter what part of the world I am awoken by the sound of a vehicle in the first few seconds of wakefulness I am transported. As far as I am concerned it is a Thames van chugging up the Lodge Lane in the 1950's. If you've had a similar experience you can understand what it's like to come to your senses and wake up, "…..in California, many mile from Spancil Hill."
The Shores of Americay: "It's not for the want of employment I'm going, o'er the dreary and stormy say….." Love as well as hardship caused people to leave these shores.
Limerick Vales: Denis Barron, exiled in Birmingham, has given us this moving ballad of his homeland.
The Shores of Lough Bran: This song is about a departure from Leitrim; one of the counties hardest hit by emigration.
Lovely Deise: Of course you all know why Waterford is known as the Deise. That's right. About a millennium and a half ago a tribe called the Deise were driven from Tara and they conquered the area now known as Waterford (a Glenmore man has assured me that they are not going to conquer any of Kilkenny) and it was originally known as the Deise. I knew you'd know that. Dan Savage (nicknamed "Cnoc Dubh" ) wrote this beautiful song.
"The Emigrant's Letter" is available from:
Price; €25 (Including P&P)
SONGWRITERS: Above, you can see a picture of Dan Keane, standing,
and here is one of John Duggan.