Music Validates Irish History.

Folk music in Ireland is fuelled on days of the past. Revolutionary artists who elevate historical stories for the modern ear through timeless song.

The Dubliners. At Home With The Dubliners.

The Crown Season 4, Episode 1. Being a fan of this show on Netflix since first hearing about it, I was ecstatic. Not only is it immaculate in style, the narrative is intriguing and looks to royal life. An insight into the unknown. However, the narration of the first episode on this season did get me thinking. An Irish IRA man, narrating the introduction. A solemn voice, a sense of depression on the future of the 1980s. You can’t paint over history, of course. But I do wonder where the other side to history is. Where things may have been if we simply discussed our past more.

The introduction was real, those things, murders by the IRA did happen. However, it’s what made those people think that was the route. Then people refuse to look at the issues going on in Ireland at that time and before. Not listening or understanding. That’s hurtful. It’s that notion of wanting to understand, discussing what happened is important. On both sides.

Being someone from a family of Irish immigrants, growing-up typically meant an Irish pub or life fuelled on Irish country music. This was my history lesson. Not a school room or a history teacher. I learnt about Irish history, our history though song. Simply because the curriculum didn’t provide it.

Often listening to Luke Kelly, The Dubliners, The Wolfe Tones or, The Fureys (just to name a few, the list certainly goes on!) It’s not till you get to about 13 or 14 when you really recognise the lyrics. They are more than just words on a page sung by another singer. They are a history lesson. One that most definitely is not taught in U.K. schools. As well as other things, schools seem to miss-out on valuable life lessons. Painting over things that actually happened, making a country look nicer than it probably was built upon.

Being taught in a British school, we were taught about ‘our history’. Yet, I wasn’t truly taught about ‘my history’. No one was. To this day I’m not quite sure fully about what ‘my history’ is or means. For one, it’s quite difficult to know which side of the pond it lies in. I’m born in Luton, yet, my whole family are Irish. Raised by an Irish mother and Lutonian dad (whose family are from Leitrim and Tipperary). Typical Irish values, I count myself as Irish. I also count myself as British. (Not sure I can say it’s the best of both worlds to be honest). However, when I talk about Ireland to my British friends, saying, ‘I am English’, they all respond, ‘No you’re Irish’. Going over to Ireland, proclaiming to my family, ‘I’m Irish!’ they respond, ‘No you’re English!’ Quite confusing to know what I am. I am what I am. No clue what that is apart from the fact I know I’m me.

The valuable fact about Irish music, is the history lesson. I was taught about Irish history through songs like ‘Grace’ written by in 1985 Frank and Sean O'Meara, sung by Jim McCann of The Dubliners as well as The Wolfe Tones. A song about Joseph Plunkett, an Irish leader from the 1916 uprising. Someone who was sentenced to death by British soldiers for treason in May of 1916, for his part in the revolt. Now, this song is one I remember particularly. It is touching for the obvious reason. Yet, the backstory in which before the sentence was carried-out, he married Grace Gifford in the chapel of Kilmainham gaol. For the rest of her life, Grace never re-married. This fully kickstarted the need to find out more. The lyrics are an exact story. They are true and real. Throughout, you link onto the violin as it perfectly floats the lyrics within the song.

So why do Irish people feel the need to paint songs with history? Well, the simple reason, it’s not taught enough. There’s still the plain and obvious fact that Ireland is still tied to the United Kingdom. So musically, song has always been the way forward. Through the 60s up to the 00s, music was a political and cultural stance. An outlook to life at the moment and telling you exactly what is going on. Music is so assessable, creating a song that actually documents your life, no brushing over it.

Then there are Irish musicians whose music isn’t political. They simply state a period and place in time, accurately describing emotion. Or providing an atmospheric response to the surrounding people. People like Luke Kelly whose tormented voice crept in and around your ears. Full of depth, when songs weren’t even his there was a definitive response, leaving the listener hanging onto every word.

‘Scorn Not His Simplicity’, a song Phil Coulter wrote during the early 1970s. Simple strumming on a C-chord by an acoustic guitar, chiming with the melodic charm of a violin. A powerful voice hammering delicate lyrics, there’s a sense of casualness in his manner and language. You can feel the presence of time. A laid-back air, with a tune full of naturalism. As if you are in an old Irish pub with a pint of something in one hand and a bucket full of joy or sadness on your shoulders. Well, at least that’s what I’m thinking. The songs are rich with pureness, a tale full of layers of description, told in 4 minutes. Watching a video of Kelly singing the tune, there’s a heightened sense of anticipation. A need to get the song out there, singing with every breath there’s an anger overarching the air.

With a lot of Irish songs there is an impatience to them, a dire need for them to be sung. And sung in a bold temper and richness that connects back to the long Irish history. In classic Irish songs like ‘Scorn Not His Simplicity’ or ‘Raglan Road’ and ‘The Fields of Athenry’ you feel like you’re in Ireland. Even having heard these songs in old Luton pubs, you are surrounded by Irish. Every corner you feel part of a lingering past.

Outside of Irish walls, the past isn’t discussed in England. England focuses in on their history. England is full of good. And bad. No country can truly say they would like to discuss all they have done in their history books. They should really. The Irish community, like many immigrants who fled to England, built-up the country. They aren’t recognised enough for doing so. However, there is a sense of belonging and need to tell a story within each song. There’s a world of history beyond the walls of a classroom. History of the Irish and other minorities aren’t recognised enough in Britain. Each country has a definitive soundtrack to their era, ones that create a feeling of home.

Irish folk song validates our story. Not as Irish people. As people. Especially from those who have family in both sides of the water.

And Irish songs are just grand. A pub, with a pint of anything in hand, music in the background as you dance the night away. Artists like The Wolfe Tones, Dubliners, Thin Lizzy, Christy Moore. All of whom transport us back to an exact period, one we can’t seem to escape. Bashing feet against wooden floorboards as pints of Guinness fly high into the air with the explosion of music. Irish songs have never gone out of style.

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