Tag Archives: Music et al

Declan O’Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River

Declan O’Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River

Declan O'Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River

Before the Irish Famine the Irish population numbered approximately 8 million.  According to a BBC article, “Altogether, about a million people in Ireland are reliably estimated to have died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1846 and 1851, and some two million emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845-55).

Declan O’Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River

No escape

Declan O'Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River
National Famine Memorial Cuimhneachán Náisiúnta ar an n Gorta Mór in Murrisk, Connacht, in County Mayo

Two other songs [“Buried Deep” and “Villain Curry Shaw“] on O’Rourke’s Chronicle of the Great Irish Famine album dealt with the fatal horrors even for those who thought they’d escaped the famine by sailing to Canada or  the United States or being sent to Australia or New Zealand.

Trans-Atlantic travel in wooden sailing ships was never safe no matter the person’s accommodations, but for those who could bring so little and then have a crew pack  them into  holds with make-shift bunks, meager fare, minimal sanitary facilities, little or no ventilation,  and indifference on the part of most crew members, the vessel became a coffin ship.

According to a Registered Devil dot com article, “Typically untrustworthy vessels, these ships were purchased literally from salvage yards (where they awaiting dismantling) by unscrupulous owners who had no intention of repairing them. Sailors who agreed to serve on board these floating wrecks typically knew nothing of the dangers until they were well out at sea, vagabonds, and those desperate for work (of which there were plenty) quickly volunteered.

Declan O’Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River

America has closed its doors…

Ships often arrived with disease on board and the United States, purportedly trying to improve passenger conditions aboard cargo ships, but in actuality closing American ports to the Irish, enacted various laws.

It must also be pointed out that on January 31, 1848 the United State also enacted legislation that  exempted vessels employed by the American Colonization Society in transporting black emigrants from the US to the coast of Africa from the provisions of the acts of the twenty-second February and second of March, eighteen hundred and forty-seven, regulating the carriage of passengers in merchant vessels!

Declan O’Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River

Famine and disease

Some shipowners and captains evaded these legislative blockades by bringing their human cargo to Canada.

Given the inhumane conditions aboard, it was not surprising that ships arrived with diseased passengers. At first, Canadian authorities tried to provide quarantined shelter, but overwhelmed by the number of sick, ships were forced to keep their passengers aboard which worsened conditions.

From 1847 to 1848, an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 Irish died while waiting to leave their quarters.

Declan O’Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River

Memorial

Declan O'Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River
Grosse Ile Memorial

In 1909 the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America set up a Celtic cross with inscriptions in Irish, English and French, in memory of those who died during  that time.

And anchored up at Grosse Isle, Canade

Forty vessels line the Saint Lawrence

At the station there for quarantine

The sheer magnitude of suffering

Is beyond the helpless volunteers

Declan O’Rourke Great Saint Lawrence River
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Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Declan O'Rourke Connaught Orphan

We may have hoped that the retaliatory exhilaration of  Johnny Hold the Lantern would end the album on its high note, but O’Rouke returns to the Great Famine’s horror and its helpless young victims.

For the centennial of the Easter Rising in 2016, O’Rourke wrote Children of ’16 about the (at least) 40 children under the age of 16 who died in the Easter Week’s fighting.  Crossfire caught most victims, but British soldiers deliberately shot or bayoneted others. (Independent article)

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Orphan offerings

It is no surprise that the Great Famine orphaned so many children. It is also no surprise that even the most insensitive laissair faire proponent would do at least something minimal to relieve their conscience if not the orphans’ suffering.

 In the Connaught Orphan, we walk beside a barefoot 7-year-old boy walking his younger sister to the poor house ten miles away. Both starving.

There is room only for one. He leaves her there and walks the 10 miles back.

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Strings attached

It is still a common requirement from those who have relief to give that there be a quid pro quo. A demand that the suffering must first demonstrate their worthiness to receive aid.

In the case of the Irish peasants, assistance sometimes  depended on acknowledging the Church of England as the true church. To renounce Catholicism.

In our less religious 21st century world  (at least in terms of church attendance), such a demand might seem an easy one to comply with, but to the 19th century Catholic believer, such a change meant damnation.

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Quakers

Declan O'Rourke Connaught Orphan

Quakers were the one religious group that seemed genuinely interested in assistance without strings attached. They formed the Central Relief Committee (CRC) to help coordinate relief.

William E. Forster, a CRC member, traveled throughout Ireland and send letters describing what he saw. In one letter he wrote, “Poor wretches in the last stage of famine, imploring to be received into the (work) house; women who had six or seven children begging that even two or three might be taken in …. some of these children were worn to skeleton, their features sharpened with hunger, their limbs wasted almost to the bone” (more at Irish Famine site)

Unfortunately, even the most kindhearted actions can result in unforeseen consequences.

In this song, the Quaker wants to provide a bath and clean clothing, but the boy realizes that when his neighbors see him that way they will assume that he has renounced his faith or that he has lied about his neediness.

I’ll surely died of hunger now

If they see me with your nie new clothes

They’ll think I’m telling lies, and that

I have a mammy feeds me so.

What kind of world had the British government helped foster? One that forced a starving child in rags to refuse food and clothing?

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan
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Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

The album cover of Declan O’Rourke’s Chronicles of the Irish Famine shows a group of eight surrounding a shirtless man on the ground. Without knowing the story, we could easily misinterpret the scene as that of a rescue.

It is not.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Respite and revenge

While it would be possible to fill an album with 13 songs about the peasants starvation and mistreatment during the Famine, having one song that provides a smile, however briefly, for the downtrodden is welcome.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Capt Charles Boycott

Peasants rented the land they worked. The landlord determined the rent. No rent? Eviction.

In 1880 after the Famine (but still long before Irish independence) the Irish Land League fought back against unreasonable evictions, particularly those that Captain Charles Boycott was executing for his employer Lord Erne.

The League told the locals they should socially shun the Captain: his workers stopped work in the fields and stables, as well as in his house. Local businessmen stopped trading with him, and the local postman refused to deliver mail.

The name Boycott became the word boycott.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Manning

Manning was  a cruel landlord from the town of Delvin in Co. Westmeath. In this case violence was the cure.

When we first listen to the music, it is easy to think of it as a happy-go-lucky tune. Toe-tapping. Raise a glass.

It is all those things, but we must mix in words.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

A pistol man

On the road outside of Delvin

From the shadow of the trees

A man drew out his pistol

And a man fell to his knees.

Oh. OK.

The pistol man leaves, but on his way away he lets others know something.

Others show up. Johnny is with them. Johnny has the light.

Young Johnny’s hands were freezin’

But he held the lantern high

As the day man lay there gazin’

And the flame danced in his eyes.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. And on one cold night during the Great Irish Famine it was the main course.

Not surprisingly the song has become a favorite.

Dublin Live article on album.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

 

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