Samhain (pronounced sow-in, as in rhymes with “cow in”) is an ancient Celtic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It takes place on October 31 and is the source of many of our Halloween traditions.
Why are ghosts a typical symbol of Halloween? That's because the ancient Celts believed that the division between the realms of the living and the dead was thinnest at Samhain, which would allow the souls of the dead to pass through. Our ancestors built bonfires and offered food to honor their dead loved ones during this festival. They also dressed up in animal skins to chase harmful spirits away. Maybe this is why ghosts found their way into many Irish, Scottish, and English folk songs, which then crossed the Atlantic and inspired American versions.
She Moved Through the Fair
lyrics by Padraic Collum
My young love said to me, "My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you for your lack of kind"
And she stepped away from me and this she did say:
It will not be long, love, till our wedding day"
As she stepped away from me and she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her move here and move there
And then she turned homeward with one star awake
Like the swan in the evening moves over the lake
The people were saying, no two e'er were wed
But one had a sorrow that never was said
And I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.
Last night she came to me, my dead love came in
So softly she came that her feet made no din
As she laid her hand on me and this she did say
"It will not be long, love, 'til our wedding day"
The Unquiet Grave (sometimes called Cold Blows the Wind)
Cold blows the wind to my true love and gently drops the rain
I only had but one true love and in greenwood she lies slain
I'll do as much for my true love as any young man may
I'll sit and mourn along her grave for a twelve-month and a day
When the twelve months and one day was past the ghost began to speak:
"Why sit thou'st here along my grave and will not let me sleep?"
"There's one thing that I want sweetheart, there's one thing that I crave
And that is a kiss from your lily white lips then I'll go from your grave"
"My lips they are as cold as clay my breath smells earthy strong
And if you kiss my cold clay lips your days they won't be long
Go fetch me water from the desert and blood from out of stone
Go fetch me milk from a fair maid's breast that a young man never had known"
'Twas down in Cupid's Garden where you and I would walk
The finest flower that ever I saw is withered to a stalk
The stalk is withered and dry sweetheart the flower will ne'er return
And since I lost my one true love what can I do but mourn?
"When shall we meet again sweetheart? When shall we meet again?"
"Ere the oaken leaves that fall from the trees are green and spring up again"
On Sept. 12, 2019, fans of Irish music in the Utica, NY, vicinity will have a chance to connect with history and culture in a personal way. On that evening at 7:00pm, Dónal Clancy and Rory Makem will perform at Five Points Public House on Columbia Street in Utica. They are the sons of the legendary Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem. They sing many of the songs they learned from their dads, but they've developed their inherited talents to a high degree themselves too. Many of us have heard of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, but have you ever looked into the details of their story? It's a quite a tale and it all starts with two Irish brothers deciding to seek their fortunes in New York City.
Paddy and Tom Clancy didn’t mean to start a worldwide movement when they arrived in New York City in 1951. They just wanted to be actors. And so they were, landing some roles on and off Broadway and on television. Creative and ambitious, they even started their own company called Trio Productions and rented a theater to produce Irish plays. But that’s an expensive endeavor and they needed to raise some money. What could they do?
How about sing the old songs they learned as kids back in County Tipperary? They gathered some friends and called it the Swapping Song Fair and soon musicians well-known in the American Folk Revival - Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Jean Ritchie - were joining in.
Sometime in 1955, the Clancys met folk music collector Diane Hamilton in New York, and when they heard she planned to travel to Ireland to record rare Irish songs, they recommended she stop by their parents’ house in Carrick-on-Suir. She did, and there she recorded songs sung by several members of the Clancy family including the youngest brother Liam. Her next stop would be the home of Sarah Makem in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and she invited Liam to join her on the trip. That’s where Liam met Sarah’s son Tommy, which started a lifelong and very productive friendship.
By 1956, Liam and Tommy were also in New York looking for acting jobs and singing with the older Clancys on the side. Later that year Paddy, Tom, and Liam Clancy, along with Tommy Makem recorded their first album together to help launch Paddy’s newly formed company, Tradition Records. It was a collection of Irish rebel songs called The Rising of the Moon. Still focused on their acting careers, they were surprised when the record found local success and they were invited to more and more singing gigs.
In 1959, they recorded their second album, this one drinking songs called Come Fill Your Glass With Us. By this time Liam had honed his guitar skills and Tommy had added his tin whistle and uilleann pipes. This album was a hit and launched them into bigger performances in New York, Boston, and Chicago, but still their group had no real name. They tossed around several ideas but couldn’t agree. Finally a nightclub owner who needed to put something on the marquee decided to just call them The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.
Meanwhile back home in Tipperary, Mrs. Clancy read an article about the freezing wind, snow, and icy conditions in New York and sent the boys cozy Aran sweaters. They gratefully bundled up in them one cold night before going out to a gig in New York. When he saw them, their manager went wild. That was just the look he was looking for! And that is why they wore those same sweaters to their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on March 12, 1961, before an audience of 40 million viewers.
After that night, the musical career of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (as well as Aran sweater sales) really took off. Soon they had a five-year contract with Columbia Records, a $100,000 advance, and a new record called A Spontaneous Performance Recording, complete with Pete Seeger on banjo. This album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1962. The singing Irishmen could be heard on major radio and television talk-shows and even played an acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall. In 1962 their touring went international including Ireland, England, Canada and Australia. And they played for President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Their fame and success endured throughout the 1960s partly because their timing fit in perfectly with the American Folk Music Revival, a trend that had started in the 1930s and ‘40s with artists like Pete Seeger and Woody Gutherie and later went on to include performers like Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.
Dylan, who spent a lot of time with the Clancys in New York in the early ‘60s, said, “Irish music has always been a great part of my life because I used to hang out with the Clancy Brothers. They influenced me tremendously."
And all the great bands we love to hear at Irish festivals today have The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem to thank for the popularity of the genre. Irish author Frank McCourt wrote in 1999 "They were the first. Before them there were dance bands and show bands and céilidhe bands...but not since John McCormack had Irish singers captured international attention like the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. They opened the gates to the likes of the Dubliners and the Wolfe Tones and every Irish group thereafter."
Tommy Makem left the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career and the Clancy brothers went on to perform and record albums in various combinations of family members and friends. Later in the mid-70s, Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem teamed up and performed together for 13 years. And now their sons keep the music going into the second generation, with Finbarr Clancy (Bobby’s son) a member of The High Kings, and Dónal Clancy (Liam’s son) a former member of Danú and Solás, and Rory Makem (Tommy Makem’s son) a member of Makem and Spain.
All this history behind Dónal Clancy and Rory Makem makes their upcoming concert at Five Points Public House in Utica a significant opportunity. It takes place September 12th at 7:00pm with doors opening at 6:00pm, and you can get your tickets right here.
Here's a sample of their music:
The Great American Irish Festival is always a magnificent celebration of culture, music, community, and friendship. And this year was just as epic as ever. Held July 26-28 at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds in Frankfort, NY, it featured 22 bands, a building full of high quality vendors, food and drink galore, heavy games, a 5K race, Irish step dancers, dogs of Ireland, highland pipe bands - and a building full of cultural exhibits and activities which was organized by Craobh Dugan members this year.
In this post you'll get a taste of the action, with lots of photos and videos.
Several members of our group researched and created display boards for the mini-musem exhibit, covering topics like Irish poets, influential local immigrants from Ireland, Gaelic sports, the Irish workers on the Erie Canal, noble Irish women, and political cartoons that showed some of the fierce prejudice that Irish people had to overcome in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Patty Foley created a display about Irish knitting stitches and demonstrated them to festival visitors.
Mike Carroll organized some of his Little Falls Theater friends to perform a traditional medieval mummers' play several times throughout the festival. Naming themselves Mummers Along the Mohawk, they created their costumes and recited their rhyming lines with great theatrical zeal, surprising and amazing all who saw them.
Cindy Wood spoke to festival-goers interested in their Irish ancestry, sharing ideas for genealogical research.
Albany's Two Rivers Gaelic League translated our names into Irish so we could wear them proudly on our own name tags.
Connie Pratt, owner of Art and Vine in Utica, led a Paint and Sip session where more than 20 people created lovely pieces of art. One young girl even used her painting as a place to gather autographs from many of the musicians.
The open session on Saturday sounded amazing with several professional musicians playing with us this year. With just a simple, "Would you like to join us?" these very busy artists were more than happy to play music with their local fans. Playing in the session were: Rose Baldino of House of Hamill, The Byrne Brothers, and Arise and Go.
Have a listen to this small sample:
We also tried another kind of session, this one just for drums. Tapping into a little experience with drum circles, Sue Romero led a bodhrán drum circle for about a dozen people. They brought their bodhráns, djembes, and congas and learned about the health benefits of drumming, drum circle rhythms and Irish beats.
Jim O'Rourke contributed many things to our festival efforts this year, including this demonstration of how a thatch roof works.
A few flash mobs surprised and delighted shoppers in the vendor building thanks to the guidance of Jim O'Rourke and the teachers of Butler-Sheehan Academy of Irish Dance and the Johnston School of Irish Dance. Here's a video of the Johnston School's flash mob on Sunday.
Limerick native Deirdre McCarthy with her husband Jim gave a musical and storytelling performance. And then Deirdre taught us some fun sean-nos dance steps.
The Cultural Building stage was a busy place. Pictured here, The Mighty Craic performs. Later in the festival Gerry Dixon and Donal O'Shaughnessy also played music and told entertaining stories, and Craobh Dugan performed our Irish and the Erie musical-historical program.
We also performed tunes and songs on the Traditional Stage on Sunday.
This is a long list of highlights, but there were even more! We had five entries to the photo contest, which was won by Terry Ann DeLude from Utica. Her black and white photo, number 2 in the photo below, received more than 50 votes.
And 26 people bravely attempted our challenging trivia quiz. Only one person, Carl Finnerty who traveled from Pennsylvania for the festival, answered all the questions correctly and won the Irish blessing throw donated by Lennon's Irish Shop.
All told, it was a fun and fulfilling weekend made possible only by the collaboration and hard work of our dedicated volunteers and the many more volunteers who make the Great American Irish Festival happen, now for the 16th year. Thanks a million to everyone who pitched in planning, creating, performing, presenting, selling raffle tickets, taking photos and videos, setting up, and cleaning up! It was a weekend where memories were made for us and for hundreds of people who attended.
The Great American Irish Festival is heading into its 16th year at the end of July and it’s shaping up to be one of the best ones yet. There’s something to do, see, and listen to around every corner, but in this article I’ll focus on the Cultural Building, because for the first time ever, Craobh Dugan is in charge of organizing it.
We gathered a creative and ambitious bunch last winter and we’ve been meeting, emailing, and making things ever since. Here are some of the fun and fascinating things you’ll find in the Cultural Building this year:
The mini museum display boards will return, but even bigger and better this year. We’ve added interesting research about Gaelic sports, Irish poets, Irish tunes and instruments, and Irish people in Mohawk Valley history to the popular topics from last year - notable Irish women, Irish words in the English language, and political cartoons of the 18th and 19th centuries showing the cruel racist attitudes toward the Irish at that time.
A trivia quiz with a prize for the winner.
A photo contest where you can vote for your favorites with a $100 prize for the winner. And if you have a photo to enter, click this link to see the rules and registration form. The deadline is July 22.
A knitting display and hands-on demonstration of Aran and other Irish stitches.
Find out how to say and write your name in the Irish language and wear it proudly on your own name tag, presented by Two Rivers Gaelic League from Albany.
Professional genealogist Cindy Wood will give a talk and also be available for 30-minute appointments to help you with individual genealogical research.
Learn useful words and phrases in Irish at the Pop-up Gaeltacht.
Programs on the Schedule
Experience a bodhrán drum circle (on Friday evening). Drum circles have become a popular way to relax and relieve stress and lots of people have bodhráns as souvenirs from their trips to Ireland. Why not put the two together and create an Irish drum circle? Bring your bodhrán and tipper (or your djembe, cajon, or congas if you like) and join in this special session just for drummers. We’ll talk about the benefits of drumming in general and a little about the bodhrán. Then we’ll enjoy a relaxing bodhrán beat. We’ll have a few spare drums if you need one.
Create your own Celtic masterpiece at the Sip and Paint with Art & Vine (on Saturday afternoon). All art supplies and a drink are included with your $25 ticket. Find out more here.
We’ll be performing our Irish and the Erie program about the history of the Irish workers on the Erie Canal with songs and music. Find out more about this project here.
The traditional GAIF Open Session returns once again. All local and visiting musicians who play instruments usually associated with Irish traditional music are invited to join in the open session. We’ve also invited members of the professional bands to join us if they wish. So who knows? We may have some famous musicians joining in.
Performers in the Cultural Building
Along with all the great bands performing on the Contemporary and Traditional Stages (including Craobh Dugan on the Traditional Stage on Sunday at noon) there's even more music to listen to in the Cultural Building. The Mighty Craic, Deirdre and Jim McCarthy, Gerry Dixon, and Donal O'Shaughnessy.
And...we have a few secret surprises planned too. We’re not saying what they are, but you will be enchanted.
So hop over to the GAIF website for the full Entertainment Schedule, the Cultural Building Schedule and to buy your advance tickets at a discount price. It’s just incredible all the fun that’s packed into that ticket price.
On a sunny Saturday in June, a fresh summer breeze plays with the heavy maroon drapes hanging on the open windows behind the stage at the Oneida Community Mansion House. The curtains billow and dance behind the two musicians, Amanda Straney and Bill Fahy. They’re members of Craobh Dugan who have created an original program called Soldier’s Joy.
Amanda takes up her fiddle and Bill holds his banjo. Without any electronic amplification they play their first tune, Year of Jubilo. The notes fill this large room built in 1862 by members of the Oneida Community, a religious commune with an appreciation for music and art. The walls and ceiling are decorated with paintings of swirling scrolls and the acoustics amplify better than microphones and speakers.
These tunes of the Civil War era were new when this room was new and I feel myself transported back in time 16 decades.
Between tunes and songs, Bill and Amanda tell us stories about music during the Civil War, including quotes gleaned from well over 100 hours of research into letters written by the people who lived through that time. We hear their own voices over the many years from the letters they wrote to the editors of newspapers in Rome and Utica, and personal notes they sent to friends, sweethearts, and relatives.
Some found humor in their circumstances. In the summer of 1863, one Oneida 4th soldier stationed in Virginia wrote a letter published in the Rome Sentinel that began, “With all the labor, suffering and anxiety we as soldiers have to endure, we often have our fun, and well and right heartily do we enjoy it.” He went on to relate the story of a young sentry, intent on following orders, who shot a farmer’s pig that failed to respond with the right countersign when challenged.
Some wrote heart-wrenching pleas. A member of the 117th New York Volunteers wrote a letter to the Utica Observer begging the residents of Oneida County to aid the wives and children left behind by fighting soldiers as they struggled to survive without their breadwinners. “I ask in the name of all that is good, remember our families at home are in need, in distress. The winter is at hand, or soon will be. Do something for them, for I tell you, my dear sir, on the lonely picket post, in darkest night, our thoughts go home; and oh, the agonizing thought comes to him, "oh, God! what will become of my wife and family?"
And many mentioned music and its profound effects in their letters. Before recorded music, most people learned how to play an instrument. Of course they took their skills with them when they went to war. There were more than 600 regimental bands in the Union Army, which they used for communication, movement coordination, entertainment and morale. Music was a part of the soldiers’ daily life and led to many significant moments like the night the Union and Confederate armies were camped on either side of the Rappahannock River after the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. One band began to play Home Sweet Home and then other bands on both sides joined in. Soon men on both sides were moved to shout and cheer and one solider wrote that he thought the war may have ended there if the two sides hadn’t been separated by the river.
A member of the 97th New York captured the sounds of the battlefield when he wrote, “As I sit writing about 2 miles in front, the pickets are firing & I hear the bang bang constantly. There goes a cannon Boom. So it goes day and night. As it is toward evening brass bands are filling the air with very sweet music. At almost every head Qtrs. sometimes half a dozen are heard at once. A strange commingling of sounds, last night we could hear the singing & playing from camps …a mile away.”
We’re familiar with what the Civil War looked like thanks to the work of early photographers like Matthew Brady, but Bill and Amanda were able to bring to life the sounds of this historic period by reading the words of the people who lived it and by playing the music they listened to. It’s a vivid and touching way to connect with history and appreciate what people lived through and how they felt.
Bill and Amanda have upcoming performances of Soldier’s Joy at the Woodgate Library on July 10 and at the Earlville Library on July 17th. You can also check out the Soldier's Joy Facebook page to find out about future presentations, which will, in a few months, include their new programs revealing their ongoing research into the Southern and Irish perspectives on the war.
There’s a treasure trove of Irish traditional music scattered across the internet and hidden deep in the rooms of the Library of Congress, and a researcher from Ireland is working on making it easier for us to find it and hear it. Patrick Egan (Pádraig Mac Aodhgáin) recently sent emails to Comhaltas groups in the US asking for our help. Intrigued by his project, I called him at the Library of Congress (LOC) to find out more.
Patrick, a concertina player who grew up in Co. Wicklow hearing plenty of tunes and stories at the Saturday sessions in his father’s pub, is now an ethnomusicologist and a fellow in digital studies at the Kluge Center at the LOC studying the impact of the digital turn on Irish culture in the US. Since January he’s been going through collections in the LOC’s American Folklife Center. The center’s archive was established in 1928 to document and preserve every kind of traditional culture and now contains millions of items collected from the 19th century to now - things like films of traditional arts, oral histories, and music recordings on everything from wax cylinders to CDs.
“My area looks at different ways the American Folklife Center could link with archives in order to reach out to people,” Patrick said. He plans to link his work with a similar archive in Dublin called the Irish Traditional Music Archive, where researchers are creating a state-of-the-art digital structure to allow them to link sound files and metadata.
“So for example if a musician like John Kelly was playing a tune, and he said he got that tune off someone like Willy Clancy, and maybe Willy Clancy got it from someone else, there’s a way to link up those three people so that it’s easier to find them on the internet,” he said.
The goal is to create a standardized structure to make it easy for musicians to look up performers' names or tune names, and access all versions in many archives around the world, unlike the current situation where files are scattered on YouTube and other websites.
As part of his project, Patrick needs to know how members of the Irish traditional music community are interfacing with the internet. “Do they actually use the internet a lot to access sound files and how important are sound files to them?” he said. “What do they know about what’s in the archives and what resources do they use?” He’s asking how the internet is changing the ways in which musicians work with sound files and how the world of the Irish musician is changing in Ireland, America, and other countries. “I’m looking at a broad analysis of how this is all changing in the Irish traditional music community.”
To that end, Patrick has developed a survey for Irish traditional musicians in North America. About 300 people took the survey during the first week he started circulating it by word of mouth among friends, but he’d like to have as many musicians as possible fill it out. I took the survey myself. It’s not long and I discovered some interesting resources in it. Click this link if you’d like to take the survey too.
While he’s been working in the LOC’s American Folklife Center, Patrick has found some treasures among the more than 2,000 recordings in the 12 collections he’s listened to so far. And this is just the beginning. The reference librarians have suggested 36 collections to him.
Patrick made this chart to show what he’s found.
The Philadelphia Ceili Group’s collection has been especially rich. Beginning in 1977 they hosted a festival that attracted local and internationally known Irish traditional musicians. At these festivals they made recordings of workshops, tunes, songs, and stories about the origins of the music and the musicians’ own lives.
One of Patrick’s favorite finds featured Joe Heaney singing and lilting in the sean-nos tradition, telling stories of the songs and where he got them, and stories about his hometown in Western Connemara.
“I think that these musicians in the Philadelphia Ceili Group brought a lot to Irish culture that has yet to be tapped into,” Patrick said. “There are six boxes of about 30 tapes each just packed full of gems all the way through. Things like this are just sitting in the archives, waiting for musicians such as yourself up in New York. I’m documenting what’s in the collections to let musicians know what’s in there, to bring the music from the archives to the musicians playing now in a meaningful way.”
He said there are so many recordings that it’s unlikely they will ever all be digitized, but he hopes to point to what can be done. “Fortunately the Library of Congress is committed to getting as much as possible cleared of copyright and available to the public to the benefit of the audience,” Patrick said.
In the meantime, to get an idea of the recordings of Irish American music held in archives, you can check out these websites:
Don't forget to take the Survey on Irish Traditional Music, Song and Dance in North America.
For the past few months, I've been listening to a fascinating podcast produced by Fin Dwyer, an Irish historian based in Kilkenny, Ireland. We're getting no ad fees by telling you about his show. It's just something I wanted to share because I've heard so many interesting stories on the Irish History Podcast.
Fin has that quintessentially Irish talent for storytelling, keeping you in suspense as much as possible. But he's also a skilled researcher, able to dig into a story and unearth the most in-depth facts. I've learned about a Kilkenny witch hunt in the 1300s, a strong close-knit community that survived on the Blasket Islands, and a lot about the horrors and heroes of the Great Famine.
The podcast makes it easy to carry the show around on my phone and listen to it in any room of the house as well as in the car, my favorite way to make use of driving time. No matter what kind of smartphone you have, you can get an app that will play the Irish History Podcast. And if you don't have a smartphone, you can still listen to the shows on your computer using Fin's website here.
I hope you get to hear it, and please let me know what you think of it when you do. ~Sue