The ballad singer
I watched a piper take the wind that blew around his hair.
And with the supple leather
lead the hard black wood and brittle reed
A dance into the air.
I watched a boy that stood with men
A whistle at his tongue
Breathe the old and smokey air into his breast,
then with his careful fingers.
Make it young
I saw a chin rest on a fiddle
And watched the fingers dance
Letting the notes slip from the strings into the wind
that takes all things,
That music leaves to chance
I heard the singer read the wind
And listened to his song,
That told of all the wind had known
and when and where the wind had blown,
And why he'd been so long.
To Al O'Donnell 1968. Archie Fisher.
Avondale: A tender song of Charles Stewart Parnell, written by Dominic Behan. Avondale was the home of this much loved patriot, who was known as the uncrowned King of Ireland.
Streets of Derry: Dates roughly from the 1750's and illustrates, alarmingly, the repetition of events in Derry then, as now.
Lord Inchfquin: Composed by the last of the Irish Bard Harpists, O'Carolan.
Larry: The condemned Larry is allowed the concession of having his wake the night before he is to hong, in order to partake more fully in the festivities- A song rich in old Dublin dialect.
Maid on the mountain: I wrote this song to try and youthful dreams. The tune is on adaptation ol the traditional Munster cloak.
Green linnet: The idealistic young man in search of freedom for Ireland, looks long and favourably on the exploits of Napoleon, as France, and indeed any enemy of England was seen as an Irish friend.
Ramble away: A neat song of a rake's progress.
Matt Hyiand: The age old problem of loving beneath one's station here surprisingly resolves to a happy conclusion.
Crooked Jack: Written by Dominic Behan, this song shows that life for the Irish migratory worker on English building sites is not all pints of ale and busty barmaids.
Cuilin: This is Dominic Behan's interpretation of one of the classic Irish ballads. Ireland is symbolised here as a beautiful woman.
Me tune: This tune started as a banjo doodle, went through various stages, and finished up on open-tuned guitar.
James Connelly was Ireland's socialist trade unionist and one ol the leaders of the 1916 Rebellion. He was wounded, captured and executed in Kilmainham Jail, Dublin.
Ned of the hill: Edmond O'Ryan supported James II whose defect led to the confiscation of his estate. The song describes the outlaw driven by pain, beating on the door ol his beloved: Ireland.
To Seamus Ennis, collector, singer, piper, linguist and friend this record in dedicated.
Al O'Donnell records are even more rare than Al O'Donnell public appearances. Very occasionally he can be tempted away from his native Dublin and his work in the graphics department of Irish television to do a short tour of England, Scotland or the Continent. So occasional are these performances that they hit the audiences a-new each time as a revelation, for Al O'Donnell is amongst the very top flight of singers on the folk scene; for confirmation ash any other top flight singer.
The Granemore hare. Hare coursing, a popular pastime with some people, is here described from both points of view — the hunter's and the hare's. At first the hare enjoys the chase, but on discovering the presence of two master coursers soon bitterly regrets having leapt from his cover. A.O'D.
No matter how you may feel about the pros and cons of beagling it cannot be denied that this fine South Armagh song catches the excitement of such events. The song is said to have been made by Owen McMahon of Tassagh and some of those mentioned in it are alive yet. "Puss" is a local name for the hare. T.M.
Bonny Woodhall. Also known as Calder's clear stream, this song has been collected in Ireland by Sam Henry (No. 476 in Songs of the people) but even there the language remains very definitely Scots and differs little from this version which Al got from Dick Gaughan. T.M..
Sliabh na mBan (The mountain of the women). In July 1798 a party of Tiperrary insurgents gathered at Carrigmoclear on the slopes of Sliabh na mBan. They were betrayed by Thomas Neill. an innkeeper from Ninemilehouse. English troops under Generals Myers, St. John and Asgill routed the rebels with much slaughter.
Neill fled before some survivors of the conflict attacked and wrecked his inn. A century later Dr. George Sigerson (1838-1925) wrote of Neill, "The country people are very cautious not to intermarry with any of his or any other traitor's descendants".
Al got this song from Seamus Ennis who translated it from the lament written by Micheal O Longain of Carrignavar after the event. T.M..
The Connerys. The Connery brothers having been perjured in court by the man who'd put their sister with child, are transported for life to New South Wales. They lay a powerful family curse on the perpetrators of their misery. A.O'D.
The landlord's agent was one of the most despised characters in 19th century Ireland and often attacked by the tenants from whom he extracted rack rent. Such an agent, Keady, was a Hacked by the Connery brothers in Botha Duin na gCraobh (Bohadoon) near Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. Keady survived the attack and the Connerys were subsequently betrayed by a man named Cuimin.
The sympathy of the folk was naturally with Sean and Seamus and this had the effect of having their sentence reduced from hanging to transportation to New South Wales.
The opening reference should be to Cuimin and not Coote as sung, similarly; even though the latter makes for better rhyming, the song was written concerning "brothers two" not "brothers three".
From a prose translation by Seamus Ennis, Dublin singer Frank Harte made this song, it captures all the power and pathos of the original Irish. T.M..
An Bunnan buidhe (The yellow bittern).Cathal Buidhe mac Chiolla Ghunna (Fair haired Charles Gunn or Gilgunn) wrote this song (in Irish) in the early part of the 18th century. He is still remembered in the lore of the people of Ulster as a rake who lived wild and loose all his days.
Tradition has it that one winter during a period when he was attempting to quit drinking he stumbled across the body of a Bunnan buidhe (yellow bittern) which had died of thirst beside Lough McNean which was completely frozen over. Even though his true love might wish him to drink no more Cathal Buidhe is resolved not to share the fate of the bittern:
I was sober a while, but I'll drink and be wise
For I fear I may die in the end of thirst.
It is a pleasure to record that Cathal Buidhe died at a ripe old age. about 1756. This translation is by Thomas McDonagh. T.M..
The dark eyed sailor. One of the best versions of the 'broken token' theme. The lovers break a gold ring, each takes half. He goes to sea for seven years, returns, and to test her fidelity tries to seduce her. She, not recognising him repels his advances. He produces his half of the ring and is joyfully recognised! Having proved his point, they marry and settle in west Cork. A.O'D.
Known to the broadsheet press as Fair Phoebe and her dark eyed sailor, Al learned this from Seamus Ennis who may have got it from his friend and mentor Colm O'Lochlainn. for the latter published it in his Irish Street ballads (Dublin 1939).
This is certainly one of the most loved of all folk songs and it has been collected in all corners of the English speaking world and has even made its way into the repertoire of Danish traditional singers as Jom Fruen ög Somanden. Aside from the appeal of the 'broken token' theme to the folk, another reason for its popularity is the extremely beautiful melody of the song which remains remarkably consistent wherever the song is collected.
Al's guitar work on this piece and throughout the LP amply demonstrates that his playing of instruments, either guitar or 5 string banjo, is far more than a mere accompaniment: it is an integral part of the performance played with taste, skill and imagination. T.M..
Donal Óg. One of the most movingly told Irish love songs of a girl's total obsession with her lover young Donal (Donal Óg). Even if he travels widely in the world she dearly hopes he'll return eventually to her. A.O'D
One of the 'big' Gaelic songs it is also found in Scots tradition. Basically the theme is simple, a girl is rejected by young Donal whom she loves, but so myriad are the versions of this song that a full book has been written on it alone (Donal Óg by Seosamh O Duibhginn, Dublin1960).
A number of translations are sung today and this stunningly poignant version Al learned from Seamus Ennis. T.M..
Lord Abore and Mary Rynn. This splendid ballad of the mother who poisons her son to prevent his marriage. Professor Child included in his monumental collection of ballads as No. 87 Prince Robert. The four versions he publishes are all Scots origin but unfortunately the tune was never noted by the collectors. As all these texts were early 19th century the ballad was thought to be traditionally extinct.
This being the case you can imagine how thunderstruck I was when I heard it being sung in a Dublin pub in 1969! The singer was Jim Kelly who learned it from Frank Feeney who in turn had it from his late wife, a Carlow woman. The story of the discovery of this, the only known survival of the ballad, can be read in Irish Folk Music Studies, Vol. 1 (1972-3).
Lord Abore and Mary Flynn has never appeared on disc before. I sing a version collated from my recordings of Kelly and Feeney which I passed on to Al. T.M..
The madman. Written by and learned from Allan Taylor a chilling story which suggests that institutionalisation can often increase the damage to a mentally ill person instead of the reverse. A.O'D.
Ramble Away is a double CD, fully acoustic, mostly traditional songs and tunes. CD One is studio tracks, and CD Two is live tracks recorded at Cobblestone, Dublin.
"One of the great voices in our singing tradition" (Derek Copley Irish Independent)
Al developed interest in folk music while at Nottingham Art College, and started singing at the Nottingham Folk Workshop, becoming regular performer there and later Chairman of Club Committee. During this period he heard some of the finest performers of that time: A.L. Lloyd, Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger, Pete Seeger, Martin Carthy, The Watersons, Rae & Archie Fisher, Louis Killen, Bob Davenport, The McPeakes, etc. Learning from such fine singers, Al started to play gigs in nearby folk clubs. The Irish folk scene was just developing at that time (1960's). On graduation he spent five years playing gigs professionally in England, Scotland, Ireland, Europe and North America.