Sunday, March 31, 2019

Ireland's Music: Cherish the Ladies Heart of the Home

Joy and sorrow, light and shadow, tears and laughter: al these find their places in the music of Ireland. Indeed, you might say that songs and tunes and stories which bring all these in are the substance of Ireland’s music.

A fine place to hear this on the recording Heart of the Home, from Cherish the Ladies.

Heart of the Home opens with a set of tunes composed by flute player Joanie Madden to honor her father’s home town in East Galway. The Portumna Workhouse tells a tale without words of reflection on the darker side of things during the famine years, while the The Hurling Boys of Portumna takes a lively an lighter tack, It is for, Madden said “All those might men who brought tremendous glory to the town through sport.”

Singer and guitarist Kate Purcell, from Clare, steps in to join the band for the song Glenties. An image filled reflection on a small town in Donegal, it was written by musician Maurice McGroth while he was staying in the town. Purcell and the band combine for a graceful, atmospheric performance which is one of the standouts on the recording. Listen out especially for Nollaig Casey’s fiddle as the band backs Purcell on this track.

Cherish is a class act: Heart of the Home. is their seventeenth album. More than than thirty years ago, Joanie Madden, who plays flutes and whistles, and Mary Coogan, whose instruments are guitar, bouzouki, and banjo, were founding members of the band. Joining them these days are Mirella Murray on accordion, Kathleen Boyle on piano, and Nollaig Casey on fiddle. In performance and on record they often invite guests to join in

As you might suppose from the title, the idea of home and well loved places runs through the music chosen for this recording. Another highlight of Heart of the Home is Ambletown, the song of a seafaring man longing for home. That home, in the song, is in the north country, so it is fitting that the Ennis Sisters, who come from Newfoundland in Atlantic Canada, join in as the voices.

Ways of thinking about home take twists and turns. Kathleen Boyle joins a Turlough O’Carolan piece with a tune she wrote for some of her former students in The Murphy Boys set. The Letty from Cavan set includes a tune Madden wrote for her neighbors along with tune fro Ed Reavy and Martin Mulhaire, both Irish musicians who emigrated to the United States. There are several sets with tunes the women found in Irish tune books from the nineteenth century which allow them to have great times telling stories as their instruments converse with each other. Farewell to the Catskills is a lyrical tune Madden wrote about a place in New York state which has often welcomed people with ties to Ireland. Galway balladeer Don Stiffe steps in to sing Shadow of a Singer and his Song, in which songwriter Dermot Henry looks back at the changes and challenges of his early days in music, finding among hardships a sense of home in the connection between performer and audience.

There is the title track, Heart of the Home, written by Andy M. Stewart. Not long before he passed away, songwriter Stewart suggested that this would be a good piece of Cherish the Ladies to take on, and indeed they did, inviting Irish country singer Nathan Carter to sing the lyrics for the recording and the video. On tour, Purcell often sings the lead; they each add distinctive presence to the song, with the instruments from the band weaving in and out an through their singing.

When Cherish began, there were very few well known Irish women musicians. A whole band of top class women musicians? That was unheard of. Cherish the Ladies did, however, make themselves heard. Through the years they have played with top class musicians from symphony orchestras to country musicians to the best in Irish music. Time in Cherish has been part of the careers of many top class musicians as well, among them, fiddler Eileen Ivers, dancer Jean Butler, singers and songwriters Cathie Ryan and Heidi Talbot, and singer Aoife Clancy.

Heart of the Home is a fine next step of Cherish the Ladies. If you know their work you will certainly want it; if you’ve not yet met them, this is a fine place to make their acquaintance. They tour extensively, too . As the music on Heart of the Home suggests, you will certainly enjoy seeking out the chance to see Cherish the Ladies in performance.

Photographs of Joanie Madden; Nollaig Casey with Mary Coogan and Mirella Murray; the band on stage are by Kerry Dexter. They were made at the Celtic Connections Festival In Glasgow, with the permission of the artists, the festival, and the venue. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Eileen Ivers Beyond the Bog Road.
Cathie Ryan Through Wind & Rain
Cherish the Ladies storytellers in music, which talks about their winter holiday albums

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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