Tag Archives: Irish trad

Irish Firebrands Adventures: Irish Trad (Part 1)

640px-177-Bodhran-Hinnerk-Ruemenapf-0037-p70

Bodhrán, by Hinnerk Rümenapf.

Irish traditional music helped set the mood when I was writing Irish Firebrands. Pictured is an Irish drum (the inscription on this one means “music, talk, and fun”). It bears a family resemblance to a tambourine, but it’s usually larger and it never has bells. In Ireland, I visited the shop of a bodhrán maker, and was told that the drum head is made of goatskin. The bodhrán is held upright (as in the photo), and it’s played with a single drumstick.

Irish Trad also played a large part in Irish Firebrands. In Chapter 1, we learn that the role of music in Dillon Carroll’s life had significantly changed:

Geary’s pub was chock-a-block with patrons who’d come to hear a session – and the number of unfamiliar faces meant Dillon would be speaking Irish, already. He recognised the members of the trad-band, with their fiddle, bodhrán, and guitar, but he’d not be staying to hear them play. It had been a long time since he’d paid any attention to music in pubs – or anywhere else, for that matter. Music had left his life so many years ago, that since then whatever passed for it had become merely background noise.

Chapter 4: Lana Pedersen goes to Dillon’s local for supper, on another night when a trad session gets underway.

She’d nearly finished eating when a crowd came through the door. Some persons carried musical instruments; she recognised Colm Sweeney with his button accordion, and his companions bore a mandolin, a guitar and a fiddle. You never knew what you’d hear at a trad session, and once the music started, Lana had found it nearly impossible to go before closing time.

The musicians headed towards the far end of the room, and then Frank Halligan entered the pub.

Frank, a dairy farmer with unusual avocations and a way with women tries to persuade Lana to go out with him on a musical pub crawl.

At that moment, the man with the mandolin launched into runs of crisp triplet notes that wove themselves into a tune that sparkled against a background of chords by the guitarist. The mandolin and guitar passed the melody back and forth between them, until the button accordion entered with a complementary theme that the strummed instruments then briskly supported. Lana couldn’t help tapping her foot to the rollicking rhythm, and at the end of the performance, she joined the rest of the audience in clamorous appreciation.

Frank noticed her enjoyment. “Brilliant, aren’t they? And all local lads. I’ll wager you’ve not heard anything better in the Temple Bar district.”

“Temple Bar? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been there.”

Frank cocked an eyebrow in disbelief. “You mean to say you’ve been in Ireland all this time, and you’ve not been on a musical pub crawl in Dublin?”

“I haven’t been anywhere in Dublin, actually. The airport shuttle went past Ha’penny Bridge on the way to Busáras, and on the bus leaving town, I saw all those statues on O’Connell Street – with pigeons perched on their heads! But that’s about it.”

“Then, I take it as my job to change that! When would you like to go?”

Lana hesitated. It might be fun to do the touristy stuff someday, but right now, she needed to make up for lost research time. Besides, she wasn’t quite sure yet that she wanted to spend time with Frank anywhere but here in the safety of Geary’s pub.

… The music began again, but departing from the energetic tempo of the last number, the fiddler began a slow, undulating melody that soon found an echo in Colm Sweeney’s accordion. The two instruments plaited the notes into a gently oscillating tune that the mandolin occasionally pierced with bright, clear tones. Lana felt as if she’d been carried away by a gently rocking boat on the face of a lake that mirrored a midnight sky punctuated with glittering stars. The mood in the pub became poignantly pensive, and afterwards the applause was sincere but subdued.

Frank said, “It’s a bit early, but that made it feel like it’s time for sean-nós.”

“What’s that?” Lana said.

“Sean-nós is old-time singing or dancing. The singing is usually in Irish, without accompaniment.”

“I’ll bet you have to be really good to do that.”

“Not necessarily. There are competitions in the Gaeltachts, but here we just do it for the love of it.” Frank took another swallow from his pint. “Now, Dillon Carroll – he could compete. Singing and dancing. He learnt sean-nós from his granddad, who was reared in Connacht. The troupes you see nowadays have nothing on Dillon – when he danced, you were looking at the soul of Ireland. And sing! Why, he could sing the very heart out of your body, and hold it in his hands. But Dillon hasn’t sung or danced for years.”

After Dillon turns up at the pub, some strange things happen to him during the trad session.

Dizziness struck him. He gripped the edge of the table; then sat down and reached for his unfinished pint – but the very smell of it was so bitter it made him faint with nausea before he could put it to his lips. He’d felt this way when he was five years old and had his first taste of porter from the dregs of a bottle that Daideo’s hired hand had given him. He shut his eyes, set the glass down and pushed it away.

“Something wrong, Dillon?” It was Frank Halligan’s voice, but it sounded distant. Dillon opened his eyes and saw Frank standing before him – with Lana on his arm.

Dillon took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. “I’m just a bit tired.” He rose from his seat. “Hello, Lana. What brings you here?”

“Hi, Dillon. I came for supper, but wound up staying for the music.”

Frank regarded her with an exaggerated expression of disappointment. “And there was me, thinking it was because we were having such a cracking good time together!”

Lana laughed and patted his arm. “Oh, of course! Sorry about that! But it’s late – I’d better get going.” She withdrew her arm from his. “Excuse me, please. My backpack’s under the table.”

“I’ll get it for you,” Frank said. He fished out the bag and held it while Lana put her arms through the straps. The he raised his eyebrows and said, “Now, what do you say?”

Lana hesitated a moment, and then she said, “Go raibh maith agat!”

They laughed and shook hands.

“And don’t forget, I’m to bring you to Dublin for a pub crawl. Let me know when you can go.”

“Thanks. I will.”

Frank watched Lana walk away – and Dillon watched Frank. He’d never before thought that yer man’s reputation for skirt-chasing was any of his business – but somehow it felt like it was very much Dillon’s business, now.

To be continued….

Click on images for links and licenses.

Blog text © 2016 Christine Plouvier. Excerpts © 2012 – 2016 Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved.

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Words & Music.

IRISH FIREBRANDS: A Novel ~ and Other Works by Christine Plouvier, Indie Author

As part of my cultural immersion research for IrishFirebrands, I began looking for Irish or “Celtic” Traditional music. I wasn’t too enthused about the popular brand of Irish “set dancing” that had been touring the world for several years, but fortunately, fairly early on, I discovered this performance – and I was hooked on “seán-nós” dancing. (click on image to watch)

comhaltas-logo

ComhaltasLive #272-5: Seán Nós Dancing by Brian CunninghamComhaltasLive #272-5: Seán Nós Dancing by Brian Cunningham

Later, I purchased a few albums of compatible listening (discography appears in blog footnotes).

celtic treasureceltic Harpestrydance of the celts

Eventually, my Trad favorites from these albums evolved into a “soundtrack” that was keyed to particular characters or episodes in the book (bold items have URL links, or they can be heard below; some different album covers are shown).

  1. Chapter 1: Overture (Planxty Burke, Planxty Drew) [Celtic Treasure]
  2. Chapter 1: That Bolshie Donkey (John O’Connor) [Celtic Treasure]
  3. Chapter 1: Saturday Night at Geary’s Pub (The £5 Flute, Donald…

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Words & Music.

As part of my cultural immersion research for Irish Firebrands, I began looking for Irish or “Celtic” Traditional music. I wasn’t too enthused about the popular brand of Irish “set dancing” that had been touring the world for several years, but fortunately, fairly early on, I discovered this performance – and I was hooked on “seán-nós” dancing. (click on image to watch)

comhaltas-logo

ComhaltasLive #272-5: Seán Nós Dancing by Brian Cunningham

ComhaltasLive #272-5: Seán Nós Dancing by Brian Cunningham

Later, I purchased a few albums of compatible listening (discography appears in blog footnotes).

celtic treasureceltic Harpestrydance of the celts

Eventually, my Trad favorites from these albums evolved into a “soundtrack” that was keyed to particular characters or episodes in the book (bold items have URL links, or they can be heard below; some different album covers are shown).

  1. Chapter 1: Overture (Planxty Burke, Planxty Drew) [Celtic Treasure]
  2. Chapter 1: That Bolshie Donkey (John O’Connor) [Celtic Treasure]
  3. Chapter 1: Saturday Night at Geary’s Pub (The £5 Flute, Donald McLennan’s Exercise, What Pain I Have Endured Since Last Year[Dance of the Celts]
  4. Chapter 2: Irish Spring (Colonel John Irwin[Celtic Treasure]
  5. Chapter 4: Monday Trad Session (Shetland Jumper; Message From Home; Wise Up, Grumpy[Dance of the Celts]
  6. Chapter 5: Moving Day at Drumcarroll (Robert Jordan[Celtic Harpestry]
  7. Chapter 5: Remembering Mo (A Walk on Belfast) [Celtic Harpestry]
  8. Chapter 6: Frank Halligan (Christy Barry’s Set[Dance of the Celts]
  9. Various chapters: Dillon Carroll (The Humours of Ballyloughlin[Celtic Harpestry]
  10. Chapter 9: On the Bog (Fanny Power[Celtic Treasure]
  11. Chapter 9: Temple Bar (Leis Lacha, An Ghaoth Aniar Aneas, Cailin an Ti Mhoir-Declan Masterson) [Dance of the Celts]
  12. Chapter 13: No End to Love (Star of the County Down[Celtic Harpestry]
  13. Chapter 18: In the Graveyard (Eleanor Plunkett) [Celtic Treasure]
  14. Chapter 21: Young Dillon Dances Sean-nos (Lord Inchiquin[Celtic Treasure]
  15. Chapter 25: Medb’s Ceilidhe: Talent Show (Carolan’s Concerto[Celtic Treasure]
  16. Chapter 25: Medb’s Ceilidhe: Sweeney’s Bones (Never Was Piping So Gay, Davey’s, Tomeen O’Dea’s Reel) [Dance of the Celts]
  17. Chapter 25: Medb’s Ceilidhe: Dancing for Lana (Andy DeJarlis, Ingonish, Mrs McGhee) [Dance of the Celts]
  18. Chapter 26: Mo anmchara (Bridget Cruise[Celtic Treasure]
  19. Chapter 31: So Close and Yet So Far (Captain O’Kane) [Celtic Treasure]
  20. Chapter 34: Now I am Forgiven (Bridget Cruise, reprise: from a different recording)

Planxty Burke/Planxty Drew – Shelly Phillips

Bridget Cruise/John O’Connor/George Brabazon – Domining Bouchaud and Cyrille Colas

The £5 Flute/Donald McLennan’s Exercise/What Pain I Have Endured Since Last Year – Old Blind Dogs

Colonel John Irwin – Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman

Shetland Jumper/Message From Home/Wise Up, Grumpy – John McGann

Robert Jordan – Máire Ní Chathasaigh

A Walk On Belfast – The Belfast Harp Orchestra

Christy Barry’s Set – Kevin Crawford

The Humours Of Ballyloughlin – Máire Ní Chathasaigh

Fanny Power – El McMeen

Star Of The County Down – Deborah Henson-Conant

Eleanor Plunkett – Deanta

Lord Inchiquin – Deiseal

Carolan’s Concerto – John Whelan

Andy De Jarlis/Ingonish/Mrs. McGhee – Altan

Captain O’Kane – Seamus McGuire

Some writers want quiet while they work, but many others find inspiration in music. The genres of music that work for writing are probably as varied as there are writers, but writers who listen seem to be divided into two camps: those who can write to vocalists, and those who can only write to instrumental pieces.

Writers whose objection to any music is that it’s too distracting, may actually belong to the second group. If the only music they’ve tried (and failed) to write to is that of their favorite vocalists, perhaps they should get rid of the words. After all, words are what we work with, so it’s no wonder if some of us can’t hear The Little Voice Inside Our Heads if somebody else is yodeling in our ear buds.

I’m firmly in the instrumental camp. When I wrote Irish Firebrands, I listened to a variety of recordings, and I ended up with a great many playlists to accompany my writing moods, including selections from movie soundtracks, movie trailer pieces, and classical music.

I listen while I write, and I also play music when I go to bed at night. I play it very quietly, and I don’t set it to repeat (although if pain wakes me in the night, sometimes I play it again). My brain apparently uses the interludes of silence to consolidate the artificial “memories” that will later become creative writing, because I usually have more ideas, the next day. If I play continuous music all night, I don’t get those ideas.

Do you listen to music when you write? What kind? 

If you enjoyed these selections, why not add the albums to your writer’s collection? You may get some interesting story ideas!

Celtic treasure: The legacy of Turlough O’Carolan. (1996). [Music recording]. Milwaukee, WI: Narada Media.

Celtic harpestry: A contemporary Celtic collection. (1998). [Music recording]. New York: Imaginary Road Records.

Dance of the Celts. (1997). [Music recording]. Milwaukee, WI: Narada Media.

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