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Book Review 'Survival of the Blood' by Beth Bristow

Reviewed 2016-01-01 by Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker

Published by Archway Publishing, Bloomington, Indiana, 2015.

First of all, recognizing that we have a growing, sophisticated subscribership to this newsletter, we want to let readers know that we did accept an ad for this book but I also warned the author that we would be doing an independent review to meet our organization's own standards.

I am very happy to say I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in good historical drama. When I first began college I had two majors: drama, as well as history, and then later switched to history and anthropology. I remember one thing well from those drama classes, as well as some excellent advanced high school English classes. It is common to all successful dramas, be they be plays or films, and likewise fiction books. The characters need to be well described. There must also be a conflict, with a clear protagonist and clear antagonist and the very best of fiction shows flawed tragic characters who are a mixture of good and either evil or at least self-destructive misguided judgment or delusion.

Click for Peter Daldry "Ye Jacobites by Name"
Lost Portrait of Charles Edward Stuart

This book has all of that. It has well defined characters in an extended family, men as well as women. It has the conflict of Culloden, which was a tragedy as well as disaster for the Highland Scots. It has the inner conflicts of the men who had to decide whether to fight for the Stuart prince, Charles Edward Stuart, who was raised speaking Italian and French and grew up in archaic French and Italian royal and noble courts, or German speaking Hanover kings in London.

"Bonnie Prince Charlie" promised them a better future for Scotland. Alternatively, they could continue to suffer under a heavy taxload and other restrictions of the Hanovers, who now ruled both England and Scotland under the Act of Union, which even though it was a classic definition of a 'shotgun marriage,' had been voted by the Scottish parliament also in hopes for a better economic future for Scotland.

There is also romance and a vivid description of life as it was for the lower gentry and many ordinary highlanders in these turbulent times, amid a harsh environment.

The author made several trips to Scotland and did a lot of research, especially into the events of Culloden and the characters of the two men who were demanding loyalty and blood of the Highlanders, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and William Augustus of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland, usually known as 'Butcher Cumberland.'

All in all, this is a meaty satisfying read and will hold your attention. It will also make you look forward to a sequel to find out what happens next to the surviving characters, particularly the children.

You can find this book on Amazon.com here http://www.amazon.com/Survival-Blood-Beth-Bristow/dp/1480821438. Enjoy!


Review: Catskill Irish Arts Week
July 10-16, 2016

Part One, by Mark Levy, mitzvahmus@aol.com

Published 2016-10-07

One of upper New York State's best kept secrets, unless you happen to be an Irish music enthusiast, is Catskill Irish Arts Week.

As one enters East Durham, the roadsign announces 'The Emerald Isle of New York,' and this enclave of Irish resorts somewhat mirrors geographically the Jewish 'Alps' an hour or so to the south in the lower Catskills, which spawned most of America's comedians and many other singers and entertainers, in that both were settled by immigrants wishing to preserve a bit of the old country in the new.

Every Summer for 22 years Catskill Irish Arts Week has sponsored a week-long festival featuring many great Irish and other Celtic musicians and singers, some of whom have traveled from Ireland and other places overseas to lead workshops daily and perform on the evening stage and in nightly pubs after those concerts end. This year was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. (See CatskillIrishArtsWeek.com for more info.)

I happened to be close enough teaching and performing myself at an adult camp in the northeastern Hudson Valley this year (and last year as well), and took the opportunity to play hooky a couple days from my camp an hour across the Hudson River. East Durham is a quick trip across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (try not to fall asleep!) a few miles up the road from Catskill, NY. This year was special, though, as one of my favorite singers turned out to be Artist-in-Residence. Sean O' Se, one of Ireland's national treasures, has been known to me since my trip to Ireland in January of 2006, when a pub owner in southwest Cork, where I had just sung at a session, gave me one of his CD's. I was determined to tell Sean a story regarding one of the songs, 'Skibbereen,' I learned from his CD, and went to the 2016 Week with that in mind.

I had heard the song before when Liam Neeson sang it in the movie Michael Collins. It did not hit me to sing it myself until I heard the beautiful rendition on Sean O' Se's CD Songs of Cork and Kerry. Debbie and I had also visited that city, named in the song, on the southwest Cork coast earlier in the trip, so it made perfect sense for me to learn it, which I did upon returning to the States. It's a sad but defiant song about the British landlords chasing the native Irish out of their homes during the potato famine. (See the lyric below.)

Looking forward to a night of great music and sessions, my brain was also trying to connive a way of approaching Mr. O' Se in an unobtrusive way at an appropriate time and place. I must admit, I was a bit star-struck. I parked at the Shamrock Restaurant and Pub to have a bite before the music started at the festival grounds. No sooner had I ordered my fish and chips when in walks Sean himself. I am not going to disturb him during his meal, I think to myself. Wait for the right time.

After dinner, I headed over to the festival tent where the music would begin shortly. Was checking email on the laptop when I saw Sean arrive with his guitar accompanist and producer Matthew Allen. I nodded to him and he waved back, hardly an introduction. Since he was to sing at the concert, I didn't want to keep him from checking in with the stage manager and readying for the show. Wait for the right time.

A little while later, as I turned to put the laptop back in the car, as luck (or fate) would have it, he was walking right towards me from the outdoor rest room.

'Sean O'Se!' I stuck out my hand to one of County Cork's finest singers. 'Mark Levy. I have a quick story to tell you when you have a minute.' 'This is a good time, ' he said, so I proceeded with the following tale:

'Back in 2006 I sang at a session at the Tin Whistle in Ahakista, County Cork. The owner of the pub gave me a couple CD's, one of which was your Songs from Cork and Kerry. 'Ah, yes,' says Sean.

'Well, about three years later we made another trip to Ireland, this time to visit my wife's father's family. As we spoke to her father's first cousin Seamus in County Cavan, he recounted the story of Debbie's grandfather's departure from the island.

'Me father always said he had a younger brother Paul who went to America (it was 1928). In those days when someone was leaving for there, we would have an 'American wake,' because we might never see them again. It was customary to sing your way off the island at that time, and the morning after three days of wake, your grandfather stood at the crossroads and sang two songs, 'Pal of My Cradle Days' (1926), and 'Skibbereen,' which of course I told him I knew. He insisted that I sing it for him and his wife. Both were practically in tears, yelling out encouraging words as is often done in the Old Country. 'It's full circle', he finally said, 'Your grandfather left with that song, and you bring the granddaughter back with it.'

O' Se listened to my story attentively, smiling. 'You see, if I had not heard your singing of it, I would not have learned it to sing on such a special occasion. It was your singing that did that.' He nodded, and went on his way to the big tent, where later he would sing a set of many of the crowd's favorites: 'Kate Muldoon,' 'Wexford Rebel Song,' 'Carrickfergus' (which he sang in Gaelic as well as English - Click for the video), 'Banks of My Lovely Lee'… and many more. The crowd, including me sitting up front, ate it up and sang along. He spoke of his long friendship and collaboration with Sean O'Riada, also from County Cork, who almost single-handedly brought back the 'se nos' (old style) of singing ballads. It was a wonderful night that I hoped would never end.

And it did notend there-- it just got better. After the formal presentation in the big tent, with the best of Ireland's step dancers and players and Sean's set, the group breaks up to attend one of half a dozen or so open pub sessions. I headed to the singing session at Gavins, led by Roisin White-- another of Ireland's precious gems of traditional song. Sitting in the circle, I had decided to sing 'Skibbereen' and tell a bit of the story.

About an hour into the session, two course-changing things happened simultaneously: Sean O'Se himself walked in and sat across from me, so I quickly changed the tune I was about to sing not wanting to repeat the story nor sing a song I learned from him at that point. The second thing was, as I sat waiting for my turn, I gently strummed to see if my guitar was in tune, but I had forgotten that I had not played it since landing in New York, and it was completely detuned for the plane ride. I panicked, and ran outside to tune my 12-string in 30 seconds close as I could get it, and ran back in. 'What happened to ya?' asked Roisin. 'I was about to call on ya.' I told her, and everyone, about my near disaster, and after the laughter died down, proceeded to play 'Sliabh Gallion Braes,' another song about the landlords chasing the Irish out. Sean knew the song and, to my delight, sang along with me, smiling. I could not have been more thrilled.

(to be continued-- Another Night at the Festival)


Review of Tom McEnery Play: Swift Justice.

by Cecilia Fabos-Becker

Published 2016-01-16

Tom McEnery

The message of 'Swift Justice' is very powerful and timely. Because of its unique history, word of this gripping new play by local Irish American legend Tom McEnery has already spread and the premier run by The Tabard Theatre Company at Theatre on San Pedro Square in San Jose is sold out. Still, there is a waiting list and if you can get on the waiting list, we recommend that you DO SO, or hope that it will have another round in another area theater, or goes nationwide.

First, here is a little background. The play is based on a real, controversial incident in San Jose, CA: The last public lynching in California. In 1933, during the darkest days of the Great Depression two white men, one of Irish and one of Scots-Irish descent, kidnapped and murdered the city's most popular young man, the heir to the area's largest department store, Brooke Hart.

The author of the play, Tom McEnery, is a former San Jose mayor, whose father, John McEnery, was a minor participant in, and eye-witness to, most of the related events.

Lynching, by itself, is a term rooted in the Irish, Scots and Scots-Irish tradition of men taking the law, justice or redress of unfairness into their own hands. The term 'Lynching' derives from an Irish American. During the American Revolution, Charles William Lynch and his men rounded up Tories in southwestern Virginia and meted out punishment to them on their own. The resulting hanging, shooting, etc. was often a result of "lynching" but it is not the act of lynching. (check the wiki on Charles William Lynch)

Here is good, engaging play with a very moving story and powerful, timely message as important today as it was in the 1930's. This would be an excellent topic for a Broadway drama, or on Public Television. Who knows? Maybe some day, someone in Hollywood will turn it into a four star film. Does anyone have contact with Leonard Di Caprio, or Stephen Spielberg???

The story develops in a very powerful, moving interplay of logos, ethos and pathos in the most public way possible in 1933. It is clear the playwright put most of his attention in to the last third of the first act and the second act where the events depicted deserve this focus.

Cast of Swift Justice

The strongest, most involved, characters develop throughout the play, as they do in all truly good stories. The best characters as both written and acted in the play are in order of performance: the villain, John Holmes; the person who was most often an intermediary and changed his life career after these events, Rabbi Karesh; and the father of the victim Alexander (Alex) Hart. San Jose Police Chief J.N. Black is very believable and complex. The victim, Brooke Hart, is very likable and sympathetic, though a little more direct action for him, as well as for his father would have been helpful to keep the presentation engaging.

Of the three females roles played by two actresses, the role of the daughter, Miriam Hart, Brooke's sister is especially poignant. The playwright did well in showing a loving, playful relationship between the sister and brother.

The first act does what it should; it shows the clear differences between the protagonists and the antagonists and why we should care about the fate of the victim and his family. If there are any faults, it's that the first two-thirds of the first act is not quite believable in the depiction of saintliness of the Hart family. The family, was, in fact, very good hearted and involved with their community, but the direct involvement in charitable actions, emphasis actions, could have been stronger. For instance, the father could have directly spoken to the unemployed persons waiting in line for a soup kitchen, offering them jobs himself, instead of directing someone else to do so. Also a couple of lines for the character of Alex Hart to explain why he couldn't bring himself to go, in person, to try to calm the mob would have been good. His very evident grief probably would have been seen more than his words would be heard, but that doesn't come out, and this omission weakens the character slightly. The mother character could have been developed more, especially her relationship with her oldest son. It makes her devastating grief a little harder to understand in later parts of the play. These are minor flaws, though.

In production and direction, a few more props that fit the historical period and help illustrate it would have better established the context. The play relied mostly on costume to set the period and people in the audience were asking among themselves in the intermission, "when did these events take place" because it wasn't as clear in the first act as in the second act where the dialogue set the place and time more clearly. I would have liked to see the plain bar stools replaced by a small settee and a Windsor chair and an old-fashioned floor lamp, which all could have been toted in and out with about the same amount of effort as the bar stools. Also, period telephones on a little tall telephone table for at least the recipients of the calls would have helped. Instead of the unchanging red and black striped backdrop and stage, some projections of scenery to evoke the home, a department store, the jail, etc. would have set place and time better. There just wasn't quite enough to help the audience see the events where and when they actually occurred. Last, is a minor detail on costuming, but one which most audience females immediately spot. Neither lady had a handkerchief on her, and no pocket for one. Every female over the age of 50 knows that NO LADY was ever without a real, cloth, often lace edged, handkerchief and a pocket for it. The gentlemen also had pocket handkerchiefs, in their suit-coat breast pockets. (I realize I'm dating myself with that comment, but it was the reality, and a visible detail of the age that also showed in what class people were, in a society that had more class distinctions.)

Still, none of the above diminishes the overall entertainment value here. We highly recommend this to anyone interested in drama that illustrates the human condition.


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Book Review: Three Legs of the Cauldron

New Dalriada Celtic novel by Ron Cherry

By Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker Published 2016-10-28

California Mystery writer R.L.Cherry has a new, first historical novel, Three Legs of the Cauldron, set in the late 6th Century Celtic Kingdom of Dal Riata. Dal Riata spanned the North Channel, holding lands on both sides in North East Ireland, as well as Western Scotland and the Isles.

As the title hints, the story is a morality tale about Truth, Honor, and Duty, including several of the famous historical figures of that place and time. It tells of the coming of age of a young warrior as he and his two brothers grow to become men and leaders. In particular, the action follows the youngest brother, Connaire as both his character and a relationship with his next older brother, Cathal grow and strengthen. They and their extended family struggle to find their place in a new land and form new alliances amid a melee of betrayals, battles, and feuds.

This book has vivid descriptions of warrior women, brehons, druids and the Christian Irish monks of Ione. There is excellent detail on the warrior training of Connaire by Scathach, a real historical female character on the Isle of Skye who trained legendary warriors in early Irish and Scottish history.

There are other details which give a sense of place and articles, such as the description of the 'curragh' boats used to cross from Ireland to Scotland. While the action moves quickly, in some cases the descriptive writing is sparse, and one sometimes wonders where the children and their mothers are hiding and why Connaire is so easily lead astray. Three Legs of the Cauldron won't dissapoint most male readers and even some female readers in the romantic encounters.

All together, a good first historical novel and worth the time of reading. Contact the Author, R.L.Cherry, or purchase the book on his website, www.rlcherry.com