Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Declan O’Rourke

Declan O'Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Declan O’Rouke has an amazing voice and a mesmerizing stage presence. He also writes great tunes. He released his first album, Since Kyrbran, in 2004 and has steadily continued releases since then.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

O’Rourke most recent album Chronicles of the Irish Famine on October 27, 2017. When I first heard about the album I thought that he was doing an album of cover songs. How could any contemporary composer come up with a whole album’s worth of new music. He must have researched and found traditional songs written since Ireland’s mid-19th century’s Gorta Mór — Great Famine. Songs that related to one of the sadly too many famines that have occurred in human history that Help would have minimized or eliminated had Help decided to help.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

But O’Rourke wrote all with occasional help and it took him 15 years to complete the album. I suppose it was one of those projects when Inspiration alone cannot lead to Completion. He does a remarkable job of portraying the Famine’s horrors without being horrible. 

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine
Clogman’s Glen

Over the next 12 days I will write about each of Chronicle’s songs. Clogman’s Glen opens the album.

O’Rourke cleverly begins his narrative before the beginning rather than jumping into the monstrosity of the  Great Famine. 

Clogman’s Glen was an actual small settlement on the side of a lake, what was called a Clachan. Life is difficult, but the inhabitants can survive. The song’s narrator recalls…

Ah, do you remember when, my love

Oh my love, do you remember when

When we were young and life was hard

But beautiful in Clogman’s Glen? 

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine
English rule

By the mid-19th century, the English had forced the Irish peasants onto small plots of land to make room for pasturing beef cattle, but even with that an acre and a half could provide a family of six with enough potatoes for a year.

Potatoes grew well, even on poorer acreage. Potatoes were nutritious and easy to cook, and they could be fed to pigs and cattle and fowl. And families did not need a plow to grow potatoes. All the peasant needed was a spade, and they could grow potatoes in wet ground and on mountain sides where no other kinds of plants could be cultivated.

Recipe for disaster

As much as it is a joke about the potato and the Irish,  the English policy resulted in more than half of the Irish depending on the potato as their diet’s staple, almost 40 percent ate almost entirely of potatoes, with some milk or fish as the only other source of nourishment. If anything interfered with the annual potato crop, the peasant would starve.

The Blight

It is easy to forget that an atrocity will begin with quiet notice. There was always a time of seeming normalcy before the atrocity. A time “before the winter’s icy chill, And cold stiff wind swept through and blew.”

There had been occasional and localized crop failures, but in the early 1840s the incidence suddenly increased. And in 1845 half the crop failed.

And that is the point.  Recalling that the majority of the 19th century Irish were poor, living off the land, they had been able to survive with the land’s beauty around them, but they were living on the edge of catastrophe. 

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Irish poet William Butler Yeats described Ireland’s Easter Uprising in 1916 as a “terrible beauty.” That same phrase equally applies to this album. The beautiful playing often belies the terror the Irish Famine wrought upon the millions who suffered, who died, who tried to escape. (Irish Times review)

Declan O’Rourke Cogman’s Glen

There is an unusual silent pause before O’Rourke begins the first song. It is appropriate. To sing such a collection of sad tunes, a breath or two is needed.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine
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