Category Archives: Great Irish Famine

Declan O’Rourke Buried Deep

Declan O’Rourke Buried Deep

Buried in the Deep

Declan O'Rourke Buried Deep

To many starving Irish, the light at the end of the hunger tunnel–and a faint one at that–was a ship to America.  Some two million emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845-55).  Ireland’s population before the famine was about 8.5 million meaning that nearly a quarter of its population left in those 10 years.

Declan O’Rourke Buried Deep

Human Ballast

Of course the poor cannot afford comfortable space aboard a ship. In fact, these poor literally became ballast. Ships bringing cargo to Europe found that these millions leaving were a source of both revenue and ship stability back across the stormy Atlantic.

The ships cargo area simply became human holds where disease spread quickly among those whose health was already poor. Their choice: to know they would die at home or hope to survive the trans-Atlantic journey.

Declan O’Rourke Buried Deep

Forsaken

Declan O'Rourke Buried Deep

Forsake:  leaving that by which natural affection or a sense of duty should or might have led us to remain

Once again, O’Rourke opens the song with soft acoustic guitar.  His playing belies his lyrics–but the entrance of the bag pipe removes the possibility of hope as hope slowly slips into the Atlantic’s depths and washes away the tears of the dead if not the living left behind. He nearly whispers:

The land where I was born is forsaken,

And I can no longer call it home

It’s beauty is forlorn

It’s no place for my family

Ach o mo bhroin.

(Ach o mo bhroin is Irish for “But for my grief”)

Declan O’Rourke Buried Deep

Paupers  at sea

To people who’d never been on a ship, to people who likely could not swim, to people who’d already buried family, to people starving, to people hanging by a thread, the prison of the cargo became a living mass coffin.Declan O'Rourke Buried Deep

Until they died. Then the Atlantic became their grave. Buried in the deep.

When I die they’ll put me over

That’ll cure my broken heart

My dreams can go no further

We’re buried in the deep

Where hunger cannot find us.

The London Celtic Punks review says of the song: A beautiful song with Declan accompanied by harp and pipes on this stunning lament to those poor souls. Emotion spilling out it brought a flush to my cheeks as the realisation of what happened hits home.

 

Edward Laxton wrote The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America.  (1997 LA Times review)

Declan O'Rourke Buried in the Deep

Farewell to you Erin…

Declan O’Rourke Buried in the Deep
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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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