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Jimmy's Folk ColumnJune 20, 2009
SONGS OF CORK: ECHO SERIES 339: LAND AHOY.
The fleet of Ceol faoi Shéol (Music Under Sail) reached Crosshaven safely and in time for that sweet village’s Traditional Boat Festival last weekend. I’m not sure if there is a nicer way of spending a week’s holiday than amongst sea-faring, musical friends with the gift of the gab and a passion for the people and the pubs along the fabled coast Cork. This June beano is now as fixed in our cosmos as the North Star; and while cynical coves will scoff at our simplicity as we trudge down the gangplank towards the pub, a gadget, perhaps, or a fiddle under your oxter; I am reminded of what the great East Galway practitioner of Irish music, Joe Burke, told me some years back. Joe said that around Loughrea in the fifties you’d have to hide your melodeon in case the people would be laughing at you; tinkers’ music, they called it, which is doubly disrespectful, as our traveling community is amongst the most authentic tradition bearer. Now, Joe tells me, traditional musicians have to conceal their instruments such is the incredible interest in the music.
Amongst the coterie of musicians and singers on board the mother ship, Ron Kavana, as he spells his name, stood out like a beacon of contemporary light, candescent, vital, yet all of his songs while treating of present-day events like reconciliation in the North or between Ireland and England are firmly fixed upon traditional navigation. I was delighted to include two of Ron’s songs on my new album Soldiers’ Songs with Máirtín de Cógáin and our new band, “Captain Mackey’s Goatskin and Stringband”, both on the fortunes of Irish soldiers caught in the vortex of history. Kavana can reach back and sing the unsung, champion the tenor of their lives and more importantly, assuage their lonesome, wandering souls, because, as I read somewhere, the dead long to be remembered.
I’m delighted Ron has deigned to compose a new sea shanty about our humble coastal navigations; thought he has pitched his song far higher and to far loftier latitudes than those of Carberrry’s Hundred Isles and turned us all miraculously into blue water sailors, which some of our dauntless navy certainly are, like our redoubtable Rear-Admiral Dave Hennessy.
Last week’s ballad which Ron also kindly contributed to the column was handed to me as we rounded the Fastnet, on the back of a Players cigarette box (navy cut, of course); today’s was shouted into my ears as we tacked across Clonakilty Bay.
In the old days of sail, the shanty was a means of keeping the sailors in tandem and in time as they reached aloft or turned the capstan or straightened the yards. Because like most good things in life, communal team work is nearly always the most enjoyable, productive and noble. They intone it well in the Mother Tongue: i dteannta a chéile a mhairimid (in each other’s company we live best).
Monkstown Traditional Sail Festival is on this weekend and I’ll see ye all at their delightful,cosy Sailing Club on Sunday afternoon for a selection of maritime songs.
From Oileán Cléire we have come,
Chorus after each quatrain:
The season’s o’er, the music’s done;
Is that the Head of Old Kinsale?
There’s Captain Tanner at the wheel,
Tonight we’ll sail right up the Lee,
Let Ado strum that old guitar,
Is that the cove of Cork I see?
We’ll Trim the Velvet, Speed the Plow
Perhaps we’ll shed a tear or two,
© 2009, Free State Records