Declan O’Rourke Along Western Seaboard

Declan O’Rourke Along Western Seaboard

Along the Western Seaboard

A harp gently opens Along the Western Seaboard,  the second song on Declan O’Rourke’s Chronicle of the Irish Famine. An equally gentle acoustic guitar joins the harp.

And that is the album’s artful approach. If one didn’t understand English and only heard the melody, one could easily misinterpret the content’s message: we begged but no one listened.

But you do understand English. The English may have stolen the Irish land, but the Irish stole the English llanguage.

O’Rourke’s words tell the story so well, it is often difficult to continue–knowing we are listening to true horror.

Declan O’Rourke Along Western Seaboard

Heavenly Father

This song is told through the voice of a parish priest. The Irish population was  80% Catholic and naturally it turned to him for temporal succor.  Surrounded by suffering and the priest begs God for help:

Lord what can we do now, oh good lord what can we do

When we need to feed so many, and there’s not even for the few 

Lord what can we do now, oh good lord what can we do

They are starving! They are freezing!

And their clothes have all worn through.

Declan O’Rourke Along Western Seaboard

Daniel O’Connell

Declan O'Rourke Along Western Seaboard
Daniel O’Connell

Since little help seemingly came from Above,  a few on terra firma did their best. The Great Emancipator Daniel O’Connell said to the House of Commons at the Famine’s height in 1847:

Ireland is in your hands, in your power. If you do not save her, she cannot save herself. I solemnly call upon you to recollect that I predict with the sincerest conviction that a quarter of her population will perish unless you come to her relief.


Declan O’Rourke Along Western Seaboard

Their own fault

As was the case then (and too often the case now), the English blamed the Irish misfortune on the misfortunate themselves.

The common view  by those “with” was that the Irish poor had brought about their own situation. Thus they deserved the tragedy and if the British were to assist them, it meant many strings attached despite the reality that, “they have no strength to help themselves.”

Chicken feed and sand was on the way.

If any father had treated his children the way that the priest’s Father was treating his children, he would have been prosecuted.

Declan O’Rourke Along Western Seaboard

Chronicles

For the start of this review series, see Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Irish Famine which covers the album’s first song, “Clogman’s Glen.”

Link to a London Celtic Punks site article which includes a performance of Clogman’s Glen.

Declan O’Rourke Along Western Seaboard
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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

Irish Famine

Warner Brothers Records released O’Rourke’s most recent album, Chronicles of the Irish Famine, on October 27, 2017. When I first heard about the album I thought that he had covered a collections of songs. How could any contemporary composer come up with a whole album’s worth of new music on such an old topic? He must have researched and found traditional songs written since Ireland’s mid-19th century’s Gorta Mór. 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

15 Years

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

Siobhan Long wrote in The Irish Times:  “O’Rourke mines the darkest corners of the horrors of the Irish famine with a sensitivity that animates a raft of highly personal stories.”

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.

If you’re watch your player’s timer, you’ll notice that for the first five seconds there is silence. Then there is an deep intake of breath. To sing such a collection of sad tunes, such a breath is needed. Knowing what is ahead, we all need to take a breath.

At 11 seconds, a slow fiddle precedes O’Rourke’s gentle voice beginning his narrative. Rather than dropping us immediately into the  Great Famine’s  monstrosity, Declan brings us to Clogman’s Glen , an actual settlement on the side of a lake, called a Clachan. Life is difficult, but the inhabitants 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 herded the Irish peasants onto small plots of land to make room for pasturing beef cattle, but even with only an acre and a half, a family of six could grow 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.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Recipe for disaster

As much as it is a stereotype about potatoes 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  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.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

The Blight

It is easy to forget that an atrocity often begins with quiet notice. There is 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

Yeats

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 Clogman’s Glen

Clogman’s Glen

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine
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January Peace Love Art Activism

January Peace Love Art Activism

Feminism

January Peace Love Art Activism

In January 1792: Deborah Sampson petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for pay which the army had withheld from her because she was a woman. Her petition passed through the Senate and was approved, then signed by Governor John Hancock. The General Court of Massachusetts verified her service and wrote that she “exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her gender, unsuspected and unblemished“. The court awarded her a total of 34 pounds. (see Deborah Samson for expanded chronology)

Mary Roberts Rinehart

In January 1915: Mary Roberts Rinehart, the NY based writer, went to the front (WWI) and did not hold back from getting close insight as she visited the trenches. She was the first journalist to reach the front during the war. (see Jan 12)

In January 1917: operating under the slogan “for God, for Country, for Home” The National League for Women’s Service was established with the intention of coordinating women’s war work, developing resources, and providing training for females across the country in case they were needed to supplement the Red Cross, navy, or army. (see Jan 9)

January Peace Love Art Activism

Black History

Scottboro Januarys

In January 1932,: NAACP withdrew from the case.

January Peace Love Activism

In January 1933: The International Labor Defense retained Samuel Liebowitz, a New York lawyer, to defend the Scottsboro boys.

In January 1935: The US Supreme Court agreed to review the most recent Scottsboro convictions.

In January 1944: Clarence Norris and Andy Wright were paroled.

In January 2004: the town of Scottsboro, Alabama dedicated a historical marker in commemoration of the case at the Jackson County Court House.  (see Scottsboro Travesty for expanded chronology)

James H Meredith

January Peace Love Activism

In January 1967: Pulitzer Prize for Photography: Jack R. Thornell for his photograph of James Meredith after being shot on June 6, 1966. (next Meredith, see March 8, 1967)

Black Panthers

January Peace Love Activism

In January 1967: first Black Panther Party office opens at 5624 Grove Street, Oakland, CA. Panthers patrol the street of Oakland. (BH, see Jan 9; BP, see May 2)

January Peace Love Art Activism

LGBTQ

ONE, Inc

In January 1953, LGBTQ:  ONE, Inc. an early gay rights organization and associated with the Mattachine Society published the first  issue of ONE Magazine, the first U.S. pro-gay publication, and sold it openly on the streets of Los Angeles. (see April 27, 1953)

Evan Wolfson

January Peace Love Activism

In January 2003: Evan Wolfson founded Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide.  (see June 26, 2003)

January Peace Love Art Activism

see January Music et al for more

Two Steps from the Blues

In January 1961: Bobby “Blue” Bland released Two Steps from the Blues album. Bland was an original member of the Beale Streeters and was sometimes referred to as the “Lion of the Blues”. Along with such artists as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Junior Parker, Bland developed a sound that mixed gospel with the blues and R&B. An imitator of Frank Sinatra, he was also known as the “Sinatra of the blues”, his music being influenced by Nat King Cole. Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

“Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”

In January 1962: Bob Dylan wrote  “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” (see Mar 11)

Albert Ayler

In January 1965: Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity album released. “Ayler was among the most primal of the free jazz musicians of the 1960s; critic John Litweiler wrote that ‘never before or since has there been such naked aggression in jazz.’ He possessed a deep blistering tone—achieved by using the stiff plastic Fibrecane no. 4 reeds[2] on his tenor saxophone—and used a broad, pathos-filled vibrato.”

John Lennon/FBI

In January 1972: the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a file on John Lennon and Yoko Ono fearing they would organize the youth vote and prevent a second term for President Richard Nixon. (see Feb 4)

John and Yoko

In January 1975: John and Yoko reunited after 18 month separation—the so-called “Lost Weekend.” (see Jan 9)

January Peace Love Art Activism

Irish Troubles

In January 1998: after 15 years and many media reports suggesting the original tribunal’s inquiry was flawed, a second commission of inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, was established  to re-examine ‘Bloody Sunday’. (see IT for expanded chronology)

January Peace Love Art Activism

Oklahoma City Explosion

In January 2000: Terry Nichols was brought from the prison in Colorado to Oklahoma to face the state trial on 160 capital counts of first-degree murder and one count each of fetal homicide, first-degree arson, and conspiracy. (see June 11, 2001)

 

January Peace Love Art Activism

US Labor History

In January 2012: volunteers in the state of Wisconsin submitted nearly a million signatures (double the number of signatures required) calling for a recall election of Governor Scott Walker in protest of his public fight last year to abandon the collective bargaining rights of public workers. (see Apr 30)

January Peace Love Art Activism
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