Tag Archives: Irish Famine

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 Chronicles 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 would easily misinterpret the lyrics’ actual message: We begged, we prayed but no one listened.

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

O’Rourke’s words tell the story so well, it is often difficult to continue–knowing we are listening to verified 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 it 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 perpetrators–  the English–blamed the victim–Irish– for their own misfortune.

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 with many strings attached despite the reality that, “they have no strength to help themselves.”

Send chicken feed and sand.

If any father had treated his children the way that the priest’s Father allowed his children to be treated, 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

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 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? That 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.

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 O’Rourke breathes in deeply. To sing such a collection of sad tunes, a moment 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 a strong back. 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,  it was the English policy that 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 starved.

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 headlines. 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 already living on the edge of catastrophe.

In today’s language, Living check to check.

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