The Otherworld

Music & Song from Irish Tradition
Ríonach uí Ógáin & Tom Sherlock, editors

Comhaírle Bhéaloideas Éireann ISBN 978-0-956528-3-8
160-page book + 2 CDs

Disc 1: 1. Down by the Green Roadside-um sung by Mickey Connors;  2. Jig Learned off the Fairies played on the fiddle by Mickey Doherty;  3. Bá Phrochlaise [The Bruckless Drowning]: lilted by Cití Seáin Ní Chuinneagáin;  4. The Heart’s Delight: sung by Austin Flanagan;  5. The Coleman Brothers’ Strange Experience: told by P J Duffy;  6. The Boys of the Lough and The Merry Blacksmith: played on the fiddle by Michael Coleman;  7. Cruel Willie: sung by Stephen Murphy;  8. Petticoat Loose: told by Seán Ó Catháin;  9. Petticoat Loose: played on the fiddle by Darren MagAoidh;  10. Amhráin na Siógaí [The Song of the Fairies]: sung by Róisín Elsafty;  11. The Moving Clouds: played on the fiddle by Néillidh Boyle;  12. Amhrán an Frag [The Song of the Frog]: sung by Peadar Ó Ceannabháin;  13. The Banshee: told by Mag Doyle;  14. The Banshee Reel: played on the tin whistle by Micho Russell;  15. Seachrán Sí [Set Astray by the Fairies]: sung by Saileog Ní Cheannabháin;  16. Willie Leonard: sung by John Stokes;  17. Port na bPucaí [The Tune of the Fairies]: lilted by Muiris Ó Dálaigh;  18. Réidhchnoc Mná Duibhe [The Smooth Hill of the Dark Woman]: sung by Pádraig Ó Cearnaigh;  19. Pilib Séimh Ó Fathaigh: sung by Ciarán Ó Gealbháin;  20. Tiúin an Phíobaire Sí [The Tune of the Fairy Piper]: lilted by Máire Ní Bheirn;  21. Taibhse Chonaill [Conall’s Ghost]: played on the fiddle by Rónán Galvin.

Disc 2: 1. The Gold Ring: played on the uilleann pipes by Cormac Cannon;  2. The Fiddler and the Fairy: told by Mickey Doherty;  3. An Mhaighdean Mhara [The Mermaid]: sung by Nóra Dunlop;  4. Willie O!: sung by Bernie Lawrence;  5. The Lone Bush: played on the flute by Tara Diamond;  6. An Aill Eidhneach [The Ivy-Covered Rock]: sung by Ciarán Ó Con Cheanainn;  7. Tam Lin: sung by Áine Furey;  8. Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó [The Pretty Girl Milking the Cows]: sung by Patrick de Búrca;  9. A Fairy Dance: played on the fiddle by Máire O’Keeffe;  10. Port na Sióg [The Time of the Fairies]: lilted by Peait Sheáin Ó Conaola;  11. The Fairy Fort: told by Paddy Hedderman;  12. Iomáin Áth na gCasán [The Annagassan Hurling Match]: sung by Máire Ní Choilm;  13. The Lutharadán’s Jig: played on the fiddle by Junior Crehan;  14. Ceann Boirne [Black Head]: lilted by Micho Russell;  15. Amhrán na Phúca [The Song of the Pooka]: sung by Sarah Ghriallais;  16. The Banshee: told by Edward Kendellan;  17. The Lilting Banshee and An Rógaire Dubh [The Black Rogue]: whistled by Robert Harvey;  18. An Cailín Deas Rua [The Nice Red-Haired Girl]: sung by Nell Ní Chróinín;  19. Paddy Bán Quigley and The Boys of Malin: told and played on the fiddle by John Doherty.

Belief in the existence of a parallel world and in otherworldly phenomena has long been established in Irish tradition and facets of such belief continue to be found in contemporary Irish society.

This book, with two accompanying compact discs, examines aspects of the enduring belief and fascination which the Irish imagination has with supernatural beings, encounters and occurrences as represented in song and music.  The material contained in this publication which includes recorded sound, photographs and manuscript transcriptions is drawn from National Folklore Collection/Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann in University College Dublin.

The above quote is from the Comhaírle Bhéaloideas Éireann website, and pretty accurately describes this hugely interesting and absorbing publication.  Maybe the first thing to say about it is that it is an absolutely beautiful thing in almost every respect.  The book is crammed full of stunning photos, often full page, and the two CDs equally crammed with lovely music and song.

Given that, it seems a shame to make any negative comments - but there are a few which do need to be aired.  The first is a general one, and reminds me of a famous MT review of another 2-CD project, Frank Harte's My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte.  Our reviewer felt that, in order to fill two full-length CDs, a number of songs had been included which were not really 'Napoleon' songs.  Similarly with this publication, I feel that there are several songs and stories concerning murders where a female relative dreams of the death, and I suspect that these are so commonplace that to attribute them to 'Otherworld' intervention is to stretch the point a bit.

A good number of the songs and stories are in Irish, and all are given full translations in English.  However, in the book's text, words in Irish are not translated or explained - I happen to know that the are the Fairies, but maybe other non-Irish speakers would not.  Strangely, this practice doesn't persist throughout the book, and after about halfway through some translations and explanations are given.  This makes me wonder about the editorial process involved here - we have two editors, Ríonach uí Ógáin and Tom Sherlock, but I wonder if there shouldn't have been a third ... to edit the work of the first two.  A particular example being the long and hugely detailed six and a half page Introduction; this describes the various sorts of 'Otherworld' interventions into the Mortal sphere - and a lot of it seems to duplicate things that have been said earlier in different forms.  Then, when we get to the text which goes with and supports the actual songs, tunes and stories from the CDs, we often get the same information again.  I feel that this latter situation is where the information is most valid, and that the Introduction could have been a great deal shorter.

I fully accept that to comment about omissions in a project of this size and scope is probably a bit pedantic, but I was surprised to find that no recording of The Fairy's (or Faries') Hornpipe or The King of the Fairies had been included, or that given that so many of the accounts of Fairy music described it being played by a piper, that there is only one track by a piper on the two CDs.

Nonetheless, there are some really lovely things to be heard amongst the 40 tracks on the two CDs.  I'd like to let you listen to The Fiddler and the Fairy, told by Mickey Doherty, but it really is a bit too long for a sound clip, and there's no point in half a story!  But his introduction to Jig Learned off the Fairies give an idea of his beautifully considered speech ... the fiddle playing is not bad either!

One of the advantages of being Irish is that the real traditional performers never quite died out as they did in England, and the sharp stylistic dividing line between young and old practitioners is far less evident there.  Quite a number of the singers on these CDs are under 50, I would guess, but few exhibit the 'revivalist' stylistic traits that their English counterparts would tend to display.  (Sadly, this can't be said of the singer of that most iconic of Otherworldly ballads, Tam Lin.)  But Ciarán Ó Gealbháin makes a very fine job of Pilib Séimh Ó Fathaigh, a very definitely 'Fairy' song, with roots dating back almost 700 years.  A traditional singer from the mid-20th century, Nora Dunlop, gives us a fine mermaid song, An Mhaighdean Mhara, with its final line to each verse "And here is Mary Heeney and she has crossed the River Erne" reminding me a little of The Bay of Biscay-O.

I can't leave you without a bit of the standout track, The Moving Clouds, played on the fiddle by Néillidh Boyle.  He claimed to have been at a Fairy wedding and learned "the enchanted music of Ireland that was long ago buried since the days of the bards".  He didn't name any of the tunes he'd learned that night, so the inclusion of his composition here may be stretching the parameters ... so what?  It's wonderful playing!

Rod Stradling - 14.1.13

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