This group of songs comes from a collection made by Sean O Boyle and myself between 1950 and 1962. This was still a time when it was not in fashion to be associated with traditional music and song. In fact, we were often considered distinctly odd. The surge of revival in the tradition was just beginning, and the people who sang and played for us were ordinary people who did so as part of their family life, whether at home or in the pub. We had many a good night of singing, dancing, and music. Everyone in the room would take part and share a song, a tune, or a recitation.
Liam Andrews is a fine singer whom we recorded in Belfast. At that time he was working as a draughtsman for Short Bros. and Harland Aircraft. He now lives in Ballymurphy Parade, Belfast, and is an artist in his own right.
Colm and Cathal O Boyle, eldest and next-eldest sons of Sean and Alice O Boyle, were born and brought up in Armagh, County Armagh. Their family lived the tradition of song, music and love of the Irish language. Their home was always bursting with children, friends and music. The songs they sing here were recorded in 1962 when Colm was one of the youngest ever to hold a lectureship — that of Celtic Studies — at Queens University, Belfast. Cathal had just started teaching in Castlederg, County Tyrone. His free time was spent playing and collecting music and song.
Packie Manus Byrne, whom we recorded in Ardard, County Donegal, spent a number of years as a steeple-jack. He writes of himself — "Both my parents were traditional singers. My mother (R.I.P.) was a well-known singer at parties, weddings, etc. My father (RIP.) was quite a good singer too, but being in ill health he wasn't so well-known as my mother."
"As far as I can recollect, I started singing at about five years of age. I can remember my mother spinning wool (that is, making thread) and singing in time with the movement of the foot board. I used to join in the songs with her, and that's how and where I learned the old songs. Of course, that was a long time ago, and I'm ashamed to admit I have forgotten some of the songs my parents used to sing."
Robert Cinnamond was first introduced to me by Sean O Boyle in 1955. We met him at his farm house in Aghadalgan, Glenavy, County Antrim. I shall always remember him, as he stood In the doorway, tall, straight and white-haired. Later we recorded him in a nearby pub. Throughout the evening we were continually aware of the warm graciousness which Robert Cinnamond showed toward us and toward his songs.
He was born in Ballinderry, May 17, 1884, and later moved to Aghadalgan. He was a farmer and basket maker and had nine children. His family was immersed in the singing tradition. Both his parents were, in his own words, "Sweet Singers," and Robert earned most of his two hundred songs from them and from old people in the neighbourhood. "The Rambling Boys of Pleasure" was his father's favourite song.
Robert Cinnamond died at 84 in 1968 and has left behind strong memories of his gentle dignity and a legacy of fine songs.
Frank Donnelly was born in Pomeroy, County Tyrone. There were nine children in his family, and his parents were "both capital singers." Frank told us he travelled away from home when he was nine or ten to become a shepherd. He lived at a place called Sixmilecross, about twelve miles from Pomeroy, for about twenty years. In those times, to live twelve miles away from home was almost the same as exile across the sea.
Frank Donnelly is one of the few singers left who sings in the old tradition. Although he can neither read nor write, his education in song is something which many a scholar can envy and admire. He has enjoyed wide local repute as a "lilter" (singer of mouth music or nonsense syllables, usually for dancing.)
Johnny Doherty, "the Donegal fiddler," travelled from house to house in the area about Glenties and Ardara, selling an assortment of household necessities and playing his fiddle. We recorded him and his brother Mickey in the upstairs room of the hotel in Ardara. Here we have used his song "The Old Man Rocking the Cradle," which he finishes off by playing on the fiddle.
Paddy Tunney, now well known to many, was a health inspector in Letterkenny, County Donegal. Paddy enthralls all who know him with his wide variety of songs and tales. We spent a great night of song, dancing and music at his family home near Belleek, County Fermanagh.
Paddy learned most of his songs from his mother Bridget, one of Ireland's leading traditional singers. He has a vast and ever-increasing repertoire, and is a champion filter. Paddy spent time in H.M. Prison, Belfast, for political reasons.
He used the time well to further his knowledge of Ireland's language and history.