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