Out of Darkness

The Blind Piper Of Inagh.
Book by Howard Marshall with photography by Ben Taylor

Cottier Press ISBN: 9780995505407

One of the most moving concerts, in which I have ever had the privilege to partake, was held in the Garrett Barry Memorial Hall in Inagh in August 2016, when this book was first presented through the medium of the music and song of West Clare.  Garrett Barry, his influence, his legacy and his music came home that night and his own people, including great grandnephew John Barry and great grandniece Kathleen Reid Barry, were there to share and celebrate that homecoming. 

Born into the darkness of Black '47, Garrett Barry was shaped by a people materially poor but culturally rich and he lived among those people as musician, singer, story-teller and poet till his relatively short life ended in Ennistymon Infirmary in April 1899.  In his own words, his music was "not for the feet but for the soul" and though, at that time, the visually impaired young were known as 'dark children', he forged his own light through hearing, memory and instinct. 

We can reasonably argue that, without Garrett Barry's influence on Gilbert Clancy and the continuation of that influence on Willie Clancy, the music of West Clare and perhaps traditional Irish music in general might be in a different space.  One of the first steps in consolidating and enhancing that legacy was of course the setting up of Scoil Samhradh Wille Clancy, the annual Summer School in Miltown Malbay begun in 1973.  This was through the vision of Martin Talty, Muiris Ó Rócháin and others and the success of that journey speaks for itself as it enters its 45th year.  In fact, Gilbert Clancy is one of the many heroes in this book: a pupil, admirer, friend and, having just returned home from emigration to America, one of the last persons to visit Barry on the night before he dies.  Other people who come to life in Out of Darkness and who in turn shape for us the personality and spirit of the 'piper of the people' include the Lenihans, Curtins and Crehans, Thady Casey, John Kelly, Nell Galvin and many more, not least the people of Inagh and his descendants John Barry and Kathleen Reid. 

If this was a biography of Barry and his music, a man scarcely known outside his own area and of whom there are no verifiable photos or sound recordings - nor indeed does he get a mention in Francis O'Neill's Irish Minstrels and Musicians - if this were the case, we would indeed be grateful and say it was long overdue.  But Out of Darkness is far more than that.  It places the piper in the social and political context of the time with fascinating and detailed insights into the Great Famine, the Fenians, O'Connell and the Repeal Movement, Fr Matthew and the Temperance Movemenet, Parnell and the Land League, Conradh na Gaeilge or Gaelic League and the importance of Douglas Hyde and others in their endeavours to preserve not just the Irish language but music, songs, literature and the wider cultural fields also.  All these momentous moments in history - Ireland's people, its music, its songs and stories, its struggles and passions, indeed the very place itself, physically and spiritually - all these are brought to life through the poetic and detailed writing of Howard Marshall and the imagery and photography of Ben Taylor in this life-long labour of love.

Moreover, through all that history let us not forget the huge continuing influence of the Bardic tradition dating back, in the early half of 18th Century, to Aindrias Mac Cruitín who was the Ollamh, the title of the highest poet of the ancient Kings of Thomond.  In Cloonanaha, close to the Barry family home, James MacCurtin, a hedge-school teacher and a descendant of Aindrias, was an important figure in Garrett Barry's life and outlook.  As a legacy of that Bardic Tradition, when learning and matters of the mind and the spirit were elevated to a position of importance, this study of Garrett, a great singer and fiddle player as well as a remarkable piper, places memory and music at its core.

To quote Tomás Ó hAodha, the Miltown Malbay poet, born in 1866:

And to quote from the book, Out of Darkness: Poet Francis Ledwidge, who died in the war-fields of France one hundred years ago, sent letters to his favourite musician, one Matty McGoona of Slane, Co Meath.  His favourite tune was The Blackbird and in one letter, Ledwidge wrote: Garrett Barry had his ghosts and his garden around Garraí na Saileog (the Garden of Willows) in Inagh, and every time we will hear certain tunes, snatches of them will sing in his memory.


Tim Dennehy - 13.7.17

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