The Old House

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Old House had always brought to my mind the ruins of Irish cottages you can find scattered throughout the island, redolent of failed lives and suffused with emigrant longing. And then I started to research (online, of course, especially but not only during the exigencies of the present pandemic). What did I find? Not what I expected! I envisioned a humble schoolmaster, perhaps, setting down these lines to an old half-remembered Irish air as he dwelt on his impoverished beginnings. The truth was diametrically opposed to my former imaginings! The writer of the song was a scion of an ancient Irish family: read on.

For many years, Baltrasna House was the ancestral home of the O’Reilly family…Baltrasna House and Estate were in the control of the O’Reilly family and later through marriage the O’Connor’s until the early 20th century … In the early 19th century the O’Reilly’s of Baltrasna House fell into financial difficulties… When the O’Reilly’s failed to keep up with the repayments they were dispossessed… However, the new owners were despised by their tenants and were terrorised by the Ribbon Men, a secret society that was active in pre-Famine times, that specialised in making life difficult for notorious landlords. The upshot of all this was that Anthony O’Reilly was reinstated at Baltrasna and continued to reside there until his death aged 62 in 1874…Anthony planted a tree for each of his seven daughters along the main avenue to the house. With the death of his only son, James, the family name at Baltrasna died with him. Anthony’s eldest daughter, Harriet Georgina (born 1841) married Matthew Richard Weld O’Connor in 1865 (source,

 Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Frederick Travers O’Connor  (30 July 1870 – 14 December 1943) was an Irish diplomat and officer in the British and British Indian armies. He is remembered for his travels in Asia, cartography, study and publication of local cultures and language, his actions on the Younghusband expedition to Tibet, Royal Geographic Society council member,  member of the Royal Automobile Club and for his work negotiating and signing the Nepal–Britain Treaty of 1923. O’Connor was born in 1870, Longford, Ireland, son of land agent Matthew Weld O’Connor, and Harriet Georgina, daughter of Anthony O’Reilly, of Baltrasna, County Meath. (source, Wikipedia)

O’Connor noted in his book, Things Mortal, that the famous Irish tenor, John McCormack, sang The Old House at The Royal Albert Hall in London on November 27, 1938. He was an exemplar of the British Imperial administrative elite- resourceful, multi-talented, showered with medals and widely travelled. Educated at Charterhouse, he attended the Royal Military Academy and was gazetted into the Royal Artillery. After a long, distinguished military career, ending in 1925, he travelled to the Americas where, in 1931 he was reported as inviting five men, with deep pockets, to accompany him on a tiger hunt to India for $100,00 apiece! Whether this transpired or not is problematical because two days later a bankruptcy petition was filed against him. Will I sing the song, anyway? Hell yes!

I use an orchestral ¾ time Band-in-a-Box setting and, as this is such a short song, I play mandolin over a penultimate instrumental verse. The song has no chorus, just three verses, so I follow some other artists in rising a semitone in the final verse. Compared to John MCormack and my favourite rendition by John McDermott- and I know I don’t compare-this version fairly lopes along at 100 bpm.

The Old House

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