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Local Songs


Traditional music is still a strong force in North West Clare in spite of emigration and the flight from the land. Happily, it can be said that there are as many traditional musicians playing throughout Ireland today as there were at any time in this century, and considerably more than in the lean decades of the ‘thirties and ‘fifties. In recent years the growth of interest in traditional set dancing has been nothing short of phenomenal. Only in one area of traditional arts can a continuing decline be charted: the area of traditional singing. It is to be hoped that the Ennistymon Festival of Traditional singing can be of some modest help in alerting more people to this most enriching art form while it is still in our midst, and that this little booklet might awaken the people of the locality to the songs that are still sung around them.

Areas like North West Clare which were bi-lingual for a considerable period have much to be proud of in their oral traditions in both languages. In Doolin you had great storytellers such as Stiofán O hEalaoire and Seán O Carúin. Ennistymon could boast a peer in Paddy Sherlock from whom Séamus O Duilearga collected many fine tales; this time in English. In more recent years Paddy McNamara of Kilshanny dictated many fine tales and scores of songs for the Archive of the Department of Irish Folklore in University College, Dublin.

There is a strong tradition of the singing of ballads in the area. In this case the word ‘ballad’ is used in its proper context; it does not mean a roisterous table-thumping pub song – a sense it had acquired in recent years – for the ballads which could be found in this area until recently were more often ancient narrative songs which could be traced back over the centuries.

The pieces which we present here do not represent the older ballads. They are more akin to the songs and poems you would find in any pedlar’s pack to be sold at fairs and gatherings up to the 1950s. These are verses with absolutely no pretensions. They may not win many literary prizes but they have a place in the affections of the people of the locality and they reflect their history.

The items which follow have been put together from a selection put together by Anthony Edwards of Ennistymon Library and John Doorty of Kilshanny. I thank Tim Dennehy for his help in the selection of the pieces. Mrs Mary Haren and Mrs Maureen Rynne have been of particular help in supplying information on the songmakers and the people mentioned in the songs. Special thanks to those who contributed the songs and poems in the first place; may this little chapbook be some return for their industry.

To Miko Guthrie, Tadhg O hÉaghráin and all the songmakers and singers of Ennistymon, living and dead, this little collection is dedicated.

Tom Munnelly

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