Brían Mac Gloinn

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Brían Mac Gloinn
Brían Mac Gloinn's Podcast The Songs of Arranmore was published on YouTube, Facebook, and SoundCloud on 23 December 2020

Songs of Arranmore

This project took place mostly in the months of October, November and December 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, but in truth it is also a snapshot of a few years of work, of my ongoing research and enquiry into the singing of Arranmore Island.

There are a few stones I left unturned that I would have liked to have gotten to, but due to the restrictions of the pandemic, I had to make do with this being mostly a solo run. In normal times, there are a few singers on the island I would love to spend some time with and have a chance to interview and record. In particular, I’m missing Anna Bean Uí Ghallachóir (an amazing singer, and also the daughter of Dónal Phaidí Hiudan who was recorded by Hugh Shields in 1977) from this project. I feel a little bit embarrassed making a podcast and writing a piece about the singing of Arranmore without mentioning Anna – so I have to do it here for now, and remedy that in the coming year whenever restrictions are eased. 

There were a few twists in the tale as the months went on, including one huge loss. Andrew Early was central to my experience and understanding of the singing of Arranmore, and I’d like to dedicate this to him.

I still feel like I’m only at the beginning of this work, but I hope you find it interesting, and enjoy reading or listening.

Dftw5 Arranmore Island View From Brian Mac Gloinn House
Arranmore Island, Co. Donegal: view from my studio

Arranmore is an island off the north west coast of Ireland, three miles from Burtonport off the Donegal coast. There are about 400 people living on the island year-round. My mother was born and raised on Arranmore, and although I grew up in Carlow, we spent our school holidays on the island. My parents moved back to the island permanently a few years ago, and my sister Fiona has since moved there with her three girls and her husband Jesse. 

Singing is and always has been an integral part of Arranmore life and identity. Unaccompanied singing was hugely popular on the island in the past, especially in the days of the teach earnáil – or the rambling home as it was known. People would gather in each other’s houses and pass the time with stories, dances and songs, spinning yarns and having the craic. These days, you’re likely to hear songs accompanied by guitar, accordion and percussion in the bars on the island, but there are also plenty of amazing unaccompanied singers. People dance a lot on Arranmore too in the way that Donegal people often do – they jive and waltz to anything that’s the right pace. 

Luckily, plenty of singers have been recorded on the island over the years. The biggest single collection of Arranmore recordings was made by Hugh and Lisa Shields in 1977. 

Db Hugh And Lisa Dundrum 1995 Ii Med Res Crop
Hugh & Lisa Shields, collectors. Image: Shields Family Collection ITMA

Hugh & Lisa Shields Recordings 1977 

I first heard and discovered these recordings while on work experience in the ITMA in 2010. I was put to work in a room alongside Lisa Shields, who got chatting to me about music and my family. By an unbelievable stroke of luck, it turned out that Lisa had recorded and remembered my grandfather and great-grandmother, who she had spent a fair bit of time with on that trip. 

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Nellie and Barney Beag Gallagher, Arranmore. Image: Mac Gloinn Family
I got to hear recordings of my family, of my ancestors that I hadn’t met. I think that moment changed the course of my life.

Bruach na Finne / Barney Beag Gallagher. Shields Family Collection ITMA

Siúbhán Ní Dhuibhir / Barney Beag Gallagher. Shields Family Collection ITMA

There was something strangely familiar about hearing the voice of my grandfather. At the time I had only just started to sing a few traditional songs but finding those recordings ignited my interest in the singing of Arranmore, the songs that my grandfather had, and the other songs people sang that weren’t recorded. 

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Map of Arranmore / Hugh Shields, 1977. Shields Family Collection ITMA

Róise Bean Mhic Grianna – Róise na nAmhrán

I soon became interested in the singing of Róise Bean Mhic Grianna, also known as Róise Rua or Róise na nAmhrán, who my sister Aoife had done extensive research on and introduced me to. I remember the first time I heard her singing. I was in another room and thought it was an old American blues singer. The character of her voice is unique, and she had a large and diverse repertoire of songs. Róise is the most recorded and documented singer from Arranmore, and her recordings have become quite influential on traditional singing all over Ireland. 

Liostáil mé le sáirsint / Róise na nAmhrán (Róise Mhic Ghrianna)

I could write a lot about Róise Rua from stories that I’ve been told about her, singers I’ve heard speak about her, and songs of hers that I’ve researched. There’s a fantastic Siúlach Scéalach programme about her available online, made by Raidió na Gaeltachta a few years ago that I highly recommend listening to. There’s also a great book about her life called Róise Rua: An Island Memoir, written by Padraig Ua Cnáimhsí and translated by JJ Keaveny (Mercier Press, 2009).

Most of what I know about Róise came from my sister Aoife, from Andrew Early and from one or two other people on the island who knew her. She is fondly remembered by those who knew her as a kind, humble woman, who would often have visitors to her home in Screag a tSeabhac where she lived with her husband Séamie. Róise was a remarkable singer, but it’s thanks to Padraig Ua Cnáimhsí, a former schoolmaster on the island, that she was noticed, and her songs documented and recorded. 

Róise was recorded in 1953 by RTÉ and the Irish Folklore Commission. In the early 90s, Cathal Goan went looking for the tapes, planning a radio programme about her for RTÉ, and eventually found them on the roof of the General Post Office (GPO). Audio storage at the time was all physical and bulky, so RTÉ had to make space at some stage in their archives. The recordings had been transferred onto acetate disks and then left on the roof of the GPO on O’Connell Street in Dublin. Some of the recordings were irreparably damaged and some bits of songs were missing, but there was still enough in those tapes to compile a full CD which was released in 1994 by RTÉ – Róise na nAmhrán: songs of a Donegal woman / Róise na nAmhrán [Róise Mhic Grianna] (RTÉ CD178).

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Róise na nAmhrán (Róise Mhic Ghrianna). Image courtesy National Folklore Collection
I think it’s absolutely amazing that Róise sat there singing in the lounge of the Glen Hotel one evening in 1953, and that we can sit next to her and listen in 2020. That’s how I feel when I spend time with any archival recordings.

Particularly when there are other noises in the room – a ticking clock, the doorbell ringing, a buzzing fly, a kettle boiling or someone pulling up a chair. You’re in the room with them. It’s kind of like time travel. 

Ceol a' phíobaire / Altan; Anna Ní Mhaonaigh. Courtesy/Copyright Compass Records

When Róise’s recordings surfaced in the early 90s, her singing became quite influential. The kind, humble woman from Arranmore became an important and valuable source of North-West Donegal singing. Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh really championed Róise’s songs, reconstructing some of them using manuscripts and other versions of songs she heard from local singers around Gaoth Dobhair. 

One of my favourites of these is 'Ceol a’ Phíobaire'. In this song, a piper tries to convince his darling to elope with him. He warns her against all other men, the ones with craft and farm jobs, and assures her that she’d be much better off with him and the sweet tones of his music. I found another version of this song in the book Filíocht na nGael, with a verse I hadn’t heard at the end. As I soon found out, the same verse was also recorded by Albert Fry on his album Tráthnóna beag aréir (Gael Linn, 1972; CD reissue 2008)

Ceol a’ Phíobaire
Dftw5 Ceol A Phíobaire Na N Gael 2 Verses
Filidheacht na nGaedheal / Pádraig Ó Canainn do chuir i n-eagar. Baile Átha Cliath (19--).

Má phósann tú an t-oibridhe is tú a bhéas go haoibhinn

A mhuirnín díleas is fhaoileann óg;

‘gus gheobha tú marcaíocht siar chun na n-aontach,

A mhuirnín díleas is fhaoileann óg

Ní bheidh tú ‘do shuidhe go mbéidh sé ann meádhon-oídhche;

Béidh airgead in do phócaidh is ór buidhe ‘n-a phíosaídh,

Ach ba mhíle b’fhearr duit mise agat is ceol binn mo phíbe,

A mhuirnín díleas is fhaoileann óg



If you marry the worker, it’ll be blissful for you,

My sweet darling, young maiden,

And you’ll get a lift to the fair,

You won’t be sitting up til midnight,

You’ll have money in your pockets, and little pieces of gold,

But you’d much rather be with me, and the sweet music of my pipes,

My sweet darling, my young maiden

Wherever Róise learned the song, she had a few verses that she may well have made up herself. She sang the words ‘A mhuirnín dhílis, éalaigh ó” or “my sweet darling, escape-o” as opposed to “is fhaoileann óg’ – meaning fair young maiden. Róise told Seán Ó hEochaidh that it was about a woman who was marrying someone she didn’t want to marry, and that the piper was trying to get her to escape with him instead. 

I love thinking about the process that these songs have gone through over the past few hundred years – like a long game of Chinese whispers with plenty of imagination involved. It’s easy to see how the words ‘is fhaoileann óg’ would have morphed into éalaigh-ó, and how that changes the sentiment of the song. The words éalaigh-ó just sing very well too. 

I’ve recorded and filmed a song for this project that I learned from Róise’s recordings - it’s a song called 'Máire Bhán'. 'Máire Ní Ghríofa' is the Connemara version of the same song, but this version morphed to be more Arranmore-relevant at some stage along the way, and mentions Oileán Árainn in the first line. There’s a much longer version of the song sung by Teresa McClafferty out on Tory Island too available to listen to on TG4 Cartlann Sean Nóis.

It’s a typical old romantic Irish song and Róise’s version includes all the best tropes - the protagonist tells Máire Bhán that he wouldn’t even ask for any cows with her, such is his true love, then he gets lost in a foggy place, and by the end of the song he’s sick and in need of care from her. 

It was specially recorded for this podcast and is the first time I’ve released it.

Máire Bhán / Brían Mac Gloinn

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Brían Mac Gloinn, Arranmore

Other great Arranmore singers and central characters 

Biddy Joe O’Donnell, Charlie Rua McColl, Joe Phil Bhig Rogers, Dónal Phaidí Hiudan, Packie Boner, Barney Beag Gallagher & Andrew Early 

As you can imagine. Róise wasn’t the only singer on the island at the time, but there were and still are plenty of great singers and songs on Arranmore.  

One song that I was told Róise sang a unique version of is 'Tiocfaidh an Samhradh is Fásfaidh an Féar.' While Róise’s version wasn’t recorded, others on the island were, including Biddy Joe O’Donnell. Biddy Joe was a professional singer in her day apparently and even sang at funerals as a keener. Something happened at some stage in her life that turned her off singing, however, and she never sang much after that. Even when these songs were recorded, you can hear her saying in one of the recordings that she was worried the other people in the room would laugh at her singing. I think she’s an amazing singer, and I’m so glad that she was recorded. 

Tiocfaidh an Samhradh / Biddy Joe O'Donnell. Shields Family Collection ITMA

I love the unusual melody she has for 'Once I Loved', and another song she sings - 'Pleoid Ort a Neidí gan Seanadh' was another very local song, and mentions a few local placenames like Poll a Mhadaigh.

Once I loved / Biddy Joe O'Donnell. Shields Family Collection ITMA

Gort Garra 29Th October 2020
Gort Garra, Arranmore, 2020

Popular songs & their place in the community 

One of the things I’m always curious to find out about are what songs were popular on Arranmore and where they might have circulated from before the radio came to the island. Some old songs like 'Níl Sé ‘na Lá', 'Tiocfaidh an Samhradh', 'Buachaill Ón Éirne' & 'Siún Ní Dhuibhir' were sung by a lot of people, but there were also plenty of songs in English sung on the island. 

I was told that the dancehall on the island was run by Phil Neily, a man who was a renowned fiddle player all over Donegal and beyond. The first building at the new pier on Arranmore is where that dancehall was – in the old mill building. Néillidh Boyle was a regular there, as were Mickey and Johnny Doherty, and the door charge would be increased when either of them were in. I was told that at some stage in the night they’d pause the dance and step dancers or singers would be called on to perform. 

All the ways to go / Packie Boner. Shields Family Collection ITMA

'The Factory Girl', 'The Flower of Sweet Strabane', 'The Maid of Culmore', 'The Lowlands of Holland' and any songs about the Enniskillen Dragoons were big hits apparently. The songs were given their own moment in the night, a good chance to sing to an attentive crowd, and maybe even to be noticed by someone you fancied or to get a sing-along going. By the sounds of things, having a good song was hugely valuable, and occasions like these highlight the role that ballads would have had at gatherings on the island. At the time on Arranmore, a lot of people learned songs from ballad sheets, or just ballads as they were known. 

The loyal lover / Charlie Rua McColl. Shields Family Collection ITMA

Charlie describes the process people went through when learning songs from ballads in the way he did with that song. There’s another great version of that song from the singing of Mary Connors, a traveller recorded in Belfast in 1952 by Peter Kennedy. Judging by her singing of the song, it seems as though Charlie and herself sang the same lyrics – so Charlie’s memory of them was intact, but he just made up a melody of his own. Having sung and heard enough songs, he imagined the song for himself.

The loyal lover / Charlie Rua McColl. Shields Family Collection ITMA

Dftw5 Johnny Martin Grave Michael Fortune
Grave of Johnny Martin / Michael Fortune, photographer

An Bacach Siúl – John Martin 

I got chatting one evening to Dr. Johnny Duffy, an Arranmore man in his late 80s who has an incredibly memory – a wealth of knowledge and history. Johnny had been trying to think of a translation for the word vagabond, and he got talking about people who used to visit the island when he was a small boy. He said that there were people who would travel around on their own, calling into houses, maybe begging or selling things, who would often sing songs and tell stories. He said these people weren’t necessarily travellers – as in the ethnic group we have in Ireland, but they were known as bacaigh siúil or a bacach siúil. The word bacach, as in the song bacach síol andaí, means tramp or a lame person, but not in a derogatory way. These people weren’t lame, but some of them were physically disabled in some way that may have prevented them from working at manual labour. 

The best known bacach siúl when Johnny Duffy was growing up, he said, was a man named John Martin. John Martin used to travel around selling ballad sheets and singing songs in public, often through a horn that he used to amplify his voice, and could be heard all over the island. He sold ballad sheets printed by the Three Candles Press in Dublin, and he used to sing in the schools sometimes. People would often take him in, and he would always be given food and a bed for the night by anyone he called in to. 

I was intrigued by the story of John Martin, and I did a little digging that evening. I searched the ITMA catalogue, and saw a reference to him having been recorded by Séamus Ennis at the cattle fair in Gortahork, in Donegal, in 1954. The archive had a copy of this recording and I was sent it the next morning. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard it first. 

Séamus Ennis was working for the BBC at the time. It’s an amazing recording of the entire scene. John Martin was recorded singing through the horn. There are cows mooing, people chatting and laughing, and you can hear that he turned as he sang in different directions. At the end you can hear him laughing a bit. Séamus Ennis interviewed him too, but he didn’t take Séamus Ennis or any of his questions too seriously and he sounded like a real character. The song is the 'Turfman From Ardee'. 

I was delighted to find that these recordings of John Martin existed, but I had a notion that morning to contact Michael Fortune – a brilliant folklorist from Wexford, to see if he might have seen any pictures of him, or if he might know anything about the bacach siúl. The story then took an unbelievable twist. 

As it turned out, Michael not only knew about John Martin, but he knew where he was buried and even where the horn was. 

In the late 50s John Martin spent a lot of time in Wexford, cycling between villages, selling ballads, singing at fairs or in schools, and sleeping in people’s barns. One morning in the early 60s he was found dead in someone’s barn, so the local community collected the money to bury him, in the corner of a graveyard where they buried unknown sailors who washed up on the shore. He was a loved by all in the community in Wexford, and is fondly remembered by those who knew him. Michael sent me some photos of the grave, which he visited a few years ago. His cousins put the cross on it, and local people still place flowers on bacach siúl’s grave. 

These wandering vagabonds, the bacaigh siúl, didn’t just pass around old ballads, as I discovered. 

Arranmore Island North West Donegal Pete Sweeney
Arranmore Island / Pete Sweeney, composer

The bards – songwriters & poets of Arranmore 

Peadar Breathnach, was a travelling tailor and a prolific songwriter from Glenfin in Donegal who lived from 1825-1870. 'Amhrán Pheadar Bhreathnaigh' is a song that he wrote about something that happened to him on Arranmore, and actually took place in the pub in Leabgarrow which is now Jerry Early’s bar. My grandfather sang this song and it seems as though it was recorded by Hugh Shields in 1977, but that the recording was lost from the tapes at some stage. What we still have is a recording of him telling the story of the song, and recordings of some other singers singing it.

Story of Amhrán Pheadar Bhreathnaigh / Barney Beag Gallagher. Shields Family Collection ITMA

From what I can tell, it seems like Arranmore has always had a strong tradition of song writers, and a strong connection with poets and writers from the mainland. My mam remembers Seán Bán Mac Grianna coming in to visit her dad on a regular basis, bringing a few notebooks and a bottle of whiskey with him to go through some of his new songs with Barney. 

Songwriting in a traditional form is still going on on Arranmore, whether or not the songwriters are aware of it. The song 'I’ll Go', written by Jerry Early and John Gallagher a few years ago, was written about a heroic lifeboat rescue off the coast of Donegal in 1940, when eight fishermen from Arranmore rescued 18 dutch sailors from their ship in the middle of a hurricane. I’ve written a few songs on the same story, and I made a radio ballad about it earlier this year.

To my ears, 'I’ll Go' follows similar form and structure to that of a seafaring ballad – maybe along the lines of 'We’ll Go to Sea No More'. Whether or not Jerry and John knew it at the time, I consider their song to be part of this old tradition of songwriting on the island. After it was written, the song was recorded and produced in a modern style, but if it’s stripped back to the bare bones, it’s a lot closer to a traditional ballad.

Athphort Léabrannagh
Athphort, Arranmore

I’ll go / Jerry Early

Throughout Hugh & Lisa Shields’s 1977 tapes a few local poets and writers were mentioned, but one name kept on coming up - Pete Sweeney.

I first heard of Pete Sweeney from Andrew Early. 

Andrew sang some of Pete’s songs, and would often mention him as having been a great writer and poet. This next song, as it turns out, was written about Andrew and for him. While Andrew was living in America, he came home to the island at one stage and met Pete. Pete told Andrew he’d have to write a song for him. He went for a walk, and came back 20 minutes later with this song. One line – ‘is tú féin mo Mháirín, a Mháire mo stór” was written for Mary, Andrew’s wife. 

Tá crioth ar mo chroí / Andrew Early. Shields Family Collection ITMA

Andrew was recorded singing that by Hugh Shields in the Glen Hotel in 1977, in the same place where Róise was recorded 24 years earlier. 

Pete Sweeney went to school with my granddad but didn’t continue his education into second and third level. Instead, he turned his intelligence and talent to writing. He was a very prolific poet and wrote a lot of songs, often very quickly. He wrote the lyrics first, I’m told, and would attach a melody afterwards, but would write in rhythmic structures that worked well with old traditional melodies. His songs are absolutely traditional as far as I’m concerned. He wrote songs for other people to sing, and I think that’s a really interesting aspect of songwriting within a community tradition like the one on Arranmore. I think of tradition as a creative process that exists within communities and a community’s shared memory, and Pete was a talented and important channel of that tradition, in my eyes. 

Pete was over and back to Chicago a lot throughout his life, alongside many Arranmore people, and he wrote a few songs on the topic of emigration – like 'Má Théann Tú Go hÉirinn', as sung beautifully by Domhnaill Phaidí Hiudan, recorded by Hugh Shields. 

Má théann tú go hÉirinn / Domhnaill Phaidí Hiudan. Shields Family Collection ITMA


Emigration, I think it’s fair to say, is the central theme, influence and source of a lot of the songs of Arranmore. 

People worked seasonally in Scotland at the potato harvesting or tattie hoking, and would have picked up songs at those gatherings. These could have been songs in Gaelic or English. Róise Rua sang a good number of Scottish songs that she would have picked up in Scotland, but she sang them in her own approximated Irish. 

A lot of people went to work in England or Scotland, with a lot of people working in tunneling. I was told by the Scottish singer and folklorist Margaret Bennett that she once heard a ballad which had been written about the Arranmore men who broke the world record for tunneling when they dug through a mountain in the highlands of Scotland in a week, back in the 1950s. 

People could have always picked up ballad sheets, learned songs by ear or remembered the bones of a song while they worked abroad. The songs they brought back from their travels would have enriched the sing songs on the island when they’d get home. 

A lot of people never returned home, however, and the majority of these were people who emigrated to America and Canada. 

A lot of people emigrated from Arranmore to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. In 1948, Alan Lomax made a trip to Beaver Island to record singers there. Lomax noted that one singer he met there had the largest repertoire of any singer he had ever encountered, and he ran out of tape on that trip. Fiddle player Patrick Bonner Ward told Lomax that he had learned a lot of his music from Arranmore and Donegal musicians when he grew up on the island. 

One of the singers recorded by Lomax on that trip was John Green. Green was born in 1878 – a similar generation as Róise Rua. Green is a very common name in Donegal and on Arranmore, so I can only presume that this man was of Donegal or Arranmore heritage. 

You can hear John Green and all of Alan Lomax’s recordings from Beaver on the Library of Congress website, and I’d really recommend checking it out if you’re interested. 

While we can only imagine the wealth of culture, music and songs that left our shores with the mass emigration of the 19th century, we’re lucky to have recordings like Alan Lomax’s collection that help us to draw the connections across the Atlantic.

The pride of Glencoe ; Caroline from Edinburgh Town / John Green

Unrecorded songs 

One of my main interests while doing this work is to find songs on the island that haven’t been documented or recorded either on the island or anywhere else. 

There are two songs that I have recorded on the island that were learned by the singers from Róise Rua, but that weren’t recorded from Róise. Who knows why they weren’t recorded – it’s possible that the folklorists thought that one of them was a more modern country song, or that they weren’t interested in English language songs since she had such a unique repertoire of songs in Irish. 

The first of these songs is one called 'The Harp Without the Crown'. I recorded this song two years ago in Early’s bar on Arranmore sung by Madge Green. Madge told me that she learned this song from Róise when she was a small girl. When Róise’s husband would go to Scotland to work as a scythe's man, she would stay with Madge’s family so that she wouldn’t be at home on her own. Madge told me that Róise would sing all English songs when she would be staying with them and this is one of those songs. 

The harp without the crown / Madge Green

The recording is from a classic night in Early’s bar, on the 26th of December 2018. Sadly, Madge passed away only a few months after this was recorded. She was larger than life, a great singer and a constant dancer and she’s hugely missed by her family and the community on the island. 

The song is probably a fragment of a longer song, but there’s enough in this recording to start the trail of research. I’m only scratching the surface at the moment, but from what I can tell, it’s a distinct and unrecorded song. There are a few songs which refer to a ship which bore the flag of the harp without the crown, but they haven’t got much else in common with this one. The melody is almost exactly that of the 'Star of Phillipstown', another song Róise used to sing, which was recorded from her. 

No one to welcome me home / Andrew Early

This recording of this song was made by Steve O’Connor, a friend of mine who was up on the island to help Myles O’Reilly capture footage of Féile Róise Rua. It was recorded in the bar of the Glen Hotel on the 17th of May 2019 – 66 years after Andrew sat around the same room when Róise was recorded there in 1953, and 42 years after he was recorded singing there by Hugh Shields in 1977. 

I thought that Andrew’s was the only version of that song recorded on Arranmore, until last week when a recording surfaced – on a cassette tape from the mid 70s recorded by Colm Toland from Inishowen, made while visiting Dermot & Mary Toland who were living on the island. The singer is Joe Phil Bhig, who was recorded a lot by Hugh Shields in ‘77, and who had a unique version of 'No One to Welcome Me Home' with a very different melody. 

No one to welcome you home / Joe Phil Bhig Rogers. Courtesy Colm Toland

When Andrew was recorded in the Glen Hotel that night in 2019, I was sat beneath him on the ground. The energy in the room that night was electric and I’m so glad that moment was captured.

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Andrew Early, Glen Hotel, Arranmore, 2019

Andrew was one of the strongest living links to Róise Rua. He knew her well as a young boy, and used to call into her a lot. Himself and his friends would call in to her and Séamie, but mostly to act the blackguard, and have the craic, rather than listening to Róise’s songs or stories. He regretted that a bit, but the stories are brilliant. 

Róise took an interest in Andrew though, and must have known he could sing, so when everyone would be leaving for home Róise used to get Andrew to stay with her, and she’d sing a few songs to him. She’d sing the 'Star of Phillipstown', 'No One to Welcome Me Home', 'Glencoe', and any of her songs in Irish.

When it would be time for Andrew to leave, it would be dark outside, and the lane down from Róise’s house was narrow and rocky. She’d stick a fork into a hot coal in the fire, take it outside and blow on it til it went alight, and give that to Andrew to light his way home. Andrew would hold his torch high into the wind as he walked down the path, and the wind would keep the coal glowing until he got close to home. He’d leave the fork in the ditch and bring it back up to Róise again the next morning. 

Andrew told me that story many times. What a powerful symbol that was for what was happening on those evenings between himself and Róise. Andrew actually never let that torch go out and he sang right until his last days. 

Andrew passed away while I was on Arranmore researching and writing for this project in November. He was a close friend of me and my family, and was like a grandfather to me since I was a small boy. He was a guiding light to me in many ways, and I miss him dearly. I sang a few songs with him only three days before he died and I’m so grateful for every moment I had with him. He was an amazing man. 

I’m going to let Andrew sing us out. This is a song that Andrew learned as a teenager from an older man on the island. He heard a neighbour of his sitting on a wall singing this song, and he wrote the words down on a torn up cigarette carton. The man he learned it from couldn’t read or write. It’s a version of the 'Lowlands of Holland', and I find it really interesting. The Rocks around Gibraltar are mentioned, which makes me wonder if it was Holland or a Dutch colony that is being referred to throughout the song. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. I still feel like I’m only scratching the surface, but I don’t see an end to this research either – it’s a long and happy road for me to be on.

Nollaig shona, slán agus beannacht. 

The Lowlands of Holland / Andrew Early

Léab Beach


Sincere thanks to all those individuals and organisations who gave permission to use recordings and images, and helped with the preparation of this blog.