Letters From Quotidia Episode 193 Come By the Hills, Revenge For Skibbereen

Letters From Quotidia Episode 193 Come By the Hills, Revenge For Skibbereen

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 193– a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Back in 1975 I was rifling through the folk records in a Belfast store when I came upon a striking image and I bought the LP on the basis of its back cover alone- it featured two smiling Irish boyos named Finbar and Eddie standing in front of red curtains- Finbar looks straight out at me like a bouncer who would enjoy ejecting me from a licensed premises while long-haired Eddie stands beside him, hands jammed in his jean-pockets with his fly half-agape grinning in anticipation at the indignity about to be visited imminently upon my person!

Of course, I was channelling experience from times in the late sixties when I would pre-load as I think they call it now before taking my girlfriend out to attempt entry to one of the Belfast dancehalls or nightclubs. As often as not I was refused entry: she was not impressed but still, somehow, ended up marrying me. The front cover shows the same boyos seated in a room surrounded by a variety of folk instruments: whistles, bodhran, bongos, fiddles, guitars, mandolin with Finbar resting his pipes across his knee next to sheet music open on a stand. Serious musos, obviously!

I hadn’t heard of them before that time but the music on the record The Dawning of the Day, by Finbar and Eddie Furey, blew me away from the virtuosic opener, Drops of Brandy, where the uillean pipe playing made the hairs on the nape of my neck stand on end through a series of quality sung and instrumental items, some of which have featured as part of my repertoire down the years- decades, really. These boyos later went on to gain international fame and recognition as The Fureys. I also bought a handful of other folk records including a compilation LP that featured, Anne Byrne, I think it might have been, performing the first song for this post- Come By the Hills.

Tommy Makem does a great version of this song on YouTube where he recites W B Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree before the repeat of the first verse. The tune is an Irish air Buachaill o’n Éirne Mé  which means Boy from the Erne River. Scottish writer and champion of the arts, W Gordon Smith, wrote words to the air which are well known today- so, honours are shared between these Celtic brother nations! Although there will be those who wish to dispute which is predominant- it has ever been thus.

The Irish lyrics to the original air feature a young lad courting a lovely maiden, in an extravagant braggadocio where he claims to own all of Cork city, Co Mayo and bits of Co Tyrone to boot but then ruefully goes on to admit that he will go into the woods to make ale and sleep among the leaves and twigs, exhorting the lovely lady not to marry that old grey man but spend time with one such as himself, accustomed to play and party on the misty mountain. Such luminaries as Clannad sing this version in the original Irish, but lacking the ability to speak my ancestral tongue, I’ll use Smith’s lyrics instead. If the Scotsman’s words were good enough for Tommy Makem, they’re certainly good enough for me! [insert song]

From Cottagecore to Goblin mode. It’s a thing, apparently. When the pandemic started at the beginning of 2020, the aesthetic labelled Cottagecore, which was around during the decade before, really took off: there was a movement of people aspiring to  re-make a better version of themselves. Remember all that baking of sourdough bread during lockdowns? Wikipedia comments: Cottagecore emphasizes simplicity and the soft peacefulness of the pastoral life as an escape from the dangers of the modern world. It became highly popular on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As if it would last! Inevitably, it would kickstart its polar opposite: Goblin-mode, which, according to Dave McNamee, is about a complete lack of aesthetic. Because why would a goblin care what they look like? Why would a goblin care about presentation? The Guardian writes:  as the pandemic wears on endlessly, and the chaos of current events worsens, people feel cheated by the system and have rejected such goals. Peter Hayes, a Bay Area tech worker who says he and his friends have jokingly called themselves goblins, said the term has taken off as the pandemic eliminated the need to keep up appearances. “At home there’s no social pressure to follow norms, so you sort of lose the habit,” He goes on to say, in a reference to the state of the world now, that since we are all doomed, why bother?

Ah, yeah, and here we have to consider the radioactive elephant in the room, which I had thought dissipated at the end of the Cold War. It’s not so much an elephant as a Russian bear which is having to make room for a Chinese dragon which is also on the prowl. The last time the global audience felt true existential dread was during the Cuban missile crisis which was managed skilfully by the creation of a crisis hotline between the American and Soviet leaders and their top advisers. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (represented by the appropriate acronym MAD) was hedged about by a series of treaties over the years governing the testing, manufacture, stockpiling and use of nuclear arms.

Use of these weapons was unthinkable in previous decades but now it is being insouciantly bandied about on a variety of crass talk shows and in serious fora alike, not least because the Russian dictator has threatened their possible use on the battlefield of Ukraine which he invaded a month ago- during which time we have all been looking on with mounting dread and alarm as the images of carnage proliferate across media platforms here in the West. Secular forces seek to bolster one side or another with material aid. The West is funnelling armaments, especially anti-tank, and anti-aircraft missile systems to stiffen Ukrainian resistance to the Russian behemoth and China is trying to bolster Russia without attracting sanctions, all the while probably not too perturbed at the prospect of a future Russia weakened by war and financial and economic collapse.

Religious forces seek to intercede by spiritual means: for example, the Catholic Church intends to consecrate both Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Friday March 25th– the date of publication of this podcast. Understanding such huge forces are too much for my puny brain, I’m afraid, but I do know that patriotic fervour can stand- and ultimately prevail- against overwhelming odds because the patriot is willing to lose his or her life and the stories of that resistance will pass down the generations fuelling new insurgencies while any progeny of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice survive.

This is why I have chosen Revenge For Skibbereen as my second song because it powerfully underscores that dynamic. It is an Irish folk song, in the form of a dialogue where a father tells his son about being evicted from their home during the famine because they could not pay the rent, how his wife -the boy’s mother- died and they needed to flee because the father was involved in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. In the final verse, the boy vows to return and carry on the struggle against the oppressor. Listeners to Letters From Quotidia will know that since Letter 120, I have adopted the practice of offering a song from the folk tradition as well as an original composition. But not in this post. Again, I’m resting my muse while I feel compelled to respond to events unfolding in the wider world. But, oh, how I look forward to a time- when the pressure of geopolitical events ease and I am once more able to resume my preferred practice. [insert song]

No poetry today, other than that contained in the songs. But I will reprise an invocation from Letter 83, Hiroshima, published 2nd June 2021, where I sing Ave Maria, Gloria: Save us from ourselves, Domina.  One must hope against hope. Who, I wonder, will save us from ourselves?  

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

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