Songs of Cultural Importance from the Cork Traveller Women’s Network

As part of Heritage Week 2020, the Rory Gallagher Music Library in collaboration with the Cork Traveller Women’s Network (CTWN) are pleased to present a top ten list of culturally important Traveller’s songs and what they mean to the community. It is of special interest that there is a strong Cork representation with several of these songs. Louise Harrington who is a community development worker with CTWN has done tremendous work with her colleagues in providing a list of songs.

We want to thank Louise and her colleagues for this fine list and for providing this interesting background information about the songs, discussing the selection process and what the songs mean to the Traveller community.

RGML Team

 

Louise explains the process of how the songs were shortlisted and significantly what these songs mean to the community:

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The songs were selected; firstly by reaching out to our members via social media and by phone, to create a long list of culturally significant songs for Travellers and then shortlisted to the final 10 by our steering group of Traveller women via Zoom call.

So the top 10 (in no particular order) is as follows.  Click on the title to listen to the song.

  1. Kathleen’s Song – Spring Lane Girls
  2. 4 Lackeens – 4 Lackeens
  3. A Tinkers Lullaby by Pecker Dunne sung by Selena O’Leary
  4. Last of the Travelling People –Pecker Dunne
  5. Rambling Man – Thomas McCarthy
  6. Galway Shawl – Finbarr Furey
  7. A Friend Of Mine – Myles Gaffney
  8. Campfire in the Dark – Finbarr Furey/ The Fureys
  9. What Will We Do When We’ll Have No Money – Mary Delaney
  10. Sweet 16 – Sharyn Ward

The first two songs listed (Kathleen’s song and 4 Lackeens) were recorded locally. They are both of very special significance to members of CTWN as symbols of pride and identity. “Kathleen’s Song” (which was nominated many times by CTWN members) was written by a young woman Kathleen McCarthy, as part of a community music initiative, it celebrates Traveller culture, nomadism and horse fairs. Kathleen sadly died young, and the song was later recorded by her cousins in the Spring Lane girls group, who also performed it live at cultural events in Cork city. 4 Lackeens was recorded by four young women from Spring Lane site last year as part of a youth work project by our colleagues in the Traveller Visibility Group – it is rap style and is the only song that we have chosen which is not traditional, but we felt that it really talks about identity and issues affecting these young women who still hold a strong sense of culture and heritage.

Our top 10 list also includes songs by famous and recorded Travellers such as Pecker Dunne who travelled the length and breadth of Ireland  busking with his wealth of ballads and banjo; Thomas McCarthy, Traveller storyteller and singer who was awarded Traditional Singer of the Year at the  2019 Gradam Ceoil Awards; the musical legend that is Finbarr Furey; “Blind” Mary Delaney who’s amazing voice and 1970s recording of “what will we do when we’ll have no money?” brought us all back to memories of campfire singing and Sharyn Ward who’s beautiful voice and charm won Irish hearts by making it to the finals of Ireland’s Got Talent 2019. We include Selena O’Leary’s version of Tinker’s Lullaby – a very popular song for Travellers, Selena, the first Irish Traveller to sing at Carnegie Hall, also appeared on RTE’s Traveller Journey programme last year.

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The song “A Friend of Mine” is the only song by a non – Traveller or “buffer” on the list – Myles Gaffney a Cork based singer songwriter and was included to show the links between communities that music can make.

The short-listing group found it hard to make the final selection as there are so many other songs and musicians and it was not possible to include everyone, we thought about other fantastic Traveller musicians Paddy Keenan, Trish Nolan, Mary Francis and Davey Keenan, Paddy Ward and others who we could have included.

In the end, the final criteria that we used was that a Cork Traveller might hear a song from the list playing and recognise it easily as being about them. We also aimed for a mix of modern and old style songs, a mix of male and female singers, and a mix of very famous and perhaps less well known songs.

We also talked about some very recognisable songs about and collected from Travellers, subsequently recorded by settled people e.g. some of Ewan McColl’s or Christy Moore’s songs, which we didn’t include as we wanted to focus as much as possible on Traveller musicians as well as songs. Interestingly for us, we realised in the process of looking at the 10 songs, that there isn’t any accessible resource to look back at the history and contribution of Travellers to Irish traditional music (not unlike other areas of Traveller history which are not properly recorded) – something for us to think about going into the future, although we would need someone with more skills than ourselves to look at this.
As a community development organisation, used to decision making by committee, we decided against an approach of individuals nominating certain songs, and instead would like our top 10 to be attributed to Cork Traveller Women’s Network.

Some background information on CTWN:

Cork Traveller Women’s Network is a community development organisation working for Traveller rights and run by Traveller women in Cork city. Our work includes supporting Traveller women as leaders, promoting Traveller health, advocating for Traveller accommodation rights, challenging discrimination and promoting Traveller ethnicity and culture. This includes curating Toraig on the Tobar, the Traveller culture exhibit at Cork Public Museum as well as supporting the inclusion of Traveller culture into the programming of the Triskel Arts Centre where we have our base. With our partners in Cork Traveller Visibility Group, CTWN run the annual Cork Traveller Pride festival. This is part of our work to challenge negative stereotypes of Travellers, and raise awareness of the rich culture and heritage of Travellers as an indigenous Irish ethnic group.  For more information, follow Cork Traveller Women’s Network on Facebook.

We are delighted to collaborate with the Rory Gallagher Music Library and look forward to seeing the end result online.

 

By Louise Harrington, Community Development Worker, Cork Traveller Women’s Network

‘Fairytale of New York’ – the best Christmas song ever?

In late November 1987 The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl, released ‘Fairytale of New York’. It went straight in at number one in the Irish Charts and peaked at number two in the UK, only kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of ‘Always on my Mind’. ‘Fairytale of New York’ was composed by Pogues’ banjo player Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, and featured on The Pogues’ album If I Should Fall from Grace with God. By November 2015 the song had sold 1.18 million copies in the UK alone and was certified platinum in 2013. Its popularity with listeners and critics shows no sign of abating and every December it re-enters the singles charts in the UK and Ireland and many other countries around the world. In Ireland, at least, Christmas hasn’t officially started until you hear ‘Fairytale’ on the radio and it’s often the closing song of the night in pubs and clubs across the country during the festive season.

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Shane MacGowan

What’s so good about it and why is its appeal so enduring?

Fairytale of New York’ is quite simply a masterpiece. Like all great Christmas songs, it’s not really a Christmas song at all. The events just happen to take place at that time of year. Apart from the last line of the chorus and a couple of other cursory references, most of the lyrical content would be considered anathema to everything that the common conception of Christmas brings to mind. Far removed from the Disneyesque setting of most other, more well known, seasonal staples — featuring smiling Santas, prancing deer, and ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ — ‘Fairytale’ would be more at home in the world of the Abbey Theatre of a century ago and has more in common with Synge and his Playboy of the Western World than with Bing Crosby and his ‘White Christmas’.

Jem Finer
Jem Finer

Shane MacGowan’s ingenious tale of modern Gaelic tragedy contrasts beautifully with Jem Finer’s uplifting melody, and the verbal tug-of-war between the male and female characters, constantly teetering on the brink between tenderness and outright venom, is littered with sardonic wit that could have come straight from the pen of Brendan Behan or Patrick Galvin.

Thematically, MacGowan — who, coincidentally, was born on Christmas Day in 1957 — deals with matters very close to his own heart. This is a song about emigration, addiction, hope, broken dreams, and lost love. It’s an anthem for the downtrodden.

Kirsty MacColl
Kirsty MacColl

When the song was released in 1987, Ireland was experiencing its worst recession since the founding of the state and the country’s youth were leaving en masse in search of a better life elsewhere. The UK was deep in the throes of Margaret Thatcher’s anti-socialist regime and it’s no surprise that the song struck a chord with people in both countries and, by extension, with Irish emigrants around the globe. Here, at last, was an honest Christmas song that spoke to the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. The song is as popular today as it was when first released, which is hardly surprising, considering that in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland the youth are again leaving in their thousands. You can be sure that ‘Fairytale’ will be sung by many of them this Christmas wherever they are in the world. Also, it’s a damn good song with an infectious melody and a hypnotic 6/8 folk-waltz rhythm that would incite anything short of a corpse to tread the boards!

As the winter solstice approaches and the sky darkens, it’s not only those smug crooners in snow-sprinkled ivory towers that reflect on the year past and on what’s been lost or gained, but also the homeless, the exiled, and the addicts who look to the rising of the new sun with hope for a better year to come. ‘Fairytale of New York’ is a song for the latter group.