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IRTRAD-L  February 2005

IRTRAD-L February 2005

Subject:

Jim Carroll and West Clare Singing Tradition (long)

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Thu, 17 Feb 2005 08:52:42 EST

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Our fellow list member and his latest project were the subject of an article 
in last week's Clare Champion which I have posted below for those of you who 
may be interested in it.  Perhaps Tom Munnelly or anyone else who was there 
would share more details about the launch night
Paul Keating

11 Feb 2005    Clare Champion
Songs of times gone by
 
 by TJ Flynn

Over 30 years ago, Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie gathered their belongings 
from their London base and crossed the Irish Sea to set up home in West Clare. 
They’d been snared by the charms of Miltown, more specifically by the musical 
tones that linger in this part of the world. 
“We’d heard of Junior Crehan, Tom Lenihan, Willie Clancy”, says Jim, “and 
when we first arrived here in 1971 we were captured by the music and song 
tradition”.
Since then, Jim and Pat have immersed themselves in these traditions. For 
three decades, they have recorded a catalogue of Clare songs which were handed 
down through the generations. Close to 50 of these recordings have made it onto “
Around the Hills of Clare”, a double cd of songs and a recitation from the 
Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie collection.
It’s a vast anthology, dipping back in time to the turn of the twentieth 
century and beyond and the social and historical value of these recordings cannot 
be underestimated.
The hope is that this cd will ensure these old Clare songs are preserved and 
with some luck, a revival of sorts may ensue.
“Some of the traditions are now going by the wayside”, continues Jim. “We’d 
like to see these old songs being taken up again.”
“Around the Hills of Clare” not only provides recordings of these songs by a 
vast array of singers (including Martin Reidy, Tom Lenihan, Martin Howley, 
Pat McNamara, Austin and Michael Flanagan, Martin Long, Michael “Straighty” 
Flanagan and Nora Cleary), but the complete text of each song is also included. 
The booklet contains background notes and relevant photographs ensuring an 
ease of access to these recordings and highlighting the decades of work 
committed to the project.
“In putting this together, we have recorded a couple of hundred tapes in total
”, says Pat. “These have been sent to the British Library in London and in 
time will be stored at the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin and all 
royalties from the sale of this cd will go towards this Irish archive”.
The themes of these songs are vast and reflect the times in which they were 
first penned, evoking the topics discussed around the fire in those days before 
the television and mobile phone. Local and national affairs are woven through 
songs of courtship and love, songs of land and sea and songs of place and 
emigration.
Kitty Hayes, who was recorded for the collection, recalls a time when these 
songs were in their pomp. 
“The American wake was a big thing around here. I remember my father telling 
sad stories of people going to America who would never return home and the 
songs formed a big part of that. At the wake, there would be music and then songs 
would be written about those going away”.
The immense laceration which emigration left upon the west of Ireland was 
something which, at first, Jim and Pat found difficult to understand.
“As outsiders, it wasn’t easy to comprehend and so we were wondering why so 
many songs were tied up with emigration”, Pat says.
“Then one day, Junior Crehan told us a local story about an old man who ran 
down the railway tracks after his son, who was emigrating and boarded his 
train. It became obvious that these songs were not just for entertainment purposes, 
but they informed of the social and historical make up of the area”.
Kitty agrees that an understanding of the song increases the listener’s 
appreciation.
She’s sitting in the kitchen of Pat and Jim, the natural habitat of the 
storyteller and singer. And it’s locations such as this, (living rooms, cars, an 
odd bar) where most of Jim and Pat’s recordings were made.
These settings provide an intimacy that allows the listener to eavesdrop on 
what could be a private conversation.
“The passion and appreciation for these songs shines through in the voice of 
the singer”, Jim says.
“Through meeting people from Clare over the years, the thing that stands out 
is the genuine love for the songs. If I asked somebody about a particular 
song, they’d explain and sing at the drop of a hat. Experiences like that are 
glorious”.
He says there was an overriding sense among the singers that these songs 
needed to be maintained for future generations.
“People wanted to give us these songs because they saw their importance”, 
Jim continues. “Take Martin Howley, he was desperate to keep the songs going. 
There was a desperation to ensure they live on. In some cases, only a handful of 
people would be familiar with particular lyrics. Others wouldn’t have had an 
audience to hear the songs and the opportunity to record them was something 
they appreciated”.
From 30 years of toil comes a document which has major implications for the 
protection of local history, much of which has not previously been written down.
“One of the big things about this area is the writing and making of local 
songs”, says Jim. “In the past, people were making songs about the priest going 
to the next parish or a local rebellion. The West Clare railway was a popular 
subject as well”.
In a nut, the singing tradition of the county is rich, the wealth of songs 
recorded in this double cd is vast and it’s the singers who contributed to “
Around the Hills of Clare” to whom credit must go.
“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”
, says Pat.
“They 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 so as to ensure that they are not lost to future 
generations”.

 “Around the Hills of Clare” will be launched by Tom Munnelly on 
Saturday,February 12, at 5pm in Malone’s, The Market House, Miltown Malbay. A Clare and 
Connemara singing session will follow the launch. 

Dublin .

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