Irish music, Irish landscape
There are times, and places, when Irish music seems to be reduced to songs about fighting, drinking and dying, and tributes to the old Irish mother, with songs such Seven Drunken Nights, Danny Boy, Whiskey in the Jar, Four and Nine, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, and the like. But the subject matter of Irish music is endless, it’s just endless. And the substance of it is timeless.
In Ireland, the pub is a place of community and connection, sharing and talking and sorting out life, as much and more as it is a place for drinking. The music arises from and becomes part of that conversation. That’s true going back in time. There are songs of husbands, wives, single folk, lovers parted, reunited, betrayed, left lonely, and found again; children, elders, travelers, heroes, pirate queens, saints; songs of magic, songs of faith, songs of stones, cottages, castles, lakes, rivers, and the sea, and always, songs of emigration, immigration, leaving, returning, longing for and remembering home.
That music goes back centuries, and is still sung, and is still vital. Music about the substance of life is a tradition which continues with today’s musicians as well, people like John Spillane, who writes of resilience and independence framed in the face of wildflowers growing along the road, of Liz Carroll, who without a word, through the voice of her fiddle, evokes the Irish landscape; John Doyle, who dances with his guitar through tunes centuries old made new, and Cathie Ryan, who honors both her Irish and her American heritage, what’s remembered and what’s changing, in her songs. It is no accident, either, that those songs and tunes are rooted and grounded in the land: the light and shadow of landscape in Ireland, and in Irish America, is rooted and grounded in mystery, magic, faith, and deeper than all, in music.
While Danny Boy and the lament of his mother have their place, as does The Whiskey in the Jar and those smiling Irish eyes, they are the part, not the whole. The substance of Irish music is about life. Love and sorrow, grief and hope, faith, despair, laughter and joy. It is just endless.
photographs from Galway, Louth, Donegal, Clare, Derry, Down
History, faith, and the sea: three things which are always present. And the music which arises from all that.
photographs taken by and copyright Kerry Dexter. thank you for respecting this
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