11 February 2013


     With the Irish penchant for song and dance, is it any wonder that Irish family history can be preserved in musical lyrics? At my talks, I have met a few researchers who have discovered that their ancestors have been immortalized in song.
      One woman went to visit her ancestral townland in Ireland, and heard a band in a local pub singing about the "American wake" held for her three uncles before they emigrated.
     A friend of mine, Carolyn, recently visited County Tyrone. She discovered that some of her relatives are named in a song sung by the Crockanboy String Band.  The "Sally" named in the song was Carolyn's great-grandmother; the "Frankie" and "George" were her great uncles.

"Round by Dr. Devlin's corner & up through Teebane
Here comes the little avenue that leads to Jimmy Ban's
Sally's in the corner with a program in her hand
Frankie plays the violin and George gives command
The girls are good dancers as you can understand
And you would go a good piece to hear the Crockanboy String Band.
For more about the song and about Carolyn's fascinating trip, see her blog I Love Ireland!

     Another friend recounted how music and singing played an important part in her family gatherings and became the subject of a family story itself. I will allow Kathi to tell the story in her own words. Enjoy this heartwarming account of a singing family!
Kathi Zane remembers her family songfest:
     My grandmother’s home was a haven for young Irish immigrants.  Many boarded with her and her family in the tiny overcrowded home until they found work, including her brother Patrick’s daughters, Kate, Nora, and Mary; and her brother Michael’s daughter Kate, and many others.   She became their American home base, their Irish Matriarch in Philadelphia.  In spite of her widowhood and poverty, her house was the center of social enjoyment for friends “who dropped by” to visit or some homesick immigrants brought by others.  There was no money, but they had love, friendship and caring to share.  It was a way of keeping the love of Ireland alive and continuing into the next generation.  It was also a way of helping the young immigrants to find spouses within the Irish Catholic community.  We learned that there’s “always room for one more—I’ll just add another potato to the pot”.
     Someone would play an accordion or fiddle, the carpet was rolled up and the furniture was pushed to the wall--and dancing, singing and fun was shared by all.
     This love of shared music and the joy it brought was instilled in her children and my Mother and Uncle Marty joined with a charity group that performed “Variety Shows” for the poor in the local Charity Cancer Hospital.  My Mom met my Dad there—and the tradition continued. 
     The O’Grady clan gathered at the small family home for holidays and for many Sunday dinners.  Mom-mom was proud of her family and celebrated every happy occasion; however, she always made us 'sing for our supper'. Before we could go home, the grandkids would sing to her--even when she was bedridden! The songs were almost always Irish--and I remember learning the very sad "Irish Soldier Boy" to sing to her when I was about 5 yr old. She also liked the "Boys from the County Mayo" and many others. The children learned to sing the songs as soon as they were able to help clear the table, wash or dry dishes. 
     As each adult chose a song—and continued to sing it at every gathering—it became “their Song”.  If one adult in a family didn’t sing—then it fell to their spouse.  The list of songs is long:  Uncle Marty serenaded us with Rose of Tralee & Rose of Killarney; Uncle Jim sang “An Irishman’s Dream”; Aunt Nora’s song was “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra”; Uncle John sang “Shall my soul pass through Ole Ireland”; my mother sang “Moonlight in Mayo”; my dad tortured me with “I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen” and he tried my mother’s patience with “the Irish Beer Song”; we all sang in English “The Irish National Anthem”; my cousins & I took turns singing “Black Velvet Band”;  “Four Green Fields”; “Skibberreen”; “The Wearing Of The Green”; “Cockles and Mussels”;  “Danny Boy”; “If I Were A Raven; and many more. 
     Some of the spouses played accordion or fiddle—and they always brought it out for family times.  My sisters and some cousins were semi-professional Irish step-dancers—and they had to perform.  Those of us with two left feet danced the waltz, polka, “Shoe the Donkey”, and so on.  We learned to bless ourselves in Gaelic, as well as the Our Father and Hail Mary—and thought we were Irish first, and American second!  “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”  has been sung at every gravesite here in the US—even to some of my generation buried within the past few years—especially if it wasn’t allowed in the church.
     We grew up on the all the Rebel tunes!  So, when we were on a train from Dublin to a small town in County Cork, we hummed along with a group of Irish politicians who’d been celebrating the installation of one of their own to a major government position.  My sister & I were ‘caught’—and the gentleman who was the Magistrate of Limerick demanded we join them.  We had to admit we grew up on Rebel songs which weren’t PC at the current time.  They got us to search our memories for songs and we sang the entire trip to Limerick City.  It was only after the officials left the train that we found out this WASN”T DONE!  The conductor allowed it only because of the high ranking of his passengers!