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What Irish People want for ‘Samhain Christmas’

‘With ‘Sam Hayne’ (that legendary Country & Western singer) almost on us again, it’s time when Irish people everywhere must gird their loins for the annual discharge of ‘Oirish Culture’ from Facebook.

This year, out of curiosity, we asked other Irish people what they’d like to see for ‘Samhain Christmas’ and collected a bit less than ninety replies. Fortunately, we’ve managed to consolidate them – very generically – to the eight ‘Samhain Christmas’ wishes below.

So suck in deep, firm those tummy muscles, cross those legs, and … Ádh mór leat, a Sheamais!


What Irish people want for ‘Samhain Christmas’

1) Formally legislate the removal of ‘Happy Samhain’ from the internet (a greeting that makes no sense from either a cultural or language perspective – it’s like being told to “have a Happy Colonisation Day!”)

2) Remove all photos of redhaired ‘Oirish’ children from Oirish Facebook Groups (they’re almost invariably Dutch or Belgian kids)

3) End online ‘Oirish’ Pagan Spirituality (apparently ‘Wicca’/’Celtic Reconstructionist’ wasn’t a good commercial model, hence the name change – still hawking Irish culture for branding purposes, though)

4) Impose a ‘Culturally Offensive Use’ fee on all North American productions of twee Oirish movies (‘Wild Irish Thyme’, not looking at you!)

5) Transport ‘Nazi Celts’ to their own planet (a bizarre cosplaying subgroup of the ‘Oirish White Supremacists’ – usually American – they insist on telling everyone that they’re Celts … despite – apparently – not seeming to know what a ‘Celt’ is).

6) Force ‘Celtic Reconstructionists’ to rewatch ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ three hundred times. No, not a bunch of ‘born-again-Celt’ building professionals, but a group of hobbyists who cherry-pick specific elements of Irish culture as padding for their own fantasy lifestyle. (We’ll take the ‘nice’ parts from your culture and … Eh? What do you mean Famine? Northern Ireland? 80s’ recession? Unemployment? The Sultans of Ping? Bono? … Er, no thanks. We don’t want THAT part of your culture!)

7) Make non-Irish people who use Gaelic forms of their names for branding purposes, introduce themselves as Gaeilge (Dia dhaoibh a chairde! Is mise, Dilín O’Deamhas!).

8) Legislate for people who insist they’re the scions of Irish kings to call their first child, ‘Prince

Please feel free to add your own suggestions for ‘Samhain Christmas’! Given the lack of respect shown by those borrowing our culture, it feels like time to take it back.

Back on ‘The Island’

Walking home on ‘The Island’ three (maybe four?) years ago. I’d gone up to visit the Martello Tower and it was such a beautiful day I decided to walk back to the village.

The place hadn’t changed that much since I’d last been there although the Government has shut off access to the old submarine pens with a half-hearted, delapidated wire fence. The houses were all in a far better state than I remember as a kid. ‘Back inthe day, the Island’ used to suffer some pretty serious poverty and the houses were in far worse nick.

As were the cars.

I remember once seeing an oul fella parking his battered old Volkswagon on a hill in the village. The car was in such a bad state, he had to get a kid to jump out and drop a cement block in front of the tyre to stop it rolling away.

Some overseas individuals with Irish heritage seem to yearn for this ‘simpler’ time. Given the complexity inherent in the world today (plus the sheer effort necessary to operate effectively in society), I can understand that … to a degree but there are some things, none of us in Ireland want to go back to.

Exploirng the Irish Otherworld

Four years ago, I got to visit my favourite of the four main entrances to the Irish Otherworld. Generally speaking, these places tend to be quite difficult to get to (for obvious reasons) and have important topographical features that make them stand out from the rest of the terrain.

Practical tip: If you visit the Otherworld, you should always bring a torch!

Yes, progress is being made

I have to confess I always get a kick posting this image up on Facebook. Several months back when I first released the book, I put it on the Facebook shop only for it to be rejected as “the sale of animals is forbidden” (the Facebook algorithm thought it was a zebra!).

When I resubmitted it a second time, the cover was judged as ‘offensive material’ and therefore unsuitable for the Facebook shop. Neeldess to say, I won’t be adding any more products to the Facebook Shop. Ironically, of course I can still post the image without any qualms whatsoever.

Aaaah Facebook!

The conclusion of this story started in this book will be released in December (porbably through the Irish Imbas website) and through the ususal suspects some time afterwards. Further detail on that over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, here are some of the Amazon reviews for Liath Luachra: The Seeking. As always, I’m very grateful to those people who’ve made the effort to do a review.

GAME OF THRONES TAPESTRY IN BELFAST MUSEUM

Fascinating to see what happens when fantasy becomes commercially strong enough to impact on reality.

In New Zealand, Tourism New Zealand often sold the country as ‘Middle Earth’ (i.e. where LOTR was filmed) but with the Game of Throne television series, Northern Ireland started to give it some serious competition.

This 253-foot-long tapestry (based on a style similar to the Bayeux Tapestry) was hung in Belfast’s Ulster Museum for a time and depicted a scene from each episode. With the completion of the series, the tapestry was transferred to the Bayeux museum (in 2019).

You can see it online HERE

Liath Luachra: The Great Wild

This is the cover image for a small project called ‘Liath Luachra: The Great Wild‘ which I’m hoping to release sometime next year – probably towards the end of the year. Essentially, it’s a prequel novella to the Liath Luachra Series (The Irish Woman Warrior Series) that tells of an event during Liath Luachra’s first year with mercenary group Na Cinéaltaí – The Friendly Ones.

Currently in outline only, I’m expecting the final work to be around 35-40,000 words in length. In terms of style, this story reverts back to the more simple and rugged approach of the first book in the series (Liath Luachra: The Grey One). A simple, stand alone story, it won’t have the ongoing ‘plot baggage’ (that’s a technical term us arty types use!) of the other books in the series which should make it easier (faster) to write.

Prior to releasing that, I have to publish Liath Luachra: The Metal Men (probably in December 2021) and Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán (planned for June 2022).

I’m also hoping to get at least five chapters of Beara: Cry of the Banshee (the second inthe Beara Trilogy) drafted but that will really depend on my freelance workloads. Meanwhile, I also have a non-fiction (Irish mythology based) book planned for next year but that’s a pretty big project so I’m not committing to delivery as yet.

Sheesh! I feel tired just thinking about this!

An Emotional Horse (and An Unsubtle Saint)

One of the stories associated with Saint Columcille tells how, on the day before he died, he went to visit his fellow monks working in the field, but was so weak he had to be carried to them in a cart. When he finally arrived, he informed them all of his great longing to ‘go with Jesus’ but that he’d held off as he was very holy and felt obliged to do his holy duty by attending the recent Easter celebrations.

Not being entirely thick, the monks cottoned onto the fact that he was suggesting he didn’t have much time left with them. Accustomed to his tedious harping on however, they pretended not to understand.

A little later, just in case they hadn’t got the message, the saint also obliquely informed his companion, Diarmuid, that it would soon be his own day of rest – the following Sunday in fact (wink, wink!). Diarmuid stared silently at him, not entirely sure whether the saint was talking about him or about himself.

Heading back to the monastery, Colmcille grew weary and was obliged to sit down and rest at the side of the road when a white horse suddenly ran up to him, pressed its head against his chest and started crying, drenching his shirt with the flood of tears.

Unaccustomed to bawling animals, Diarmuid quickly rushed in to save the saint and attempted to drive the horse away. Colmcille, however, never one to miss an opportunity to lecture, latched onto him and prevented him from doing so by saying, “Allow this admirer of mine to shed his tears on my chest. For this horse, being an animal, understood instinctively that I was going to be with my Lord yet you as a man could not foretell this.”

Ever a man to labour a point, oul Colm Cille.

The Vita Columbae – Life of Columba – a hagiography (or ‘propaganda record’ of the saint’s life) indicate that he died the next day.

It’s silent on whether he was helped by the other monks.  

Meath County Council recently produced a short movie of the story which you can find here: St Colmcille and the Depressed Horse

I prefer my own interpretation, of course.

Ráth Meadhbha

Ráth Meadhbha is looking a bit run down these days but after 3000 years (best estimates indicate it was constructed in the early Bronze Age: 2000–1500 BC) I suppose that’s pretty understandable.

Climb in over the shaky ‘geata’, slip through the trees and you find yourself in an open field that could be a farming meadow anywhere in Ireland. It’s only as you return to the road and notice the wide, almost indistinguishable ditches to either side that you realise you’ve been standing in the ‘lis’ of an enormous ráth.   

Although the ráth’s current name relates to Meadhbh Leathdearg (or Meabh or Cruachan) it’s obviously got little connection with the mythological character. It’s not clear when that name was assigned but at a guess (without checking) it was around medieval times (at the very least, 1000 years later) when they were just as good at self-promoting as they are in contemporary times.   

Drawing From the Well

‘Drawing from the Well’ is an expression I often use with respect to my creative work as it effectively captures the concept of returning to the comforting depth of your cultural roots to draw on inspiration for artistic expression.

Having been raised in Irish culture, I know that culture has strongly shaped my personality, the language and cultural elements influencing my formative years, guiding my value systems and pretty much defining how I see the world.

Culture, of course, is developed over many generations and involves a contribution from all those who’ve passed before us. In terms of resonance, therefore, it’s much larger and more cohesive than any individual – despite many who who’d like to think it’s the other way around.

I’ve not heard the expression used by other people, but I’ve always assumed I’m not the only one to use it. Hence, I was was pleased to see it being used as the title for a monthly series that connects Irish artists with material from the Irish archives to inspire new works.

The following is the latest in that series and outlines a work (Petticoat Loose: A Wicked Woman of Irish Folklore, Music, and Song) from musicians Mairéad and Deirdre Hurley where they explore the stories and songs associated with Waterford’s famous “Petticoat Loose”.

Sadly, a number of non-Irish creatives (the Paygans, Celtic Fantasists/ Recreationists and Droods!) are already trying to portray the folklore character as a witch (Ireland didn’t have witches – that was very much an English and Continental thing) so ignore all that and listen to the real thing.

You can find that HERE

The Metal Men

This is the cover for ‘Liath Luachra: The Metal Men‘ which completes the story commenced in the previous book (Liath Luachra: The Seeking) of the Irish Woman Warrior Series.

The first five chapters have now been edited and are in their final forms and I’m busy drafting up ‘close to final’ versions of chapter six and seven. At this stage, the plan is still to release the book in December 2021, although this might initially be to the Irish Imbas website or Vóg followers before its distributed more widely.

The background imagery is quite dramatic in this piece and I’ll be explaining the full context behind that in the next edition of Vóg (due at the end of the month).

Sad News On Irish Mythology

Sadly, I’ll be making some changes to how Irish Imbas Books operates in the future (and there’ll be more detail on that in the Vóg newsletter at the end of the month).

For the past twenty years or so, I’ve used ancient Gaelic cultural and mythological concepts on a daily basis as part of my publishing and creative work. At its most fundamental, Irish mythology is very simple (and very beautiful) when you use it correctly and with respect.

Unfortunately, over the last year or so, I’ve found a disturbing amount of the original material and research I produce, being plagiarised or misused by self-proclaimed ‘Pagans’, ‘Druids’, and ‘Recreational Celts’, desperate to cash in on the fantasy/recreationist interpretations of Irish culture driven by overseas interests. Some of these individuals follow my work with an almost parasitic intensity …

And I no longer wish to feed them.

To start with, I’ve removed all in-depth content on Irish mythology from the Irish Imbas website. I’ll also be substantially reducing the number of articles on this topic released through our social media (although minor posts will continue). l will continue to publish the more in-depth material, but only through platforms I control – my newsletter etc. (but even these will have their safeguards)

The internet (and Facebook in particular) is full of people claiming that Irish mythology is something it’s not, that it’ll fix something it won’t, that it’ll fill some gap in your soul that desperately needs filling.

Unfortunately, it won’t do any of these things because:

(a) it’s not meant to; and

(b) it’s not – and never will be – a ‘product’.

Early Fionn

This was an early sketch for one of the covers for Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma. The faces of the characters actually ended up quite different in the final cover but I liked the look of them sufficiently to think about an adaptation of the book as a graphic novel at some stage when I have time.

If anyone knows a decent graphic novel illustrator, let them know I’m looking.

Draíocht faoi dhianghlasáil! (Magic under Lockdown)

Tá albam nua Rónán Ó Snodaigh (Tá Go Maith) amach agus is breá liom an amhrán ‘Tá’n t’Ádh Liom’. Tosnaíonn sé le solo giotar ach dhá nóiméad isteach, bíonn an draíocht ag titim amach.

One of my favouoite Irish songwriters has a new album out ( Tá Go Maith) which he wrote and produced over lockdown with Myles O’Rielly. The result is a minimalist gem and my favoite song ‘Tá’n t’Ádh Liom’ (Luck is with me) is absolutely gorgeous.

You can find it on You Tube (here) but its best to listen without the video.

It starts with a solitary guitar solo but two mins in it realy hits its stride.

Ar fheabhas!

Irish Comedy Horror with a shonky link to Myth and Vampires

I’m not really a horro fan but there’s quite a mad Irish comedy horror from writers Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin (along the lines of ‘Grabbers’) doing the rounds at the moment.

Entitled, ‘Boys from County Hell’, it playfully makes use of the old and very shonky legend of Abhartach (an evil dwarf, magician), twisting the original tale’s dubious connection to Bram Stoker (the connection being that he lived in the same region for a time) to create an Irish vampire movie that foreigners will lap up with equal measures of enjoyment and credulity.

I’ll cover the mythological detail and background later this month in Vóg but the movie certainly looks funny enough as long as you don’t take anything seriously.

You can find the trailer HERE.

Irish Mythology – The Plastic Verison

Over the last year I’ve received a disturbing number of queries from people seeking advice on Irish mythology – to the point I’ve had to implement a policy that I don’t respond to such questions. This isn’t because I don’t like helping people – I generally do – but I simply don’t have the time and the topic is not one you can explain in shorthand over an email.

Trying to explain aspects of Irish mythology (or any mythology) to someone unfamiliar with the basic concepts – including the language – is like trying to explain science to someone who doesn’t know what an ‘atom’ is.

What disturbs me most, however, is the number of people seeking answers for issues that Irish mythology couldn’t possibly help them with. This demand has led to a flurry of ‘Keltic Recreationists’, ‘Paygains’, and self-appointed ‘Droods’ offering to provide such an answer and using elements of Gaelic culture as branding to sell their service.

Unfortunately, any truth based on an untruth … is not really a good truth to learn.

Following the Warrior Path

One of the challenges with writing a character like Liath Luachra – the woman warrior from the Irish Woman Warrior Series and The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series – is the need to reflect the traumatised aspect of her personality across history two different series, while also allowing her to evolve as a person over the time arc of the time periods within those books.

In the first book of the prequel Irish Woman Warrior Series, Liath Luachra is quite savage and ruthless, the result of different experiences that slowly get revealed over the remaining books in the series.  Over that time however, she establishes tentative relationships and, although she never comes to terms with her background, she does develop substantially as person.

By the follow-up series (the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series) which is set 1-2 years after the first series, although she’s still struggling with her traumatic background, the character is an essential part of a larger community, a leader of sorts, and in an established and caring relationship. But nothing burns like trauma and echoes of that remain to shape her character.

The following is a scene from the novel Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma – the first in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series – which is set in the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma in first century Ireland.

In this scene, the woman warrior is speaking with Bearach, a young boy who idolises her, and she attempts to explain to him how being a warrior – gaiscíoch – isn’t all it’s made out to be …

In her own inimitable manner.

—————————————————

‘I wish to be like you, Liath Luachra. I wish to be a gaiscíoch – a true warrior.’

She stared at him in genuine astonishment. A moment later, she started to laugh. It was a rare sound for her and one that was surprisingly soft, if tinged with an underlying melancholy. ‘Ah, Bearach. You are truly the only one to make me raise a smile.’

‘I make no jest, Grey One. I wish to be a gaiscíoch like you. One day I hope to equal your skill as a fighter, your ability to work through the fight in your head. I want to learn courage such as yours. You know no fear when you are Out in the Great Wild.’

‘Ah, yes. The Great Wild backs down when I tramp through its forests. Wolves shit themselves and slink into the undergrowth at my passing. Even the Faceless Ones, the ghosts of hazy glades, hide and tell each other fearful tales of the dreaded Liath Luachra who will come through the shadows to take their heads.’

The youth blushed at her gentle mockery. Picking at a loose thread on the hem of his tunic, he wound it about his index finger, tightening it until the tip of the digit grew white.

‘You are the best of us here in Ráth Bládhma.’

‘Which only goes to show how little of the Out you’ve actually seen, Bearach. There are many out there who would best me in a fight.’

‘But Aodhán says you beat Dún Baoiscne’s finest warriors. He says they fear you, that your reputation for war makes them quake in their boots.’

‘Aodhán needs to harness his tongue. And his fancies.’

‘He told me about the day you first came to Dún Baoiscne with Na Cineáltaí – the Kindly Ones – your fian of a hundred men. He says that you crushed their best fighters in single combat. Humiliated them. That you were too agile, too strong to be defeated.’

Liath Luachra ground her teeth together.

‘I did defeat them. And, yes, I did humiliate them. But that was a mistake for which they never forgave me.’ She shrugged. ‘I understand that now. I’d probably have reacted in a similar manner if I was defeated by someone I considered weaker or in some way inferior.’

‘But you showed them!’ There was a shrill enthusiasm to the boy’s voice that made her cringe.

‘You have a warped understanding of things, Bearach. I accept that the fault is not yours for you base it on the tall tales of those who should know better. I will have strong words with Aodhán about putting such stories in your head.’

The boy looked confused, almost disbelieving. ‘Aodhán has not spoken true?’

Liath Luachra shifted awkwardly on her seat. She was uncomfortable having conversations of such depth with anyone other than Bodhmhall.

‘Aodhán’s claims hold a sliver of truth. I did lead Na Cineáltaí but that band never had more than ten men at any one time. They were brutal men, little more than killers -’ Her voice trailed off. ‘You must understand, Bearach, my life back then … that was a different life. I was a different person. I had a haunting on me, a haunting so venomous that I became little better than a wounded animal: vicious, savage and very cruel.’

Unable to bear his trusting gaze, she dropped her own eyes to the floor. ‘You have seen the way a dog will snap at a wound in its paw.’

The boy nodded slowly.

‘It is the reaction of a stupid beast who knows no better. It experiences pain and immediately thinks it has been attacked. In its attempt to retaliate, to strike back, it hurts itself even more.’

She reached down into the fire and pulled a burning brand from the embers. Part of the wood had burned away and much of it was scorched and black but the tip was still red hot.

‘That was the way of me back in those days. Except that I didn’t strike at my own limbs. No, I was far too smart for that. I struck out at others instead. Bandits, reavers, murderers, sometimes even innocent people who merely looked at me the wrong way, at the wrong time on the wrong day.’

She placed the tip of the burning brand against the back of her left hand. Bearach stared in horror as smoke from the skin rose up, the stink of burning flesh filing the air. Liath Luachra showed no sign of even noticing. Her eyes flared with a ragged intensity.

‘I had a belly full of venom, a heart full of gangrene and battle rage. This world had cut me to the quick and I was determined to hurt it back, to carve its filthy influence out of my heart. I hacked and cleaved a route through blood and sinew and bone when all that time my real target, the one thing I was truly trying to strike, was myself.’

She paused and took a deep breath as she dropped the firebrand back into the fire. Her forehead was sweating profusely. Her heart thundered and there was a sickly taste in her mouth. She focused her attention on these other physical sensations, refusing to acknowledge the pain in her hand.

‘So yes, in a martial sense, that made me strong. It made me impervious to fear and, for a time, to pain. It also made me impervious to those things that make us human: compassion, friendship, affection.’

Her eyes raised abruptly to lock directly on the boy’s. ‘And that,’ she snarled, ‘is what you must sacrifice to be a true gaiscíoch.’

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A Weekender

I’m taking a whole selfish three days for writing this weekend. I’m hoping to finish one chapter of Liath Luachra: The Metal Men and make a serious dent in another.

As usual, I draft out various rough images to get the mood/atmosphere clear in my head.

Wish me luck.

The Ten Best Irish Songs ‘As Gaeilge’ (for English Speakers)

Ireland is fortunate to have an exceptionally strong oral music tradition that stretches back to a time well before records began, and which has resiliently survived the worst that historical and contemporary life has thrown at it.  Steeped in Gaelic history, language and cultural heritage, Irish singers and songwriters are also fortunate in that they have access to a reliable and steadfast well of creativity, one that they can draw on or tap into as the need arises.

Because the cultural groundwork of Irish music is so well developed, it provides those emersed in it with a framework for further exploration or innovation with new styles and influences (something that’s been particularly visible in Irish music over the last few decades).

Although the songs presented here are in Irish, most of them aren’t in the sean-nós or other styles used by our ancestors (although some are heavily indebted) and they reflect (very roughly) the changing style from the early 20th century up to the present day.

Most of the songs in this list have also been chosen with respect to their accessibility by a non-Irish audience. Listeners without knowledge of the Gaelic language may struggle with the story but not with the fundamental emotions and feelings behind them.

It’s probably also worth noting here that although some people often describe Irish music as ‘spiritual’, that’s actually a misnomer. ‘Spiritual’ tends to be a term that pops up when a person is confronted by another culture and experiences something they like and get an emotive jolt from, – but which they don’t completely understand. To fill that void, the sensation is often summarised as ‘spiritual’.

If you take a step back however, you’ll realise that English-speaking people rarely describe English music as ‘spiritual’. In the same way, because it’s such an everyday part of our lives, few Irish people will ever describe Irish music as ‘spiritual’ and it’s sometimes hard not to roll your eyes when others try to impose such ethereal interpretations on something that’s so fundamentally practical.

While making this list, I was probably even more conscious of the singers and songwriters I was leaving out than the ones I’d chosen to include. That’s the problem with trying to list anything related to Irish music. There are simply too many songs, too many tunes, too many variations and too many writers/performers to give them all the credit they deserve. To make matter worse, because lists like this are based completely on personal perspective, you can also be sure that anyone else creating a similar list would end up with a completely different set of songs and performers. 

Finally, I’ll also note here that I’ve provided ‘You Tube’ links to all of the listed songs. This, obviously, isn’t the optimal way to be introduced to new music but it will give you a taster and if you find something you like, you can always drop deeper.

THE SONGS

An Poc ar Buile

This tune has been covered so many times and by so many people now, there’s really no definitive version. Despite this, my favourite remains the version performed by the Chieftains (& Friends) in a concert down in Dingle back in 1999. If you listen to the You Tube clip, you’ll hear how all four singers use to own particular singing style that makes the piece they’re singing, completely their own.

The title ‘An Puc ar Buile’ means ‘The Furious Goat’ and it tells the story of a workman who gets caught up in an encounter with a mad goat and somehow ends up riding him through the town of Dingle. Although originally based on a poem by Dónal Ó Mulláin (it was adapted into its current form by Seán Ó Sé in the sixties), it’s a hilarious song and a lot of fun to sing with other people. It’s no surprise to hear this one rolled out any time there’s a sing-song going on with Irish speakers.

Link: An Poc ar Buile

Mal Bhán Ní Chuilleanáin

Mal Bhán Ní Chuilleanáin’, by Lá Lugh, is a variation of the traditional Irish love song ‘Mollaí na gCuach Ní Chuilleanáin’ (Curly-haired Molly Ní Chuilleanáin) but unlike most earlier, traditional versions, Lá Lugh slow the tune down dramatically (after an energetic intro) to give it a far more poignant and haunting feel

The group Lá Lugh (literally, ‘Day of Lugh’ [Lámhfhada – a mythological figure]) was established by singer/ songwriter, Eithne Ní Uallacháin and talented fiddler Gerry O’Conner (her husband) in the early 1990s. Throughout the 90s, they garnered an increasing reputation for stylistic innovation but sadly, the very talented Eithne died in 1999, just after completing their next album (‘Bilingua’). This may be one of the reasons, this version of the traditional song isn’t as well-known as it should be.

Link: Mal Bhán Ní Chuilleanáin

Dúlamán

It would be grossly unfair not to include at least one track from Clannad given their influence on the Irish music scene over the last forty years. Discovered at an early stage in their career (in the 1970s) when they created the haunting music for the BBC production ‘Harry’s Game’, their subsequent (and very clever) merging of traditional Irish music elements with contemporary pop heralded the introduction of what became known as ‘the Celtic Music’ scene and made them one of Ireland’s first supergroups.

Dúlamán is the titular song from one of their earlier albums and concerns a poor man’s attempts to convince a wealthy man to allow him marry his daughter. If you’re familiar with the source material, you’ll see how cleverly the traditional version’s adapted and remixed. The use of pumping chorus vocals means this is a song much changed and re-covered over the years but Altan’s version remains by far my favourite.

Link: Dúlamán

Dónal Agus Mórag

It’s difficult to choose which song to include from the Altan’s various albums as they’re all so good. I’ve chosen Dónal Agus Mórag (from the album ‘Harvest Storm’) primarily as the joyful rhythm and chorus make it far more accessible to a non-Irish speaking audience. The song details the preparation for the wedding between the titular couple.

Altan are a group from Donegal and they’ve been playing the Irish trad circuit for thirty years or more. The group was originally set up by lead singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and her husband, flute player Frankie Kennedy (now, sadly deceased). One of the most beautiful slow reels I’ve ever come across (Sunset) was written and performed by this couple.

Link: Dónal Agus Mórag

Dá Bhfaigheann Mo Rogha de Thriúr Acu

This song from the album Dual features one of my favourite singers (Muireann nic Amhlaoibh) with fellow Danú member Éamonn Doorley and Scottish musicians Julie Fowlis and Ross Martin. The title means ‘If I had my choice of the three of them’ in English – an apt title given the flow into ‘Dhannsamaid Le Ailean’ and ‘Cairistíon’ Nigh’n Eoghainn’.

The word ‘Dual’ means both ‘native’ or ‘natural’ but it can also mean to ‘twist’ or ‘braid’ so it’s actually a very clever title given the merging of styles from Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland.  

Again, upbeat and cheerful, this is one you could listen to over and over again.

Link: Dá Bhfaigheann Mo Rogha de Thriúr Acu

Éist do Bhéal

I first heard this song in a 1999 album called Éist [songs in their native language] – a very decent collection of songs ‘as Gaeilge’. There are at least two other versions that I know of but Cork singer Sinéad Lohan’s is beautifully polished and probably the best.

Éist do Bhéal literally means “Listen to your mouth” in English – a way of saying ‘listen to the crap you’re spouting’ (i.e. ‘Shut up’). Various internet comment boards are full of people arguing over the meaning but it’s pretty simple.  Despite her popularity and career success, Sinéad Lohan retired from the music scene quite early – a real loss for the rest of us.

Link: Éist do Bhéal

Ceol Na Gaoithe

Ceol Na Gaoithe is a song by Inis Oírr sean nós singer Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola and it appeared in her first album ‘An Raicín Álainn’ (from 2002). Sadly, this song is one that’s not particularly well known and it’s been undeservedly overlooked. Possibly this was because it was one of Ní Chonaola’s own compositions and didn’t align so well with the other songs on the album which are far more traditional.

The title means ‘Song of the Gale’.  Ní Chonaola followed this album up with ‘Flame of Wine’ in 2005. Beautiful, emotive singing.

Link: Ceol Na Gaoithe

Leath ina dhiaidh a hocht

This song from Irish band Kila (written by Ronán O’Snódaigh) first turned up on O’Snódaigh’s album Tonnta Ró, then in Kila’s 2007 album Gambler’s Ballet (O’Snódaigh and his brothers are members of Kila).

The title means “half past eight” and tells the story of someone waking up in the detritus of a party from the night-before, trying to make sense of it and the events that transpired.

The Irish lyrics are great but what makes the Kila version of the song superior (in my view) is the ingenious melding of the tune with a famous classical piece (the name of which currently eludes me). 

This one’s a lot of fun.

Link: Leath ina dhiaidh a hocht

Plait agus Domhnail

Plait agus Domhnail (Clontarf), from singer/songwriter/performer Lorcán MacMathúna is an epic song that describes the build-up and ferocious violence that occurs during the Battle of Clontarf between Scottish champion and Plait the son of the King of Norway. The song (from MacMathúna’s album ‘An Bhuatais & The Meaning of Life) draws directly on sean-nós (and almost bardic) tradition to create a composition that perfectly fits the stirring madness and blood intensity of battle. MacMathúna’s powerful performance, supported by some exceptional musicians, means it’s hard to listen to this rendition and not be moved.

Strangely enough, I first came across MacMathúna’s work in a great little video game called
‘Scéal’ where MacMathúna’s performance gave the game a level of cultural authenticity it couldn’t possibly have achieved on its own. He also pretty much blasted it out of the park in terms of ‘mood’ and ‘atmosphere development’ that made that game so effective.   

Link: Plait agus Domhnail 

Is Ainm Dom

Is Ainm Dom (from ‘The Dawn of Motion’ album) is the wild card in this list of ten songs but it also feels aptly placed given how perfectly it showcases the ongoing influences on Irish music and its inexorable evolution over time.

‘Moxie’ are an instrumental trad group that came together in 2011, mostly focussed on compositions that involved innovative stylistic takes on the usual Irish music tradition. Ever fresh and interesting, their most recent recruit – Tunisian vocalist Julia Spanu – has taken them off in very different direction, however.

Merging Spanu’s Tunisian/French roots with Moxie’s more traditional Irish sound (while also using both Arabic and Gaelic lyrics) produces something that’s genuinely unique and as this is a recent release, I’m perfectly intrigued to see where it goes.

This unusual mix of North African and Gaelic music will probably upset some people (but probably not Irish musicians).

Link: Is Ainm Dom