Book Review: The Other Irish
Karen Frances McCarthy, 2011
by Cecilia Fábos-Becker
The Other Irish
Although this book was brought to publication in 2011, I admit I had not encountered it before now. Others found it first and a question about it was just recently posted on the 15,000 members Facebook Group: ‘Ulster Scots/Scotch-Irish,’ of which I’ve been a member for a couple of years. The title bears a striking resemblance to the title of a film project begun about two years ago, and which is still seeking funding to complete, led by Chris Moser of Georgia who has made some films for PBS stations in Georgia.
It became time for a review especially since the topics of what does being Scots-Irish/Scotch-Irish mean and what really is the history of the Scots/Scotch-Irish and what is the legacy are again popular–we’ve got another national election coming up and that is a part of understanding voter demographics and priorities. Also, Chris Moser is still looking for funding to complete his film. How well does the legacy connect with real history has been the subject of a number of recent books and a couple of documentaries (not very, actually).
The author of The Other Irish, Karen F. McCarthy, is a very good and engaging storyteller, and the book is at its best covering modern history where she interviewed eye-witnesses to persons and events where she cites the most primary sources. Ms. McCarthy describes herself as an Irish broadcast journalist and a war correspondent, a medium and spiritualist.
Notably, Ms. McCarthy is Irish, not Scots-Irish, and did not grow up in America, or Ulster, is not a historian and does not have a degree in history, not that all history degrees and programs are uniformly great. Still persons who obtain such degrees generally learn about the importance of primary sources and finding and using as many as possible, along with good secondary sources–(check their bibliography and primary source citations). Unfortunately, these gaps are apparent in this book. Don’t take the first few chapters of her book as reliable history and you’ll enjoy and learn something from the rest.
In her bibliography, Ms. McCarthy has a fair list of secondary sources, but some significant resources, such as Jonathan Bardon’s History of Ulster are missing. It appears that she has limited knowledge of the history of Scotland, and its complicated social structure, especially the clans, and when their power was really broken and how. She cites almost no primary sources for Scottish history or society. She does cite a few primary sources, but the fewest are for the early ‘history’ of the Scots-Irish as Scots or Scots Irish, or even colonial Americans in her book. Sadly, her book includes a fair number of what used to be called ‘moldy old chestnuts’ (stories and myths) and prejudices that are not substantiated by facts in hard research. Many corrections to these old erroneous stories have been long established, at least for a few decades.
McCarthy’s description of James VI of Scotland who was James I of England, is particularly insulting and significantly inaccurate, both as to his physical appearance and his character and actions. James VI/I was not very attractive but he suffered from inbreeding, and porphyria and had been injured or neglected sometime in childhood besides affecting his legs. He wore his clothes loose and padded for more comfort–and security. He’d seen two relatives’ murdered bodies, at a young age. James also was no saint but he was well regarded by the majority of his subjects by the time he died for having brought decades of peace–and low taxation. He also was very intelligent and educated–even his enemies acknowledged that. Ms. McCarthy’s descriptions of James VI/I are not professional historiography.
It seems that Ms. McCarthy listened to a lot of stories from a few particular individuals in the mountains about ‘history’ and partly read a few social histories, and perhaps did not check much of these live-person ‘I recall hearing from my grandmother, or great-grandmother’ stories as they pertained to the 19th century and before with contemporary documents. Anyone who has been on a wild goose chase for real family history based on a grandmother’s memory understands how fallible human memory is and why it’s important to find corroborating documents.
There are other problems. Not all the people she cites as modern examples of Scots-Irish culture and attitudes have identified themselves as ‘Scots-Irish’, and not all the surnames are known to be Scots or Scots-Irish. I know for a fact that most Falkner families are English in origin. I have one such family in my own ancestry and it was English according to documents going back to late 17th century Maryland.
Religion does influence culture and behavior, but McCarthy incorrectly describes most of today’s Scots/Scotch-Irish as still being Presbyterians, or alternatively Methodists (an English and Welsh offshoot of the English Anglican religion). She barely mentions the Baptists, the most dominant religion among people who self-identify as Scots/Scotch-Irish. Perhaps this is because the Baptists religion is an offshoot of the English Puritan Congregational religion and Baptists and Methodists are still virtually non-existent in Scotland and Ulster. In 1725 there were exactly 11 Baptist churches in all of Ireland, nearly all south of Ulster and associated with the English Baptists. To acknowledge the Baptist and Methodist dominance among Scots/Scotch-Irish would conflict with McCarthy’s narrative which claims that today’s Scotch Irish still remember and practice a lot of their historic culture. In her book nearly every popular country singer was Scots-Irish, knew this and was proud of this. Same with all early NASCAR drivers, although that might be more the truth.
In fact, according to multiple recent studies, the Appalachian and southern states are generally over 50% ‘Evangelical Protestant,’ and of this group, the two largest church affiliations by far are Baptists and Methodists, in that order. Both are English religions. The next largest group by the way in the PEW Research studies are ‘mainstream Protestants’ after Evangelicals. Again, Methodists are in this group, also.
McCarthy makes numerous factual errors, such as when the first Scots arrived. She seems to have never studied much of Virginia records, or Maryland records, or she would have found a number of them had arrived well before a particular ship arrived in Boston in 1717. David Dobson’s several volumes of Scots and Scots Irish in America, which all cite thousands of documents in the Scottish National Archives, and other places, are not in her bibliography.
I think Ms. McCarthy might be surprised at how many Scots and Scots Irish emigrants had once attended Scotland’s universities. In her book, Scots Irish in particular are nearly all unwashed illiterates, and most arrived as indentured servants. That’s not what most family researchers have found in primary source records, especially not for the more populous colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia in the 18th century. Her description of the Crockett’s settling the Shenandoah–and somehow not being at all acquainted with the leading figures and grantees of the Beverly and Borden Grants, and just how wealthy some of these families were quite early, is more than a little disconcerting.
In the May 29, 1780 Battle of Waxhaws, 113 Virginian soldiers of Wallace company were hacked to death trying to stall Tarleton and keep him from catching South Carolina governor Rutledge and stores rescued from Charleston for Washington. McCarthy reduces this engagement to ‘some local farmers being massacred by the British along Waxhaw Creek.’ She describes the refugees from the failed ‘Regulators Rebellion of 1773′ as having gone to Tennessee and Kentucky. Most went to South Carolina and some to Georgia. Tennessee was then part of North Carolina–where the Regulators’ rebellion had occurred and where survivors, had many stayed, could have been hanged. In Kentucky, then still part of Virginia, Boone and a few others had just a few stations as yet and a lot of problems from hostile Shawnee, whom the British had been arming well for several years. The Battle of Point Pleasant showed that in 1774.
There are many glaring errors. A certain Rev. Mackemie was the first full-time Presbyterian minister in Maryland in 1685, and was later sent to New York, was jailed under Lord Cornbury, who was governor after 1700. He was recalled by Queen Anne, his cousin. According to Ms. McCarthy, Lord Cornbury was recalled by Queen Elizabeth I, who died in 1603.
In her book, McCarthy seems unaware that, even before they left Scotland for Ireland, the Scots Presbyterians had instituted education for girls and boys, to enable all persons to read the Bible, be able to do basic arithmetic and be better able to sustain themselves and not be dependent upon churches for charity. This policy was a novelty at the time, since most education was given to boys only. They and the Quakers, and then the German Reformed Church (Lutherans) were in the forefront of public education, and not the Catholics, Anglicans and Congregationalist Puritans of Boston. The Baptists and some Methodist sects did not believe education was necessary, not even for their preachers/ministers–a situation well covered in a number of articles and books about ‘America’s Dark Age.’ De Toqueville commented about this in the 1830’s and 1840’s.
In one passage, McCarthy again uses more insulting language to describe certain land deals involving Scots and Scots Irish in colonial Pennsylvania. In fact, while Penn’s government had suspended new surveys for over ten years, these people were promised land in Pennsylvania by the counties and towns eager for sales of goods and tax revenues. When the lands were said to be ‘ok’, these counties and Penn’s colonial government reneged, and the surveyors then gave these newly developed lands to their cronies. McCarthy describes these people as nothing but illiterate rebellious squatters, not innocent victims of unethical county and colonial officials. Even the county histories of Lancaster County and others citing original records show a very different reality than what Ms. McCarthy described.
She did the same with Edgar Allan Poe, parroting the slander first promulgated by his rivals–most done conveniently after Poe’s death. I’m sure the descendants of Poe’s near cousins, and a very well regarded, award winning historical researcher and novelist, Heather Graham might have a lot to say about this were Ms. McCarthy ever to encounter them.
She also said that Washington had few resources–even in the south. Hmmm, I think Henry Miller’s descendants, and those of David Ross of Maryland and the Hughes’ family there would be astounded given all the forges they had running during the Revolution, the guns they were making–and Cornwallis was trying to find after Camden, and given that prior to the Revolution, Ross and others were supplying to England itself a full third of all the iron the English were using for all they made, including guns and cannon. Then there was the other David Ross of Virginia who was the largest land and livestock owner in the colony–and probably several and who generously supplied his good friend and sometimes business partner, George Washington during the Revolution. While Tarleton found few barns filled with grain and hay to burn in 1781, that was because the owners had already hidden most of the grain or shipped it off to the Continental army–ditto a fair number of livestock. Tarleton had a long, well-known history long before he attempted to raid parts of Virginia. Then there was the extended Buchanan family and others’ weaving coops in the Shenandoah, helping to make uniforms and all the industrious ladies and children there.
Natural history seems to have been rather unfamiliar to Ms. McCarthy also, as was the very well documented history of the Shenandoah Valley counties and grants. When the David Crockett family arrived in Virginia, there were 100 related FAMILIES on the Borden Grant, each of whom had several hundred acres apiece, and livestock, and where on earth did she think all those apples and peaches all over came from that the Crocketts found all over on the ground in the valley. They all came from EUROPE.
What is troubling to this researcher is that there have long been plenty of county histories and bodies of primary source records online, and David Dobson’s books are not new either. There is a huge body of primary source records, the Lyman Draper Collection, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, all on microfilm, and four volumes of published indices to these records. These were all firsthand accounts of families, counties, etc. from the mid 1700’s to the mid-1800’s with transcriptions and copies of many original documents that were later microfilmed. There is the Charles Campbell collection of Virginia history and his family, at William and Mary College in the Swem library–and it has an online index with occasional short abstracts. There are plenty of great primary sources that have been used by U.S. historians, and family history researchers in this country for up to a century. Thus, unfortunately, I cannot say that Ms. McCarthy is a great, or even very good historical researcher. If one really wants to understand Scots and Scots/Scotch Irish history, there are much better resources, but use several, and go to primary sources or exact citations of primary sources as much as possible.
Without understanding the real history as it really was, including social structures and relationships and how people moved together and helped one another and why, it unfortunately damages her credibility to then claim all the modern figures whom she describes, the country singers, the writers, etc. are truly examples of Scots/Scotch-Irish culture and history. Ms. McCarthy has written some truly great stories and biographies about a number of modern figures but again, she took the interviewees at their word, she did not compare their memories with too many others, nor many documents. Her 19th century biographies leave a bit to be desired. It’s now, and has been for some years, believed that Edgar Allen Poe died of rabies from a cat scratch but she has him dying of drunkenness. His rival and usually cited biographer who hated him, has actually been discredited for some years now, but that’s the version of Poe’s personal story you will read. She was missing crucial bits of Mark Twain’s history, which he himself wrote about, in several stories and novellas. She did not know the national guard still is state militias under the orders of governors, and the enlistees are residents of their respective states but claimed that the national guard is now composed mostly of southerners. Tell that to Governor Newsom in California–that would be some news to him!
It’s probably not exactly what she meant to say since this sweeping statement and others like it are in the context of the history of civil rights in the South, but at one point, McCarthy also claims that the southern states gradually lost the right to police themselves in the 20th century? Really, I think the state police departments, AG’s and governors would all be surprised to know that.
Then she claims the moonshiners and their stills are largely gone. Apparently, she’s never watched the Discovery Network shows in the last ten years or more, not that one particular long-running series is one of my favorites–far from it. With some of the many hours long per day series of people doing exactly the same things again and again, on the so-called Discovery Network, I’m glad that YouTube now exists and I have a library of old classic movies still on VHS, as well as some on DVD’s.
I think I’ve said enough to give you an idea of the good, even great modern stories, and the not-very-good gaps and failings of this book. The read can be quite enjoyable, but remember that it is not much of a history or accurate portrayal of the Scots/Scotch-Irish culture as it was and as it has changed and evolved–or devolved. The facts are that, given the strong influence of religion on culture, modern southern culture has arguably lost a lot of its original Scots/Scotch-Irish heritage. Yet, many, many modern southerners eagerly search for their clan’s history and their cousins at Scottish gatherings and games, a field that Ms. McCarthy knows very little of, and those old, still cherished associations also have some real bearing on how modern southerners and people in the Appalachian mountains and the Ozarks, etc. all think of themselves and their ancestry.
Ulysses Abridged by Michael James Fallon
Book Review and Commentary
By Cecilia Fábos-Becker
James Joyce’s 1922 classic, Ulysses, has been acclaimed by men as one of the greatest novels in the English language. The numbers of Joyce fans and Bloomsday participants are growing, and yet Joyce scholars are feeling both excited and anxious. The object of their devotion, that infamous, impenetrable epic, that classic of modern Irish literature, Ulysses, has just been unlocked by Joyce devotee Michael James Fallon.
Radical at that time for its modernist construction, stream of consciousness narrative, and gross vulgarity of the common man, Ulysses calls to some readers like the sirens of Homer’s Odyssey upon which it is modeled. However, many others find it daunting due to its length and composition or its unvarnished obsession with sex. For me, this once controversial book seems rather tame compared with a lot of modern popular books and films.
Author Michael Fallon is a recently retired San Jose State University professor who has crafted a new, abridged version for the book’s Ulysses Centennial: Ulysses Abridged ~ A Shorter Journey through James Joyce’s Masterpiece. Fallon is also the author of The Definitive St. Patrick’s Day Festivity Book.
An Irish-American Joyce devotee, Fallon spent years studying the novel about a day in the life of Leopold Bloom in early 20th century Dublin. Fallon has pared Joyce’s epic masterpiece by one-third, leaving the original characters, scenes, motifs, and Joycesian prose and ribald poetry to be enjoyed by new readers, as well as those who would like to experience Bloomsday again. Ulysses Abridged is available as a Special Offer to AmeriCeltic Readers for $25, USPS shipping included.
For those who have yearned to read Ulysses, but were put off by its length and complexity, here is an accessible version of the masterpiece that will give you the flavor, nuance, wit, and passion of the original. Fallon’s Ulysses Abridged is akin to a half marathon versus a full one – readers can honestly say, ‘Yes, I know Ulysses.’ As such, it is an excellent way to introduce Joyce and his epic novel to the general readership without having them resort to ‘study guides.’
Not everyone has read Ulysses, or knows what it is about. In interviews with Fallon, he concurred with my own observation that most people who start to read the original book never finish it. For those who have just become aware of Ulysses, it is necessary to separate the work of creating a good abridgement, from Joyce’s original work. There is the quality of the original story and characters to be discussed.
I’m one of those who began but never finished reading Ulysses but not for the same reasons as some. This abridged version allowed me to finish it!
I also understand why it was banned and then ‘controversial’ for so long. My personal history and anthropology degrees helped me understand this and why the novel is a powerful one. It is probably one of the most powerful novels about banality, disgusting behaviors, vapidity of mind, deed and life in general ever written because it was a hard punch in the face to what most educated men from lower middle class to upper class imagined themselves to be.
Men then, and even now, have long imagined themselves as noble, idealistic or clever and ambitious beings, superior to animals out to advance themselves and society, caring about many others.
Instead, Joyce’s Ulysses displays a very different reality, largely from the author’s own personal experiences in a middle-class Irish family, associating with others of that class, occasionally persons wafting in and out who were of a higher class, and the always present but invisible, to them, poor, who served them. For the post World War II world, where women have worked in factories, banks, newsrooms and all other places once the exclusive domains of men, and who now vote, own businesses, and have legal rights in courts, this novel is still powerful in showing how little good regard, certainly not as equal persons, men in all classes had for women and children. Worse, when only in the company of other men, or mostly other men today, they speak and act a little differently!
Of the many characters in this novel, only two care about a younger sister or a daughter. In the case of the daughter, it’s ‘she has a good job,’ not how well is she going to be able to avoid the base efforts to use and abuse her of all men, and eventually marry well and have a secure home. In fact, in the last chapters of the novel, Bloom finally considers some of his daughter’s actions as she has described them in letters and what little he’s heard otherwise and begins to realize she is being careful and wonders how she came to understand the need to do this and has the strength and wisdom to do so. He clearly had not conversed with her about this subject or taught her ways to be cautious.
All women, even the sister, are potential sex objects and servants, just for male gratifications, never mind the consequences to the women. Mothers served only to bring men into the world. This is the way Ireland and the Irish men really were, and thought. This was reality and it was a shock to see it so described in this book and it also begged the question as to how much of the rest of the world was exactly the same. Were the male half of the self-acclaimed superior species really just animals in clothing and creatures of barely surviving, unimaginative habits, day after day? Where were the lofty thoughts and ambitions, the actions toward realizing those? Where was the time being spent with families, caring about them as families and individuals within them?
For me, Joyce’s Ulysses is a banal parody of Homer’s original Odyssey and story of Ulysses, with a bit of Aeneas. Yes, it is a story of a man returning home to his wife. In the first case, the man has been away at war for 20 years, and though the distance from home to the site of the war was not great, was beset with a lot of serious, dangerous adversities on his way home. Bloom returns to his wife in about 20 hours. Both are books about mostly male relationships and what males saw as important. Joyce’s work and Fallon’s abridgement are human tales with little interference by the supernatural. The closest Joyce comes is the ‘hallucinations’ more like mental fantasies, ruminations, daydreams in a barely awake state or nightmares that lay bare all the worries and regrets in Bloom’s life, particularly with his marriage and his general relations given he’s a second-generation Irishman of Jewish immigrant parents and has little real understanding of the history, culture and tensions of the Irish families who have been in Ireland for centuries. In this Bloom is like the original Ulysses who, though Greek, lived a life largely apart from Agamemnon and Menelaus and tried to stay out of conflicts.
Leopold Bloom’s Odyssey is all about his marriage and what to do about the fact his wife, an aging but still voluptuous singer and musician is about to go on a short musical tour and has already begun an affair with her manager who chases everything reasonably good looking and female in skirts at any and all times. Everyone knows about Mrs. Bloom; as she has flirted with and allowed lesser liberties to be taken with her before. Bloom is fully realizing this in his 20 hours rambling over a significant part of Dublin and wondering if he has a marriage left or wants to try to continue it, or if his wife wants to continue it. However, almost all of the thoughts related to her are sexual. It’s not clear she does much for him besides that. It is only at the very end that there are some descriptions of the household that show she does or manages some household tasks, and then in the very last pages of the novel, they communicate and there is the realization there is more to Bloom, his wife and their marriage.
It also makes one question the nobility and veracity of the original Greek saga. Human nature and behaviors haven’t actually changed much in millennia. So, is the old heroic myth just that, a complete myth hiding the real, selfish, banal, even dark nature of human men even in the ‘heroic golden age’ we’ve long imagined to have once existed?
There are a few instances of more serious discussions about the state of Ireland under both the Catholic Church and the Imperial English dominated UK and anti-Semitism. Most of this comes out in one chapter, Episode 12, ‘The Cyclops’ in which the drunken ‘Citizen-bawler’ argues with Bloom, and gets angry enough to try to attack Bloom. Bloom escapes, as Ulysses did, after standing up to ‘the Citizen’ but unlike Ulysses, is largely helped to do so by another character. He feels proud of himself for defending Jews to ‘the Citizen’ but this occurs in a pub, and he’s also offended the owner and others by not drinking at all and only buying and smoking an inexpensive cigar, after apparently pocketing some winnings from betting on a horse-race. It’s not the most heroic situation. He does better later in the novel. Still, most of the novel is in pubs with a very long and painfully graphic chapter in a brothel.
Joyce’s novel is a mirror for the picture of the real Dorian Gray, not the image of the handsome, good-person men all have long imagined themselves to be. That’s powerful and shocking. It still is as it continues to destroy the myths of real people in our real history. I’m sure it will be again on the banned books lists in Florida, Tennessee and some other states!
Now to read the novel, whether in the full original, or this new abridged version, it also helps to understand the language used by Joyce. He is using an unbridled train of thought–even multiple thoughts at once, and conversation as it really is in groups of people, with side conversations taking place, even at the same table, people talking over one another, and in a workplace, or pub, bits of other conversations being heard. He is depicting a greater cacophony of sound, as life really is. In the train of thought or stream of consciousness, how many people ever really focus their minds on one subject and its aspects, questions and how to resolve situations? How many instead have more than one train of thought going on at the same time and sometimes colliding or distracting from something upon which one wishes to focus? Most people’s thought patterns are not organized but chaotic and Joyce shows this. This is some of the power of his use of language. His novel does show much more of conversations in public places among groups of people and human thought as it really occurs. He uses language like film. It is overwhelming because he really did not leave much to the imagination of the reader. Joyce’s imagery, using the chaos of language and not just adjectives and adverbs and descriptions of scenery and people as an objective unfamiliar observer would see them, but as if their speech, attitudes and actions were making them protean figures changing frequently with their emotions and thoughts shows more of the characters and their relationships than actors and film. How many trivial events going on around the person intrude up and alter the thought patterns? Again, this cacophony of thought intersecting with life, is what Joyce is using the written language to describe. His punctuation shows not full sentences or one sentence but emphasizes the words–and related thoughts–important to the characters at particular times or words and sentences are run together–showing persons as they normally speak, especially when speaking rapidly or formulating their thoughts as they speak. Imagine a large noisy family holiday dinner and then the language begins to make sense. This is why Joyce is considered unique and his book, for its use of language, a masterpiece. It’s the subject matter and the one gender view of it that is the one big flaw, the limitation of the work, and the book was written primarily for that gender.
It also helps to read a couple of short but fairly detailed biographies of James Joyce himself, first. This novel is partly autobiographical, but James himself is not in one character but split into two characters: that of the young teacher and writer, Stephen Daedalus, and the nebbish Jewish son of immigrants, Leopold Bloom, wanting to be more than he is. There are two characters missing from the novel who were in the life of Joyce: a good mother, and a good strong wife. Both in Joyce’s life were intelligent women who did a lot. In fact, there are no good strong families well described in this book, only a passing few pages to one, that of the bereaved Dignam family that loses its father in the beginning of the book and only a few aspects of what might have existed through the eyes and acts of the oldest son.
The fact is, though, men did not spend any time with their families, had very little interaction with their wives and children and were absolutely clueless about all those women did and thought. They were all just objects, and servants to them. Again, it’s a portrayal of a shocking reality firmly at odds with long held ideals. Worse, it’s not just poor families and men in this novel being shown in this manner, but educated and middle-class men, even the lower levels of gentry, and property owners. Good jobs, attending the best institutions for a fine education, and wealth does not automatically confer or reflect gentility and humanity, and in fact, that is an observation that the character Leopold Bloom makes as he worries about the future of the person, he attempts to make his young protege, Stephen Daedalus. Ultimately, the young man will make the choices to make the most of what he has been given in opportunities or will destroy himself. Man mostly uplifts or destroys himself with his own choices of what to do and how to do it in life, and when not to do something. Again, the best insights in the novel only occur late in the novel. Even the abridged version is 500 pages.
That’s the novel, and this comes through loud and clear in Fallon’s new abridged version. His version keeps the meat of the novel and most of the trimmings. He took particular care to stay faithful to the special character of train of thought, peculiar punctuations, and run together words and sentences that Joyce used to show human use of language and thought as it really happens, part of the world about us, not separate. This Ulysses: Abridged is no Reader’s Digest abstract, leaving you wanting much more. It is a full satisfying ‘meal.’
It does make some events and characters clearer and stand out. It is less confusing and overwhelming than the original, a bit of an easier read. It should neither be a cure for insomnia, nor incite a migraine. It is more readable than the original. The train of thought, stream of consciousness is still there, but one feels like there are pauses to breathe again, more so, than in the original. There is space and time to better reflect upon the situations, chapters and characters.
In general, though 100 years after this novel was written, it is still worthwhile to consider how effective is communication of strong ideas or points of a novel if they are buried in a haystack that either puts one to sleep or causes a sick headache or extreme nausea? Shock only works well if it causes attention and is followed by a strong statement of purpose or description of reality to which the writer wants the reader’s attention and thought.
Why do writers write novels and histories? Is it not because they want to direct readers’ thoughts and actions in new ways? Even the ridiculous male fantasy action novels by Clancy and others are a commentary on how dangerous they think the world is and how they believe real men should act in dangerous situations. Writing is communication and sharing more than just descriptions of individual people and scenery but also ideas and ideals, often for change.
Despite the powerful images of the reality of men in the original Joyce’s Ulysses, it has one other big weakness that other novels about injustice, banality, and more do not. There is no obvious call for change, and not much growth or change of the main characters. There was a Public Broadcasting television series (and associated book) narrated by the late, great Joseph Campbell about myths, drama and writing or oral story telling in general that discussed the elements of the greatest stories and myths that have long had the greatest impact and been best remembered. There must be a hero who overcomes an undesirable norm, or great adversity. There must be change, to give an example to others and it is more easily comprehended by viewers, listeners, or readers if the characters and situations are drawn rather strongly–they stand out so that the message of how to become an ideal, how to change, comes through better. There is a message of needed change in Joyce’s novel but not a lot about how it could be, or should be, done. Leopold Bloom and the conclusion of his story leave questions more than answers, and not a sense of having read about a great hero or leader.
At the same time, it is a great real-life historical description of early 20th century Dublin, Ireland, shocking and disgusting as it is and how men really lived, thought and acted and will disabuse any historical re-enactors and fantasizers of an earlier but more recent ‘golden age,’ when life was somehow better and easier. Human nature was as it is now and that should raise a lot of questions and concerns about what IS NOW.
I encourage others to read this novel, in the abridged or full version, themselves, as I was probably not the best person to review any version of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I never completely made it through the original version. I didn’t believe the character of Leopold Bloom, since my paternal grandparents were Hungarian from southwest Hungary and included a Jewish line in my grandmother’s family. I also partly grew up in a mixed religious ethnic community of exiles and emigrants where my Catholic Hungarian grandmother got together with a Jewish neighbor to create what became ‘THE best kosher garlic dill pickles’ in the world,’ and children playing or getting into mischief in the neighborhood were watched with care and affection by all the women of the neighborhood regardless of religious background or economic or social status.
Joyce’s Leopold Bloom whose Jewish parents settled in Ireland, and even changed religion to do so, is a nebbish and his father, a man of property committed suicide in Joyce’s novel. I never encountered any ‘nebbish’ in Ohio, even in a new suburban neighborhood only a few years after the end of World War II, where we had to confront a family of racists who more than once threw rocks through windows of east European and Jewish family homes. Instead, my Hungarian father and Mr. Wexler, down the street confronted the family and the racists put their home up for sale and left! We didn’t flee the rocks as Bloom fled a bigot hurling a biscuit tin.
I also have, since early childhood, long rebelled at the male control of the world and only the male view and judgment being relevant or important. In first grade, in the first weeks of Catholic school I became well acquainted with the principal, Sister Mary Alma, who like me didn’t buy into all the standard dogma and didn’t mind at all the questions I asked that caused Sister Mary Battle-ax, as she was nicknamed (out of her earshot), to typically turn somewhat reddish purple in the face and seem to have a hard time breathing or speaking. One of my first questions was: ‘why couldn’t women become priests?’ At that time, as in Joyce’s novel, all Christian and almost all other religions were strictly patriarchal in dogma and management. There were no female religious leaders anywhere! My questions were followed by my observations of both the teaching nuns who did many other things, and the women in the community at large, that ‘women seemed to be able to do everything else that was needed.’ My early life was mostly a life in which I saw mostly women, women working in paid jobs outside the home, at home, taking care of all the needs of those living there, home, food, clothing that were most fundamental to my and most others being alive and thriving at all and more. Help with homework from school? Again women. Help with understanding and resolving childhood conflicts with others and how to behave around adults? Again women.
The first time I tried to read the original James Joyce’ Ulysses, I started getting disgusted, angry and appalled. I doubt very much I would have ever gone back to reading it without Dr. Fallon’s new abridgement. With Dr. Fallon’s abridgement I more clearly saw that the novel had a powerful message–of how shallow, selfish and mostly useless, males, particularly younger ones were inclined to be. In my own reflections of life and how slowly people change, I realized this very real description of males in the early 20th century was reinforced by experiences in middle and secondary school–over 50 years LATER. Though my parents, like so many others worried about human nature in teen years and feared that I, as a vulnerable teen girl might do something stupid, or put myself in a dangerous place with the wrong persons, I was no fool–and soon came to count my blessings for not developing the pronounced female form that was nothing but prey for males who had no interest in anything but their own selfish and short-term pleasures at that time of their lives. The horrors of unwed motherhood at a young age, the very real potential ruin of my entire future life was already well understood.
Worse, the typical educated secondary school male in a middle class or even upper-class community today, is actually NO different than James Joyce’s characters in early 20th century Dublin, 100 years ago! Read any newspaper, today, look at any television news program nearly daily. Take a look at the complaints of women on social media. This book should be required reading for every female from the age of 11 up through secondary school, especially in red states where the heavily male majority legislatures all seem to want to go back to life as it was in the late 19th and early 20th century when they had complete control over women and children without any real regard for their lives. There should also be required discussion and analysis! I predict that if this were done, birth control sales, and classes for female martial arts self-defense would boom!
The abridgement done by Michael James Fallon loses none of its power to totally revolt any sane, rational female nor does it fail to impress upon her how selfish, and vapid most males of the early 20th century and now really are. Human nature changes even more slowly than DNA haplogroups. The male-oriented attitudes and behaviors that existed in the early 20th century in Joyce’s novel, or for that matter ancient Greece are still dominant today. For women when the novel was first published and 100 years later, this novel was and still is a call for change.
As a literary abridged work, Fallon’s Ulysses: Abridged is a good one. Stil, after reading this, or the longer original by Joyce, himself, I would recommend both males and females look at two other ‘coming of age,’ daily life books by another author, Louisa May Alcott, a female author who keenly observed both young males and females and wrote about both and their primary interests. She also actually observed and reflected upon some of the same male attitudes and behaviors as James Joyce did, but she has the males interacting with, and observed more by others around them–their parents, sisters, other more responsible and active males and friends. She even has a male character leaving, growing and redeeming himself and returning. There are also elderly guides who sometimes aid at critical moments. There is more growth and change, more action of the principal characters in the novels of this female author. Both authors cover middle and upper classes as they were and expose prejudices. The female author, however, is the one with the clearer message of the need to change and how it might be done.
By all means read Ulysses: Abridged but then go and read An Old Fashioned Girl, by Louisa May Alcott and her other powerful coming of age two volume series, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, and contrast not just the fictional characters, but the observations of the authors about the genders, the age groups, and what the authors might have hoped to promote and how well they did it. Which author’s work do you find has a clearer message about how to become a responsible, and caring adult and makes you want to do better? Which novel has a greater message of hope and urges action and why was that?
Ulysses was banned in some states for a long time and no one has ever made a film about it, but it is now required reading in many secondary schools (usually something like Junior or Senior year) and colleges. It is more widely known and discussed than the other works of Louisa May Alcott. They are essentially still ignored, banned by prejudices against women, and certainly not on required reading lists in secondary schools and colleges. Why? What does that say about the attitudes of even today’s still patriarchal society?
Women have long been as downtrodden as Irish males under the British empire. So why was there a greater hope, determination and message of action by one author and not the other?
The anger and questions I had as a teen when I first tried to read James Joyce’s original Ulysses, are still here after reading Michael James Fallon’s Ulysses: Abridged. However, the greater clarity of Dr. Fallon’s work also crystallized, and made clearer my own long held questions, anger, and even revulsion, not at the authors, nor the works of literature themselves but at the selfish, vapid, male patriarchal society was described as it indeed was and still is, that ruled then and still largely does now–with not enough modern people, male and female, questioning it even now.
Review of Tom McEnery Play: A Statue for Ballybunion
by Cecilia Fábos-Becker
Running March 17th – March 26th, 2023
Occasionally, something really special and fun, all at the same time, happens in San Jose! On Thursday, March 16th, 2023, Tom McEnery’s new Play debuted in San Jose after a successful launch in Dublin, Ireland. A Statue for Ballybunion is an Irish comedy just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day.
Penned by former San José Mayor Tom McEnery, A Statue for Ballybunion is based on the true story of a core group of Ballybunion residents to take advantage of then U.S. president William Jefferson Clinton’s historic visit to Ireland.
The old castle is crumbling and slowly disappearing into the sea, too many young people are leaving and the town elders don’t want their beloved town to go the way of the castle and children. At long last peace is coming to Ireland, via the Good Friday Agreement. Perhaps a visit from the leader of the free world, who actively supported the peace process, will provide hope for their future and not just more past memories. They hatch a cunning plan to attract him to visit their town and unveil the world’s first statue of Clinton while he is there.
However, certain well-publicized events in the Oval Office with a certain intern put Clinton’s visit to ‘The Kingdom of Kerry’ in jeopardy. As if that were not enough, something unexpected has happened to the statue. How will this affect events in Ballybunion as it awaits immortality on the world stage? As Bill Clinton himself said, ‘You just have to keep swinging and know it will all even out!’
We were there at the premiere of the play and listened to the comments at the end. ‘Great play!’ ‘What a wonderful story!’ ‘Best thing I’ve seen in a long time!’ Were just a few we heard. Not a single attendee had anything negative to say. Everyone loved it and were saying they were definitely going to tell friends and family about the play. We laughed, cried, and laughed again, and again. I’m sure the play brought back many memories, and also raised some interesting contrasts between past and present and a certain amount of innocence we all might wish we could recover.
I’m not going to give away the story. There are too many little twists and surprises that deserve to be seen. What I will say is, though the story and characters are Irish, it is a very human story that is an inspiration today, and the line from a Scottish poet who also greatly appreciated human nature and comedy, came to mind at the end, with my own twist, ‘the best laid plans o mice and men gang aft aglee’–but with little bit of Irish luck, it all comes out just right–and it might not hurt to have an enterprising bagpiper at just the right time.
The plot was well-constructed and tight, the timing of particular comedic bits where more than one actor had to react in unison, spot on. It was the kind of work in writing, production and acting that is an example one wishes more in this industry would follow.
The acting was excellent, top-notch players with regional, and even national, experience. The sets were simple but gave you indeed the feel of the small town at the edge of the Wild Atlantic Way. The dialect coach, Ariana Khan, did very well. Persons in the audience from Ireland had no trouble believing the characters played by the actors and actresses.
One of the best characterizations was that of the older woman Hannah, played by a young woman, Susan Gundanas. Hannah has lived a hard life but still has dreams. It is hard to play an older person well, and this character was rich in extra detail. Susan played Hannah so well that most people in the audience believed the actress was indeed an older lady.
Another actor who performed exceptionally was Jackson Davis who played the would-be nay-sayer, with a one-track mind, Mulcahy. Everyone who has ever served on a city council, political committee, or board of any society has run into at least one Mulcahy in his or her life and Jackson Davis absolutely nailed the character.
Another very nice touch was the singing, and included at least one song in Irish Gaelic. All these were done very well, especially considering that Gaelic is not the native language of any of the cast.
This live-action play, in two acts with and intermission and refreshments (good popcorn!), costs comparable to an evening at an IMAX and the production runs through March 26th, 2023. So tell your family and friends about this great little play and get a party together, buy some tickets and have the best time you’ve had at a play since before the pandemic, if not longer! You’ll be glad you did.
Album Review: Taking Flight
Release Date: January 18th, 2023
By Tony Becker – Published 2023-02-16
Taking Flight Tracks
||The Old Churchyard
||The Woodthrush’s Song
||King of Ballyhooley
||What Will We Do When We Have No Money
||Cursed Be The Caller
||Oran Eile Don Phrionnsa
||The Lark In The Clear Air
||Hunting The Wren
||Great Big Roaming Ass
||Red Winged Blackbird
Sean-Nós singer, painter, mixed media artist, podcast host and organizer Amelia Hogan has launched a new album, with friends of California Celtic music community.
Recorded and released with Steve O’Neill of Foxtail Sound in Dixon, CA, co-produced by Ray Frank, under her solo label, Taking Flight, is Amelia second studio album, following her first solo project, Transplants: From the Old World to the New, released in March 2013, and many other collaborations, in studio and on tour.
Taking Flight has sixteen tracks, all featuring Amelias voice, but notably, on the self-penned title track, (#14, Taking Flight), Amelia is accompanied by vocal harmonies from Christa Burch, Marla Fibish and Ray Frank.
All of the instrumental accompanists heard on this album, Richard Mandel, David Brewer, Marla Fibish, Rebecca Richman, Maureen Brennan, and Christa Burch have are California Celtic heavyweights with impressive resumes.
The album is produced to the highest technical standards, and because I personally am a fan of all of these artists, it is difficult (and risky) to pick just one or two tracks as ‘favorites’. Suffice to say, if you have been a fan of any of these all-star performers, you should give this album a listen, assured that you will be pleased with it. If you have not been a fan of any of them, (where have you been!), here is your opportunity to reveal to your ears over an hour of the impressive level of performance those of us who live in Northern California have enjoyed for decades, and meet (aurally) seven of our very best.
Email Amelia Hogan
Visit https://www.ameliahogan.com for more information.
Album Review: The World’s a Gift
Release Date: September 30th, 2022
By Tony Becker – Published 2023-01-05
# Lgth Title
01 3:25 The World’s a Gift
02 3:05 The Weaver’s Song
03 3:49 Merino Mill Girl
04 4:45 Bonny Fechter
05 3:06 We Go High
06 4:19 Millie’s Waltz
07 3:20 Tui Bird
08 4:56 Becoming Genius
09 3:58 I Sing Because
10 4:17 Headin’ Down the Road
11 4:19 Footprints in the Snow
While attending Camp Harmony online over the 2023 New Year’s weekend, I caught a workshop by Pauline Vallance, and learned about her new album. Pauline is a singer/songwriter and harp player from Ayrshire, and The World’s a Gift is her fourth album. Funded by Creative Scotland.
Produced by James Grant, the album features clear, articulate vocals by Pauline, supported by cellist Maya Burman-Roy of the Hallelujah Quartet and percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir, all at the highest production quality.
But it’s lyrical content stands out most. Pauline has written all but one of the songs, which center on the theme of ‘legacy’ in the broadest sense. For example, on Track 6, Millie’s Waltz, has borrowed a melody heard on an accordion and transformed it into a classic romantic ballad. Joined by her daughter, Niamh McElhill, sings of a young girl who rediscovers her delight and her lover despite the years of separation caused by World War.
Track 9, I Sing Because, was written by Rakesh Bhanot about how a singer finds peace in song despite all the perplexities of life. Pauline’s interpretation and arrangement results in a work that you would swear you have been hearing throughout your life.
But don’t take my word for it. The entire album is available for listening on Pauline’s YouTube channel, along with her previous releases! Listen them now at this link: Pauline’s YouTube Channel
For CDs or downloads, Email Pauline Vallance
Album Review: Morning Walk
Release Date: June 1st, 2022
By Tony Becker – Published 2022-05-13
Morning Walk Tracks
01 2:38 Morning Walk (Feat. Simon Chrisman)
02 2:37 Pipehorn Backstep (Feat. Kyle O’Brien)
03 3:42 Buster’s Farewell (Feat. Brandon Godman)
04 3:07 Blackwater Flood at Buffalo Creek
05 2:24 Abbey Creek
06 2:43 Mussel Rock (Feat. Christine Wilhoyte, Helen Lude)
07 3:09 Dutch Flatt (Feat. Leah Wollenberg, Jesse Fichman)
08 2:37 Payne Gap
09 2:53 Western Crossing (Feat. Andy Lentz)
10 2:42 Scotch Hops (Feat. Brandon Godman)
Author, composer, mandolinist Dave Berry has launched a new album, Morning Walk, with friends of California Bluegrass community.
The Morning Walk album is a collection of 10 tunes all written by Dave Berry, covering a wide range of acoustic music styles.
The first two tracks, Morning Walk and Pipehorn Backstep certainly have a Celtic flavor, as does the seventh, Dutch Flatt, but there is plenty of old-timey and bluegrassy music too.
It’s a technically excellent recording, brilliantly mastered by Ivan Rosenberg, with plenty of fine music — which will be featured by Peter Thompson Producer/host, of the Bluegrass Signal & Bluegrass Country show.
What started as a project with friends to make demos for a couple of my tunes turned into this new album, Morning Walk, featuring 29 musicians from in and around the California Bluegrass community. These original instrumental tunes, of Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Celtic flavor, are a mix of newly written and older outtakes reworked from my last release some 20 years back.
I absolutely love this album!! … so refreshing to hear well crafted and produced original tunes, so well performed.
Folks need to know about Morning Walk. Jeff Kazor – Founder, The Crooked Jades
Follow Dave on Spotify
Email Dave Berry
CDs or download at daveberrymusic.net
Album Review: Going Home
Celtic Rock with Tempest
By Tony Becker
Going Home Tracks
01 Mrs. Preston_s 4:56
02 Jolly Roger 5:09
03 Hjemreise 3:47
04 The Optimist 3:38
05 Systrarna 6:43
06 Shepherd_s Daughter 4:19
07 Dark Lover 3:03
08 Devil and The Farmer 3:45
09 Dream Morris 3:27
10 Paul_s Chickens 4:31
Since forming in 1988, Tempest has delivered a globally-renowned hybrid of high-energy Folk Rock fusing Irish reels, Scottish ballads, Norwegian influences and other world music elements. The last 30 years have seen the San Francisco Bay Area based act release seventeen critically acclaimed CDs and play more than 2,500 gigs. It’s also enjoyed an evolving line-up that’s enabled musicianship and creativity to rise with each new member.
Band leader Lief Sorbye was kind enough to send us a pre-release copy of Tempest’s brand new album, Going Home. As I listened, I was VERY PLEASED to hear 2021 addition Lee Corbie-Wells singing De Två Systrarna with Lief! IMHO, Lee has as much talent as a vocalist as an instrumentalist. She worked hard on her world music degree, and as evidenced in this track, has a good ear for languages. On Devil and The Farmer, Lee demonstrates how she can deliver the vocals and fiddling simultaneously – a rare skill which we will all appreciate during the upcoming Tempest live shows, and new guitarist Nikolay Georgiev, and bassist Hugh Caley also ‘make the grade’, so that both long time and new Tempest fans will all love both this new album and the new live shows!
All Tempest’s albums are limited edition, collectors items, and autographed copies are only available from the Tempest Web Site while supplies last.
The Tempest ‘back catalog’ remains with Magna Carta Records, but Going Home will be on their own ‘Celtodelic’ publishing label.
Artist sites and sounds: www.tempestmusic.com.
Anywhere But Home
From Eamonn Flynn
Release Date: February 25th, 2022
By Celia & Tony Becker – Published 2022-02-04
Album Cover Photo The Manhattan Cafe
by Ruth Gallagher
||Sack Em Ups
||Baile Atha Cliath
||An tOilean Tiar
||Ringsend Balcony Bingo
||Penalty Shootout in The Dockers
||Meeting of the Waters
||Sorry for Your Trouble
Anywhere But Home delivers over 40 minutes of Eamonn Flynn’s latest compositions during the early days of the pandemic when travel back to Ireland was impossible, with Flynn’s distinctive piano supported by an all-star list of Irish traditional musicians including John Doyle, Mike McGoldrick, Mick McAuley, Athena Tergis, Todd Denman, James Macintosh, James Blennerhassett and Brian Collier.
Thankfully, Eamonn sent us a pre-release copy a few weeks early to listen to and prepare this review, and the Anywhere But Home album was released until Friday, February 25th, 2022.
The best way to illustrate this album’s style, is to hear a sample, and Eamonn has made that easy too. Since November 18, 2021, one the tracks from the album has been available for free listening and downloading by everyone!
To listen or download Ringsend Balcony Bingo, click here.
Since Friday, February 25th, 2022, Anywhere But Home has been available as a CD or a download:
Purchase Anywhere But Home on Bandcamp.
Save Anywhere But Home on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, or deezer.
For more information:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/eamonnflynnmusicofficial
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/eamonnflynnmusic
Album Review: The Fire’s Very Scottish Christmas
Release Date: November 26th, 2021
By Celia & Tony Becker – Published 2021-12-03
Rebecca Lomnicky: fiddle, backing vocals
David Brewer: highland bagpipes, whistles, bodhran, accordion
Adam Hendey: vocals, guitar, bouzouki, harmonium, reed organ, percussion
||The Jingle Bells Suite
||Here We Come A-wassailing
||The Holly and The Ivy
||The Cherry-Tree Carol
||O Come, All Ye Faithful
||Drops of Brandy
||O Holy Night
||Carol of the Birds
||The Evening Star
||The First Noel
||The Cross of Inverness
||We Three Kings
||The Legend of the Dream Strathspey
||Away in a Manger
||The Christmas Carol Suite
||Christmas Day is Here at Last
||Auld Lang Syne
This holiday season, California’s favorite Scottish music trio, The Fire,
releases their debut Christmas album, titled The Fire’s Very Scottish Christmas. The band’s newest offering presents a generous 19 track
collection of classic holiday music.
The Fire’s Very Scottish Christmas delivers over an hour of the bands energetic traditional Scottish music, and something brand new for the bands many fans: 7 of the tracks feature vocals from Adam Hendey, including, ‘Here We Come A-wassailing’, ‘The Cherry-Tree Carol’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Hendey’s mellow and uplifting voice was honed at the Conservatoire of Scotland, and it shows. We hope this addition portends many more songs to come.
But Fire fans will also get plenty virtuosic displays of David Brewer’s mastery of the Great Highland Bagpipe and all manner of whistles, as well as expressive and powerful performances by Champion Fiddler Rebecca Lomnicky. Throughout the album fans will find the Trio’s signature style of richly ornamented arrangements of intricate melodies and dance tunes.
The Fire’s Very Scottish Christmas is currently available as a CD or a download on the The Fire’s Bandcamp webpage:
→ Listen or Download The Fire’s Very Scottish Christmas — Click Here!←.
For more information:
Album Review: Old Roots, New Branches
(Irish / Celtic Edition)
by Bruce W. Honeyman
||Well May the World Go
||The Irish Channel Jig
||The Irish Dance Teacher
||The Fresno Reel Medley
||The Kaw Haven Medley
||The Fibish Jig Medley
||The Afro-Celt Medley
||Bonaparte Crossing the San Joaquin
||The Spencer and Jane Waltz
||The Dare I Say Polka?
||Theo in the Apple Tree
||The Irish Goodbye
Old Roots, New Branches is a brand new collection of several albums filled with original music from multi-talented multi-instrumentalist Bruce Honeyman and this one, the ‘Irish / Celtic Edition’, focuses on that style.
Bruce Honeyman says:
Old Roots, New Branches – Irish / Celtic Edition has 23 new tunes (15 tracks including 4 medleys of 3 each), all original, and I provided all the parts of the production, instrumentation, to bring my vision to life. It is now available on all the important platforms: Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, Apple, YouTube, and Facebook. For physical CD sales contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To Listen to Bruce’s Album, Click Here
Kudos to Bruce Honeyman on his massive debut project Old Roots, New Branches:
Irish/Celtic Music Edition – conceived, composed, performed and recorded all on his own during the pandemic. Thank you for giving us the chance to have a peek inside your musical self – it’s a lovely place to explore! — Marla Fibish
With original melodies that sound almost familiar, multi-instrumentalist Bruce Honeyman brings a deep knowledge of acoustic music and traditional Irish to this album of well-crafted original tunes. Bruce’s subtle and creative use of percussion help bring a distinct world music influence to many of the tunes. A highly enjoyable listen. — Kathy Barwick
Bruce Honeyman is a multi-instrumentalist and performer who retired as self-employed Clinical Psychologist after a long career of practice in his adopted hometown of Fresno, CA. https://www.facebook.com/bwhoneyman
||uilleann pipes, tin whistle
||vocals, guitar, tenor guitar
|Cormac De Barra
||vocals, guitars, tin whistle, low whistle, melodeon, bouzouki
||uilleann pipes & low whistle
||vocals, backing vocals, banjo, bouzouki, fiddles, harmony fiddle, guitars, harmonica, mandolin, percussion, piano, pipes, whistles
||guitar, accordion, string arrangement
||bass, guitar, piano, arranger
||uilleann pipes, low whistle
Album Review: I am of Ireland/Yeats in Song
New from Raymond Driver
Pre-Orders @ $9.98 from June 11th, 2021
Release Date: July 23rd, 2021
By Celia & Tony Becker – Published 2021-05-28
I am of Ireland Tracks
||‘I am of Ireland’
||He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
||The Lake Isle of Innisfree
||He tells of the Perfect Beauty
||The Falling of the Leaves
||The Wild Swans at Coole
||The Song of Wandering Aengus
||The Two Trees
||The Folly of Being Comforted
||The Pity of Love
||When You are Old
||An Irish Airman foresees his Death
||The White Birds
||The Lover tells of the Rose in his Heart
||The Ballad of the Foxhunter
||The Cradle Song
||Never give all the Heart
||He tells of a Valley full of Lovers
||The Fiddler of Dooney
‘I am of Ireland, and the Holy Land of Ireland, and time runs on, cried she,’ ‘ sings Cathy Jordan on the spellbinding title track from the new album I Am Of Ireland/Yeats in Song. The collection of 24 poems by William Butler Yeats, set to new music by Raymond Driver, features some of Celtic and folk music’s most distinctive voices. The digital-only release comes out Friday, July 23 on Merrow Records. (Pre-orders for the album begin June 11, at www.yeatsinsong.com .)
Over two years in the making, with 32 artists across three continents working remotely through the pandemic, the album is a triumph of collaboration.
The album is very well produced and mixed with both excellent instrumentals and voices. It is a romantic, dreamy album as most of Yeats poetry is, but also has a few poems suitably set to jigs. Some of the tunes evoke mental images of the Irish countryside.. Serve some wine and find a slide show, or Youtube video, of the countryside of Ireland without sound (or turn the sound off) and listen to this album instead with a significant other on a nice quiet evening.
Jordan, frontwoman for Dervish and one of Ireland’s leading singers, is joined on the new album by John Doyle (Solas), Christine Collister (Richard Thompson), Eleanor Shanley (De Danaan), Seamie O’Dowd (Dervish), Dave Curley (Lúnasa), Mick McAuley (Solas), Fergal McAloon (The Whistlin’ Donkeys), Ashley Davis (Moya Brennan), Jackie Oates (The Unthanks), and newcomer Bríd O’Riordan, a traditional singer from West County Cork.
The impressive group of instrumentalists includes renowned fiddle player Kevin Burke (The Bothy Band), Lúnasa’s Cillian Vallely, Trevor Hutchinson, and Colin Farrell, guitarist Niall Hanna, cellist Natalie Haas, harp player Cormac De Barra, and pipers Mick O’Brien and Leonard Barry.
Yeats (1865-1939) is widely considered Ireland’s greatest poet. A visionary artist, he wrote with passion on spiritualism and art, aging and death, his love of Ireland, and romantic love- a third of the songs are on his unrequited love for Maud Gonne, the beautiful Irish revolutionary.
The album was also a labor of love for Driver, who had never before composed music. A retired illustrator and life-long Yeats fan, he was walking in the Maryland woods trying to recall a Yeats poem when ‘a melody just came to me,’ he says. ‘Where it came from is a mystery.’ He eventually set over 100 Yeats poems to song. Nearly a quarter of those appear on the new album.
Yeats hoped that his poetry would be sung, Driver adds. ‘His early poems, especially, are lyrical and lend themselves to melody.’
Paul Marsteller, Driver’s longtime friend and album co-producer who had produced previous various-artists projects (The Beautiful Old, an Americana album with Garth Hudson, Dave Davies, Kimmie Rhodes, Graham Parker, Richard Thompson etc), set about finding the right Celtic and folk music artists to record.
For more information, please contact: email@example.com.
Album Review: Cabin 22
New from the New World String Project
Release Date: May 21, 2021
By Celia & Tony Becker – Published 2021-05-28
Cabin 22 Tracks
||Wind & Rain
||Polska efter Anders Bredal
||Slängpolska #30 efter Byss-Kalle
||The Devil’s Nine Questions
Cabin 22 is a brand new collection of traditional and original music from veteran multi-talented multi-instrumentalists John Weed, Stu Mason, Lisa Lynne & Aryeh Frankfurter, also known as the New World String Project.
Cabin 22 delivers over an hour of and displays a full array of extraordinary instruments and heartwarming music rooted in the Nordic, Celtic, and American Folk Traditions, including Celtic harp, Nyckelharpa, Cittern, Viola and of course Fiddle, Guitar and Cittern.
Cabin 22 has 14 tracks; 12 are instrumental, and two, ‘The Devil’s Nine Questions’ and ‘Wind and Rain’ include vocals from Stu Mason.
Cabin 22 is currently available as a CD or a download on the New World String Project Bandcamp webpage:
→ Listen or Download Cabin 22 — Click Here! ←.
This was the best and most beautiful album I’ve heard all year–and I’ve heard a number of very good ones. It was a great mix of several genres and had enough types of instruments, some not heard often and players to sound like a small chamber orchestra, with very full and exceptionally good and tight sound. The production quality was as high as any I’ve heard on my old Deutsche Gramophone LP’s as was the performances of the artists. It was also a nice mix of at least three genres, American folk, Celtic and Scandinavian, and a bit of singing as well as the instrumental pieces. I will gladly listen to this album again and again. I highly recommend it to others. You will not be sorry you bought it, and I strongly suspect it will soon be a favorite of yours, also. – Celia Fábos-Becker
Album Review: Crossing to Ireland EP
from The Fire | Released 2021-04-26
By Tony Becker and Celia Fábos-Becker – 2021-04-16
A brand new, Extended Play collection, Crossing to Ireland, was recently released by Scottish Trad band The Fire, and we were lucky enough to get a copy.
This EP consists of four tracks from the band’s Live Stream concert on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 2021, and takes its name from the 2nd track.
Track 1 The Western Man / Captain Cone Head / ‘Up Leitrim!’
Track 2 Crossing to Ireland
Track 3 The Humours of Caledonia / The Heathery Cruach / Hello Grania
Track 4 Buchanan Street / ‘Wake Up, It’s 6pm’ / The Sunday Marathon
Short and sweet, these 4 sets are replete with The Fire’s trademark ‘blazing Scottish’ traditional music, with plenty of virtuosic playing from Rebecca Lomnicky on Fiddle, David Brewer on Whistle, Bagpipes and Bodhran and Adam Hendey on Guitar, Citern, Keyboards, Reed organ and more, enough to satisfy the COVID induced cravings of the band’s most avid fans, and the $7 price makes it the ‘must have’ purchase of the month.
Get your downloaded copy from the The Fire’s Bandcamp page here: https://thefirescottishband.bandcamp.com
Also, David Brewer has just announced a master class for Celtic tune writing (below).
Album Review: The Lockdown Sessions
by Tempest from SoundTek Studios
CD release Friday, November 20th, 2020
→ Watch the Video! ←
By Tony Becker
Despite the COVID restrictions, there is a brand new album from Celtic Rock Band Tempest — The Lockdown Sessions. This week we were delighted and extremely privileged to receive a review copy.
Here is the background from Tempest band leader, Lief Sorbye:
During the Summer of 2020 Tempest was invited by our great friend and long time producer Robert Berry to perform two Livestream, Social Distancing Concerts at his studio in Northern California. This came as a blessing to the band, as we were not able to tour due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. We are eternally grateful to Robert and to all our wonderful fans who kindly contributed… and so here’s a soundtrack from the events.
The brand new Tempest CD has over 70 minutes of music, 13 songs from our two hugely popular Livestream Concerts, selected from your lists of requests! We put new life into these Tempest classics, and as those albums are no longer in print, this will keep the songs alive and available for purchase from us: tempestmusic.com/html/cdorder.html
This release is packed with a baker’s dozen of the great, traditional and contemporary rockers we’ve come to expect from the Tempest.
As regular readers will know, I have a soft spot for the traditional elements. Tempest’s live version of Eppy Moray on this new release, brought to mind the Fotheringay’s late 1970 master in a satisfying way. Not to mention that I finally got to hear the band’s newest members, Lee Corbie-Wells and Nicolay Georgiev on the harmony vocals.
Similarly, their arrangement of Green Grow the Rashes, combines the best elements of this ancient lyric with enough modern rhythm without losing the timeless emotion put there by Scotland’s most famous bard, Robert Burn’s, when he penned them in 1783.
There are also enough hard instrumentals and solos from these virtuosic Celtic Rockers for the most passionate Tempest afficianado.
The Lockdown Sessions is another Tempest tour-de-force, and it is available on their website, tempestmusic.com
New Novel – Athenry
Book Review: Athenry — Available on Amazon
By Cecilia Fábos-Becker
I’m writing this review to tell you of a NEW, GREAT novel that is coming out within the next few days: Athenry, by new author, Cahal Dunne. First, lest you think from the cover this is a ‘chick lit’ romantic novel, in THIS novel, besides husband and wife, the English word ‘love’ also refers to family, friends, and culture. ‘Survival’ refers to several things: famine, oppression, extreme injustice, imprisonment, long dangerous voyages, and more. Athenry is an especially poignant novel given the double standards that existed then in Ireland and that still exist today in the U.S. Families are families, and culture of all ethnicities is important, regardless of the religion or race of people. People are people, genetically 99.5% or more identical to one another no matter what they look like, where they live, or in what they believe. This book reminds us of our common humanity, and needs as humans, that should be more important than our differences and that all people deserve fair justice, compassion and opportunities.
Athenry was inspired by a song familiar to many persons of Irish descent that was written about the famine in Ireland between 1845-and 1849, and some of the experiences and desperation of the victims and what happened to a large number of them. The book is based on the song ‘Fields of Athenry’, one of Ireland’s best known folk songs. (Here a link to a record setting performance: https://youtu.be/t5R5yQRg7bE).
Athenry, is an ‘odyssey’ story– a real one that actually happened to some historic individuals and literally takes you nearly around the world and back again. A man is separated from a young beautiful wife, his small son, family and friends for years, as in the Homeric tale, and he endures much suffering. It’s a tale that works because it really has happened time and again to families throughout thousands of years of human history.
Desperate Irishmen were torn apart from their families as many broke the myriad laws and rules trying to feed their starving families. Large numbers were arrested and convicted, and sentenced to be ‘transported’, not to Canada or the U.S. in ‘coffin ships,’ but as indentured, involuntary, government ‘servants,’ (free labor) to Australia or Tasmania. Once there, and for however long they were in this status, they were put to work at little or no pay and they could be worked to death or not. These prisoners could be abused, even killed, by their assigned ‘contract owner’.
The main male character in this novel, Liam O’Donaghue, is one of these hapless young Irishmen. Liam is determined to escape his fate. To say much more, though, would be giving away a great story that you should be reading yourself. Escapes like Liam’s actually happened, but it was a rare event. Meanwhile, Liam’s wife, Maire, and his family still had to survive, somehow, in Ireland. That is another important part of the whole Athenry story.
Firstly, writing a great historical novel is not easy. You are placing characters within time, space (environments) and events. The writer is also trying to make characters believable, and not just individual characters but teams and communities of persons. One major flaw of many such novels, written by men or women, is that they are written entirely from the perspective of one sex or the other and the characters of opposite sex to the writer end up two-dimensional, simplistic cardboard cut-outs, rather like paper dolls. The best novels are written by men and women together collaborators, and the writer has a spouse, a sibling or a child with whom he or she can freely communicate and from whom he or she will accept feedback and criticism to create a more real world.
Our real world is one of men and women. Both have perspectives, feelings, skills, intelligence, and both act and react. A great novel reflects a real, familiar world of both sexes, adult and children, and reveals the realities of human nature at all ages. Too many niche selling novels do not. A great novel will be bought, read and enjoyed, even if it challenges perspectives, attitudes and complacent behaviors, by both men and women, and it will have appeal among older teens who want to become adults and may already think of themselves as adults. Cahal Dunne, the author of Athenry, relied on the help of his wife, and others, and has managed to avoid all the usual mistakes of lesser authors. Dunne’s characters are strong, sometimes flawed, as real humans are, and believable. His characters also GROW and change with events and over time as the best of us hope to do. His characters become stronger and smarter, and despite oppression, even more compassionate as they begin to see more shared humanity. One can’t create better characters.
Great authors research locations if they are using real places, even if they have to do it at a distance and hire some researchers or consult groups in that area to do so. The details of buildings, streets, climate, flora and fauna, and more are in a great novel. You can see them in your mind’s eye, right down to the bits of materials with which they are built. You can hear the hustle and bustle of towns, feel the dust and grime, and smell the animals and garbage. You can see the rooms, the color, the lighting and furnishings and how people within them interact. In this novel you can see, hear and smell the places the main characters are. Hollywood would have to work hard to make this story come alive as well as Cahal Dunne does with his writing. Even learning something about geology and climate is often important as they affect water, the plant and animal life in areas, and even building materials and their colors, and the local human businesses and economy. Cahal Dunne remembered all of this.
In a great novel, the reader’s imagination has been given enough detail by the writer to put himself or herself in the places in the novel. Real life, whether in a natural forest or jungle or in a city has many images, and smells and not all of them are attractive. Life has five and six senses to it. Humans and animals have multiple senses and use them to avoid danger or react to it in a timely manner. Life is also four dimensional, especially the environment. The fourth dimension is time, everything changes over time. Readers will find all of these in this novel, a rarity. These are more of the differences between merely a good and entertaining story and a meaty, satisfying, great read.
Most writers know the basics of a novel or play that sells. Joseph Campbell did a television series long ago about great classic stories and classic hero characters that have lasted over time, such as the Odyssey, the Iliad, Shakespeare plays, and others. It is a classic tradition that’s been observed and written about and is the subject of nearly every public secondary school English and literature class that attempts to teach bored teens and tweens how to read a novel and write about the feelings and observations that the reader has while and after reading the novel. We actually still teach what makes a good fictional play or book by teaching children how to do a book review. We need to do the same for non-fiction, but that’s another matter. Any good novel or play has a protagonist or ‘hero’ and antagonist or ‘villain,’ and a conflict. The climax of a novel is the final biggest conflict between the protagonist and antagonist and a resolution of the conflict. A satisfying novel has something of a positive outcome, even if the hero dies. Someone who is a decent human character benefits, as good triumphing over evil, is a universal ideal–even if it takes awhile to happen. But, a great novel has believable characters, conflicts and plots, no idiot plots or subplots. A great novel has human characters that readers recognize as human and real, and real great obstacles to overcome and conflicts we still see in real life, often because they are conflicts created by and among human beings by their own choices. Again, Cahal Dunne went above and beyond the standard formula of a classic good and evil, hero and villain novel. He remembered that villains are human also, and even his villains have surprising complexity and aren’t pure evil or as evil as you might think.
I’m glad I was offered a pre-print copy to review and the opportunity to interact with the author and I’m looking forward to a sequel! Get a copy either on Kindle or on paperback, and read and enjoy it–and then tell your family and friends to do the same!
Review: Harmony House
New Album from Lisa Lynne & Aryeh Frankfurter
Release Date: July 1st, 2020
By Celia & Tony Becker – Published 2020-07-03
Harmony House is a brand new collection of traditional and original music from veteran multi-talented multi-instrumentalists Lisa Lynne & Aryeh Frankfurter. Harmony House has a dozen tracks, lasting over an hour, and displays this pairs full array of instruments including Celtic harp, Nyckelharpa, Cittern, Viola, and the tracks include many new compositions.
Here is a video of them performing the opening song of the album for the Lark Camp online Cabaret, where the teachers and campers are offering music and dance shows. Maiden’s Prayer ll
On Harmony House, have many new pieces and also revisited some of my favorites pieces from my past that we play in concert a new way now. Once again we have created a very mellow album so if you enjoyed Weaving Worlds you will love this.
Harmony House Tracks
||Maiden’s Prayer ll 05:57
||Passage to Mörko 04:42
||Ship of Hope 05:11
||Lion Hearts 05:55
||Mysty Waltz 05:44
||Earth & Sky II 05:42
||If I Were a Blackbird 03:43
||I am Sitting (Ta Mi Mi Shui)
Suzie McGuire 06:50
||Circle the Moon 04:56
||Nigel’s Tale 03:32
Harmony House is relaxing and inspiring all at the same time, just the kind of music most people and the nation needs to be a balm to mind and spirit. We listened to it together yesterday, and it helped us get over the news of the morning. Like all their albums, this bit of fine art beautiful, flawlessly executed, with upbeat and dreamy pieces intertwined to keep one’s interest. We hope others will be encouraged to listen to samples here https://lisalynne1.bandcamp.com/album/harmony-house, then buy a copy of the album to support these wonderful musicians.
Lisa Lynne is a multi-instrumentalist and performer who has gained worldwide recognition for her original music featuring her Celtic Harp. She is widely acclaimed for composing memorable and heartwarming melodies on the Windham Hill/Sony music labels that have repeatedly placed in the Top 10 & Top 20 on the Billboard New age music charts. Lisa tours year round performing at large US festivals and performing art centers. Her work in Therapeutic music has gained recognition from NBC, CNN, and numerous newspaper and magazine articles including Wall Street Journal. Lisa’s music is heard throughout the award winning PBS special “Alone in the Wilderness”, amongst many other soundtracks for commercial television and independent films. www.LisaLynne.com
Aryeh Frankfurter is also a renowned Celtic harper and world traveling multi-instrumentalist who went from virtuosic progressive rock violin to intricate Swedish folk and Celtic Music. He began with Classical violin at the age of three, his early studies and successes led him to explore various ethnic and international musical genres. Aryeh taught himself to play a variety of instruments bowed and plucked and most recently the rarely seen Swedish Nyckelharpa. www.Lionharp.com.
For more information, please contact: Lisa Lynne (415) 275-1466 Lisa@LisaLynne.com.
Live On The Air
Review: Live On The Air
New LIVE collection from Tempest
Release Date: July 1st, 2020
By Tony Becker – Published 2020-06-26
Never idle, Tempest’s band leader, Lief Sorbye, has assembled a new CD, Live On The Air, to be released by Tempest on July 1, 2020. Last week, band leader Lief Sorbye provided us with a review copy, and here is our review.
Live On The Air is a collection of sixteen live Tempest radio performances, recorded in a variety of broadcast studios over the past 3 decades Tempest has spent on the road. Each track was hand picked by Lief, they include both fan favorites and previously unreleased material.
Lief has provided a video to tell the story of this album: Watch the video: https://tinyurl.com/y7vno2ho
We particularly liked One For The Fiddler and You Jacobites By Name. The first was written by Lief and long-time Tempest fiddler Michael Mullen, and the latter by Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns. Both were recorded live at WCBE Studios in Columbus, OH, in April 1999 and feature with Lief on lead vocals, & mandolins, and Michael on fiddle & harmony vocals, Adolfo Lazo (as always) on drums, with Todd Evans on guitar, and John Land on bass, harmony vocals. Both are getting a bit of extra play as part of our new Premium compilation, Celtic Heroes II.
As a limited edition collectors item, this CD is only available directly from the Tempest web site, http://www.tempestmusic.com/html/cdorder.html. If you pre-order now, your CD will be autographed by the current Tempest members and Lief will ship your CD to you on the release date!
Album Review: Glackanacker
Michael & Shay Black
The Black Brothers
Announced February 20th, 2020
CD release March 15th, 2020
By Tony Becker and Celia Fábos-Becker
Two weeks ago, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw an announcement on Facebook from Shay and Michael Black, that their new album, Glackanacker, was available for pre-order on their website, black-brothers.com. This week we were delighted and extremely privileged to receive a review copy.
This release is packed with a dozen of the great, traditional and contemporary songs we’ve come to expect from the Black Brothers, but two of them struck us as particularly poignant The Man From the Daily Mail, and Exile’s Return.
About 1920, ‘The Darling Girl From Clare’, a lovely little music-hall ditty, got new satirical lyrics mocking British reporting about Ireland during their War of Independence, and The Man From the Daily Mail has been a Rebel Anthem ever since. Here, Eamonn Flynn has added a charming contemporary jazz accompaniment, and given the results of the recent Irish General elections, it struck a brilliant note with us.
In Exile’s Return, Irish-American author John Doyle, speaks directly to the experience of the Irish emigrants and the Irish diaspora in general. It is both a mournful and hopeful song, made more poignant by Michael Black’s strong, and at the same time gentle, voice. The first time we heard this, hair stood up along the napes of our necks. With numerous references to Celtic history, traditions and legends, Doyle’s lyric will touch your heart, and with Shay and Michael in harmony with a clutch of other family voices, this recording will bring a tear to your eye.
Shay and Michael have also long been known for their love of songs with sing-along choruses and sea chanteys. Shay is a regular at the ‘Festival of the Sea’ in San Francisco and it was a treat to have a few of their favorites on this album, including Essequibo River and the bonus track, Roller Bowler, For those of you that just can’t wait, you can download Roller Bowler right now!
The album features a very long list of contributors that read like a who’s who of the contemporary Celtic music scene, including instrumental help from John Doyle, Felim Egan, Rick Epping, Eamonn Flynn, Mick McAuley, John McCusker, Mike McGoldrick, Colm O’Riain, and Duncan Wickel. Also heard are backing and harmony vocals from two generations of Blacks, including Ciara Black, Frances Black, Martin Black, Mary Black, Shosi Black, Róisín O, Aoife Scott, and Eoghan Scott as well as Ari Ríos.
All together, really good music!
Review: This is my Home – The Movie
How the Black Donnelly’s of Temple Bar
left Dublin for Vegas and then met America
By Tony Becker – Published 2019-10-04
Dave Browne says:
Our film An Irish Story: This Is My Home is available with your Amazon Prime Video subscription! With over 150 million subscribers worldwide and growing this gives the film a vast audience to enjoy this incredible journey. The overwhelming responses of hope, Irish-American pride and laughter, make the experience so worthwhile.
We humbly ask that if you haven’t seen it or if you know someone that would enjoy this film, give it a share. It’s our hope to inspire audiences during these difficult times. And don’t forget to leave a review! https://amzn.to/2IVYzQ9
The Black Donnellys appear at Ri Ra Irish Pub
in Las Vegas at the start of their journey
for the film This is my Home.
A decade ago, two Irishmen, Guitar/ Mandolin & Banjo player Dave Browne, and partner Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Dave Rooney were doing well enough, playing Irish standards and Rooney’s original songs in the bustling tourist oriented scene that is the Temple Bar district of Dublin, Ireland.
They had become well know for their two Guinness World Records (longest guitar marathon playing session and largest band) and The Black Donnelly’s hit, ‘Notorious’, became the theme song of UFC champion fighter Conor McGregor. Dave’s latest original song ‘This is my Home‘. https://youtu.be/-Vckms3IkL4 was gaining them growing acclaim.
But with young families and music as their only business, they yearned for greater opportunity, and like millions of their countrymen had done for hundreds of years, their thoughts turned to America.
‘America is so big with so many people, there are vast opportunities.’, says Browne.
So, in early 2011, Browne acted as their advance man, crossed the Atlantic and began forging relationships here. In Las Vegas, he found the chance for a regular gig, and in 2014 the two Irishmen both came to Las Vegas, NV with a residency deal at the Mandalay Bay hotel as the Ri Ra Irish Pub house band, and spent the next few years building their reputation in Nevada there as well as making forays out to play gigs in nearby States. One of these was a 2016 gig at Folktale Winery in Carmel, CA, where they met and formed a relationship with owner and entreprenuer, Gregory Ahn.
Dreaming of more opportunites, they hit upon the idea of making an attempt at another Guinness book of world records with a much larger road trip – 60 gigs, one in each of America’s 50 United States in 40 days!
Then Rooney met Las Vegas independent filmmaker, Karl Nickoley of Frequency Pictures and the group determined to film a documentary of the project with Nickoley as the producer.
‘I instantly saw an opportunity’, says Nickoley, ‘to apolitically celebrate immigrants and diversity, as well as the status of immigration and the American Dream in the United States.’
The basic outlines of the tour / record attempt set, the The ‘This is my Home’ Tour began on May 11, 2018, at Ri Ra Irish Pub at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and the first stops were that evening at The Flying X saloon Lake Havasu then onto the next day at the Carmel Youth Center in Carmel, CA sponsored by Folktale Winery.
As the ambitious schedule ground on, chaos quickly ensued, and the nature of the movie changed in a good way. ‘What began as just a live music outreach, a became a very positive story’, says Browne. ‘At every gig we played, people came up to us to tell us tell us about their Irish Heritage and how they were so happy to have the opportunities of America, and this happened in smaller cities like Clinton, WI or Idaho Falls, ID or even Indianapolis, IN in the working class areas’.
Within ten days, money problems arose, but Folktale Winery’s Gregory Ahn joined the team with support for the film and the quest continued.
Browne continued, ‘For example, in Indianapolis, IN, we met Jim McGinly III, who runs the Golden Ace Inn, founded by his great, great grandgrandfather Jim McGinly (the ‘first’) in 1925. Jim told us that today, he can count 260 American McGinlys. At one of our last gigs, on June 14th, at McSorley’s Old Ale House, established in 1854, in the East Village of New York City, we learned that we were only the second band to ever play there live – that last one being the Clancy Brothers, as they as they were neighbors and McSorley’s was their local pub’.
These spontaneous testaments of patriotism and gratitude had an effect on the lads. Both Browne and Rooney applied to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for permanent residence (Green Cards) during the filming of the movie.
Country Music by Ken Burns
Country Music, by Ken Burns
Christy, by Catherine Marshall
Songcatcher, Sharyn McCrumb
Reviewed by Cecilia Fábos-Becker
Ken Burns’ new Series about ‘Country Music,’ and Some Supporting Literature and Film.
Like many of you, we’ve been watching the new series Country Music, another great program for Public Television by Ken Burns. This documentary covers the history and origins of traditional music in the United States which evolved to include ‘Western,’ and ‘Blues,’ and ‘Rockabilly,’ etc.
First what is repeatedly said in this series and is shown by sales of music, tickets to performances, DVD’s and all the earlier forms of audio-recorded music, is that popularity depends on the ability of the song or tune and the performers to resonate with the experiences of the greatest amount of people. Throughout the Country Music series, Burns interviews people and presents footage from the past in 8 2-hour segments. Many of his interviewees note that story songs were and still are the most engaging and popular pieces of music, regardless of the style that goes with it, especially stories that also involve the listener emotionally.
Poetry and songs that tell stories with mnemonic devices that help the orator and listener remember, were the earliest way of recording and retelling news and history–long before writing, and even most musical instruments. They are strong in both traditional English and Celtic music as well as in more modern U.S., and even Canadian, Australian and New Zealand ‘country,’ music–the music of its folk.
All lasting music evolves, yet it has roots and the roots themselves resurge in popularity from time to time as people choose to remember what was, and understand it. Country has origins in African, German, and of course, the predominantly Scots, Scots-Irish and Northern English peoples who emigrated to what became the U.S., 160 to 350 years ago. These newcomers transplanted their ways of life, beliefs and culture in environments both similar and different to what they’d known in their homelands, and some it is largely unchanged. The words and rhythms mix and evolve, but the stories of love lost, murder, cleverness outwitting greed and selfishness, love found, the struggles for life, the terrors of war, the weather and mighty oceans and more remain.
One aspect strongly presented in the first episode of Ken Burns’ series was how much 17th and 18th century culture from Britain and Ireland was actually preserved into the 1920’s in the relative isolation of the rural areas of the U.S.A., particularly the rural and small town areas of the Appalachian mountains from Pennsylvania and Virginia southward.
Electricity was still a rarity in many parts of the earliest settled U.S. particularly the South, and radios and radio stations themselves did not become popular until the mid to late 1920’s. Roads were more often than not still dirt tracks, frequently impassable due to weather. In these mountains and hills most people, particularly rural and small town people, still traveled mostly on foot or by horse, not long and not far. The nation was still far more agrarian and otherwise engaged in natural resource extraction–mining, logging, fishing, hunting, than in manufacturing, especially large scale, assembly line manufacturing. Yet communication, and entertainment still happened, regularly and frequently. People sang while they worked, and for entertainment after a day’s chores, sang and played instruments, by the light of candles, kerosene lanterns, and hearth fires. Instruments were cheap, portable and versatile–and acoustic.
Burns series is great for explaining much of the evolution of the music, including the adoption of instruments, but, as should be expected, the emphasis is on the music, not the lives and history of the people who created and developed modern (1920’s and later, essentially) widely popular ‘Country’ music, particularly what was once called the ‘hillbilly’ genre–and came to include ‘train’ and ‘steamboat music and songs,’ and finally ‘western’ or ‘cowboy’ music. This was the music first made famous on regional and national radio and the first records, by the Carter family of the North Carolina-Tennessee border area, Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams and Bill Monroe. The proof of its strong roots was there to see even in Great Britain had educated researchers wanted to see it.
Last Wednesday, 9/18/19 night we were discussing the Ken Burns series with fellow attendees at the Tannahill Weavers concert in Soquel, CA. Although this band performs mostly traditional Celtic music and song, the connections to these early American people were very evident. At the breaks, a long time friend and older Scottish emigrant, John Taylor, recalled, ‘When I was a teenager in the 1960s, Hank Williams was the most popular recorded performer even in Aberdeen and Perth.‘ That wouldn’t have happened if the music and story songs hadn’t spoken to these Scots in rural and small town Scotland the same as it did so much in the U.S.
In their turn, The Tannahill Weavers played a song that reflected the evolution of modern technology and jobs, as much as the ‘train music’ of Grand ole Opry star Deford Bailey who could duplicate all the sounds of a train on his harmonica. The Tannahill Weavers’ song was about the decline of steel shipbuilding in Glasgow after WW II and how the ‘welders have no place now in Silicon Glen.’ That song that would resonate in every midwestern rust-belt and former ship-making city of the eastern U.S. The struggle with cost efficiencies, new technologies, profits is every bit as old as the first developments of technologies and the desire to make more money.
There is more than just what is in this series, and films and books have tried to capture more of the parts of the story. The best historical novels, describing ordinary people in Scotland, and the people of the southern Appalachians, describe a surprising number of many of the same beliefs and customs.
by Catherine Marshall
For those interested in how and why the Scots, Scots-Irish and Northern English in the U.S. were able to stay isolated and preserve more of their customs and culture, they had in Britain, I recommend reading a relatively new book (under 20 years old) and a much older one by authors who were born and raised in, or otherwise very familiar with the areas, they researched and wrote about. While there is still no such thing as a time machine, there are a few books that can do something akin. Two, one each by Sharyn McCrumb, Catherine Marshall, and a few others, help give readers a window on the real past, especially the lives of the people, in relation to their culture, including music.
The older of the two, Christy by the late Catherine Marshall, was published in 1967 by McGraw Hill, then later as a paperback by Zondervan Press.
Catherine Marshall herself described the book as 75% historically accurate, and it is based on the life and experiences of her own mother. The later 1990’s television series ‘based on the novel’ is rather loosely based and is, according to a number of people familiar with the book, not nearly as detailed, or good as the book. Frankly, having read the book and caught a couple of episodes of the series, I also thought Hollywood made her and other women in the book far more dependent on men than principal characters in the book were, or else stock Hollywood stereotypical characters of what they think mountain people are like. The main character, in the TV series is much more of an unobservant idiot trying to impose her values on others in the mountains and bumbling and blundering from and through crisis to crisis. Such cynical commercializm is typical for Hollywood. It’s amazing they did as well as they did with old west based television series about a female doctor that didn’t come from a historical novel.
As a family history researcher and general history researcher and writer, I recommend the author, Sharyn McCrumb, Sharyn McCrumb was born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee border area, and this is one of her series of ‘ballad novels’ about history, folklore, culture, lifestyle and beliefs of more than two centuries of this area, with large solid, healthy roots in Scotland, Ireland and northern England as it really was for the majority of their people in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is not as Hollywood and modern imagination and values would have most people believe.
by Sharyn McCrumb
The Songcatcher by Sharyn McCrumb, covers the same area and some of the same periods of time, and more history, published in 2001 by Dutton, The Penguin Group, Penguin Putnam Inc., NY, NY. Sharyn McCrumb’s book is NOT the same as the movie of the same name that came out about that same time. While both covered the story of the songcatchers who first came to the Appalachians in the late 1800’s to find the forgotten ancient songs and tunes of Scotland, Ireland, Northern England and Wales, the book discusses how ‘song catching’ continues to this day, and why the songs and tunes lasted as long as they did in these and other areas of the U.S.–the nature of the people and the fact that some preferred to live simpler lives, more isolated areas of the country, and even rejected greater complexity and ‘civilization’ that was developing in the flatter land areas east to achieve this. This book takes readers through several generations of a family and into modern Country music and how some of it developed, starting from a 9 year old boy born on Islay, kidnapped by a visiting ship who became first a seaman, then a New Jersey lawyer and then a simple farmer in the mountains of North Carolina that reminded him of the mountains and remote areas of Scotland of his childhood and ancestors. In the ‘Afterword’ of the novel, the author surprises the reader by explaining much of the book is true, the McCourry family was real (possibly McQuarrie, originally in spelling–it was a 9 year old boy who was taken from his family and origins, after all), and the first several generations in the story are indeed her own ancestors.
Is there a modern Hollywood movie or television series about any past historical period or event that doesn’t portray nearly all women in it as trashy, superficial, extraneous sex objects, and imagine that all women think about is sex? The movie Songcatcher was a very good film, and like Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, had great music. Both were about serious subjects and, especially Songcatcher had real history. Songcatcher, however was marred by a totally unnecessary subplot about a lesbian relationship and the conflicts and misery resulting from it. That subplot could have and should have been on its own as a very good separate, more adult film. Hollywood just had to put sensational, modern late 20th century soapbox sex issue in the middle of the real story of the film, causing some who otherwise might have enjoyed the film with their entire families, to avoid seeing it.
As I’ve found the same traditions and history in parts of my late mother’s family. My late mother, also, her maiden surname was Wallace, had ancestral lines that came from the mountains and river valleys of East Tennessee and North Carolina. I’ve traveled and visited there to find some of those ancestors and learn how they lived. I’ve met cousins and other modern descendants of the people who first settled those mountains over 250 years ago. I’ve heard old expressions from my own mother, like how thoughty and you all and from her own mother and more easterly kin in Missouri, Tennessee, and North Carolina, and Virginia, that someone ‘made’ doctor or lawyer, though it was abbreviated to ‘made’ from ‘made a’. These are Scots origin expressions used by characters in Sharyn’s books and now discussed in excellent lectures about Scots Gaelic and the influences on American Engish given at some Scottish festivals and events, by Dr. Stephanie Taylor and others.
When looking for more books that cover this area and its rich cultural history, also don’t overlook some modern ghost stories and mysteries set in these areas by people who have lived there for some time, and have roots there, Pay attention to the language of the characters, their beliefs and how they express them, the detail of the individual environments of the characters as well as the greater surroundings, and you’ll figure out which were and are the better observers who present the best and most accurate images of the past and even present in these areas to readers.
A couple of decades ago, I bought a copy of a book, Scottish Customs, by Sheila Livingstone, 1995, Birlinn, Ltd., Edinburgh, published in the U.S. by arrangement with Birlinn Ltd. in 1996 by Barnes and Noble, New York. This is an introduction to customs, beliefs and traditions that developed in Scotland ‘from the time of the Druids,’ but most heavily during the later middle ages and the Protestant reformation. Religion has always been important to Scots, and sometimes a determined rejection of it, or at least the religion of the status quoauthority.
Don’t wait for the movie, you will have to read these novels, because they are American, and thus highly unlikely to ever be filmed and produced by PBS and the BBC. Since they don’t emphasize women as superfluous and sex-mad, Hollywood will also be unlikely to make films of them, especially not true to the books.
Album Review: The Lucky Set
from Molly’s Revenge | Released 2019-05-30
By Tony Becker and Celia Fábos-Becker 2019-06-06
A brand new, 13th album, The Lucky Set, was just released at a series of CD Launch concerts May 30th – June 1st by perennial West Coast favorite trad. band, Molly’s Revenge, and we were lucky enough to pick up a copy.
The album takes its name from the 2nd track, four reels the lads claim is their go-to set when busking for a sushi dinner.
Celia is a big bagpipe fan, and was thrilled by the 4th track, Gordon Duncan Tribute #3, a set of 4 bagpipe tunes from Gordon Duncan, The Paganini of Pipes, which we think will enthrall the like-minded crowds at this summer’s Scottish Games and Celtic Festivals.
Tony particularly liked An Dro Ritual, a set of three dance tunes from Brittany, the Celtic province of France, where pipes and hurdy-gurdys abound, and he claims their influence can be heard when listening to this 8th track.
Molly’s Revenge, David Brewer on pipes, whistles and bodhran, John Weed on fiddle, and Stu Mason on guitar and guizouki, is playing live this weekend, June 7-9th, at the Utah Scottish Games, in Salt Lake City, and you can get the album there. Says Stu, within the next week you will be able to purchase The Lucky Set on the band’s website, https://mollysrevenge.com.
Ancestry launches New Product: ‘Thrulines’
to Replace ‘Circles’: Summary of Issues
Reviewed by Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2019-03-29
On February 28, 2019, Ancestry.com officially launched a new product called ‘Thrulines’ to help people find common ancestors better, using DNA and family trees. A very good summary about its major failings and why ‘Circles’ which it replaces was at least somewhat better was written on March 11, 2019 by Roberta Estes of ‘DNAeXplained.’ Here is a link to that article. https://dna-explained.com/2019/03/11/ancestrys-thrulines-dissected-how-to-use-and-not-get-bit-by-the-gators/
The fundamental weakness is the same one that has continued to plague a number of Ancestry programs allegedly designed to ‘assist’ people in finding their ancestry on all their family lines. Thrulines, in its analysis and suggesting, even attempting to insert ancestors for users, combines the DNA tests and related DNA database WITH ‘member trees,’ even though the vast majority of member trees uploaded to ancestry are either undocumented, poorly documented or even outright fantasy and myths. Most Ancestry ‘member trees’ are NOT very accurate, beyond three or four generations, where the person creating the trees might have actually known the people put into the trees and/or have recent documentation like actual census records and copies of vital records. Worse, Ancestry tries to alter family trees and suggest ancestors based on the number of existing trees–documented or not–that have the same ancestor.
In the most egregious instances of this absurdity, mythological ancestors well documented by modern research to be either not the ancestors of lines, or not even to exist, have been inserted or strongly suggested by ancestry, superceeding better researched and documented individuals. Ancestry has been, and still is being, repeatedly accused of substituting its own agenda and even databases that are not documented, such as many IGI databases, themselves not well-documented, and ‘summaries of ‘marriage records’ and such’ based on mere citation of persons as husbands or wives, in members’ trees. Yes, Ancestry personnel can and do alter members’ trees. These Ancestry-LDS databases are treated as equal to solid research and documentation. This all violates numerous rules of scientific and scientific historical research. No professional academic, nor real scientist would consider these databases, a solid body of evidence. They would not consider as accurate any claim or report built upon them.
The problem is, Ancestry is in strong joint ventures with Family Search, which actually is the entity digitizing and uploading most older microfilm and records collections. Family Search is an affiliate of the Latter Day Saints CHURCH, which has a ritual in which all members are expected to participate and perform: identifying all RELATIVES, not just ancestors and baptizing, in absentia, all the ancestors and relatives to ‘get them into heaven.’ For a long time, up to the present, there has not been a uniform, verified and well-enforced standard of accuracy and insistence on use of primary sources and valid secondary sources and related primary and secondary documents, to firmly establish ancestors for even the LDS church purposes. Speculation entries of persons into trees, based on limited documentation, or similar names in the expected places has been widely tolerated. Copying other persons’ trees, without checking the documentation has been tolerated. The result is a huge database of millions of family trees that are mostly inaccurate, especially before great-grandparents’ generations, but are treated as valid, and even preferred. The LDS Church interests have been observed again and again to predominate most Ancestry programs that they claim are to try to link families and assist finding ancestors.
If truth and accuracy are important to people, particularly if they are using family trees to determine probabilities of genetic illness, probabilities of outcomes of treatments, and more, then Thrulines is unlikely to be more than marginally helpful, and only for the most recent few generations in your family. Mercifully, it does not go back more than 7 generations in ‘analysis,’ though it wants to suggest you put into trees ancestors from trees that do go further back. However, as some have suggested, it really ought to really be strictly limited to four generations to have much real value as an automated assistance program.
Until Ancestry, and other companies separate the well-documented and verified trees from the greater amount of chaff of the undocumented, and copies of copies of undocumented, trees, and ‘popularity’ of numbers of the same trees, the huge database of ‘garbage trees,’ mixed with the small percentage of valid trees, will continue to hamstring anything else that combines all the trees with real documentation and DNA testing to automatically identify ancestors. The best way to use ancestry’s DNA databases right now is to identify the DNA matches, according to one’s interest in particular lines and generations, using the numbers of matching centimorgans, and if possible chromosomes where the segments of centimorgans match, and finding the trees in the matches that ARE well documented to look for possible common ancestors where they are expected or suspected to be. People need to create their own databases that link DNA matches with DOCUMENTED trees among those matches. They also need to read the documentation and make sure it is a real document, such as a marriage record with a citation of a county record number, and that it really matches the person being described, for race, age, place, etc.. There are plenty of instances where someone has grabbed a draft record, or obituary, without reading it and applied it to the wrong individual, as proved by all the other documentation in a tree.
Ce Ce Moore and Henry Louis Gates of the popular PBS television program ‘Finding Your Roots’ are far more careful about matching real documentation to people and combining DNA with actual, documented trees than Ancestry’s automated assistance programs like Thrulines are, or have been. Pay attention to what Ms.Moore and Professor Gates are doing and how they are doing it, to be more accurate in the trees and histories you create. Also pay attention to their caveats about accuracy of documents, and that some conclusions are only being tentatively made on the basis of limited, not complete, documentation and that documents that may be found later may alter the conclusions. Ms. Moore and Professor Gates are professionals and really do assist people. Ancestry has yet to value and achieve that standard.
Book Review: The Donegal Woman
(2017 reprint) Drumkeen Press, 2006, by John (Sean) Throne
The Dark Side of What Ireland, England and Germany Brought to the U.S.
by Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2019-01-30
Just before the start of the ‘Me Too’ movement, Irish author, John Throne decided it was time to reprint his 2006 novel, The Donegal Woman, about his late grandmother. The novel is fictionalized because he never actually knew his grandmother and she died young, leaving no written records or journals about herself. This novel is actually a very powerful, harrowing, emotion-and thought-provoking, true tale about what it was like to be a poor girl and woman in Ireland just before World War I (hardly ancient history) and even afterward for some years until women were given rights to vote, to own property collect their own wages, and more. This story is not unique to Ireland. Any family historian who significantly delves into the lives of women and girls in the U.S. sees that precisely the same things happened, all over the U.S., especially between the period of 1783-to the Civil War, ‘America’s Dark Age’ and beyond. In fact, it continues in parts of the U.S. to this day, more rural and small town areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, the Carolinas, the deep South, Utah, even rural areas of California. It’s no surprise to any who have studied the cultures of those that emigrated, and who know what was the culture before emigration. The emigrants brought a lot of what they’d lived with before, to the newly created United States of America, and made it part of American culture, especially among the poor and lower socio-economic classes, and on the frontiers of the white European civilization and populace.. It was no wonder that often women and girls captured by some Native American tribes in frontier warfare chose not to go back to the white European culture.
In his preface, the author, John (Sean) Throne, explains that he changed the surnames of the subjects, saying that he didn’t think their names mattered any more. Since reading his book, I have communicated with him and, if we have one minor disagreement, it is that he should not have done so. It’s just my personal opinion, but I think changing their surnames misses an opportunity to discourage the evil deeds his book presents so powerfully from being recommitted, whether within a family or the country, and by anonymizing these long dead miscreants, it allows their descendants to think better of them than they should, rather than making them bad examples for the evils they truly perpetrated. Many years ago, the author of the partly tongue-in-cheek book Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, had Attila say, ‘every Hun has his purpose, if only to be the example of how NOT to do something.’ It is applicable to all humans, not just the ancient Huns.
Worse, the attitudes and culture that abused so many women and girls, as shown in this book, were reinforced by a state-affiliated Church, a patriarchal Church, that had sold its original Leader’s ideals and goals for money and power and bent to might of arms. The Christian church, both Catholic and Protestant, reinforced attitudes and structures, that though abusive, had been in place since before the Christian church, under the ancient empires that had come to be, ever since men developed metallurgy and better weapons and had more leisure time to steal from one another and make war. Make no mistake in understanding that: all organized religions with buildings and power, especially those run by men, have used force of arms to maintain themselves as they see fit. In this book itself, the Church itself orders men to physically drag the girl away from one form of slavery to another, from one male master to another.
In the The Donegal Woman, as WWI looms, a 12 year old girl, Margaret, the only daughter of her Protestant parents, who also have several sons, is literally sold as a slave by her father to a wealthier Protestant man, under a loose, handshake–between men–system of ‘Fair agreements’, for wages to be paid to her father once every six months. Her father, though also Protestant, is poorer, and fond of drink, and not very imaginative about how to earn a better living among himself and his sons, or live within a budget. He tells his wife, who does all the household work for 5 individuals, makes their clothes by hand–no sewing machines, even–and tends the vegetable garden, including the potatoes, that largely sustain them, that she doesn’t need another female helper, the daughter is ‘just another mouth to feed.’
The girl is tiny but her father does not even bother to check what work she will be doing and how she will live at her employer’s home. She is turned out, and made to walk, unescorted, carrying a small napkin with some bread, and her only other dress, the several miles to the new owner, whom her father met at some town market or fair–hence the name for the agreements. When she arrives she finds she is to care for the pigs and clean out the pig pen from the pig waste mixed with kicked up mud, every few hours, and mix and haul their food to them in a bucket so large and heavy she cannot lift it, but has to drag it. Then the owner’s wife complains that by dragging it, the poor girl is damaging the bucket. There is no concern for the girl, just the bucket. Within a few months she is also caring for a cow and calf and milking the cow and hauling milk buckets.
Young Margaret is compelled to sleep in a dirty, unheated barn, on old coarse grain sacks and straw and handed her pieces of bread, and little else to eat, outside the back door of the master’s house. She has no means of bathing, no bed, no muckers to keep her feet clean. She has no means of washing her two dresses. She lives in filth, she sleeps in filth. She begins to smell like the animals she is tending and her masters will not even allow her to clean up once a week and go to church with them. Her father never comes to see her and how she fares. She is a slave, nothing more and she knows it, at the age of 12. She cannot leave, because then her father will not be paid and her father might beat her or turn her over to the workhouse, for disobedience. The agreement is for six months work, minimum, before pay, and to her father, not her. The Church tolerates the system, because it is the men who build the church buildings, and donate money to the support of the buildings and clergy.
Then, little Margaret starts to go through menses. The inevitable happens between master and slave in a system that has no protections for women and girls. The large brutal master rapes the 13 year old girl as she is trying to get a few hours sleep in the filthy barn, and beats her senseless at times, to keep her from screaming and being heard. The trauma of these experiences causes her to lose her voice, for years. She becomes pregnant, and finally that comes to the attention of the local church, who find this an embarrassment. The Church blames the girl, but decides the way to cover this up is marry her off to a much older local bachelor, as single males are also frowned upon. Procreation means more cheap workers for the wealthier larger land-owners, and more in Church donations from both the poor made to feel like they need to give, little as they can, and the wealthier landowner employers who are paying as little as they can for their labor.
The slow realization of these various characters, of how this rigid feudal socio-economic hierarchy abuses them, and how the Churches are such an integral part of the system, even help enforce it, are key elements of the book. The reactions are different among the characters. Their various reactions lead to growth, and spiritual, mental and emotional healing to some degree, within what she can control, for Margaret, as she transforms from girl into wife and mother, and stagnation and shrinking of her appointed husband.. He continues to go along with the status quo, in nearly every way, and pays bitterly, more and more over time, though he is very slow to realize this. Margaret finds ways to take control of her life as she can and finds some happiness along with the misery of a loveless, often abusive and neglectful marriage.
Although this a book about Protestants, two Catholics who befriend poor Margaret, state that such abuse was just as likely to happen among the poorer families in Catholic parishes and communities of rural Ireland. We are now learning, that, even after Ireland’s independence, much of this abuse continued, as De Valera and his supporters made Eire itself another theocratic state for several decades. The rights of women were only minimally allowed to develop. Additionally, as we now know from the headlines in the media resulting from recent investigations, that the Catholic Church in Ireland had another cruel way of dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Unwed, pregnant Catholic girls were usually forced to go to ‘Magdalene Houses’ run by nuns and others and sign away their children and never see them again at birth. Their families were not encouraged or allowed to keep and raise the children. Emer Martin’s recent book, The Cruelty Men, centers on this theme.
Under this system, the children of unwed mothers, no matter how they were conceived, were a shame upon the family and ‘good Catholic communities.’ Many hundreds, even thousands, of these poor little children, died of neglect and privations. There were mass graves with no markers, nothing to remember them, outside some of these orphanages. The mortality rate was much higher for children in these ‘homes’ than for children in families, even poor families with little sanitation and hygiene. The Catholic Church literally treated these poor babies and young children as though they were the sins, and murdered them, as surely as if they had strangled or smothered them and been seen to do it in public. It’s called infanticide and it is just as much murder as any other form of it, and it was institutional and practiced by the Catholic Church from one end of Ireland to the other. On his trip to Ireland last year, the Pope recently had to publicly apologize for these evils, but apologies are not enough, as both families and mothers who remember their stolen children, and the survivors who were the children themselves, have both bitterly and repeatedly stated.
Where to Buy
Both of John (Sean) Throne’s books can be viewed and ordered at Books.ie. They post anywhere. They are a small Irish/Dublin based book distributing company with Donegal roots. The launch of the recent book plus the reason for writing The Donegal Woman can be seen on YouTube by going to John Throne, or on the Blog with which John helps. Weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com This can also be seen at Books.ie
Both books, The Donegal Woman, and The Cruelty Men are topical and significant because the ‘Me Too’ movement has erupted out of continued, 21st century abuse of women working in many fields, including entertainment. It is significant because right now, because too many men in the U.S.–and their Churches–are not content with just doing everything they can to ban abortion, and cut food stamps (SNAP), milk and baby food and clothing for infants (WIC), and other support for poor families with too many children, as though children should be put to work as slaves as soon as they are born, before they can walk or speak. There are men in Congress, and men who vote for them in many parts of the U.S. who now want to also eliminate ‘Title IX’ protections for women and girls in schools as well as sports, and other fields–and to eliminate affordable birth or free birth control–not abortion–but birth control, for those who need it most and can afford it least. It’s literally an effort to return to just creating more poor workers, the cheapest labor, possible, and to heck with the quality of their lives, especially those of women and children. If all life is precious, and not just the life of a fetus’ still in their mothers’ wombs, then this is a shameful, complete hypocrisy. Yet, again, just as in 1912, so-called ‘fundamentalist’ Churches who claim to be ‘Christian,’ as well as many in the Islamic world, continue to support these attitudes, votes and practices. They have not changed; they are still the abusive, misogynistic human entities run by men that they have been since Rome, Greece, and Persia–even before Islam or Christianity came to be.
I recommend reading this book to all women, and to the men who truly care about their wives, sisters, mothers and and daughters and to to talk about it and learn from it. Ask yourselves this: was the old Europe, the old Ireland, of as late as 1912 to 1919 so great that this what you want the U.S. to return to, and become? If not, I have a few suggestions.
Vote against the attempts to return the entire nation to this culture and teach men and women that just bringing more workers into the world only means the employers can get away with paying less for labor, especially as more and more labor is being done by robots. Vote for more women, and men, who will actually fight for more rights and opportunities for women and children, and to protect them from abuse–and who have a track record of already doing so as much as they can. Help teach your sons, brothers, and other males it is THEIR responsibility also to control themselves, not solely the responsibility of females. Keep reminding them that Christ, and in fact, most of the greatest founders of what became religions, did NOT create the structure of churches and clergy, and set male power only or mostly in them, but human beings, that fallible human beings created and run the religions, and they are no better than any of the rest of us.
You can and should also write and vote for a statewide ‘initiative’ to amend the California Constitution to require that all girls get at least two or three years of self-defense training, like karate or judo, starting in kindergarten, and refresher courses every few years until high school graduation, and at least a couple of forms of weapons training by age 11 or 12–when most start menses. If you don’t live in an initiative state, then vote for state legislators who will make this law in your states. Remember, for the most part, the members of Congress who can help or harm women and children started, and continue begin their careers as state legislators. If you don’t insist that your local elected officials and state legislators treat women and children with respect and care, then why would you expect any better when they get to Congress? Also, teach females and males that drinking to excess and losing control over one’s self or finances is bad, at any age, and good nutrition makes them stronger. Teach them that all children, up to the age when they can hold a decent well paid job deserve protection, nurturing and care, not just the males, and not just when they are still in their mother’s wombs. There also must be opportunities for higher education and well paid jobs and careers for females as well as males. Finally, it is up to fathers as well as mothers, and the accepted, self-acclaimed religious authorities, to help protect and nurture children–and assist and care for their mothers.
Another thing shown by these books is that, being a mother, especially of pre-school age children, is a full time job all in itself, especially when also doing all the care of a home, gardening and, sewing a lot of clothing, and it’s all unpaid. The same is true for caring for a single pre-school child at the same time as an elderly parent with declining physical and mental capabilities–it is effectively caring for two children. If this is of value to men, then it is up to them to work, earn a decent amount to support themselves and their families and finance the the work of the wives and mothers, and yes, when those wives and mothers are ill, to also help care for them and the children, not just let fall down from exhaustion and illness and then die of neglect and ignorance, or rely on small children to know what to do for their mothers and care for them entirely–as well as each other. If your wives and children are important to you, if only as labor and potential labor, then shouldn’t you be caring for that labor and helping make it strong? Shouldn’t you understand what all is needed to survive and thrive and help to provide it? Ask yourselves this: What good are men to the human species if all they care about is themselves, as individuals, and their status in relation to other men, and their power over all that is deemed by males as inferior, which includes more than two-thirds of the human population? Last, but not least, don’t ever confuse God with the religious structures of men–and don’t let religion and social hierarchy become combined with government, law enforcement and criminal punishments.
In 1912, rural Ireland, wasn’t much different than Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic theocratic states are today, especially for women and children, more than half of the human population. God didn’t create 3,000 years of abuse, violence, and exploitation, men did, and then have avoided and denied their responsibility for all the harm they have done and excusing themselves and blaming others–usually their victims–ever since, in all aspects of human life. Women, you need to start holding men responsible for their own actions, and the harm they create, including in all institutions they dominate and use to maintain power and abuse, business, government–and Churches. Remember little Margaret Wallace-Campbell, because if you don’t pay attention, care, and fight back, your own daughters, or grand-daughters, could be the next Margaret’s in the 21st or 22nd centuries.
Album Hillside Avenue from Erica and Friends
Album Review: Hillside Avenue
from Erica and Friends | Released 2018-08-30
By Celia Fábos-Becker and Tony Becker 2018-08-30
The brand new album, Hillside Avenue has been anticipated for some time, and now it is finally here!
For people who have had the pleasure of listening to Erica and Friends live, this album lives up to their best work. The pieces are familiar, their favorites; the arrangements are new but well-polished. Erica Hockett and her ensemble are perfectionists and the album is excellent all round! You will be happy to buy and enjoy it many times over.
Erica has always had a sweet, clear voice and on this excellent album, it is better than we have ever heard it before. As we listened to Hillside Avenue for the very first time last Thursday, August 30, 2018, we had just been watching Senator John McCain’s services in Arizona, and Senator Joe Biden’s stirring eulogy. We appreciated these lovely old ballads all the more for the context. Celia really was brought to tears by Erica’s rendition of Garden Valley and its remembrance of a ‘Gallant Laddie,’ and as she thought how appropriate it was in the context of the day.
On Bonny May and Game of all Fours, Lee Corbie-Wells joins Erica with her sultry contralto for two lovely and well balanced harmony treats. Here is a sample: Game of all Fours Sample Video
Troy Dillinger has a wonderful touch with his piano accordion and it added greatly to the upbeat pieces. The band’s Chris Hammond on guitar and Anne Bingham Goess on fiddle, and whistle, all comport themselves with skill and style for a full instrumental sound that accompanies song, jig and reel to perfection.
Erica grew up in the English Cotswolds listening to her cousin Jane’s Irish Trad band and the English folk band Fairport Convention. We were expecting at least one Fairport Convention hit, and were very pleasantly surprised to hear Erica’s rendition of Farewell, Farewell, written by Richard Thompson and first released in 1969 by Fairport Convention.
Tony says, ‘I was an impressionable young college freshman when I first heard this song, and I don’t think I have ever heard it done better.’
We especially like the carefully crafted new arrangements for these traditional ballads, jigs and reels. These new settings will give even the most jaded traditional music aficionado’s something new and pleasing to hear.
Sound engineers, Margrit Eischler of Absolutely True Sound and Gawain Mathews of Gawain Mathews Music Studio (who also plays loads of instruments on the album) have done a fantastic job on this one. The mix is great – not too much compression or reverb, so the presence is just the way we like it – every word is audible, yet so are all the nuances of the acoustic accompaniment.
You can see and hear Erica and Friends live at the Scottish Games and Gathering in Pleasanton this coming weekend, Labor Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, September 1st and 2nd, 2018, at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. They will have CD copies Hillside Avenue for sale as well, so you can keep enjoying their music. We’ll also gladly look forward to their future albums!
For more on Erica and Friends, check their Facebook Page here!
Charmas Stark Raving Celtic Player
Review: Charmas New Album, Stark Raving Celtic
Enjoyable, Eclectic and now Available!
Instrumental madness, blue ballads, and comedy fuel this rare blend of Traditional Celtic and Modern Fusion Music
By Cecilia Fabos-Becker and Tony Becker Published 2018-04-20
Stark Raving Celtic
- Aaron Clegg
- Mick O’Broain
- Jim Powell
- Phil Johnston
- Stephen Vahle
- Devin Lara
- Russ Bennett
- Matt Johnson
- Dan Frechette
- Mike Long
- Lee Corbie-Wells
- Richard Dwyer
- Galt Barber
- Janet Herman
- Garrett Harpainter
- Daniel Steinberg
- Jamie Wylde
- Jeffrey Ferrell
- Ariel Ferrell
- Elise MacGregor-Ferrell
In past 18 months, Santa Cruz collaborative Charmas has successfully used Kickstarter to fund their albums, Songs of the Sea, which proved to be a landmark collection, and now Stark Raving Celtic. Stark Raving Celtic features twenty Central California musicians, wielding an astonishing variety of folk-, rock-and percussion-instruments, who are give the album exceptional creative variety. The result can be heard on Charmas’ brand new album Stark Raving Celtic, which features original Celtic music and performances by 20 past and present members of Charmas as well as notable guest performers.
Stark Raving Celtic includes several lovely tune sets, but there are not many Scottish/Irish/Celtic bands who compose original songs about their life experiences in the traditional style, and although we liked all the tunes and songs well, for us, these four original songs stood out.
We’ve been to many Scottish Highland Games, and so we especially appreciated the humor and liveliness of The Highland Games Song, by Elise MacGregor Ferrell, and the extra vocal effects of the lads singing it. It should be the theme song of California Highland Games in general!
Speaking of Scottish Games, the bagpipes there can be overwhelming, but the bits of bagpipes that Elise plays in several tracks of Stark Raving Celtic fit pleasantly with the instrumental arrangements and medleys.
The Dreaming Tree, composed by Elise as a elegy for the authentic and tragic life story of ‘Kathleen of the Great White North’, is made all the more poignant by the distinctive voice of emerging star Lee Corbie-Wells. Keep your eyes and ears open for more from Lee.
Brains S.A., written by guitarist Jim Powell about an evening at a pub of that name in Cardiff, Wales, brought to mind a couple of memorable visits to a pub we used to know in St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as an old song by a long-ago favorite British group (‘The Inn of the George and Dragon’ by Herman’s Hermits). I couldn’t help but smile when Jim mentioned the Welsh dragon breathing fire down my back.
Jonny Hardie’s Tumble, composed by Elise for Old Blind Dogs fiddler Jonny Hardie, was a lovely tribute and a rollicking tune, made exceptional by the wonderful, rich tenor-baritone voice of lead vocalist Aaron Clegg. Aaron is among the best we’ve heard. His natural, strong voice is accompanied by emotion, especially humor, you can feel, and his excellent enunciation stands out over the accompanying instruments.
We can heartily recommend Stark Raving Celtic to anyone as an enjoyable, eclectic experience.
To hear samples of any the Stark Raving Celtic tracks, click on this CDBaby Player link, Charmas Stark Raving Celtic Player, and scroll down to select that Track.
Check the Music Players for all Charmas recorded Celtic music on their website at https://charmasband.com/charmas-full-band-for-stage-showsfestivals
Charmas performs traditional and modern Celtic ballads, drinking songs, sea chanteys, comedy songs, instrumental dance music, and Celtic rock. For more info. and Charmas audio samples check
Review: The Next Chapter by Connla
Northern Ireland’s Must See band
By Cecilia Fabos-Becker – Published 2018-04-13
Connla is a new, young Northern Irish band, which has been called ‘the best new trad band’ from Northern Ireland but is much more than that. It is gaining recognition in the U.S., with rave reviews from such entities as the ‘Chicago Irish American News,’ as well as winning awards in Ireland. It is comprised of four young people from Derry and Armagh; Ciara McCafferty (vocals), Ciaran Carlin (Flute/Whistles) and Paul Starrett (Guitar) Emer Mallon (Harp) and Conor Mallon (Uilleann Pipes/Whistles). Connla was described as a ‘must see’ group by ‘Songlines Magazine,’ a magazine out of the UK that covers world-wide music and has taken over awards presentation from the defunct BBC music awards.
We listen to a few dozen new album’s by various, very good, groups every year, and recently listented to Connla’s newest album, The Next Chapter just released last Friday. A few of these really stand out to us, and this is one of them — even better than Connla’s 2016 album, River’s Waiting.
Although the band considers itself ‘trad,’ it has a generally modern presentation that is refreshing. Connla’s music also includes touches of Jazz, Pop, a fair amount of Latin or Spanish influence, especially in pieces where guitar dominates, and even Americana. The song ‘Julie‘ about a U.S. Civil War period relationship between mistress and a long-time slave while the Union soldiers are approaching, is unforgettable. Both album’s have an interesting mix of modern and traditional ballads, and traditionals and more modern instrumental music. The instrumentalism is excellent. I really enjoyed the guitar-dominated pieces. It is so seldom one hears virtuoso melody guitar.
‘SS Baychimo‘ was truly special. It reminded me of some fine classical performances of Spanish music like ‘Recuerdos del Alhambra,’ or ‘Romanza.’ and a good reminder of how many Irish went to the Spanish speaking countries after 1641. Wow!
Ciara McCafferty’s voice easily rivals the best of Nashville female singers. It is young, sweet and strong. The ballads she sings tell stirring, poignant tales that catch your attention also.
If I have one complaint, it is that Ciara would enunciate her consonants and the mix better balance her voice when she’s dropping the volume for dramatic effect. Sometimes she’s crystal clear, even above the instruments, and other times, the ends of words disappear a bit, especially when her voice is dropping while the instrumental music is swelling, as in the very end of ‘Julie.’ Over time, I’m certain this will only improve.
Connla is touring the western U.S. in September and will be featured at the KVMR Celtic festival on September 29 and 30 in Grass Valley (east of Sacramento off Highways 49 and 20). In the preceding week, they will be in the Bay area (in Berkeley) and we hope to find them a gig in the South Bay area as well. AmeriCeltic readers should get out and listen to them, where and when they can! They are well worth the prices of the tickets! We’ll publish all their dates and places as they develop closer to their tour. Meantime, we can recommend their album as a lovely diversion during our long bay area commutes.
For more on Connla, check their website, www.connlamusic.com, or Facebook Page www.facebook.com/connlamusic, or watch their Promotional Video.
Album Review: Wake the Dead The Deal
More Tie-Dye melded Celtic music than ever!
By Tony Becker 2017-10-30
Wake The Dead is a cadre of multi-talented musicians lead by Danny Carnahan that has been moshing Hunter/Garcia’s malleable and durable songs with traditional Celtic jigs and reels for better than three decades. On this latest album, The Deal, they add songs from the Youngbloods, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and more.
The performances, by Maureen Brennan, Celtic harp, Cindy Browne, double bass, Danny Carnahan, vocals, octave mandolin, guitar, fiddle, Kevin Carr, fiddle, uilleann pipes, pennywhistle, Sylvia Herold, vocals, guitar, Paul Kotapish, vocals, mandolin, guitar, jaw harp, Brian Rice, hand percussion, are all wonderful, but then every one of these are masters of their art.
The tracks are likewise incredible. Note how these classic songs are carefully paired with Celtic traditional tunes like a fine wine with a great entree!
1. Cumberland Blues (Hunter/Garcia/Lesh) / Mind the Gap (Carnahan)
2. New Speedway Boogie (Hunter/Garcia) / Frieze Britches (trad.)
3. White Room (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown) / The Congress Reel (trad.)
4. Box of Rain (Hunter/Lesh; © Ice-Nine Publishing)
5. Eyes of the World (Hunter/Garcia) / Reel à Jules Verret (trad.)
6. Waiting For Snow (Julie King) / Darkness Darkness (Jesse Colin Young) / Reel Mattawa (Eric Favreau)
7. Deal (Hunter/Garcia) / Tom Billy’s Jig (trad) / Sheepskin and Beeswax (trad.)
8. Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan)
9. Bluebird (Stephen Stills) / Pinch of Snuff (trad)
10. Dark Star (Hunter/Garcia/Hart/Kreutzmann/Lesh/McKernan/Weir) / Maids of Michelstown (trad.) / And Your Bird Can Sing (Lennon/McCartney)
11. Brokedown Palace (Hunter/Garcia)
Surprisingly, my personal favorite is Bob Dylan’s Just like a Woman, because of the sensitive treatment given by vocalist Sylvia Herhold, but overall it’s another great album and a MUST for any 60’s folk-rock fan.
Another great track is the first, where the rollicking country-bluegrass-rock fusion number, Cumberland Blues by Garcia and Lesh is paired with Mind the Gap, an original tune by Danny Carnahan, and together, they blend beautifully into a classic old-time anthem.
There is plenty of variety here to please almost any traditional music fan, probably including you.
You can listen to samples at www.wakethedead.org/product/deal/ and purchase a download right from the site.
Book Review: Wicked Deeds by Heather Graham, 2017
A Hallowe’en / Samhain Mystery
by Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2017-10-26
To many who have grown up with a love of both the Celtic traditional ghost stories, CSI, murder mysteries in general where law enforcement is actually involved in solving them, and romance, Heather Graham Pozzessere is a well known romantic occult mystery writer. Her novel settings are familiar older cities and areas of the U.S.–where else would the best ghosts be? Her female characters are as strong as the males, and she covers a wide range of old fables, legends and historical events. She is known for her characters solving a mystery within a mystery, the past influencing the present. A strong theme is that human nature doesn’t change very much across the centuries and genetics can and does sometimes play a role in perception and behavior, sometimes in surprising ways.
I’ve always enjoyed her stories, especially in autumn and winter, when, as the Celts and other Europeans believed, the increase in darkness is accompanied by a weakening in the veils between the worlds of the living and spirits, and even eras of time. These beliefs are so old and powerful, even the Christian churches acknowledged them, and incorporated them with commemoration of the dead at “All Hallow’s Eve” and the following two festival days, “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day.”
Her stories are well written in the classical sense: heroic protagonists, strong villains and conflict, and a resolution of the conflicts, and criminals brought to justice as most people would like to see in real life, at the end. She also explains motive, much better than many writers, even for the mentally ill. She goes into their fantasies and twisted logic with almost surgical precision and then shows how they can live among us, compartmentalize, and not be suspected until they commit horrible crimes. She shows us the other side of the usual statement by friends and relatives of a murderer, “we never suspected a thing; he/she was always a nice person, a good boy/girl, in our neighborhood.”
This year, Ms. Graham has outdone her self, though and come up with one of the best, classic tradition murder mysteries of all, Wicked Deeds set in the beloved city of the father of both horror stories and murder mystery-detective stories, Baltimore, and featuring none other than the father of both genres himself, Edgar Allan Poe. A new restaurant dedicated to Mr. Poe has opened and the Poe Society itself meets there. There is even a gift shop with kitschy souvenirs like bobble-headed ravens. Two new members of an elite FBI unit called the “Krewe of Hunters” who combine modern forensics, old fashioned Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle style investigation, and an ability to communicate with ghosts, who love being FINALLY noticed and able to participate in on-going living lives, have decided to have a honeymoon in Baltimore, and to try out this new restaurant with great preliminary reviews. Where else would FBI agents who work with ghosts go, especially in late summer or early autumn in the waning seasonal light, for a honeymoon? They’ve picked a poor time, of course, as someone seems to have taken offense at the restaurant and the Poe Society, and has begun murdering writers in modern variants of the old Poe themes in his better-known horror stories. Poe’s ghost knows about this, is indignant and wants it stopped. Poe’s own death was a mystery and his reputation was heavily damaged by a jealous rival afterward. His instincts say that at the bottom of the mystery, history is trying to repeat itself, but he also can’t remember most of his own last days. So the Krewe, this time, is solving two mysteries: the modern imitator of fictional horror, and Poe’s death itself.
It has a number of twists, turns, and surprises and many of Poe’s stories show up in interesting, unexpected ways. There is a major stunning insight about the importance of perception and how jealousy can become insanity. You will never dismiss jealousy lightly again after reading this novel. It’s the best Hallowe’en novel I’ve read in a long time, and a real tribute to the father of the two genres of horror and detective stories.
So, after you’ve handed out the treats to all the modern little ghouls, ghosts and goblins, treat yourself to a sold read of this book. Make yourself a nice hot cup of blood-red mulled wine, settle in a comfy bed with plump pillows in a darkened bedroom, lit only by your favorite old-fashioned hurricane lamp casting a soft golden glow. Then the shadows darken and grow, and perhaps a raven flaps its wings, as it passes your window in the moonlight and moves to another nearby tree outside before perching and watching what happens next…
Book Review ‘Survival of the Blood’ by Beth Bristow
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”
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!
Book Review: Three Legs of the Cauldron
New Dalriada Celtic novel by Ron Cherry
By Cecilia L. Fábos-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, Cahal 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
Review of Tom McEnery Play: Swift Justice
by Cecilia Fábos-Becker
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.
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.
Shay Black and Celia Ramsay
Review – Singers Request
Celia Ramsay & Shay Black
Released November 15, 2014
Shay Black, Celia Ramsey, and more…
A few years ago, a collaboration bore fruit when Celia Ramsay and Shay Black announced in November 2014 that their long rumored project, Singer’s Request, was ready and available on Celia’s website, www.celiaramsey.com.
When this lovely work came out, we loved it! Celia Ramsay has a very pleasing sultry-sweet alto voice that went well with Shay’s tenor on several ballads and others including ‘John Ball,’ and ‘The Maid on the Shore‘. Celia made other pieces, like the ‘Tae the Weavers Gin Ye Go,’ dance on her own, with its wonderful harp accompaniment from Patrice Haan. Shay has a spine tingling, inspirational piece in ‘Light That Beauteous Flame‘, with Shay’s sisters Frances and Mary, brothers Martin and Michael, and niece Róisín O heard in the choruses.
The songs are quintessentially Irish and Scottish, but still it is a great, diverse album, and a major collaboration of both friends and musical heroes of Shay and Celia. It was such fun to hear the entire Black family on the album since it’s now so rarely you get them together, live, in this area as well as contributions from John Doyle, Liz Carroll, additional nice touches by local friends Rebecca Lomnicky, David Brewer, and many other notables–something for everyone!
All together, really good music!
By Celia Fábos-Becker and Tony Becker