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The Carroll Mackenzie Collection by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie



Jim Carroll, Peggy McMahon (singer) and Pat Mackenzie in Gleeson’s Bar in Coore, County Clare.

Our main interest has always been traditional song and associated arts, traditional music, tales and folklore. We were singers at and organisers of folk clubs from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, booking not only singers but musicians such as piper Tom McCarthy and fiddler Bobby Casey from West Clare, who were living in London then.

We first met in London in 1969 as members of The Critics Group, a singers’ workshop run by charismatic singer, songwriter, actor, playwright and collector, Ewan MacColl, a formative influence on us both.

In 1973, we chanced to hear a radio review of a recently-published book which included a chapter written by Wexford Traveller ‘Pop’s’ Johnny Connors. Johnny was camped on a site in West London, just a few miles from our home. Finding Johnny set us on a course of recording songs and talk from Irish Travellers in and around London, which was to continue for nearly thirty years. This was not a difficult task. We had no idea just how many Irish Travellers there were in London and we were somewhat overwhelmed by the number of singers with songs. Finally we felt it necessary to concentrate on two only in order to record not just the songs and stories, but also information on Travelling life and lore.

All the Travellers we met were incredibly generous and humorous people, despite living in somewhat poor conditions and meeting frequently with harassment from the authorities. After they had established we were neither police nor social workers, they took to referring to us as “the students” and that is what we were, learning about Travelling life and lore. A selection of Traveller songs, stories and talk can be heard on the double C.D, ‘From Puck to Appleby’, issued by ‘Musical Tradition Records’, England in 2003.

I973 also saw us on our first recording trip to County Clare, work which we carried on in tandem with our collecting from Travellers right up to the present day, though nowadays not as productively as most of the older generation of singers have passed on. Again, songs were the main impetus which led us to such as Ollie Conway in Mullagh. Ollie not only sang for us but brought other singers to his pub to meet us and give us their songs, a tremendous start to our recording in Clare.

At a music session in Quilty, fiddle player Junior Crehan approached us when he noted our interest in the music and offered to give us “a few tunes” one evening at the Crosses of Annagh; he also gave us songs, stories and much talk on that and many succeeding occasions.

We had been unable to meet up that year with the singer Tom Lenihan from Knockbrack, whom we had been told about by friends back in England, so we determined to return at a later date. This we did in 1974, when we came for the second Willie Clancy Summer School and, luckily, met up with Tom Munnelly, a collector for the Folklore Department at UCD. Tom organised the marvellous Friday afternoon sessions with the older singers during the W.C.S.S. and he kindly took us out with him on several of his collecting trips around West Clare and introduced us to some of his singers. We were immediately impressed that, rather than being intimidated by intrusive collectors armed with modern technology, as had been suggested to us on several occasions, the singers we met had no problem whatever in dealing with two sets of microphones and tape-recorders and took them in their stride.

It was 1976 before we met Tom Lenihan and struck up a friendship with him and his wife Margaret which lasted right up to their deaths: Margaret in 1983, Tom in 1990. The result of our first four nights’ recording sessions with Tom was the Topic album, ‘Paddy’s Panacea’, issued in 1978.

From that time on, we came to Clare annually, visiting singers and recording songs, stories and talk, initially camping at Spanish Point but eventually (and thankfully) being loaned use of a cottage.

Tom Lenihan and a number of other Clare singers were included in the monumental 20 volume Topic series, ‘Voice of the People’ in 1999 and, thanks to the Dublin singers’ club, An Goilín, a double C.D of our recordings, ‘Around the Hills of Clare’, was issued in 2004. ‘Around the Hills of Clare’, and ‘From Puck to Appleby’ are readily available and usually on sale at Custy’s Music Shop in Ennis. ‘Paddy’s Panacea’ was later reissued by Ossian Records. All profits from our albums are automatically donated to the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Merrion Square, Dublin.

Over the years, we also continued to record musicians and Traveller singers in London before finally being able to move to Miltown Malbay permanently in 1998.

If we learned anything over the thirty years or so we spent recording singers and storytellers, it was that the songs and stories we first set out to find were only a small part of a larger picture. There has been a huge amount of collecting traditional songs, music and stories in these islands over the last century, yet we know very little about the people who made them and sang them; why they sang them and what makes them important enough to have been held on to and passed on from one generation to the other down the centuries. This is largely because the songs have been treated as collectibles rather than what they actually are - part of the lives and histories of the people who sang them. There have been perfectly legitimate reasons why this has happened: lack of time and resources, an acute shortage of full-time collectors, and above all, the feeling that the songs and stories were rapidly disappearing as those who possessed them died, and so must be saved urgently; collector Tom Munnelly described his work as ‘A race with the undertaker’.

If it is true, as we believe it is, that the songs and stories are an important part of our culture and history, it is equally so for the reminiscences, work practices, beliefs, customs, experiences, vernacular and traditions, and, just like the songs and stories, the opportunity to learn about these from the people who absorbed, practised and experienced them at first hand is rapidly disappearing.

Each visit added to our understanding and enjoyment of the wonderful richness of the Clare tradition: the storytelling, the set-dancing at Gleesons in Coore and, of course, the music. Throughout the years our work has been made easy and enjoyable by the warmth and friendliness afforded to a couple of strangers. Anything we have achieved has been made possible and pleasurable by the people of Clare.

We feel very privileged to have met, listened to and enjoyed the company of all the singers, musicians and storytellers that we have known over the years who have been so generous with their time, songs, music and stories. We all owe them a great debt of thanks for keeping their traditions alive and willingly passing them on, and feel sure that they would appreciate the appropriateness of the royalties from the sale of these CDs going to the Irish Traditional Music Archive whose work, along with that of the Department of Irish Folklore, UCD, has ensured that they are not lost to future generations.

We would like to express our gratitude to Clare County Library for making this selection from our collection of Clare recordings available online, with particular thanks for the dedicated work of Maureen Comber and Anthony Edwards. Our greatest hope is that people will not only enjoy browsing through and listening to the collection, but will learn, sing and pass on the songs that the singer we met had carried and cherished for so many years. A further thanks to the friends and fellow enthusiasts who were unstinting with their advice and knowledge; in particular, Tony McGailey of Dublin, John Moulden of Donegal and Len Graham of County Armagh.

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A brief explanation of some of the terms and references used in the notes to these songs:

Child numbers
The Child Ballads comprise 305 traditional ballads, mainly from England and Scotland, with references to similar versions found in Europe and beyond.
They were assembled from printed sources by American scholar, Francis James Child, during the second half of the 19th century and each of the 305 was allocated its own ‘Child’ number.
The lyrics and Child's studies of the genre were published in five large volumes as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.
The collection includes many versions of each ballad with extensive notes to all of them
A similar study, of the tunes of the ballads, was carried out by another American scholar, Bertrand Harris Bronson, and published in the 1960s in four large volumes as The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads.
The Child Ballad collection is freely available on line at https://archive.org/details/englishscottishp1904chil

Laws numbers
Laws numbers refer to a categorisation system devised by American scholar, G Malcolm Laws, in 1956 and published in his American Balladry from British Broadsides.
Laws took songs that had come originally from Britain via broadsides and had found their way into the American singing tradition.
He divided all songs into categories, giving each an identifying letter from J to Q, and each song appearing in that category has a number, eg:
The Silk Merchant’s Daughter (see Tom Lenihan) appears in section N (ballads of lovers’ tricks and disguises) and is given the number 10, and so is listed as Laws N10.
Each song title in the index is accompanied by a plot description and a list of published sources.

Roud Numbers
The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of around 200,000 references to almost 25,000 songs that have been collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world; it is compiled by Steve Roud, a former London librarian.
The index is a numbering system which selects an overall title for each song, then lists all versions of that song along with where they were found or published and under what title they were known.
The primary function of the Roud Folk Song Index is to act as a research aid by correlating versions of traditional folk song lyrics that have been independently documented over past centuries by many different collectors across the UK, Ireland and North America.
The database is on-line at http://www.vwml.org/search/search-roud-indexes

Broadside or broadside ballad is a descriptive or narrative verse or song on a popular theme which was printed on single sheets of paper and sold in the streets, often by the seller singing or reciting them in public places.
Broadside ballads appeared shortly after the invention of printing in the 15th century and were hawked in streets, fairs and the marketplaces of Europe into the 19th century. Typical broadsides included hack-written topical ballads on recent crimes, executions, or disasters.
Some ballads passed into the oral tradition from broadside origins, although others were taken from the tradition and were often “beautified” by the addition of flowery, sentimental, or moralizing language; broadsides also preserved versions of traditional ballads that might otherwise have disappeared from popular tradition.
They were also referred to as slip songs, stall ballads and street ballads.
Songs concerning executions were called ’Goodnight Ballads’ and sheets containing a number of songs were referred to as garlands.
The trade of ballad-selling in Ireland was practised, mainly by Travellers, right into the middle of the twentieth century, where they were known simply as ballads.
A number of the singers included here learned songs from ‘ballads’ or ‘song-books’ (garlands), bought at fairs and markets locally or in Ennis.

Song collections referred to in the song notes:
Ballads of County Clare, Seán P, Ó Cillín, (privately printed, Galway) 1976
Irish Emigrant Songs and Ballads, Robert L Wright, Bowling Green University 1975
Irish Street Ballads, Colm O’Lochlainn, Three Candles, Dublin 1946.
More Irish Street Ballads, Colm O’Lochlainn, Three Candles, Dublin 1965
Mount Callan Garland, (Tom Lenihan’s songs) (book and 2 cassettes), Tom Munnelly, Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éirenn 1994
Sam Henry’s ‘Songs of the People’, Gale Huntigton and Lani Hermann, Uni. of Georgia Press 1990 (assembled from songs first published in The Northern Constitution newspaper, Coleraine 1923 – 39)
Songs of Irish Rebellion, Georges-Denis Zimmermann Allen-Figgis Dublin 1967
The Greig Duncan Folk song Collection (Scotland), 8 vols, Patrick Shudham Shaw and Emily Lyle (etc), Univ. Of Aberdeen Press 1981 – 2002

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Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie,
Miltown Malbay,
County Clare,
2015


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